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Archive for the ‘spring’ Category

It’s been a pleasure over the past few years to acquaint total strangers in cyberspace with people who were dear to me.

It’s also been interesting, from time to time, to acquaint myself with people in my family I never really got to know — as in this entry from a few years ago, and this one and this one as well.

We’ll do that again this week, as we step back in time 46 years to the funeral of a relative I wish I could have met.

March 13, 1969.

March 13, 1969.

Bob Kidd would have been my great-uncle, had we lived at the same time; but he could have been my grandfather.

Back in the ’30s in Springfield, Mass., Bob dated a young lady named Corine Wambolt. Then he decided that Corine’s more outgoing older sister Eleanor was more his type, and transferred his affections.

Corine went on to marry a draftsman named Bill Blumenau — the guy who kept the calendars — and, years later, became my grandmother. Bob Kidd and Eleanor also got married, had two sons, and settled in the Springfield area.

Bob and Eleanor on their wedding day, November 1940.

Bob and Eleanor on their wedding day, November 1940.

My dad’s description of his uncle:

Bob Kidd was a fun-loving, athletic, bright, truly funny man. Had kind of a New England nasal way of speaking. Self-made man. Worked for Holyoke Wire & Cable (I believe). High school graduate; was at one point a time-and-motion study person (forerunner of an industrial engineer), and ended up as a vice-president.

(Ancestry.com tells me that Bob’s Scottish-born father, Charles MacEwan Kidd, entered the U.S. from Canada in March 1911 through Rochester, New York — a city that would pop up again in Blumenau family affairs 55 years later. Coincidental, but interesting.)

The Blumenau and Kidd families spent time together fairly regularly when my dad and aunt were growing up. My dad still holds fond memories of those days, and of his funny, fun-loving uncle:

He and Eleanor were a great match; two of a kind. It was always fun to get together with them and our cousins.  Nice, decent, grounded Methodist folks, just a heck of a lot livelier and more fun than the Blumenaus!
The only time my father had beer was with Sunday dinner and whenever we got together with the Kidds.
Bob Kidd hula-hooping, 1958, at 1107 Hope Street.

Bob Kidd hula-hooping, 1958, at 1107 Hope Street. Can’t say whether beer was involved.

Nice, nice people. (This is my dad talking, again.)
Eleanor and Bob Kidd at my parents' wedding, July 1967.

Eleanor and Bob Kidd at my parents’ wedding, July 1967. Jeez, don’t they look happy?

Unfortunately, by my dad’s telling, the stresses of a vice-president’s job wore hard on Bob; my dad describes him as “more high-strung than he used to be” in his last years. Like most men of his age and time, he also smoked.

Both of these things might have contributed to his early death. On March 10, 1969, Bob Kidd died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 54.

My grandpa took it hard. My dad, who still remembers the phone call, has a few regrets regarding his passing as well:

I will forever feel guilty for not making that funeral; I had a bad cold and my ’66 Mustang was acting up with carburetor problems and I apparently had my priorities in the wrong place.  Uncle Bob was a great guy!

Clearly, from his calendar entry, my grandfather, grandma and aunt (who was in college in New Haven at the time) attended the service. He was not so grief-stricken that he couldn’t keep track of his mileage; but I don’t take that as a sign that the day was not meaningful to him.

My great-aunt Eleanor is still alive at 102, and has had the pleasure of meeting grandchildren and, I think, great-grandchildren as well.

I am sure she still feels her loss of 46 years ago. But, if it is any consolation, her husband is fondly remembered by those who met him.

And some who didn’t.

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Time to get in the car. Grab a seat by the window, and settle in. This is going to be a long, long blog post.

The good news? You don’t have to buckle up if you want. This is 1975, you see.

Specifically, it’s Friday, May 23, 1975. My grandparents and great-grandma are about to spend (almost) 10 hours (mostly) in a car, driving from the southwestern edge of Connecticut to (almost) the shores of Lake Ontario.

And we’re all going to ride with them, as I re-create the sights and sounds of an all-day interstate car trip with the Blumenau family elders as faithfully as I can.

Don’t worry — you’ll get a chance to pee.

May 23, 1975.

May 23, 1975. Yanks and Mets win.

Your vehicle for the trip will be a 1969 Ford Fairlane 500, somewhere between cream and pale green in color. It was extensively described in this earlier post, if you want to go have a look at it. It’s reliable and well-kept, though the vinyl upholstery might get a little squirmworthy after seven or eight hours on a sunny day. There is, of course, no air conditioning.

(My grandpa — he’ll do all the driving — has one of those plastic seat inserts that cab drivers use to get just the tiniest bit of airspace between one’s arse and the vinyl. Being The Man has its perks.)

Your fellow passengers will be my grandmother, Corine, in the front seat and my great-grandma, Pauline (known in the family as Grossee, short for the German Grossmutter) in the back. There’s plenty of room; you can stretch your legs.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step on the gas pedal.

And this journey starts on the back roads — specifically, on Long Ridge Road (a.k.a. Connecticut Route 104), which my grandfather takes across the Rippowam and Mianus rivers and over the state line, roughly 13 miles to the little town of Bedford, New York.

Once in wealthy Westchester County, the roads gradually start to get bigger. State Route 172 westbound from Bedford feeds into Route 684 northbound, which connects in turn to Interstate 84.

I-84 wends westbound through the quiet southern chunk of New York state between Westchester County and Woodstock, occasionally watched over by wary staties in ungainly yellow-and-blue Dodge Monacos. The Fairlane does nothing to attract their attention, and they take no notice of it.

Doing a responsible 60 mph or so, the Fairlane crosses the north-south Taconic Parkway in the company of Ramblers and Mercurys, then sits in a bottleneck until it finally gets a chance to  soar over the Hudson River on the 12-year-old but already overcrowded Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

Around this time, you start to notice that the ride lacks for interpersonal stimulation.

My grandfather is largely content to focus on his duties as driver. My great-grandma — while ordinarily affable — clams up during car trips, reluctant to do anything that might distract the driver. And my grandmother’s bursts of chattiness are hindered by her deafness and the engine noise, which conspire to turn any conversation into an adventure.

For a time, the putative conversation turns to the Blumenaus’ beloved grandchildren — one four-and-a-half, the other not yet two — who are waiting for them in western New York. The kids are still at ages when life consists of one big discovery after another, and the members of the traveling party look forward to hearing about the latest.

At the otherwise unremarkable downstate town of Middletown, N.Y., my grandpa turns onto New York State Route 17.

Route 17 carries the big cream-colored car north through Catskills towns like Wurtsboro, Monticello and Liberty. Even at this late date, it is possible to see both billboards for Borscht Belt resorts and the fading resorts themselves from the highway. Billboards for Monticello Raceway are also frequent, some of which feature neon horses waiting for nightfall to come out and trot.

Route 17 flirts with the Pennsylvania state line in the towns of Hancock and Deposit, where my father was stranded for a night in April 1972 by an unseasonally heavy storm en route to Stamford to play organ at my Uncle T.J.’s wedding. No doubt that story comes up among the travelers.

Route 17 meets Route 81 North near the city of Binghamton, and my grandpa turns onto still another major interstate. Traffic is again heavy in spots: It’s Memorial Day weekend, and even in the early afternoon, people are trying to get somewhere else.

By this time, you and your fellow occupants of the Fairlane are hungry and need a break. Once back on a big highway, you start looking for an opportunity to get off the road. (Being frugal Yankees, my grandparents and great-grandmother have packed their own lunches, so the enticements of McDonald’s hold no appeal to them.)

Unfortunately, the nearest rest stop on northbound I-81 is several miles behind you, just north of the New York-Pennsylvania line. You have to wait 30-odd miles until the town of Homer, near the colleges-and-farms burg of Cortland, for a proper rest area.

Once there, you hit the bathroom, claim a shady picnic table and settle down to your delayed repast — ham sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise, apples, and a thermos full of lemonade. The family chats and eats without hurry, oblivious to the cars and trucks grinding past to their own destinations. You make a note to pack some sriracha for the return trip, to lend your sammich something resembling flavor.

At some length, everyone bundles themselves back into the waiting Fairlane. The windows have been closed, and the air has become hot and thick inside, and scented with vinyl. Fighting the urge to drowse, the family sets off again.

But only for a short time. This is 1975, after all, and you’re riding in an American car with at least a V6 engine in stop-start traffic. So my grandfather grabs the first opportunity to pull off the highway again and refill his tank at some small-town gas station, perhaps in a town like Homer, Tully or Preble. He pays cash.

The Fairlane creeps north gradually toward Syracuse. It is roughly 5:15 p.m. by the time you reach the Salt City, and Memorial Day traffic combines with the regular Friday-afternoon drive-time exodus to choke the roads.

The worst of it is leaving the city — not coming into it, as the Fairlane is — but as my grandpa hangs his final left turn onto the New York State Thruway westbound, the pace of traffic slows a bit.

From Syracuse it is a straight shot westbound to Rochester, the last real leg of the trip, roughly an hour-and-a-half in regular traffic. My grandfather, his right foot perhaps getting heavier, manages to make it in more or less that time. (Perhaps there is another bathroom break, quicker this time, somewhere along the Thruway.)

At 7 p.m. or so, as the skies hint at their eventual darkening, you get off at Thruway Exit 45, Route 490, Rochester.

And about 15 minutes later, my grandpa’s Fairlane  is in the driveway of his son’s suburban home at 50 Timberbrook Lane, Penfield. A late dinner and family comforts await. The trip is over.

Get out. Stretch your legs. Relax and enjoy.

In three days or so, you’ll be doing it again, the other way.

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Nothing adds a little spice to the college experience like a parental visit.

Admittedly, I’m speaking from a distant perspective here. I’m 40 years old. It’s been almost 20 years since my parents visited me as a collegian — and that was for commencement. So I’m not exactly a current expert on the subject.

But memory says that Parents’ Weekend and other scheduled visits bring forth conflicting urges.

There’s that innate desire to clean up, do the big pile of laundry, wash the sheets, scrub the funk out of the bathtub, and show the folks you’re trustworthy and you’ve got your act together.

And then there’s the innate desire to rebel a little bit — to leave the beer bottlecap next to the kitchen sink, and the condom wrapper in the trash can — just to sting your folks with visible knowledge that you’re independent, and beyond their purview, and Charting Your Own Path, and Doing Your Own Thing.

(Not for years will you realize that they already know that. These are the people who remember changing your diaper and feeding you Ritz crackers to calm your three-year-old appetite as they cooked dinner, way back when in Nineteen Seventy-something. They already know you are functioning independently; the nightly silence in their house makes them keenly aware. But you feel the need to rub it in, all the same, because you don’t have the perspective to know any better.)

This week’s calendar entry captures that kind of moment.

May 13-14, 1966.

May 13-14, 1966. The Mets, mirabile dictu, are outperforming the Yankees. The luckless Johnny Keane has been jobless for a week; he has fewer than seven months to live.

If there was any tension between my grandparents and their only son/elder child, I suspect it had played itself out by May 1966.

At that point in time, my dad had completed his undergraduate degree, and had pretty well finished the additional work required for his master’s of science in management — the degree that kept him an extra year at RPI.

I’m fairly sure he was no longer living at the fraternity house where he’d spent some undergraduate time, as well. I believe he was living in a rat-infested off-campus apartment — the exterior of which I’ve seen two or three times. (Hopefully, the interior’s been improved since the Lyndon Johnson administration.)

I don’t know if my dad had his job offer in hand yet. But I know that just about a month later, he started work at the only company he would ever really work for. So he had probably gotten past his college indulgences and was ready to join the working world. In the month following Parents’ Weekend, my dad would put away collegiate things forever.

(If you’ve never read my “Blues for Mother Yellow” post about my dad’s corporate career, go read it now. I’ve been forming words into narratives since Nineteen Seventy-something, and they’ve never gotten better than they did that week.)

Still, I imagine Parents’ Weekend and the Talent Show were a spur for a long-ago cleanup … the impetus to get the underwear off the floor,  and wash the dirty dishes, and open the windows to banish the reek of beer.

No matter how mature you are, or how close you are to turning your tassel, you never quite let it all hang out during Parents’ Weekend.

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For those who like a good news-bath, there’s no richer fount of information than a Sunday New York Times.

Even in this vaunted journalistic age, the Good Gray Lady’s Sunday edition is still a potent collection of news, comment, wit, perspective, and what A.J. Liebling used to call “agglutinated sapience.” Few, if any, American newspapers can compare.

Our journey this week involves one of a million such dead-tree doorstops. Specifically, this one made its way to the dinner table of a draftsman and his family in suburban Stamford.

But why?

May 3, 1964.

May 3, 1964. The Mets have played 16 games – and are already eight games out of first place.

I’ve previously written that my grandfather’s newspaper loyalties lay primarily with the New York Daily News — “New York’s Picture Newspaper” — and with the hometown afternoon paper, the Stamford Advocate.

So why would he leave himself a special note to buy the New York Times?

I’m especially puzzled because I don’t think it was common newspaper practice back then to tease what you had coming up on Sunday.

Today’s newspapers are not shy about promoting upcoming stories. (Many of them will get anything really cracking up on their websites ASAP, rather than hold it.)

I don’t think that was as common a practice in 1964. Papers were more protective of their scoops — in part because many cities were still home to more than one paper, and they didn’t want to tip their hands to their rivals. Which leads me to wonder how my grandpa knew in advance that he had to have a copy of the Sunday Times.

Inevitably, this calendar entry sent me searching to find out what was in the May 3, 1964, New York Times that might have interested my grandfather.

I have a book of historic Times front pages big enough to land a Piper Cub on, and the May 3 edition is not reprinted in it. So there couldn’t have been anything truly historic on the front page that day.

The Web mentions a couple items that might have been interesting at the time, though I don’t think any of them would have enticed my grandpa to buy the paper:

– The weekly magazine ran A.M. Rosenthal’s “Study of the Sickness Called Apathy,” a follow-up article about the March murder of Kitty Genovese, who was reportedly stabbed to death while dozens of neighbors did nothing. (More recent accounts suggest that the Times sensationalized the case, and the paper’s initial reports — which fixed the details of the case in America’s national memory — were largely untrue.)

– In the world of arts, Howard Taubman reviewed a production of James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie,” telling readers in New Canaan and Mount Kisco that “Mr. Baldwin speaks fervidly for the Negro’s anguish and passion, and none of us can afford not to heed him.” (However earnest Mr. Taubman’s prose might have been, getting an actual Negro to review the production seems in retrospect like a worthwhile step.)

– Timesman McCandlish Phillips — who became better-known the following year after he unmasked the Jewish background of a prominent Klansman and American Nazi — contributed a story about the high cost of food at the recently opened 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Wikipedia says the first major student demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place May 3, 1964, in several locations including Times Square. Maybe that got covered in advance somewhere in the Sunday Times.

Perhaps there was a letter from a Stamfordite, or a feature story about Stamford, somewhere in that Sunday’s Times. Again, I’m not sure how my grandpa would have known about that, but maybe some sort of grapevine informed him.

Given the sheer heft of a Sunday Times, I guess it’s impossible for me to surmise what my grandpa would have considered must-read about it. Unless the Internet gods drop a vintage copy in my lap, I’ll probably never know.

(Note to the Internet gods: If you have a copy, try to drop it on me from a low altitude. Catching those Sunday editions upside the head sure does sting.)

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We’re only going back 40 years for this week’s calendar entry, but we find my grandfather doing something I think has been largely lost from day-to-day life.

April 9, 1974.

April 9, 1974. The Yankees, new tenants of Shea Stadium, are undefeated and in first place.

I think — think — there was one time in Massachusetts, close to 20 years ago, when I brought a pair of shoes in for professional repair. It is possible the shoes were my wife’s, and I was just a middleman in the process.

Other than that, I have spent my adult life buying one pair of inexpensive work shoes after another, and discarding each one when they get too cracked, dirty or worn to appear professional.

(Phrased that way, it sounds kinda depressing and Willy Loman-ish, doesn’t it? My life has been an aimless progression of cheap, tired-looking shoes. Excuse me while I go crash my car or something. Nobody dast blame this man.)

I remember shining my dad’s work shoes as a kid, though, with the Kiwi shoe polish and the soft rag. So I can recall a time and place when men put effort into making their business shoes look good.

(Or, more accurately, when men trained their kids to put effort into making their business shoes look good.)

And I am led to believe there was a time when men actually had their formal shoes worked on by skilled professionals, to make a pair last.

Sure, there are still shoe repair stores around, even in Stamford. And some men with a handy streak might work on their own shoes. Look on Amazon, and you can find shoe heels made of Goodyear rubber.

I still don’t think people nowadays view a pair of professional or formal shoes as quite so much of an investment.

I don’t have any studies to prove that; and I recognize that I am falling victim to the journalist’s curse — “I think XYZ; ergo, lots of other people must also think XYZ.” But I’m still willing to put forth that proposition.

There are plenty of reasons to explain why my grandpa would have gotten his shoes fixed up by a pro. Things like tradition, and frugality.

It’s also possible that the shoes referred to on the calendar were actually my grandma’s, and my grandpa was — like me — just a middleman in the process.

(Since my grandmother didn’t drive, it would have been my grandpa’s responsibility to go get the shoes, even if they weren’t his.)

I’m fairly certain I know why the shoes were worked on. Not too long ago, I wrote about a family wedding at the end of April of ’74. My grandparents would have wanted to look sharp for any such occasion, all the way down to their shoes.

I am sure they did, too. Sharper than I look on any given work day.

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