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We’ll go back and write about a calendar entry like we used to. Why not?

Too much of nothing, the poet says, can make a man ill at ease.

But not this time of year.

November 30, 1968. (Yeah, I know, this could be the 30th day of any month. But, trust me. It's Nov. 30, 1968.)

November 30, 1968.

Yeah, I know, the picture above could be the 30th day of any month on my grandpa’s calendars. Anyway, trust me. It’s the calendar space representing the last day of November, 1968.

And, most importantly, it’s unmarked.

See, the Thanksgiving holiday is usually divided into two halves.

One part is the whirlwind we all celebrate, and that we all reminisce about after it’s over. This part is cumulatively composed of those overloaded periods we spend packing, driving, flying, reuniting, catching up, cooking and eating.

The other part is the complete opposite.

It’s the time we spend taking post-prandial naps with our mouths open … the time we spend (e)motionless in front of a screen staring at football (unless we are Detroit Lions fans, and even they’re numb by now) … the time when, meeting and greeting finished, family members scatter to different rooms and pursue their own entertainment.

We do not celebrate those amber-stuck hours of stillness quite so much as we celebrate the turkey and the togetherness. But they are an integral part of Thanksgiving as well, a cool autumnal counterweight to the hours of warmth and glee.

There are not that many times between the third week of November and the end of the year when we get to completely switch off. Indeed, the whole idea of “switching off” feels foreign to the season when we hang lights and decorate trees. Life is supposed to shine, all the time.

It’s not really that way, of course. We need that downtime. And the Thanksgiving break is an ideal place to find it.

Other calendar entries show that my grandpa’s Thanksgiving in 1968 was just as busy as everyone else’s. My parents, married less than a year-and-a-half, came back to Stamford to visit. So did my Aunt Elaine, still in college at the time.

My grandparents even made punch, a most uncharacteristic touch. I have no idea what was in it, though I expect it was not boozy (or not heavily so).

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

I’m sure Thursday, Nov. 28, was filled with turkey, stuffing, freshly baked dinner rolls, pie and all the other traditional fixings.

But by Saturday, Nov. 30, there was … just nothing. Nothing particular to do, no tasks to accomplish, no appointments to keep, no church service to attend.

Just time to throw off the yoke and put up the feet.

Sleep late, maybe. Dawdle an extra twenty minutes over the paper, even though there’s no news in it. Have a smoke. Step out into the barren yard. Get kissed by the wind for a few minutes. Go back in again. Put on a sweater. Take a nap.

This kind of time is not wasted. Now that we have smartphones that allow work and the world to dog us wherever we go, it might be more important than ever.

I subscribe thoroughly to its worth, and I’m already looking forward to drinking a bunch of wine and hoisting a test pattern for at least a couple of hours over Thanksgiving break.

Join me, won’t you?

(Not literally. You’ll have to find another room.)

Circa 1935: Dames.

I don’t know much about my grandpa’s dating history, which is fine with me; I don’t need or want to know that.

I do know that — no matter what was going on in the real world — my grandpa went through a period when women were an ongoing source of inspiration at his artist’s table.

I believe most if not all of these drawings date to the mid-1930s, many years before the Hope Street calendars, and before my grandpa got married or moved to Stamford. (He was living in Springfield, Mass., then.)

He did an occasional side business as a commercial artist, and some of the drawings below might have been made for that purpose. Others might have been made as part of art classes.

And others … well, who knows? Bill Blumenau was a red-blooded young man, and maybe he just liked to make beautiful dames appear out of the air.

A gallery, then, of The Women Of Bill Blumenau:

The geometric quality of this one -- is that the right word? -- leads me to wonder if it began life as a class drawing exercise.

The geometric quality of this one — is that the right word? — leads me to wonder if it began life as a class drawing exercise. (Sorry for the intrusive folds in some of these pictures, but they’ve been folded up for 80 years.)

 

This one, meanwhile, looks like a rough sketch of something a florist might have commissioned -- or something my grandpa sketched out in hopes of selling to a florist.

This one, meanwhile, looks like a rough sketch of something a florist might have commissioned — or something my grandpa sketched out in hopes of selling to a florist.

 

Wonder what 19-year-old this was meant for? It's clearly a rough sketch, yet at the same time, he sketched in the woman's body pretty extensively.

Wonder what 19-year-old this was meant for? It’s clearly a rough sketch, yet at the same time, he shaded in the woman’s body pretty extensively.

 

This face, with its heavy lids and puckered mouth, looks like an exaggerated version of the face in the florist ad mockup above. (Which leads to another thought: I imagine most of these faces are based on pix of actresses clipped from magazines, not on real-life models. Can any movie buffs in the audience tell me if any of these sketches look like famous actresses of the day?)

This face, with its heavy lids and puckered mouth, looks like an exaggerated version of the face in the florist ad mockup above. (I imagine most of these faces are based on pix of actresses clipped from magazines, not on real-life models. Can any movie buffs in the audience tell me if any of these sketches look like famous actresses of the day?)

 

This one's pretty; not sure what else to say about it.

This one’s pretty; not sure what else to say about it.

 

The only dated picture in the collection: Sept. 24, 1933.

The only dated picture in the collection: Sept. 24, 1933.

 

The image of a woman as a perfect factory-produced good just waiting to be unwrapped would not play well with the women I've known. Times change.

The image of a woman as a perfect factory-produced good, unsullied in any way and just waiting to be unwrapped, would not play well with the women I’ve known. Times change.

 

A couple of dance-related sketches, now.

A couple of dance-related sketches, now.

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Finally, my grandpa illustrated at least one catalog for Foerster’s Furriers, a long-ago Springfield business. There’s nothing particularly distinctive about these drawings — neither Foerster nor my grandpa wanted to break new ground, apparently. But, they still seem like suitable additions to the Gallery of Dames.

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March 1935: Faces.

Another of my sonic misadventures has been posted on Bandcamp, in case anyone out there likes discordant, whinnying diddley-bow solos.

And now, we get off the train in a different (at least on the surface) America….

# # # # #

“Maybe you shouldn’t put that on the blog,” my dad said, looking at the picture in my hand.

Sorry, Dad.

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The caption reads: “THE LAZY MOON MINSTRELS / Presented by the Package Company / Fri. Sat. March 1-2 1935.”

This was a musical theater presentation, apparently mounted by the employees of the company in Springfield, Massachusetts, where my grandfather used to work.

(Not sure who the intended audience was. Friends? Family? Clients? Anyone wandering in off the street? And whose idea was it to have a bunch of draftsmen put on a musical show? But I digress.)

I can’t pick out my grandpa for certain in the photo above. But it doesn’t matter, because I know what’s most important:

He’s wearing blackface.

# # # # #

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Google “The Lazy Moon Minstrels,” and you’ll find it was a full-fledged musical comedy, widely circulated, written by one Joseph Carl McMullen.

(I can find no biographical info on McMullen. But — assuming it’s the same guy — copies of some of his other plays are available on Amazon, with titles like “The Boob: A Comedy of Business Life, In One Act” and “When A Feller Needs A Friend: A Farce in Three Acts.”)

You’ll find references to high school and college drama groups performing it throughout the 1930s and ’40s. Consider this reference, from the Indiana, Pa., Gazette of April 8, 1949:

Enjoy laughing? Like jokes? Then you’ll love the Lazy Moon Minstrels which will be given this evening, April 8, at 8:00 p. m. in the Bell Township School auditorium. It is filled to the brim with songs, fun and entertainment designed to make any evening pleasant. The “Lazy Moon Minstrels” features the entire junior class. The production has a Suwanee River setting with Andy Burtyk and Emily Tom playing the main character roles of “Pappy” and “Mammy” Washington.

Or this, from the Raleigh Register of Beckley, W.Va., November 7, 1962 (!):

The presentation is in three acts and portrays the talented children of a family, famous now as radio entertainers, returning home to rehearse their tuneful radio show under the lazy southern moon.

And, you’ll find references to children who “(portrayed) white characters in the play,” or to those who portrayed blacks. Such as this sentence from the Palouse, Washington, Republic, of May 28, 1948: “Bob Olson was clever in his impersonation of a squeaky-voiced, adolescent negro.”

(It is possible my grandpa played this role too; I believe he portrayed one of the sons of the talented radio family. It would have been vaguely interesting to see how a white American of European descent who’d never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line portrayed their idea of a black person from the South. I imagine it was all reheated Amos n’ Andy in the end.)

So it seems, then, that people all over America reveled for decades in what seemed to them like a rollicking caricature of southern black life.

According to Wikipedia, blackface faded from Hollywood films at the start of the 1940s, but remained entrenched in other areas — like cartoons and the “Amos n’ Andy” radio show — for years after that. I would imagine it held on for a while in small-town theater, too.

I’d be curious to know the last time any local theater company ever mounted a production of “The Lazy Moon Minstrels.”

I suspect it was probably later than I would have guessed.

# # # # #

But enough of the historical background. What does one say or think when one finds a picture of one’s grandfather in blackface?

After the initial rise of acid in my throat, I started to come to terms with it. While the thought of my grandpa in blackface makes me wince, it would be absurd to expect him to have turned his back on the show.

Not only was blackface more socially accepted then (less than a decade after Al Jolson’s star turn in The Jazz Singer), but the show was presented as a workplace presentation. And in the midst of the Depression, people lucky enough to have jobs did what they had to do to fit in.

And, I know of no evidence that my grandfather led a racially bigoted life in other regards.

(You could argue that a little kid wouldn’t have noticed that … but, for the amount of time I spent around my grandparents, I would have noticed. Kids are more observant than they get credit for, too.)

Mostly, this makes me wonder what I’m thinking and doing today that will seem appallingly wrong-headed 80 years from now.

I’m sure there’s something. I can’t see it, of course, but neither could my grandpa when he was slathering his cheeks with black greasepaint.

Ramblin’ on my mind.

For almost 35 years — from the end of the 1940s until the early ’80s — my grandpa bought Fords.

For whatever reason, he decided he liked them; and the ones he bought served him well enough to keep him happy. And so the Blumenaus were, for almost all of their residence on Hope Street, a Ford family.

I know of only one occasion during those years when my grandpa’s attention wavered. We’ll go down that road this week — which gives us the opportunity to look at some classic Sixties marketing materials, as well.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special "Mannequin" has.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special “Mannequin” has. Why, it’s the standard for the entire industry!

Throughout the ’60s, my grandpa bought a new mid-sized Ford Fairlane every four years, in the presidential inaugural years of 1961, 1965 and 1969.

(His loyal patronage was not enough to save the model, which was discontinued in 1970.)

The marketing brochures for these cars, as well as other Fords from the ’40s and ’50s, still live in a worn yellow envelope in my folks’ basement, somewhat the worse for wear after many years of my pawing.

There’s also one non-Ford brochure from the ’60s, which shows that my grandpa — at least once — was willing to be flexible and consider something new, rather than plunk down his bills for the latest shined-up version of the same model.

When he went off the ranch, he went in a big way. He left behind the other members of Detroit’s Big Three and turned to the industry’s scrappy fourth-place player, Rambler.

The 1965 Rambler "X-Ray" catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great '60s design.

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great ’60s design.

When my grandpa went car-shopping in ’65, the Rambler brand had only been a stand-alone marque for about eight years, having emerged from the survival-merger of Nash and Hudson in the mid-1950s.

The company with a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had managed to make significant waves in the industry, though.

It had pulled off the eternally difficult trick of convincing Americans to buy compact cars. It had positioned itself as more nimble and creative than the Big Three, adding features the bigger players didn’t have. And it had won Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award in 1963.

An example of we-do-it, they-don't from the '65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

An example of we-do-it, they-don’t from the ’65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

Indeed, by the time my grandpa noticed Rambler, its best days might have been behind it.

Wikipedia suggests the company enjoyed its glory years under the corporate presidency of George W. Romney, and after Romney left to run for governor of Michigan in 1962, subsequent chief executives found the going tougher and tougher. (How might America’s automotive and political worlds be different today if George Romney had stayed in the auto business?)

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog plays on the company’s established giant-killer image, comparing Rambler autos to their big-name competitors. Not surprisingly, all the comparisons — from turning radius, to cargo space, to fuel economy, to reliability — come out in Rambler’s favor.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

Several pages of the catalog stack up Rambler models against their competitors in different size classes. Thoughtfully, Rambler put its Classic mid-size model on the same page as the Fairlane, so my grandpa could size them both up at a glance.

In retrospect, it doesn’t look like much of a choice. Both cars are plain and rather boxy, and would be difficult to tell apart at a distance. Still, I imagine my grandpa spent at least a couple minutes looking at this page.

Head to head.

Head to head. The adjoining page featured the Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Belvidere and Dodge Coronet.

A few other pages of the catalog showed my grandpa looking behind the hype and writing down questions about key features.

I didn’t think that many people cared about seat belts then, but the note on this page suggests it mattered to him:

"SEAT BELTS?"

“SEAT BELTS?” (Clearly the lack of headrests didn’t bother him, but the potential lack of seat belts did.)

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

I have to hand it to the forgotten marketing geniuses at Rambler: After reading the X-Ray catalog, I was ready to go out and plunk down my own money on a Rambler. They sold the hungry, quality-driven, thinking-man’s-choice, underdog image pretty well.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

Unfortunately, as I said 600 words ago, they couldn’t convince my grandpa. When the time came to make a decision, he turned his back on the little guys and stayed loyal to Ford.

This in and of itself was not life-changing to anybody. But repeat it a couple hundred thousand times, and it helps explain why Rambler and its successor brand, AMC, couldn’t last in the long term. Window-shopping doesn’t bring in any money, and Rambler/AMC didn’t get enough Americans to sign on the dotted line.

A shame: A ’65 Rambler Classic like this one — shown in its X-Ray glamour shot — might have looked nice in old family scrapbook photos.

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Bonus multimedia content: Check out this ad, not for Ramblers, but for the X-Ray catalog.

Or, if you want to see a ’65 Rambler Classic in action:

Home improvement.

I spent a fair amount of time at my grandparents’ house on Hope Street as a kid.

And through this blog, I’ve spent a fair amount of time revisiting it in my mind — most notably in a post from this week in 2012, when I wrote a room-by-room tour of the place from memory.

That’s why I was interested — though maybe not surprised — to discover that one of my grandpa’s recently discovered journals includes a year-by-year list of every significant improvement made to the house, starting in January 1946 and ending in October 1984.

The first page ...

The first page …

... and the last.

… and the last.

It would have been around October 1984 that my grandparents sold the house at 1107 Hope to developers, who tore it down the following year to make room for condos.

I can only assume that front porch roof really needed to be reshingled in the fall of ’84; I can’t imagine my grandpa enjoyed sinking $350 (about $800 in 2015 money) into a house he knew he was going to leave.

On the other hand, I am oddly touched by the $2.44 spent on a new toggle light switch for the bathroom medicine cabinet. It’s like a fresh young soldier reporting to a platoon that knows the battle’s lost. Here’s this shiny new part looking forward to a lifetime of service, and getting six months tops before the bulldozers come.

I won’t bore my Five Readers with a lengthy breakdown of what got spent, when. I know no one really cares about the details.

I will share some of the more interesting items, though.

For starters, here’s a list of the paint colors (besides basic gray, white, blue and green) applied to different parts of the house over that 38-year period. The house in my memory was fairly drab — maybe “plain” is a kinder word — but this parade of names makes it sound like a riot of color:

Pine green
Mint green
Light green
Kentucky green
Cordovan brown
Forest green
Dawn yellow
Pilgrim gray
Smoke gray
Park green
Misty gray
Blue moon
Provincial grey
Slate grey
Pastel pink
Battleship gray
Candleglow (it appears to be a light beige-yellow)
Mission rose
Antique white
Evergreen

And now for some journal entries:

October 1946.

October 1946. Twenty-five pounds of furnace asbestos. Wonder what that was — insulation, maybe? It was only a buck — good deal if you didn’t mind getting cancer years later.

April 1947.

April 1947. My grandpa splurges and blows eight dollars on evergreens. Wonder if they are the ones visible in this photo from circa 1973.

October 1947: Wood for the rose arbor.

October 1947: Wood for the rose arbor. This might or might not be the (heavily weathered) wood from the cover photo of Hope’s Treat, the official soundtrack to the Hope Street blog.

March 1956. Remember when a radio was something you got fixed?

March 1956. Remember when a radio was something you got fixed?

April 1957. Look, Ma, I made the newspaper.

April 1957. Look, Ma, I made the newspaper. Wonder how many of these building improvements — heck, how many of these buildings — are still extant today. Also, I have always thought of Stamford as a predominantly Italian city with a minority of eastern Europeans, and this clipping does nothing to change my mind.

August 26, 1967.

August 26, 1967. Home security is not a running theme in this journal, so the mention of a lock stands out. My grandparents’ home would be broken into in the early ’80s — perhaps a minor contributing factor to their eventual decision to sell.

October 18, 1968.

October 18, 1968. This is probably the same clothesline my grandfather photographed, encased in ice, after the ice storm of December 1973.

January-February 1975.

January-February 1975. Regardless of what Fela Kuti might tell you, water is the homeowner’s enemy. I think this is the only reference to an insurance claim in the entire journal. At least it’s the only one that sticks out now that I’ve been through it three or four times.

October 14, 1977. No idea why my grandpa saw fit to illustrate this, but here you go.

October 14, 1977. No idea why my grandpa saw fit to illustrate this, but here you go.

October 1979.

October 1979. It’s a family affair: John Jacobellis, who replaced part of my grandpa’s porch floor, is my cousin on my mom’s side. (He’s been active in the building trades in Stamford for many years, and is referenced in passing in this post from four years ago.) He shows up in my grandpa’s journal on one or two other occasions in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well.

March 5, 1981. Salty Grandpa shows up for a moment ("crap trap").

March 5, 1981. Salty Grandpa shows up for a moment (“crap trap”).

Summer 1983.

Summer 1983. My grandpa tackles a home improvement task — and, by his own concession, does a “lousy job.” The roots of the sale of Hope Street and the move to Rochester might lie in moments like this, as my grandfather realized he was no longer as capable of this sort of repair as he used to be.