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Posts Tagged ‘1969’

Once again I find myself writing about a name you only read in obituaries nowadays.

(It’s a lonely business, like clearing the leaves off a grave, but not without its pleasures all the same.)

This week we ring the bells of memory and follow my grandpa into a once-proud community institution that was already dying when he went to visit:

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December 16, 1969.

I’ve written about department stores before, almost three years ago, so I won’t unleash the full torrent of my crap on you again. (My views have not changed.)

Suffice it to say that C.O. Miller’s was another in America’s seemingly endless roster of once-beloved downtown department stores.

Founded by Charles O. Miller in 1868, it moved through several downtown locations before settling into a bent-wedge-shaped brick building at 15 Bank Street in 1933.

(This photo spread of C.O. Miller’s posted by the Stamford Historical Society provides an interesting glimpse inside what an American department store looked like in 1917, as well as a look at Mr. Miller himself.)

Stamfordites of a certain age remember the store fondly … the walking outside on crisp winter days; the dignified absence of breathless Black Friday geekery; the white-gloved elevator attendants.

People of other ages — like, my age and younger — don’t remember it at all, because the ’60s was the last full decade C.O. Miller’s would survive. It closed in 1973 or ’74 (sources differ), and had been a discount-store shell of its former self under out-of-town owners for a period of time before that.

Although some urban renewal took place in the general vicinity of 15 Bank Street, the distinctively shaped C.O. Miller’s building is still there — a short distance from Mill River Park, former home of the previously explored Pink Tent Festival.

(It’s also a few blocks away from 307 Atlantic St., which I’ve just discovered is where The Jerry Springer Show tapes its episodes. Whaddya know.)

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Mmmmm, falafel. (Yeah, I snagged this from Google Maps. The former C.O. Miller’s building is at left center. I believe there was a nearby warehouse where the giant parking garage is now.)

I couldn’t guess at this juncture what walking cap, scarf, bottle of perfume, or pair of gloves brought my grandpa to C.O. Miller’s. No doubt the store was bedecked in Christmas abundance, or as much as it could muster at that point in its history.

He went shopping in the afternoon, just a few days before the shortest day of the year. Perhaps the sunshine was feeble and the air chilly on Bank and Main streets when he exited with his purchase, whatever it was.

Perhaps he looked around and thought, “I’m not coming back here.” And then, like so many others, he didn’t.

These are the sorts of small decisions, repeated thousands of times over, that turn one-time community pillars into names you only read in obituaries.

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A great person, and also a link to the Blumenaus of Hope Street, has passed.

So this week, we return to a time of loss and grief.

And, hopefully, solace.

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March 23-24 and 30-31, 1969.

My great-aunt Eleanor Kidd died April 1 in western Massachusetts. She was just about three months shy of 104 years old, and represented the last living relative of my grandparents’ generation.

She was a smart, funny, resilient lady who overcame adversity more than once and enjoyed the pleasures of long life and close family. (I won’t rewrite her obit, linked above, but suggest you check it out. It’s better reading than anything I’ve written in a long while.)

To explain her relationship to me in Hope Street terms, her sister Corine married my grandfather, the keeper of the calendars. And Great-Aunt El showed up on them from time to time over the years, while visiting or otherwise interacting with the Blumenaus of Hope Street.

She was also one-third of my family’s tightest birthday cluster: Hers was July 4, mine is July 5, and my cousin Brandon (the son of my Aunt Elaine) is July 6. This was not the sort of cluster you piece together by searching distant generations on a family tree: The three of us were all in the same room at least once or twice. This somehow escaped my grandfather’s notice, and he never took a photo with just the three of us; it was rather the sort of thing he would have thought of.

As an independent adult, I only spent a few days in her company. Not long after I was married, my wife and I (then living in Norfolk County, Mass.) went out to West Springfield one autumn weekend to visit Great-Aunt El and her family. I had a lovely time; the hospitality was warm and genuine; and it remains a regret that I did not stay in touch.

If you’ve been here a while, you might remember my post about Great-Aunt El on her 100th birthday … or the post I wrote about her husband, Bob Kidd, who died before I was born but whom I would have liked to meet.

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Reprinted from my earlier post just ’cause it’s such a great picture. Eleanor and Bob Kidd looking wicked happy at my parents’ wedding, July 1967.

Bob Kidd, El’s husband, died unexpectedly in early March 1969. The calendar entries posted above show a phone call to Springfield on March 23, and what appears to be a “long phone call to Springfield on March 30 or 31. (I wonder what “long” meant by Hope Street standards. Very few phone calls in the 15 surviving years of Hope Street calendars got that treatment.)

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what was going on. My Great-Aunt El was probably opening up to her sister in the aftermath of her loss, maybe talking about what she was going to do going forward to support her children … and my grandma was doing her best to comfort, reassure and support her as she started on a new path.

Or perhaps Great-Aunt El was talking about the mundanities of daily life — the kids’ grades, the spring thaw, the brakes on the car — as a way to think about anything other than her loss, and my grandma was providing an ear.

(Maybe my grandpa, too. The Blumenaus of Stamford and the Kidds of Springfield were close, and I know my grandpa felt the loss. He was perhaps not an enlightened/sensitive man as we define them in the 21st century, but he would have helped in any way he could recognize.)

I am not close enough to Great-Aunt El’s family to fill a similar role in their time of grief, decades later.

And, given the length and quality of her life, perhaps their grief is somewhat different in nature. Those who knew her best can treasure a life well-lived, instead of mourning a life cut short.

Still, my heart is with them, as my grandparents’ were with Great-Aunt El when she needed it. The loss of a remarkable person is the loss of a remarkable person, no matter how long you get to spend with them.

To her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, in all the places they’ve settled, I offer my condolences.

And to the memory of Great-Aunt El, I offer the preceding 740 words, and a tip of the hat.

Rest well.

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When you’re a kid, you never stop to think how your parents and grandparents achieved their particular talents.

If I thought about it at all, I probably thought that my grandfather (my brother and I called him “Drawing Boy”) had been effortlessly turning out painted canvases and sketched caricatures for decades, with as much inborn natural grace as he used to remove a splinter.

I didn’t have any concept of the work he’d put into his artistic skills. He’d just always been doing it.

Discovering his daily calendars and some of his personal journals has brought into better focus the effort he put into improving his art.

I can’t ever remember seeing him go to art class — maybe because he would have blown off such events when I was in town, to spend time with his family.

His calendars have schooled me on the number of classes he took in the ’60s and ’70s. In the early days, his classes were simply a hobby. As he got older and retired, they filled other needs: They also became a chance to get out of the house where he spent most of his time, meet like-minded new people, feed his head with knowledge, and relax.

As with his other public endeavors, I wonder whether anyone from those long-ago art classes remembers him. Is there someone still kicking around Fairfield County who sat in the same room with an earnest, friendly retired draftsman from Springdale? Someone who chatted with him about Vietnam or OPEC or Bobby Valentine during breaks from the easel?

If there is … well, the Comments box is at the bottom of this post.

In the meantime, I’ll devote the rest of this week’s post to drawings and notes from my grandpa’s sketchbook, spanning roughly the years 1966 to 1974. (Some are dated, some are not.)

There’s probably nothing here you won’t find in the journals of a half-million people who have taken art classes over the years.

Still, the drawings mean something to me, just because they represent my grandpa simultaneously at work and at play, learning and relaxing, unwinding and improving … and, above all, doing something near to his heart.

I didn’t see a lot of that firsthand as a kid, but I enjoy seeing it now.

Undated, but one of the first shots I have from the art notebook. My grandpa comes face to face with an eternally difficult lesson: Technique is just a means to express what you have to say.

Undated, but one of the first shots I have from the art notebook. My grandpa comes face to face with an eternally difficult lesson: Technique is just a means to express what you have to say.

Oct. 24, 1966. Learning the formal basics of perspective.

Oct. 24, 1966. Learning the formal basics of perspective.

Oct. 17, 1966. Don't worry, I'm not gonna show you every single page of detail from his sketchbook. Just found this interesting. Wonder if people taking art class today get the same primer on colors?

Oct. 17, 1966. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna show you every single page of detail from his sketchbook. Just found this interesting. Wonder if people taking art class today get the same primer on colors?

March 4, 1968. "DON'T MAKE UNINTERESTING LINE." Easy to say, hard to live by.

March 4, 1968. “DON’T MAKE UNINTERESTING LINE.” Easy to say, hard to live by. (This entire blog post might be an uninteresting line. Sorry, folks. I haven’t taken any blogging classes.)

Circa 1969. Some interesting aphorisms here (whoops, forgot to mention that you can click these to see them larger.) Wonder when my grandpa achieved the 100-watercolor threshold?

Circa 1969. Some interesting aphorisms here. (Whoops, forgot to mention that you can click these pictures to see them larger.) Wonder when my grandpa achieved the 100-watercolor threshold?

Circa 1969. I can't remember any painting of my grandpa's in which he went into such detail on trees.

Circa 1969. I can’t remember any painting of my grandpa’s in which he went into such detail on trees. His poplar looks kinda fake, but I totally buy his birch. No dogwoods, unfortunately.

I kinda love this one; it looks like my grandfather is creating a windblown New England village from scratch, like a merciful yet puritan God.

I kinda love this one; it looks like my grandfather is creating a windblown New England hill-village from scratch, like a merciful yet puritan God. In my mind this is somewhere near the Quabbin Reservoir.

We skip ahead to January 1973. The teacher, who asks, "Who likes dirty snow?," has clearly never lived near the Great Lakes in April.

We skip ahead to January 1973. Some hippy-dippiness interspersed with some useful tips. The teacher, who asks, “Who likes dirty snow?,” has clearly never lived near the Great Lakes in April.

Year-end 1973. It ain't cheap being an artist, yo.

Year-end 1973. It ain’t cheap being an artist, yo.

Year-end 1974. Note that he's got some money incoming to offset his expenses.

Year-end 1974. Note that he’s got some money incoming to offset his expenses. Who bought “Full Steam Ahead” and “Reflections On A Rainy Day,” and are they still on somebody’s wall?

Back to February 1973. Some useful tips on surf -- though, again, I am not sure my grandpa ever availed himself of them in his personal art.

Back to February 1973. Some useful tips on surf — though, again, I am not sure my grandpa ever availed himself of them in his personal art.

July 10, 1973. I doubt my grandpa hunted or spotted ducks once in his lifetime, so this lesson must have been useful. Somebody's darling grandson is five days old.

July 10, 1973. I doubt my grandpa hunted or spotted ducks once in his lifetime, so this lesson on marshes and estuaries must have been useful. Somebody’s darling grandson was five days old.

Sept. 18, 1973. The birthday of a friend of mine who grew up in Rochester but whom I didn't meet until college. The sketch at bottom predates a painting.

Sept. 18, 1973. The birthday of a friend of mine who grew up in Rochester but whom I didn’t meet until college. The sketch at bottom predates a painting in my personal collection.

One last from mid-September 1973. We leave my grandpa contemplating the intersection of metropolis and tugboat.

One last from mid-September 1973. We leave my grandpa contemplating the intersection of metropolis and tugboat. Is there any god or cosmic force that disapproves of a humble tugboat?

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Last week’s arcane journey into the world of instrumental intonation might have been the least-read thing I’ve ever written in this space.

I dunno … I thought it was interesting, but I guess I disappeared into the notes and staves a little too far.

So, for this installment, we’ll take things back to my grandpa and his interactions with the world around him.

The fodder for this post might be the most personal note of my grandpa’s I’ve ever posted. I found it in his previously mentioned journal of work and personal information. It’s possible no one besides my grandpa had ever seen it; I doubt he showed it to anybody.

Depending on how you interpret it, it shows a side of him Hope Street has never shown — bitter, disappointed, and maybe a little vulgar.

Hard-working man that he was, it was his job that set him off.

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One of my grandpa’s two surviving journals includes a poem, torn from some sort of printed publication, called “Ode to a Draftsman.”

The poem, in rhyming doggerel, expresses the frustration of fixing all the company’s problems — only to have the solutions credited to people higher up on the totem pole. (No copy of the poem seems to exist on the Internet.)

At some point, my grandpa sat down and wrote his own ode to a draftsman’s weary, underappreciated lot … except that his dispensed entirely with rhyme and went straight for cynicism.

The “shoot in de pentz” ending could be some sort of lighthearted dialect joke — more on that in a second — but it doesn’t strike me that way.

I’m not sure if a “shoot in the pants” is a kick in the arse, a grab-the-belt-and-toss bum’s-rush, or something altogether coarser.

But to me, that detail is the key that sets the tone. Our narrator isn’t getting shown the door, or being put out to pasture, or some more genteel euphemism. He’s getting a raw deal, not at all in line with his years of contributions to the company.

I find it interesting that my grandpa wrote this in the sort of ethno-American dialect he might have heard as a child going to vaudeville shows. (It’s either overdone mock-Brooklynese, or five-years-off-the-boat German-American.)

Perhaps he intended that to be his alibi if anyone else ever read it: Oh, just a little doggerel. I was only being silly. Only joking.

Except I don’t think he was.

For one thing, he initialed it, as if to emphasize his authorship and approval. He didn’t have to; no one else ever wrote in that journal. But the initials at the end imply: This is my story.

I’m not sure when he wrote it, or who inspired it. It seems most likely to me that it dates to one of the following periods:

  • Sometime between mid-October 1969 — when longtime employer Time Inc. probably told him he was losing his job — and mid-January 1970, when he lost it. (I consider this the most likely time period, which is why I dated this post “winter 1969.”)
  • Sometime in September 1970, when his final employer, John C. McAdams and Sons, let him go. (I consider this less likely because he was only there for five months or so, and probably didn’t have a deep emotional connection to the place.)
  • Sometime in late 1970 or early 1971, when he was still seeking another job but couldn’t find one. (I’m not sure the tone of the poem quite supports this, but it’s a possibility, however distant.)

To me, the punning sketches up top also betray a concern about work. The journal has several pages with punny drawings — maybe we’ll get back to them in a future installment — but I think the idea of an “unemployed” clothesline came to him when unemployment was on his mind (even if he wasn’t quite there yet).

From a 21st-century point of view, it’s easy to interpret this as an ode not just to draftsmen, but to all skilled, higher-cost workers of about 55 or older who are starting to hear hints that it’s time to go put their feet up.

That will probably be me in about a dozen years. The thought of an impending future shoot in the pants has occurred to me before. And I expect it will cross my mind again on other Monday mornings, when I sit down at the desk to give wid mine head ideahs.

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It occurs to me that I’ve never written about one of my grandfather’s chosen leisure-time activities … and if I don’t do it this week, it ain’t gonna happen.

So we head back to April 1969, to a room filled (no doubt) with cigarette smoke and the reek of beer, not to mention the rustle of chatter and the clack and rattle of wood against wood.

April 30, 1969.

April 30, 1969. The Mets and Yankees are both in third.

I don’t know that much about my grandpa’s kegling career. I’ve seen pictures of him lined up alongside his bowling teammates — I’m assuming they were co-workers, but maybe not.

I know my parents had his bowling ball (they probably still do) and maybe even a trophy or two he picked up over the years.

I don’t know how good he actually was … although that doesn’t really matter all that much. Unless you’re Earl Anthony, bowling is probably something you do to get out of the house and hang out with friends, not something you do to relentlessly hone your game.

I guess my grandpa was serious enough to buy his own ball at some point, which says something, but I don’t think he was that hardcore about bowling. I can’t remember his ever taking me bowling as a kid, or offering to. I had a dim awareness that he’d bowled years before, but it seemed like something from the remote past.

In fact, there’s a distant possibility that this calendar entry marked his last trip to the lanes — or, at least, his last trip as part of an organized league.

Several years of calendars mention a “final bowling” in late April, followed by a “bowling banquet” in early May. Like this:

May 7, 1969.

May 7, 1969. Artom Manor was a banquet hall in Norwalk; Google suggests they did a steady business in wedding receptions.

 

I don’t have his entire calendar for May 1970, but the pictures I have don’t show any bowling references.

Same deal for early May 1971: No references to a “bowling banquet.” (He happened to be flat on his back at the time recovering from a heart attack, but before he got sick, he didn’t write anything about bowling on his calendar.)

He stopped working at Time-Life in January 1970. So if his teammates were co-workers, he might have lost touch with them, or not been invited to return for future seasons.

So April 30, 1969, could have been my grandpa’s last evening in harness. I hope he enjoyed it, and that he picked up some spares.

A few other Bill Blumenau bowling moments:

May 3, 1962.

May 3, 1962. The bottom of this entry got cut off, but it indicates my grandpa’s bowling goes back just about to the beginning of this run of calendars. Maybe earlier.

May 4, 1966.

May 4, 1966. Chatham Oaks was another banquet place and caterer in Norwalk. Apparently it’s still around, run by the same family.

May 1967.

May 3 and 10, 1967. Note that the final night of bowling this year coincided with my grandparents’ wedding anniversary. Seems like he bowled anyway. Good man.

My real interest in my grandfather’s bowling entries really doesn’t have anything to do with his skill, or lack thereof. It has more to do with the idea of him as a social animal, taking part in one of America’s definitive leisure-time pursuits, going out at night with his friends.

I did not much get the chance to see my grandpa as a regular person, mingling with people he knew and shooting the breeze about work, family and the world. (Relatively few of us get to see our grandfathers this way, I think. And if we are, we are too young to appreciate what we’re seeing.)

It would have been interesting to attend one of these bowling nights to see my grandfather in that kind of setting. I’m sure my grandpa was not a dramatically different person in the company of friends and co-workers … but it still would have been cool to observe.

That’s about it. See you next week, one more time.

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