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Posts Tagged ‘1968’

Seems like I’ve written a lot about hot weather on this blog — the blisterbitchers, and the lack of air conditioning, and the end-of-summer bursts of heat, and slow sizzling afternoons at the beach.

Not sure why that is. Maybe it reflects some deep-seated personal preference for summer over winter.

Or maybe southern Connecticut just tends to get hotter than colder, so I’ve had more calendar entries to choose from on the warm end of the scale.

Now that it’s winter enough for everyone, it seems like we’re due for an entry with some really savage cold, lest my readers get to thinking Fairfield County is some sort of tropical paradise.

Set the controls to … well, not the heart of the sun, exactly. Set ‘em for January 1968.

Lyndon Johnson is president. The Beatles, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, and Jay and the Techniques (of Allentown, Pennsylvania) are on the radio.

And most of the United States is as cold as a whore’s goodbye.

January 8-11, 1968.

January 8-11, 1968.

We’ll choose the morning of January 9, and let the Associated Press tell the story (as reproduced on Page One of the Plattsburgh, N.Y., Press-Republican):

– Temperatures below freezing are clocked in 47 of the 48 contiguous states.

– Freezing rain, drizzle and sleet tie up roads from New Mexico to Oklahoma. Some parts of New Mexico — New Mexico! — receive six fresh inches of snow atop five already on the ground.

– A record low of 13 degrees is reported in Dallas.

– “Numerous deaths” are attributed to the weather; one assumes they were still being counted. (By Thursday afternoon, authorities would quantify the cold-related deaths at 82, with at least another 18 to 20 still under investigation.)

– Up to 10 inches of fresh snow fall in parts of the Northeast.

– A hotel fire in Philadelphia forces 350 elderly men and women, some naked, into the streets in 10-degree weather. Remarkably, none are killed in the fire, though 39 people are hospitalized.

(That’s just Page One. On Page Two we read about firefighters in Schenectady, N.Y., fighting two major downtown blazes in seven-below-zero cold, and a nationwide outbreak of Asian flu that’s killed 192 people in the Northeast alone.)

And that wasn’t the end of the cold. It kept going and going, all week long.

On Friday, Jan. 12, the New York Times reported that New Yorkers had endured seven straight days of below-freezing temperatures, with three of the days setting record lows.

The Automobile Club of New York reported receiving 23,000 phone calls since Monday the 8th from drivers unable to start their cars. Con Ed reported record demand for electricity, steam and natural gas. Commuter railways suffered major weather-related delays. And a ship just in from the North Atlantic turned around and left New York for Baltimore, hoping its winches and other equipment would thaw out enough there to allow for the unloading of cargo.

Speaking of Lyndon Johnson, as we were a while ago, the cold of January 1968 forced itself into his routine as well.

Cut to about 4:05 into the monthly film of Johnson’s activities produced by the U.S. government, and you’ll see footage of kids in fake fur-trimmed winter jackets, bopping up and down in the cold. You’ll also see adults wearing that sure-is-cold rictus grin that grown-ups get when they have to stand outside at official events in the wintertime.

The scene could pass for Albany, or at least Philadelphia.

And then you hear the voiceover: “On the 7th of January, some very chilly citizens of San Antonio gathered at Randolph Air Force Base.”

LBJ missed the very worst of the weather because he spent the first half of the month at his “Texas White House,” hosting Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and working on his State of the Union speech.

My grandparents, stuck in Connecticut not far outside New York City, didn’t have that good fortune.

I would like to say they kept moving and muddled through. But I see the canceled doctor’s appointment on the calendar, and I conclude that this cold snap was bad enough to force even the most stoic to the sidelines.

(I’m not sure I can blame cold-related befuddlement for my grandpa recording his doctor’s appointment at 12:30 a.m., rather than 12:30 p.m. He did that on other calendar entries. It seems to have been a repeated quirk of his, like buying lottery tickets.)

I also notice that my grandfather didn’t embellish extreme cold like he did extreme heat. There are no creative expressions for cold days — no “blisterbitchers” or “dingdongers.” Just extra-thick, extra-emphatic numbers with what look like long, trailing fingers of ice.

Maybe, for all his protestations about uncomfortably hot weather, he preferred that extreme to the other.

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Christmases past have brought the best out of me, but this year finds me with less to offer. The muse and I are splitsville, I think, and I get by mostly on offspeed stuff.

My great-grandma had something special to offer around this time of year. Her offering, unlike mine, depended less on inspiration and more on discipline and experience.

A taste of it now might be nice.

December 20, 1968.

December 20 and 21, 1968.

Stollen, just in case somebody out there doesn’t know, is a traditional German holiday fruitcake, commonly but not exclusively associated with the city of Dresden.

In addition to dried fruit and zest, it can also contain marzipan. My great-grandma had a longstanding fondness for marzipan. (I wonder if she learned to love marzipan because of stollen, or if she learned to love stollen because of marzipan.)

Like all fruitcakes, stollen is not the sexiest food in the world. If anything, it verges a bit on the frumpy. Which made it an ideal Christmastime treat for the humble, rooted folks at 1107 Hope Street.

I would love to share my great-grandma’s stollen recipe. Alas, I don’t have it, and as far as I know it’s not in the family archives.

So, in keeping with the somewhat faded and understated mood this holiday, here’s a secondhand re-gift of someone else’s stollen recipe. It’s from “The Joy of Cooking,” which everyone in the world ought to have on their shelves anyway.

I don’t honestly think anyone’s going to make stollen just ’cause they read about it here. If you do, good luck. If you don’t, I hope you enjoy whatever traditional holiday dish you choose to put on the table.

Merry Christmas.

Stollen, or Christmas Loaf

Have ready:
6 to 8 cups all-purpose flour

Combine and let stand 3 to 5 minutes:
1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees
2 packages active dry yeast

Add 1 cup of hte flour. Cover this sponge and let it rest in a warm place until light and foamy, about 1 hour. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over:
1/2 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. chopped blanched almonds
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped candied fruit)

Beat until soft:
1 1/2 cups butter

Add gradually and blend until light and creamy:
3/4 sifted sugar

Beat in, one at a time:
3 eggs

Add:
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp grated lemon rind

Add the sponge and enough flour to knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Toss it onto a floured board. Knead in the fruit and nuts.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
Roll each into an 8-by-15-inch oval.
Fold in half lengthwise and place loaves on greased baking sheets.
Brush tops with melted butter.
Let loaves rise, covered, until they again almost double in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes until done.

(The book suggests using a milk or lemon glaze; the stollen of my memory is invariably topped with confectioners’ sugar.)

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For years now, I’ve been passing along my grandpa’s weather-related reportage to you, the readers.

From the snow and floods of early 1962 to the torrid final week of August 1973, and even to storms that never showed up, I’ve shared my grandfather’s detailed records of temperature and precipitation to bring back long-ago events. He was clearly fascinated by the weather, and he took copious notes about it.

This week I’m here to say that … well, you know all those numbers?

They might not have been 100 percent accurate.

May 29, 1968.

May 29, 1968. The Mets and Yankees are both six games out of first. Neither will play today, for reasons explained directly above.

Four-and-a-half inches of rain is a metric arseload of rain for one day.

That’s wet-basement potential, flash-flood potential, turn-around-don’t-drown potential. (Especially if the preceding days have also been wet, though it doesn’t look like they were in this case.)

It looks like late May and early June of 1968 were pretty crappy, weather-wise, all over the U.S. According to FEMA, flooding and tornado disasters were declared on May 29 in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Iowa, with additional declarations a week later in Illinois and Ohio.

Just last year, the New York Times declared May 29, 1968, still the all-time rainiest May day ever recorded in the five boroughs …

… with a rain total of 3.99 inches.

It’s possible that Stamford, up the coast from New York, somehow got a half-inch more rain than the big city did. (I haven’t been able to find a trustworthy online source for Stamford-specific weather information.)

But they’re not that far apart geographically, and the Times is a pretty authoritative source. Which makes me wonder how and where my grandpa got the weather info he put on his calendars every day.

I’m pretty confident he didn’t just make it up.

And I’m also pretty sure he didn’t have a weather station in his backyard to personally track the temperature and rainfall. Even if he did, he was still working in 1968, and not home all the time so he could keep an eye on it.

If I had to guess, I’d say his weather reports were taken from either the Stamford Advocate or WSTC, the local radio station. The Tri-State area is large enough that the New York papers and stations might not be counted on to give Stamford-specific info.

Wherever he got it from, I’m now suspecting that it might have been an inch off here, a couple of degrees off there — sometimes on the high side, sometimes on the low.

It doesn’t really matter in the long run. Everything I write about is locked safely away in the past. And no one’s looking to my grandpa’s calendar entries as any kind of accurate historical record.

But I always assumed they were accurate to one-tenth of an inch, so I’m a little put off.

Ah, well. It is an important step in all of our personal development to learn that our elders are flawed, and don’t always have the right answers.

Some of us just take longer to learn than others.

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Some thematically unrelated but awfully memorable music.

My older son, showing a knack for interpersonal relationships totally missing in his father, got himself elected to his middle school student council this year.

One of his duties as a councilor is to take envelopes under the table — er, I mean, to take part in planning the end-of-year dance.

It’s not a formal event, as far as I know. The corsages and the limos come later.

Still, since it’s that time of year, we’ve been educating him and his younger brother about what proms and balls are … how the girls get their hair all did, and how they look radiant and grown-up, and how the boys rent tuxes and somehow look even younger and more callow than they do in jeans and hoodies.

Not sure whether the kids are looking forward to these events or dreading them, based on our clashing recollections.

(Like most girls, my wife liked the whole trip. Like more than a few boys I knew, I had no particular use for it; I put in my obligatory spin or two on the dance floor and got the hell out. I had no interest, but if you were dating someone, you couldn’t not go. It was an unwritten rule handed down by … somebody. I blame Mike Love.)

Most of us have one or two prom stories.

But what if the tuxes and gowns could talk?

Your average tux and prom gown get at least a couple spins. Heck, I’ll bet some tuxes go to a prom a week during peak season, over the course of multiple years.

Think of what they could tell us about moments of passion, pain, pleasure and good old-fashioned awkward teenage embarrassment.

They probably sit on the racks, like off-duty firefighters around a stove, swapping stories. (“He thought he’d take her to Taco Bell. Guess who ended up with Zesty Cheesapeno Sauce all over his cummerbund? Ay-yuh.”)

Anyway, three hundred and twenty-eight words later, here we are in April 1968, and my grandparents are turning a couple of used prom gowns loose on the world to share a couple more special nights and pick up a few more stories.

My aunt Elaine is attending college in New Haven, and is in the process of leaving childish things behind. And my grandparents aren’t letting her prom gowns gather dust in the limited closet space of 1107 Hope Street.

April 8-11, 1968. "Advertise prom gowns."

April 8-11, 1968. “Advertise prom gowns” — in the Stamford Advocate, presumably. Meanwhile, a young Mets pitcher named Jerry Koosman shuts out the Dodgers for the first of 222 major-league wins.

I note that this week’s admonition seems to be written in my grandma’s handwriting. It doesn’t surprise me that she should be in charge of closet-cleaning duties.

Now that I’ve started thinking about fancy-night clothing, I kinda wonder whatever happened to my aunt’s prom gowns.

I am charmed by the thought that maybe they went to a family of four sisters, each of whom handed them down in turn. Who knows? Maybe the gowns saw fancy-night duty all the way to the Jimmy Carter administration.

Or maybe they went to one or two more balls, and were then deemed unstylish and unsuitable.

What becomes of an unfashionable prom dress, anyway? It’s kinda like the old song says: “What becomes of the broken-hearted?” Perhaps the broken-hearted gather in a big drafty ballroom and wear 10-year-old prom dresses. It seems plausible enough. There’s probably a big tub of Zesty Cheesapeno Sauce there, too.

Or maybe the prom gowns sat in a closet for 15 or 20 years, at which point everything old became new again, and some free-spirited teenage girl embraced them as charmingly retro instead of simply outdated.

And, given a chance by a new generation, they discovered that teenage passion, pain, pleasure and embarrassment are eternal.

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It’s that time of year when some of us grab one last opportunity to sneak away for a couple of days before the school year starts again.

My grandparents’ youngest kid was in college in 1968, so they weren’t under the same pressure to get out of town — or, more accurately, the same pressure to get home again.

Still, they chose the end of August for a brief break, heading north to escape the steamy temperatures of Stamford in the summer.

And, because we wish we were there instead of here, we’ll tag along.

August 20-22, 1968.

August 20-22, 1968. The Mets are not in last place; that honor belongs, surprisingly, to Walter Alston’s Los Angeles Dodgers.

My grandparents (and presumably my great-grandma with them) had made a similar trip to Vermont the previous August. I’ve written already about the car trouble they encountered there.

Apparently they loved Vermont enough not to hold that against it. They were back again the following year for a whirlwind three-day, two-night visit.

The Candlelight Motel in Arlington, where my grandfolks stayed that first night, is apparently still in business and looks charming enough.

Nowadays, the nearby attractions include a recreation of Grandma Moses’ studio, as well as the Norman Rockwell Gallery. As an artist, my grandpa would have found both destinations of interest. I’m not sure either one was there in 1968, though.

The next day found them heading north along the western side of the state, through Rutland and Proctor, home of the Vermont Marble Museum … then across the state to the villages of White River Junction and Quechee, on the New Hampshire border … with the day ending not far away in Woodstock.

(The name “Woodstock” still meant “Vermont” to a lot of people in August 1968, not yet having been co-opted by Jimi Hendrix or Charles Schulz. I think the Woodstock Motel might still be in business, but if it is, it doesn’t seem to have a website.)

On the 22nd, they headed back home, stopping along the way in the town of Chester and presumably admiring the granite houses there. They were back in their own beds that night.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the big trip. I’m sure my grandpa took some, but to my knowledge, they’ve not been scanned in. My grandpa took a lot of pictures in his 90-plus years, and we’ve generally focused on scanning in the ones with family members, not the ones with scenery.

I’m sure Vermont in the Sixties was even more placid and rural than it was 30 years later, when I visited once or twice. If I couldn’t be there in 1968, it would be nice to see pictures of it. Maybe I’ll check the family photo albums next time I’m in the same room.

(I did find this picture on Flickr. I suspect my grandpa, a fan of trains, would have liked to have taken it. Perhaps he saw the same station, or even the same train.)

Rural Vermont might have been an especially appealing place to be in the summer of ’68.

In a year of war, assassinations, riots and unrest, Norman Rockwell’s America seems — at least in retrospect — like a welcoming place to which to escape.

Alas, the real world called my grandparents back, as it calls so many of us back at the end of August.

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