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Posts Tagged ‘1965’

You learn some interesting things writing a blog like this.

Things like this: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — a classic engineering school, and mostly not thought of as an athletic powerhouse — has been fielding football teams (not quite continuously) since 1886.

This week we hearken back, through my grandpa’s hand, and revisit a rare and noteworthy highlight from a particularly difficult stretch for the school’s football program.

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October 23, 1965. Future Mets pitcher Al Leiter is born in Toms River, N.J.

A Homecoming win is always a nice thing, if you’re into high school or college football.

(My high school was more likely to be a patsy than a victor in Homecoming games; we were the sort of school other teams wanted to play on their Homecomings. The one time in high school that we won our Homecoming game, the other school went out of business at the end of the year.)

Anyway, RPI’s victory over Middlebury College on Oct. 23, 1965, must have sent the Homecoming crowd in Troy home happy.

But, looking at the records, this one meant a lot more than your average win: Going into the game, the Engineers hadn’t won a football game in more than six years. Most of them hadn’t been tremendously close, either.

Following a 21-0 win over Union on Oct. 17, 1959, the RPI gridders lost their last four games of 1959 (scoring a combined two points); all eight games in 1960; all seven apiece in ’61 and ’62; all six in ’63; six in ’64; and four more to start the 1965 season.

(In football-speak, they did manage to kiss their sister at one point, earning a single 20-20 tie against Nichols on Oct. 10, 1964.)

The nadir of this stretch had to have been an 82-6 pasting by Vermont — at home in Troy — on Sept. 29, 1962. For comparison’s sake, the RPI squad only managed to put 76 points on the board in the 1961, 1962 and 1963 seasons combined.

So after the final whistle sounded on Oct. 23, 1965, there must have been some serious celebrations in the dorms, frat houses and beer cellars of Troy.

The student paper, The Polytechnic, got in on the act a few days later with an above-the-fold tease and five pages of coverage:

guesswhat

The Engineers wouldn’t win another game in 1965, but would post records of 5-4 and 4-4 in 1966 and 1967 — positively Lombardian by RPI standards.

(Rejiggering the schedule had something to do with it. Haverford College, a team that hadn’t been on RPI’s schedule during the down years, conveniently showed up in time to get walloped 57-0 in 1966 and 61-14 in 1967. A lot of events in 1966-67 made people think the world was turning upside down; RPI football winning a game 57-0 must have been one of them.)

The one remaining question, for Hope Street purposes, is whether my grandpa or my dad actually happened to be there for the big day.

The answer appears to be no. My dad only attended a few RPI football games over the years, and those because membership in school organizations required him to. He was not in the house for RPI’s only win of his five-year tenure:

I did not see the game, but I know it was a great excuse to party that night, although no excuses ever seemed necessary.

My grandpa’s calendar doesn’t record any trip to and from Troy that weekend. And if my dad wasn’t at the game, my grandpa surely wouldn’t have gone either.

So the calendar entry for Oct. 23, 1965, is simply a reflection of my grandpa’s amazement at a noteworthy and long-awaited event.

Would wonders never cease?

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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:

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I’ve written a couple times about my grandpa and grandma going out for a restaurant meal, and I’ve always wondered what they ordered.

In their day and age, a night out to celebrate usually meant a steak of some sort, and I’m sure my grandpa enjoyed more than a few of those.

There is one dish, though, that I know my grandfather enjoyed at home and at restaurants, when he could get it.

I know this because — you guessed it — he expressed his fondness for it on his calendar.

Exhibit A, from January 29, 1966, involves a meal out:

January 29, 1966.

January 29, 1966. Hugo’s used to be a German restaurant (don’t see many of those any more) somewhere in Fairfield County. I ate there once myself, in the spring of 1981, as part of a huge family gathering to celebrate my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It’s possible I had the sauerbraten, but I don’t remember.

And Exhibit B, from almost exactly the same time the year before, features a meal at home.

January 26 and 27, 1965. Some people look forward to Shark Week, others to Sauerbraten Week.

January 26 and 27, 1965. Some people look forward to Shark Week, others to Fashion Week, and still others to Sauerbraten Week.

Despite being fairly handy and experimentative in the kitchen, I’d never made sauerbraten. The thought had never even crossed my mind.

But when I saw these two calendar entries, I knew I would have to give it a try. My grandpa would expect nothing less.

To the kitchen, then.

# # # # #

Sauerbraten, for anyone not familiar with the concept, is an old German recipe in which a beef roast is marinated for several days in a mix of vinegar and spices before being cooked pot-roast fashion. The marinade cooks with the meat, and is then thickened to serve as gravy.

It’s solid, stick-to-your-ribs fare, perfect for wintry nights … but not bland or lacking in nuance, like some such dishes can be.

Unfortunately, I do not have my great-grandma’s sauerbraten recipe. So I took my battered copy of The Joy of Cooking in hand and went to work.

The principal ingredients.

The principal ingredients.

The beef prepares to enter the fridge, ensconced in a soak of vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, onion powder and maybe a trace of nutmeg.

The beef prepares to enter the fridge, ensconced in a soak of vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, onion powder and maybe a trace of nutmeg.

Joy says sauerbraten should soak anywhere from two to four days (Wikipedia suggests as long as 10, but that sounded long to me.)

I gave my beef about three-and-a-half days, turning occasionally, which seemed like a good amount of time. And when it came out on Saturday afternoon, it looked like this:

German food is -- how does one say this? -- not the sexiest of cuisines.

S-e-x-x-y.

The next step was to brown the meat on all sides while warming up the marinade in a separate pan:

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Then, everything went into the oven for about three-and-a-half hours at 320 degrees. (In the interim I did some laundry; shoveled off my deck; napped on the couch; and started making spaetzle, Teutonic mini-dumplings that go nicely with just about anything German.)

At the appointed time, I took the meat out of the oven and admired my handiwork and … well, I’m pretty sure I screwed it up.

See, all the pix of sauerbraten I’ve ever seen show it as conventional slices of beef, like a pot roast looks.

But the beef I had had the breaking-down texture of barbecued beef or pork — more suitable for pulling into long strings.

So that’s what I did with it. Who am I to blow against the wind?

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After doing that, I strained the remaining marinade and combined it with a bit of light cream and some crushed gingersnaps — an old cook’s trick to add both body and spice to the sauce.

How do you say "secret ingredient" in German?

How do you say “secret ingredient” in German?

For the final touches, I served some applesauce as a side dish, and poured the sort of light American pilsner that would have been common in my grandfather’s time.

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How was it?

Well, I’m still not sure I made it right — I don’t think real sauerbraten is supposed to break down into strings. (Joy suggested several different cuts of beef, but the one I chose may not have been the same cut most commonly used by German cooks.)

But it tasted pretty good — considerably better than it looked. It was pleasantly puckery without being overbearing, and the gravy added a nice sweetness to the meat and the spaetzle.

In between the vinegary tang and the moist, sweet sauce, it came out almost like a German twist on barbecue.

My older son and wife ate heartily, and even my younger son — who usually assumes a high-handed Statler-and-Waldorf contempt toward my cooking — ate a good amount and suggested I make it again.

I think my grandpa would have enjoyed it as well … though at first glance, he probably would have asked me what I did with the sauerbraten he’d been waiting three days for.

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This one isn’t really about my grandfather; but at least it’s not about me, either.

At some point late in his college career, my dad decided that the life of a corporate worker was preferable to the life of a professional musician.

He could have done either. But he knew about the grind of paying one’s dues as a professional musician. And he knew he could always be an engineer by day and a musician by night … but not the other way around.

So he took the more comfortable, lucrative, and mutually rewarding of the two paths.

I wonder if he had already come to that major life decision on Nov. 27, 1965 — during Thanksgiving break of his last year in college — when he found himself in a recording studio on Long Island.

Most likely, he was already walking away from one path and toward the other:

November 27, 1965.

November 27, 1965.

Today, my dad has no memory of the session:

 I think I vaguely remember being in a famous jazz recording studio in Long Island, because  I remember being surprised there was a famous jazz recording studio in Long Island, but I cannot remember whom I would have been there with.

Unfortunately, there’s no record to refresh his memory. Whatever he played wasn’t done for a record company, and thus didn’t come out.

Before packing in full-time music for the corporate world, my dad played a variety of recording sessions — all of which came to naught, commercially.

There was a demo tape of Christmas tunes done jazz-style in 1964, which landed my dad a meeting to play the tunes for Dave Brubeck. The great pianist was friendly and receptive enough, but his record company wasn’t interested in the music.

There were demos for songs my dad’s high school music teacher had written and hoped to sell.

And, most hilariously, there was a demo session for a young singer from Greenwich named Buzz Stillinger, who was apparently being groomed as a teen idol. (Buzz eventually did get to record a teenybop single called “My First Love;” my dad didn’t play on it, and from the sound of things, he’s not too put out about it.)

I would imagine that anyone who’s ever been a serious musician has dreamed about making a record.

Some people skip the hard work in their dreams, and go straight to driving a Lamborghini and having a mansion. But it must surely also be a popular dream to imagine a record jacket with your name on it.

My dad didn’t choose that path. I don’t know whether he regrets it or not.

Probably not; he’s managed to carve out a long-lasting and reasonably rewarding musical career without ever making a commercial recording under his own name.

I found out while researching this post that my dad does appear on one commercially released CD, though he’s not the leader. He plays stride-style piano on one tune of jazz singer Nancy Kelly’s CD “Swingin’ and Singin’,” released by Buffalo-area record label Amherst Records in 1997.

One tune on one regional CD. It’s not a lot, but it’s more than nothing. And it’s kinda cool to think that there’s some commercial record of his playing in somebody’s hands, somewhere.

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For all the girls who ever dreamed of dancing … which is most of the girls, really.

May 16, 1965.

I’m not that familiar with Peter Bogdanovich’s classic film “The Last Picture Show” or the novel on which it was based. But the title has all kinds of evocative resonance — the end of innocence, the end of creativity, the end of escape from the real world.

“The Last Dancing Class” — or even just “Last Dancing Class,” my grandpa’s phrase — carries some of the same feeling.

Dancing is a pretty decent metaphor for the way we try to navigate through daily life with some modicum of grace and poise. The “last dancing class,” then, represents the last lessons of grown-up life we learn before we strike out on our own and try to manage for ourselves in this crazy, complicated world.

(Or, if you accept Mick Jagger’s oft-quoted assertion that “all dancing is a replacement for sex,” the last dancing class metaphorically becomes a preparation for an entirely different rite of passage.)

Dancing classes have a certain historical resonance in the Blumenau family. My grandfather, the guy who kept the calendars, met my grandma at a dancing class in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the mid-1930s.

For them, the “last dancing class” might have been the time when they swapped phone numbers or agreed to keep seeing each other — setting into motion any number of things, including this blog.

No matter what the phrase “last dancing class” evokes for you, there is always a certain bittersweet power in those times when the people who teach you have nothing left to pass along.

You’ve been through the lessons and learned the rules, the skills, the steps and the transitions. It’s up to you to make something of your own out of them — something more than the people who taught you accomplished with the same raw materials.

But you’ve only got so much time to do so before the years catch up with you. Soon enough, you’re the one sitting in the chair, passing the steps on to another generation, secretly hoping they don’t leave you in the dust with the brilliance and imagination you struggled to find for yourself.

The dance goes on, but one by one, we step out of it. And we learn that the last dancing class meant more all along to the teacher than it did to the students.

******

In real life this week’s calendar entry means nothing so dramatic.

My aunt studied dancing for many years growing up. May 16, 1965, must have been the last of a series — perhaps the last lesson with a particular teacher, or the last of a particular style of classes. I do not imagine it was the last dance class she ever took, anywhere.

And anyway, in dancing and in life, it is not always what we learn from formal lessons that sustains and improves us. There are lessons about grace and rhythm and poise to be learned everywhere we go.

Shall we dance, then?

******

Circa 1958.

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