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Posts Tagged ‘1962’

I’m having trouble saying goodbye to this year in any coherent way; a stifled retch feels most appropriate, like the sound you make when you’ve emptied your stomach but you’re not done throwing up.

(Setting aside national politics and the deaths of lots of famous people, the Hope Street universe lost a noteworthy person in 2016 — my Great-Aunt Eleanor, the last living member of my grandparents’ generation of the family. That in itself would make it a subpar year. There were other things too.)

Maybe what this year needs to close it out is a good dance. It could be something slow and mournful. Or it could be something fast, for those dancing to forget.

At least one of the Hope Street Blumenaus used to end the calendar year that way, back in the day:

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December 28, 1962.

Assuming the DJ was spinning the hits of the day, the kids at the church dance on Dec. 28, 1962, would have had pretty slim pickings. (“Pepino the Italian Mouse,” anybody?)

At the year-end 1963 dance, the young Methodists of Springdale might have heard something from a certain Liverpool band that was just sneaking onto New York radio and would shortly turn America on its ear. But in 1962, no such radical change was around the corner, and the bland musical interregnum between Chuck Berry and the Beatles was still in force.

It’s hard to anticipate any radical social or personal changes around the corner in 2017, either.

But, who knows? You never see them coming.

So turn out the lights on 2016, find a partner, and we’ll be back to see if next year is any better.

(Keep your hands where the chaperones can see them.)

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Tired of going to the beach yet?

This week, we’re going to follow the Hope Street Blumenaus on vacation again.

This time, they’re headed inland — on one of a series of trips that, I think, would have a lasting influence on my family’s life.

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On the world stage, the first few days of August 1962 are starcrossed.

They will be Nelson Mandela’s last days of freedom for nearly three decades: The South African anti-apartheid activist is arrested Aug. 5 and remains imprisoned until early 1990.

They are also Marilyn Monroe’s last days of life. Sometime on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 4, the screen icon takes a fatal overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles.

Drugs also prove the undoing of Tusko, a 14-year-old male elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo, who dies a seemingly bizarre and unnecessary death on Aug. 3 after researchers inject him with a megadose of LSD. (The researchers were trying to simulate a state of temporary madness that affects male elephants.)

Other matters that will change the world are simmering this week, but not yet ready to break.

CIA Director John McCone is, presumably, gathering evidence this week and building an argument on an important national security matter. On Friday, Aug. 10, McCone will send President Kennedy a memo raising his suspicion that the Soviet Union is putting missiles in Cuba.

Distinguished meteorologist Harry Wexler is looking ahead this week to an upcoming talk about the possible effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer. Unfortunately, he won’t get to deliver it: He dies Saturday, Aug. 11, while vacationing on Cape Cod. It’s later suggested that Wexler’s death is a significant setback to the issue of ozone layer depletion; the first scientific papers on the subject are not published until 1974.

And in England, a young man named Pete Best is approaching his two-year anniversary as drummer with the Beatles, one of the most popular “beat” groups on the Liverpool scene and recent recipients of an EMI recording contract. Best will be sacked on Thursday, Aug. 16; none of the rich and often conflicting lore that has arisen around the Beatles suggests that he saw it coming.

In the midst of all this, the Blumenaus of Hope Street, Stamford, Connecticut, are not on Hope Street. They’re getting away from the increasingly crazy world in a little corner of the Berkshires.

Becket Cottage.jpg

Becket, Massachusetts, is a small town southeast of Pittsfield, near the edge of Berkshire County. (Mapquest puts it at about two hours and 45 minutes from Stamford.)

I’ve not been there that I can recall, but from the sound of things, it’s a nice woodsy place where camps and cottages mingle with artists’ colonies.

In the ’50s and ’60s, a guy with the marvelously euphonious name of Heimo “Hoot” Huhtanen and his wife Olive owned a cottage on Center Lake (a.k.a. Center Pond) in Becket.

My grandmother was an old friend of Olive Huhtanen’s, and through that connection, the Blumenaus of Hope Street sometimes rented the cottage.

From the looks of it, it was no-frills but cozy, with boating, swimming, walking in the woods, and lying in the sun the chief attractions.

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Boating.

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Swimming. (FWIW, these pix are from a visit in the late ’50s sometime, not August 1962. The place didn’t change too much, I don’t think.)

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Walking in the woods. There’s the conical (not comical) sun hat again.

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Lying in the sun. (My grandma is enjoying the collected short stories of John Steinbeck.)

My dad recalls the place thusly:

Yes, Becket was pretty basic.  The terlet was essentially a large porta-potty, which we had to take out to a specific site in the woods every day and empty.  And there was no running water; perhaps you’ve seen the picture of Elaine or me pumping the water.  But it was a great vacation cottage; I loved it.  And the old AM radio could get stations all over the eastern U.S. at night; I specifically remember listening to Albany and Troy stations as a portent of things to come.  Great stone fireplace where Drawing Boy would make a fire and make popcorn.

June 19, 2011: Dads.

Let a man come in and do the popcorn.

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My aunt on pump duty.

I suspect the Huhtanens’ cottage in Becket planted seeds in my dad’s mind regarding the pleasures and relaxing possibilities of a vacation cottage.

In the early 1980s, as a grown man with a family and a corporate job, he bought his own cottage in the Finger Lakes of central New York. He didn’t feel like renting it, so he sought to get as much out of it as he could; and it became a regular part of my family’s summer weekends to spend time at the lake when I was growing up.

(I don’t know if he gave any thought to buying in western Massachusetts. Probably not; it’s too far from Rochester for a relaxing weekend trip.)

A few years later, seeking more comforts and fewer hassles, my folks sold the first cottage and bought a nicer one. And just a year or two ago, they sold up in Rochester and moved to the Finger Lakes full-time.

So, that first week in August 1962 — as well as other, earlier visits to Becket — would shape the next generation of Blumenaus’ routines and experiences.

I didn’t take to roughing it as comfortably as my dad did, and I never enjoyed the place in the Finger Lakes as much as he did. So I don’t have a summer place of my own, either owned or rented.

But my kids have always enjoyed going to see their grandparents at the Finger Lakes. So maybe someday they will get away to a shack on the water, and the tradition of Becket will leap a generation and continue.

The lake in Becket is still there, of course, but the cottage that helped to start all this may be lost to history. My dad, again:

Went back there a few years ago, circled the whole damn lake and couldn’t find the cottage.  Probably just as good; it lives best in my memory!

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The basketball I care most about tends to take place outside of NCAA brackets.

Like the summer afternoon, back when I was maybe 10 or 12, when my group of friends decided to play hoops long-distance — with one team aiming for the basket at our house, and the other team aiming for the basket at a friend’s house around the corner.

(I’d love to say we went at it for hours; but the truth was that dribbling down the street wore us out fairly quickly, and we soon went back to talking about whatever we talked about when I was 10 or 12.)

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The sport of the streets hasn’t much worked its way into the Hope Street narrative before. My grandpa, I think, was more into baseball.

But, I’m piqued by a certain calendar entry of my grandfather’s.

While the world’s basketball attention is drawn to the top college players, come back 54 years with me, to a drafty and probably empty middle-school gym. The rest of the world this week is watching Storrs, in the northeast “quiet corner” of Connecticut, but we’re going to the opposite corner of the state:

March 1, 1962.

March 1, 1962.

What we have here is a girls’ basketball game, pitting a team from Dolan Middle School — including my Aunt Elaine — against a team from a private school called Cherry Lawn. (Pitting? Cherry Lawn? I knock myself out.)

Aunt Elaine wasn’t an athletic pioneer in any real sense when she suited up in Dolan’s bloomer-inspired basketball uniforms. Girls and women had been playing sports in defined settings for many decades by 1962.

But, my perception is that girls’ sports didn’t get much in the way of support and acceptance before federal Title IX took effect, which happened roughly a decade after Aunt Elaine took the court against Cherry Lawn.

If anything, an interest in sports was a social black mark for girls, as my aunt confirms:

I can’t say I was particularly athletic but I liked playing basketball and made the team somehow. Being tall for my age probably helped. I had one friend on the team who was in the same boat, and the rest of the team members were what was known as ” jocks” or worse, which were not  favorable terms for girls at that time.

I also played in the annual badminton competitions in high school. I became quite good at that sport from playing nightly in the Blumenau backyard in the summers. However, people didn’t pay much attention to that competition either. Boys football and basketball were the attention-grabbers.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

The Cherry Lawn School yearbooks from that period of time are posted online, and I looked through them, hoping to find a shot of the Dolan-Cherry Lawn girls’ hoop game. But the only sports pictures in those yearbooks are football and boys’ basketball, confirming Aunt Elaine’s perceptions of the athletic pecking order.

(The Cherry Lawn School story, by the way, is an interesting trip. Cherry Lawn was an independent school that unfortunately fell by the wayside in the early ’70s — just when you’d think alternative-minded parents would be geared up to send their kids there. Check out the website linked above if that sounds interesting to you.)

Anyway, Aunt Elaine went on to say that no one turned out for her games, or for any girls’ games:

There were other girls’ teams in sports but I don’t remember much about them, because none of the girls teams were a big deal. I don’t remember your grandparents coming to any of the games, because the girls games were in the afternoon after school. I don’t know if anybody came to the games, except the teams!

With that in mind, I respect those girls who went out for sports — including basketball — back in the day.

Sports for girls and women are an everyday thing now, their benefits taken for granted, from gym workouts to marathons to the lowest starter-level soccer teams.

(Among the millions of women participating in sports: Aunt Elaine’s daughter Kara, a former high-school swimmer who runs, spins, lifts weights and plays ultimate frisbee to stay in shape and work off stress. Also making a name for themselves: The women’s hoop team at Aunt Elaine’s undergrad alma mater, who won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2007. And let’s not ignore the 14 girls on this year’s Dolan Middle School hoops team.)

I steal from Wiki here:

In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

We know that girls and women gain from their athletic experiences. But what we encourage and accept now, somebody had to stand up for in empty gyms and stake the first claims to.

So, three cheers to them. (The cheers they might have liked to have heard while they were actually playing.)

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At this juncture, I have forgotten most of what took place during my two years in middle school.

And what I have not forgotten, I am hard at work on, using all the tools at my disposal. (Chiefly, rye whiskey.)

Elementary school is a fond memory, and high school’s good too. But those two years where the early stirrings of puberty collided with a primitive definition of social cool  … mmmmm, let’s not get into those.

I skipped my 20-year high school reunion and fully expect to skip the rest, because … well, what’s supposed to appeal to me about seeing people who remember me when I was 13?

I wish them all the success in the world, but what they haven’t forgotten, I don’t care to know.

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Me (at center, with Fender Precision, big ears and high-water jeans), early 1987, at Bay Trail Middle School. The kid at right played drums in my high school garage band, and is one of maybe three classmates with whom I still correspond.

What has all this angst to do with my grandfather?

Not a huge amount, really. But this week’s calendar entry captures a rare thing — a community institution that’s still extant, in the same place it was when my grandpa mentioned it. I always like to spotlight those when I can find them.

And that institution just happens to be a middle school.

April 17-19, 1962.

April 17-19, 1962. The Mets still haven’t won a game yet.

Dolan Junior High School, opened in 1948, would have been less than 10 years old when my dad attended in the late 1950s. My aunt would have been going to school there in April 1962, when the above calendar entry was made.

I didn’t ask either of them for their memories of middle school; I didn’t want to stir up that muck any more than I want someone to stir up mine. I know my dad was active in whatever passed for Dolan’s music program, anyway.

I don’t imagine my grandpa spent more than a few hours inside Dolan Junior High. I know my dad and aunt were the sorts to take care of business, so I’m sure my grandpa never had to go there for disciplinary reasons.

I know he stopped by for special occasions, with his camera in hand:

Dolan Junior High, 1958.

Dolan Junior High, 1958.

The Dolan Junior High Band prepares to march. Presumably my dad is somewhere in this pic. 1958 again.

The Dolan Junior High Band prepares to march. Presumably my dad is somewhere in this pic. 1958 again.

1958 again. I don't know much about this, except that my dad is at far right in the white shoes, a la Billy Johnson. Two drummers and two bass players must have made for some serious free-form exploratory jamming ... or so I can dream.

1958 again. Concert at Dolan. I don’t know much about this, except that my dad is at far right in the white shoes, a la Billy Johnson. Two drummers and two bass players must have made for some serious free-form exploratory jamming … or so I can dream.

Today, the school is known as Dolan Middle School. It boasts of being “nestled in a hard-working residential area of Stamford.” (Not sure what that’s code for; I’ll leave the significance of that to a more experienced Stamford-watcher.)

The website also says that Dolan has “evolved over the years” from a traditional junior high to “its more recent middle school curriculum model.” Not really sure what that means either … but I suppose it’s only natural to expect the school to do business in a different way than it did in the ’50s and early ’60s.

(The school also appeared as a setting for the 2007 movie Reservation Road, in case anybody out there wants to see what it looks like. I missed that one, myself, but I don’t see too many films, anyway. Cove Island, which has previously appeared in this narrative, also shows up in the movie.)

The current Google Earth view of Dolan.

The current Google Earth view of Dolan.

I dunno whether they still host jazz jams at Dolan like the one pictured above. But, the school is putting on an adaptation of “Legally Blonde” as its annual musical, so we know there’s still music in the halls.

I can only imagine how many middle-school moments this old school has seen — how many I-made-the-team-and-you-didn’ts, or how many that-outfit-was-cool-last-years, or how many I-changed-my-mind-and-want-to-go-to-the-dance-with-Joeys.

If Dolan Middle School could write a book, it would either be fascinating, or hellishly boring in a same-crap-different-decade kind of way.

No matter. It’s kinda cool that it’s still there in some form, a physical tie to the Stamford my grandfather knew, and the Stamford my dad and aunt grew up in.

The faces (and the clothes, and the hairdos, and the names scrawled on the folders) may change. But the building is similar, and so is the experience — no longer a child, not yet an adult.

I imagine the same is true at Bay Trail Middle School. It’s expanded since the mid-’80s to include sixth grade, all the better to suck additional kids into its vortex of social discomfort.

Good luck to the Bay Trailers, and also to the Dolanites. Ride it out: Things will get better with time.

If they don’t, well, there’s always rye whiskey.

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Everywhere you turn in an election year, you’ll hear people saying that every vote counts … and our brave forefathers died to give us the right to vote … and you can’t complain about politics if you can’t vote.

(This last claim has always chafed me. As if logic built on superior smugness has ever stopped anyone from complaining. As if anything has ever convinced somebody not to complain.)

Even the most loyal patriot occasionally gets tired of doing his civic duty, though.

That seems to be where my grandfather was, more than 50 years ago:

November 6, 1962.

November 6, 1962. Wonder what the numbers signified?

Some Election Days are more gripping than others. This one does not seem to have engaged my grandpa very much — though my aunt seemed quite cheerful about getting the day off from school.

In retrospect, I’m hard put to understand why my grandpa seemed so nonchalant. The November 1962 elections were plenty eventful for residents of southwestern Connecticut, who had two Congressional seats to weigh in on:

– The retirement of Prescott Bush left one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats open. The seat switched parties, as Democrat Abe Ribicoff beat Republican Horace Seely-Brown in a close race (51 percent to 49 percent).

– In Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Abner Sibal held off Democratic challenger Francis X. Lennon Jr. in another close race, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Those races look interesting enough to me. Could be they weren’t as close as the numbers and the distance of time make them seem.

Or, maybe my grandpa was more motivated by municipal races, and there just weren’t many of those to pique his interest. For instance, there was no mayoral election that November.

(There would be mayoral upheaval in Stamford the following year, as Hizzoner J. Walter Kennedy left town to take an unusual new job — commissioner of the National Basketball Association. But that didn’t have anything to do with the 1962 election.)

Of course there was no presidential election in 1962, since the election that year fell at the midterm (or what would have been the midterm) of John F. Kennedy’s only term.

There won’t be a presidential election this year either, but there should be plenty of other activity across the country. Here in Pennsylvania, for instance, we’ll be choosing a governor — a new governor, quite likely.

So do get out and vote in tomorrow’s “election,” won’t you?

Even if it doesn’t excite you.

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