Posts Tagged ‘1966’

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.


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


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?


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.


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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There are a million stories in the naked city … like the time the Empire State Building “caught fire” in the middle of the Christmas season.

It was December 10, 1966, an unseasonably warm evening in New York City, with Saturday-night travelers and holiday shoppers thick on the streets.

One of them, in the area of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, pulled a fire alarm.

Shortly after 6 p.m., three fire engines, two hook-and-ladder trucks and a rescue squad came roaring into the area, ready to fight something all of the men aboard must have secretly dreaded — a fire on the upper stories of one of New York’s tallest landmarks.

The firemen dashed into the building, hauling equipment, as thousands of passers-by gathered, gawked and took pictures.

(This according to the New York Times, to whom this entire account is deeply indebted. Presumably the alert had not yet gone out to clear the sidewalks surrounding the building.)

A few minutes later, the all-clear sounded. There was no fire, just the illusion of smoke, created by a dense, swirling cloud of smog and the lights of the building’s upper stories.

And the city sighed with relief, for a moment, then moved on to the next of its million stories and momentary distractions.

My grandfather was not there, as far as I know.

He sure enough saw the smog, though:

December 9, 1966.

December 9, 1966.

I’ve written about environmental alerts showing up on my grandpa’s calendar. Those were a few years later, though. I don’t remember every one of his entries, but this is the earliest entry I can remember to make special notice of pollution or harmful environmental conditions.

Apparently this bout of smog and fog hung around for a few days — and got pretty serious before it finally cleared out.

The New York Times of Dec. 11 reported that Connecticut state health officials declared an air pollution alert due to “lingering stagnant air” over much of the state. Officials called a halt to open burning, and asked residents to stop other activities that could contribute to the smog.

(Unfortunately, it looks like my grandpa had a couple errands to attend to on the 10th that required him to burn some gasoline. A gentleman needs his trousers and a clean set of teeth, after all. Alas, I must blame my grandma — that looks like her writing — for transposing his dental appointment 12 hours ahead.)

The paper also reported that New York’s airports, as well as highways in northern New Jersey, were forced by fog to close for the morning of Dec. 10.

Temperatures were warm up and down the Eastern Seaboard, with cities from Hatteras, N.C., to Syracuse, N.Y., reporting record highs.

And the lead of the Times’ Page One weather story deserves reproduction here:

A perspiring Santa Claus outside Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue growled “Merry Christmas” to a staring youngster, and at the Weather Bureau office in Hangar 11 at Kennedy International Airport, the meteorologists “kept the door open to catch a breeze.” It was Dec. 10.

I wonder what the reporter would have written had he (or she) been assigned to follow Bill Blumenau around for the day.

A perspiring middle-aged man grumbled to himself in the dentist’s chair: He’d dressed for winter, and the office was unexpectedly stuffy. He shifted his position to keep from sticking to the seat. It was Dec. 10.

# # # # #

A couple of notes catching up from last week’s post, which featured some original music based on 70-year-old home recordings of my grandpa playing piano:

– Thanks to those of you who took the chance and went to check out the sounds. (If you meant to do so, and it slipped your mind, the Hope’s Treat EP can still be heard here.)

– Thanks to your support, Hope’s Treat actually showed up on some of Bandcamp’s popularity rankings, based on the tags I used to label the EP.

I wrote about Bill Blumenau’s unlikely ascension to chart semi-stardom on my other blog; those posts are here and here, if you’d like to read them.

– Finally, some suggested that the good readers of Hope Street might be more interested in my grandpa’s original piano solos than my alterations of same.

For those who fit that description, here’s a short YouTube movie featuring my grandfather playing a medley of two songs.

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It seems like just yesterday I was writing about the promises of summer, both kept and unkept.

Well, damned if summertime hasn’t come and gone, my oh my.

It hasn’t technically vanished yet, of course. If I do the math correctly, the equinox won’t happen until roughly 9:30 p.m. Eastern time on September 22.

And, we might still get a shot or two of summery weather. Indeed, this has been such a tame summer where I am that our September and early-October heat waves might end up being the warmest points of the year.

But, if you’re between 5 and 17, the summer has most definitely ended. Either it has in the past two weeks, or it will this week, when the bell rings. (My own kids have two more days of tadpole-wrangling and seed-spitting left. And by the standards of other kids we know in other places across the country, they’re getting off lucky.)

And, really, when the kids go back to school, the summer’s over. The opening of school casts enough of a cultural shadow over the rest of life that those last few calendar weeks of “summer” just aren’t the same.

When the free are no longer free, neither are the rest of us.

This week, we’ll go back to the calendar entries for one last blast of summer sunshine — a little something to carry us into the season of wither.

July 13, 1966.

July 13, 1966. No baseball today (All-Star break) but the Mets and Yankees are both mired in ninth. RIP, Vowinkel.

Southwestern Connecticut can be a foully humid place in the summer. I can remember wanting to spend my birthday there as a kid and my mom declining, in part because the weather was usually so uncomfortable.

For all that, there aren’t that many times on my grandpa’s calendars when the weather reached or topped the 100-degree threshold.

According to news reports, July 13, 1966, found much of the country caught up in a nasty heat wave and drought.

The Associated Press reported 28 deaths in St. Louis alone — where temperatures had topped 100 for four straight days — as well as 100 people treated for heat-related illnesses at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

Power shortages were forcing utility companies to put rolling blackouts in place in some areas. The weather offered little relief: Severe thunderstorms and high winds were reported in Ohio, the Detroit area and parts of Georgia, while hailstorms were seen on the New York-Vermont line. In Oklahoma, no measurable rainfall had been reported in more than three weeks.

In Chicago, black youth looted stores and broke windows after police turned off a fire hydrant serving as inner-city heat relief. And in Columbus, Ohio, a religious tent meeting came to an early end when high winds stove in the tent — with 600 people inside.

Nothing quite so dramatic happened in Stamford, just an uncommonly stinking summer day. You can see the sun in my grandpa’s drawing dripping heat — or maybe it’s sweating, like everybody else.

I suppose that kind of weather is a little too hot for pleasure, and we should be thankful not to have had any of it this year.

Still, when summer’s over, a 100-degree day can’t help but seem endless and idyllic and lemonade-chilled and open to every possibility.

In the not-too-distant future, the temperature will sink to one-half that … and then to one-quarter that. It will not be entirely unpleasant, this decline, but it will make us miss green grass and sunshine. So, we can take a few minutes and bask in it one last time.

Three weeks ’til the equinox.

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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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Another year has come to an end; and I would be greatly surprised if I am still writing in this space next December.

I’ve always known this blog had a limited lifespan. There are only so many interesting, curious or inspirational entries on my grandfather’s 15 years of calendars.

I’ve used up most of the ones with interesting backstories … so what’s left will involve my own flights of fancy and improvisations, more often than not.

I’m not vain enough to think that anyone comes here for my verbal two-stepping, or that I’m creative or inspired enough to hold people’s interest for long. This isn’t about my fancy words, or shouldn’t be.

There’s also the nagging feeling that I’ve fleshed out my family’s characters about as much as possible.

From a dramatist’s perspective, my grandparents and great-grandma just weren’t that interesting — not a lot of color and conflict. They lived frugally and quietly; they didn’t travel west of Lake Ontario or south of Pennsylvania; they exercised prudence and quiet good humor; they paid the freight and kept rolling.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with living that way,  but after a while it feels like a twice-told tale. Or, at least, it does if you’re the one who tells it every week.

So, we’ll see how much longer this lasts. I am not devoid of ideas, but they are fewer and leaner on the bone than they used to be.

We will send off the old year with a fantasy, then. Which is actually not a bad way to send off an old year. We’ve done it before. (See what I mean about twice-told tales?)

Anyway …

November 30, 1966.

November 30, 1966.

Exhaustion gripped the middle-aged man like a dozen hands. Brushing his teeth had been a test of endurance; so had bending over to pull off his socks.

It had been a long, demanding day — a real pressure cooker.

It had started just about at dawn, with a suspicious yowling noise.

My grandfather was never great with cats, and he didn’t fancy a shinny up a tree on a cold November morning to bring one down. But it was either that or not sleep. So, he bundled up and did a good deed for one of his neighbors.

After that, he was too awake to go back to bed, so he made himself some oatmeal and a cup of coffee. Donning his work clothes, he went up to the attic, fixing to put a coat of paint on some long-neglected walls.

There’s no better time to change your oil than when you’re already wearing dirty clothes. So, paint-spattered, my grandpa carefully backed his car out of the garage, popped the hood and slid underneath. In only a few minutes, with gravity doing most of the work, the ritual was complete.

Rubbing his oily hands on an old rag, he stepped out onto the front sidewalk to clear his head and take some fresh air — only to see an oncoming man, just a house or two away, clutching a purse and running at full speed.

One good old-fashioned Dick “Night Train” Lane clothesline tackle later, the purse was safely in the arms of its owner; the culprit was gasping for breath in the back of a police car; and my grandfather was wondering whether there was any sliced ham left in the fridge.

There was.

One slap-up sandwich to the better, my grandpa then turned his attention to the pile of branches sitting in his yard.

He’d taken down a tree the previous week, but hadn’t had time to cut it up into manageable parts. So he grabbed his handsaw and went to work. Repetitive, draining work. At last, growing tired, he slid his blade through the final branch and stacked it neatly with its brethren.

Stepping back out onto the sidewalk to take another breath, he looked around, half expecting another purse thief. It had been that kind of day.

But instead, there was only a pair of neighborhood girls, short one person to help them with their long jump rope.

So he helped them twirl for a solid half-hour (would they never get tired?) And when they invited him to join in, he’d taken a turn of his own. He was nimbler than he thought he’d be, though he still took a couple stings to the shins.

Walking back into the yard, he noticed a new layer of leaves starting to spread. So he took out a rake and cleaned it up. It was getting dark, and cold. But the work wasn’t going to do itself.

The yard clean, he slapped the dirt from his hands and went inside to wash up for dinner. At last, a moment of calm and repose loomed, and with it the promise of a peaceful evening at home.

Then the upstairs line rang, with news of a visitor. Two visitors, actually.

The East German premier, on a rare state visit, had decided he didn’t much care for the hustle and bustle and brashness of New York City. An international incident loomed, unless a quiet spot could be found — and 1107 Hope Street was nothing if not quiet.

So my grandpa dashed out for an extra package of hot dogs and a few cans of baked beans. And 40 minutes later, when a big black car eased into his driveway, a humble American meal was waiting on the table.

After dinner, the heads of their respective nations – and their handlers – settled into the family room for some serious talk. Like any good American, my grandpa did not eavesdrop. Instead, he went up to the attic and put on the second coat of paint he hadn’t been able to complete earlier in the day.

Finally, the head of the household saw the bulking Texan and his graying, smiling European counterpart out to their limousine, leaving each with a firm handshake and a couple of homemade pfefferkuchen encased in Saran Wrap.

The Cold War would greet the morning ever so slightly warmer, as a presidential manservant vacuumed crumbs out of the back of the big Lincoln.

At 1107 Hope Street, it was finally time to go to bed.

As my grandpa collapsed into bed, nudging his head just a little to the right to catch the sweet spot in the pillow, a thought jarred him:

My calendar. I didn’t write any of this down on my calendar. I ran around all day. Never got an opportunity. And what if, tomorrow, I can’t remem…

He closed his eyes and decided to take the chance.

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