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Posts Tagged ‘1969’

Last Monday night, I put up a special bonus post about an interesting person who’d crossed paths with the Blumenaus of Stamford, Connecticut.

Turns out that the student minister at their church in the late 1950s (minor edit: student minister, not youth minister) rode with the Freedom Riders in the Deep South … took part in the remarkable burglary of an FBI office, helping to expose the Bureau’s surveillance of U.S. citizens … and taught at Temple University for forty-plus years.

I might have just given away the meat of it; but if you missed it, consider reading it anyway. It’s quite a yarn.

Before I get into this week’s regularly scheduled calendar entry, I’m going to touch on an amusing thought I didn’t discuss in that post.

My grandfather –the guy who kept the calendars — was a law-and-order type. Not in the knee-jerk Southern-sheriff fashion, but in the sense that he believed in respecting authority and obeying all applicable laws.

Like other Americans of his generation, he’d been exposed to plenty of pro-FBI mass-media messages. He probably believed that if J. Edgar Hoover was watching you, you’d done something to deserve it.

When the story of the FBI burglary unfolded in the newspapers, my grandfather was most likely appalled. Those lawless kids, he would have thought. Where will they stop? What kind of criminal would do something like that?

He never would have imagined for a moment that the charming, intelligent, clean-cut student minister who had connected with his kids — heck, who had probably sat at his table for a cup of coffee — was among the masterminds.

The minister’s intelligence and ability to connect with others made a deep impression on my dad. My dad believes that, if the minister had been able to sit down and talk with my grandpa, my grandpa would have understood his point of view and recognized, if not endorsed, the need for civil disobedience.

It’s a shame that didn’t happen — it would have been a conversation for the ages — but of course it couldn’t, for any number of reasons.

And so my grandpa went about his daily life, walking the line, never suspecting he had a personal connection to the rebellious counterculture.

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And now for our regularly scheduled post, which will reaffirm how mainstream and conservative my grandfather was.

Over the 15-year timespan of my grandpa’s surviving calendars (1961 through 1975), both he and Richard Nixon had pretty eventful rides.

This week’s calendar features a high point in Nixon’s experience; and it seems like my grandpa relished it as well.

January 20, 1969.

January 20, 1969. An uncharacteristic bout with bad spelling.

When first I wrote about my grandpa and Richard Nixon, my dad wrote in to suggest the former was not that strongly attached to the latter.

My grandfather — a Nixon voter, and a classifiable member of Nixon’s famous “silent majority” — was not one to get worked up about politics or politicians, my dad said.

This week’s calendar entry makes me think that my grandfather liked Nixon a little bit more than that.

I don’t think the other presidential inaugurations during that period (Democrats Kennedy in 1961 and Johnson in ’65, and Republican Nixon again in ’73) made it onto my grandfather’s calendars.

If they did, I didn’t take a picture of them … and I took a lot of pictures, so if I don’t have it, I don’t think it was there.

But Nixon’s first seems to have been a noteworthy occasion in my grandfather’s eyes. Maybe even an occasion to celebrate, given his use of Nixon’s campaign slogan. It sure looks in retrospect like “Nixon’s the one” seemed to Bill Blumenau like something worth repeating, even savoring.

Jan. 20 fell on a Monday in 1969, so my grandpa would probably not have watched the big event. I doubt Time-Life was so profligate in those days as to provide a TV set to distract its employees. He could have made the short drive home for lunch and turned on the tube, I suppose, but I doubt he would have done so. When a man’s at work, a man’s at work.

(By contrast, I remember watching Barack Obama’s first innaugeration — er, inauguration — on a flat-screen TV in a conference room at my current job. Having worked in newsrooms for a dozen years before that, it wouldn’t shock me if I’d seen at least parts of other ceremonies while on the job … though comparing a Nineties reporter’s job to a Sixties corporate gig is chalk and cheese.)

A 28-minute clip of Nixon’s first inaugural is available online, in probably much the same grainy quality my grandpa would have seen had he turned on his TV set at home.

Wiki, meanwhile, offers a transcript of his inaugural address. It’s a nicely written and even uplifting piece of work, full of references to brighter, turmoil-free tomorrows.

Watching Nixon confidently deliver it in the archival footage, it’s easy to understand how the average American would have bought in.

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If you’re new here, I wrote a much better end-of-the-year blog post two years ago. Consider checking it out while you’re here.

I’ll be striking the tent here on Hope Street in about four months, and it felt appropriate to devote the last end-of-year post here to a calendar entry with a palpable if mysterious feeling of mourning.

(This particular entry also marked its 45-year anniversary a couple of months ago, which is as good a reason as any other to write about it now.)

October 17, 1969.

October 17, 1969. The Mets have been champions of the baseball world for about 24 hours.

Not too many of my grandfather’s calendar entries got a funereal black outline.

The entry of November 22, 1963, for instance, got only a partial outline. And that one appears to have been drawn more to compartmentalize the calendar day than to express mourning.

I assume that the outline drawn around Friday, October 17, 1969, was put there as a comment on the events of the day, and not merely as decoration. (It appears to have started out blue and been overdrawn with black.)

Something noteworthy clearly took place that day, since my grandparents phoned both of their children. In those days, you didn’t make long-distance calls just for the sheer hell of it, or at least my family didn’t.

The family tree doesn’t show any deaths that day, or surrounding days, in the immediate family.

And, while I didn’t take pictures of the surrounding calendar, I don’t remember any funerals being mentioned. (I probably would have taken pictures of follow-up events, had any been listed.)

So what the hell happened?

My dad doesn’t know, and he doesn’t specifically remember the phone conversation of October 17, 1969. But he has an interesting theory:

My grandpa worked his last day at Time-Life in Stamford in early January 1970. My dad theorizes that my grandpa was given notice on October 17, 1969, that his job would be eliminated in a few months. (In those days, companies would have been decent enough to keep their people employed through the December holidays.)

My grandpa’s draftsman job at Time-Life was not his first job. Nor would it be his last: He briefly hooked on with a firm in Norwalk for roughly the course of the 1970 baseball season, working his last day on Sept. 16.

But he held the Time-Life gig for 23 years — during which his kids grew up and he moved comfortably into the middle class and middle age. That was the job that defined him, and by which he defined himself; and I’m sure he would gladly have held it until he was 65, if circumstances had run that way.

That job was also the family’s sole means of support during those important and eventful years, unless you count the money my great-grandma made teaching piano lessons. (Maybe she got Social Security as well, I don’t know. But if she did, it didn’t pay too many of the bills.)

It is kind of touching, and not at all unbelievable, to think that my grandpa would have mourned the pending loss of his job. For the self-esteem, for the money, for the sense of purpose.

It might be a little far-fetched to imagine someone as undemonstrative and phlegmatic as he was making a public show of the bad news. But I’m sure he felt that way about it.

And that feeling might have resonated strongly enough to find physical form in a ragged black outline on his calendar.

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The time period many of us think of as “the Sixties” — for now, we’ll place it at roughly 1963 to 1974 — is reaching its 50th anniversary.

This will doubtless produce a flood of think-pieces, retrospectives, grasps at clarity and, from time to time, outright revisionist spin, as the still-lively Baby Boom generation continues to tangle with its legacy.

But I think the history of that period is a little too hazy and complex to produce many clear-cut conclusions, even now.

This week we drop in on a late-’60s college commencement, where some of the decade’s big questions get grappled with in public:

June 7, 1969.

June 7, 1969. The Mets are eight games behind the streaking Chicago Cubs; the Yanks are coughing along in fifth place.

I’ve written at some length about my Aunt Elaine’s tumultuous two years of grad school at Boston University.

I’ve only occasionally mentioned, though, that she earned an undergraduate degree from what was then Southern Connecticut State College (now University) before going on to BU. June 7, 1969, found my grandparents and great-grandmother headed up to New Haven to attend her commencement.

It just so happens that the 1969 edition of the Laurel, the Southern Connecticut State yearbook, is online.

You have to pay to see all the pages in full detail, but a page summing up that year’s commencement can be easily read. I’ll reproduce the relevant passage here.

(I’m not sure if there’s a copyright issue in reproducing this chunk of text. But if the copyright belongs to anybody, it ain’t the people who are trying to make me pay to read it. So I’m gonna go ahead and copy the text. I believe the Class of ’69 referred to this as “sticking it to The Man.”)

Anyway, here’s part of what was said that day:

ln a departure from tradition a member of the graduating class, Frank Wargo, delivered the Commencement address. He called today’s college student protesters “a distinct minority who do not represent the feeling of 98 per cent of the students across the country.” “That 98 per cent,” Wargo said, “is the ‘Other Voice,’ and somehow it must be heard above the protesters.”

In his address Wargo said, “At 6:30 every evening when Americans sit down in front of their television sets or pick up their newspapers to see and hear what is going on in our country, they always seem to hear about that two per cent. It is no wonder, then, why the American public is being turned on by the younger generation.

“The rest, the overwhelming majority,” Wargo said, “are rarely seen or heard. But they’re there. They go into industry, business or teaching, they enroll in graduate school or join the Peace Corps or go into the service.”

“These are the people who help keep our country strong, these are the people who go unnoticed, but who are always there. Ask the two per cent what they want or where they are going and most of them won’t be able to give you an answer.”

Wargo conceded change was both healthy and necessary, but that it must be accomplished in a non-violent manner because “violence begets violence.”

“Somehow,” he concluded, “the voice of the 98 per cent must be heard above the protesters so that at 6:30 when Americans pick up their newspapers or turn on their television sets and see our colleges and universities in the hands of that small minority and throw their hands in the air and ask what is wrong with our younger generation, they will hear that ‘Other Voice’ saying: ‘We are here, we are trying hard, won’t you please give us a chance?”

Young Mr. Wargo went on to make the “Other Voice” proud. He earned a master’s degree in city and regional planning, worked for 30 years, served on several town government boards and commissions, and has been active in community organizations.

It’s not my intent to pick his speech apart with the hindsight of 45 years. In any event, I imagine my grandparents pretty well agreed with him as they sat in the crowd and heard him speak.

Still, his address raises some challenging questions in retrospect.

Just how big was the “two percent”? Of course the real hardcore radicals made up a small minority of the student population in 1969 — probably less, even, than 2 percent.

But what of all the kids, like my aunt, who never threw a rock or burned a draft card, but attended demonstrations and came to oppose the war?

What percentage of young America really did have significant concerns with the way the country was being run? How many of them discerned in the Nixon administration a hostility and dishonesty that turned out to be very much real?

I suspect the opinions and positions of college-age America covered every stop on the spectrum, with plenty of gray in between, and summing it up was much more complicated than a simple 2-percent-vs.-98-percent breakdown. I’m not sure historians will ever get a firm handle on it, at any rate.

– What did they want? The assertion that the radical wing of American youth didn’t know what it wanted or where it was going seems doubtful. Were the Weathermen truly that vague about their ideals?

I would imagine that a pretty big swath of the 98 percent were the ones who didn’t know what they wanted or where they were going. They were the ones who sat in late-night dorm-room bull sessions asking questions like:

– “Should I go to Vietnam, or go to Canada?”
– “Should I go to work for a company that makes materials used to fight the war?”
– “Do I want to work for a nonprofit in the inner city and make a difference, or get a corporate job and set myself up with some money?”
– “This country seems pretty well broken. Do we need some kind of revolution to make this society work the way it was designed to?”

Valid enough questions, one and all; and all confounding to future historians trying to get any sort of unified handle on the generation. They wanted any number of things, and the paths to most of them were winding and unclear.

Who won? The commencement speech — at least, the quoted part — asks that the older generation recognize the efforts of the kids who stayed on the straight and narrow, because they’re the ones who “keep this country strong.” (There’s an implication there that dissent is un-American and leads to weakness, but we’ll let it lay.)

We know the real hardcore revolutionaries of the ’60s didn’t achieve what they wanted. I wonder how many of the 98-percenters did.

Most of them, I suspect, joined The System and worked for 30 or 40 years to make the trains run on time … at the end of which, the country was still broken in a whole bunch of ways.

Most of them tried, as the speech said they would; I imagine only a small minority (2 percent, perhaps?) set forth to line their pockets and the hell with everything else.

And America, like the Class of ’69, is far too complex for an easy answer. No one could really expect one generation to sort out all its problems and challenges.

Still, when historians look back 50 or 100 or 200 years later and try to summarize what that generation truly achieved, I wonder how the lot of them — the bomb-throwers and the teachers and the ditch-diggers and the Peace Corpsmen — will be judged. How much of their diverse vision were they able to make real?

It will be interesting to see how much of that judgment the Baby Boomers will be able to guide or stamp before they fade away. History hasn’t passed from their hands yet, but it will, as it does to every generation.

I don’t pretend to know the answer myself. My area of historical specialty is the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut; the big-picture stuff is going to have to come from someone smarter and better-versed.

So we’ll leave off with the image of a lawn full of capped-and-gowned graduates, their motivation clear and their ideals high, beseeching their older generation for their chance.

They got it, anyway.

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My dad sold his piano a week or two ago.

It was a seven-foot Mason & Hamlin, made next door in East Rochester, N.Y. And when I was growing up, its voice was almost as familiar in my house as the voices of my family members.

My dad, a semi-pro musician, would keep his chops in shape and wash off some of the mental grunge of corporate life by sitting down at the piano just about every night and playing for 15 or 20 minutes. Often it was stride-style, like Fats Waller; from time to time, if he was preparing for a gig, it might be something more formal.

The piano joined the household either a couple months before I did or a couple months after.

One of my dad’s old college friends has told me a story of coming to visit when I was a toddler, and seeing my dad playing me notes on the piano to try to ascertain whether I had perfect pitch. (Unfortunately, I don’t. Sorry, Dad.)

Now my folks are retired, and shedding possessions, and lightening their load,  and thinking about maybe moving to a different house.

Plus, today’s digital keyboards can capably simulate the sounds of everything from a baby grand to a clavinet to a softly plucked jazz guitar. My dad has a good digital keyboard, and it’s less imperative now to have a big piano in the living room than it seemed 40 years ago.

So off it went, a week or two ago, trucked off to a new owner in Buffalo.

I would guesstimate that my dad has lived 60 of his 70 years in a home with an acoustic piano of some sort, with the exceptions being college and his first five or six years of marriage. So this is a minor but interesting milestone in Blumenau family history, this transaction.

My disheveled dad at the piano with his bass-playing, pajama-wearing younger son. 1981.

My disheveled dad at the piano with his bass-playing, pajama-wearing younger son. 1981.

My folks hosted Christmas parties for many years at which my dad's musician friends would show up and blow a couple sets of jazz. This pic is also probably circa 1981, and early in the night -- these parties drew a fair number of people.

My folks hosted Christmas parties for many years at which my dad’s musician friends would show up and blow a couple sets of jazz. This pic is also probably circa 1981, and early in the night — these parties drew a fair number of people.

I can’t think of a calendar entry from my grandfather’s calendars in which he surrenders anything of that level of significance. (Except possibly for his job, which would be an interesting post, but not here and now.)

So instead, I’ll link this to a calendar entry in which my great-grandma comes to the end of something musical that, I imagine, mattered  a fair amount to her.

June 21, 1969.

June 21, 1969.

I’ve mentioned before that my great-grandma was a piano teacher. She taught my dad how to play. And she held a recital for her students every year at the house on Hope Street, followed by some low-key refreshments.

(A few of her former students have even made their way here to the blog, which is a marvelous thing.)

Anyway, the calendar entry above is the last calendar entry I have a picture of that mentions my great-grandma’s annual recital.

She would have been 82 years old in June of 1969, and probably about ready to stop teaching the basics of piano to the youth of Stamford.

I’m also fairly sure that her piano teaching ended sometime around 1970, when she went through a period of suffering spells of disorientation. (I’ve written about that before too.)

So, while her last recital could have been in 1970 or ’71, I’m going to presume for the purposes of this blog entry that the June 21, 1969, calendar entry represents another Blumenau family goodbye to the world of the piano. Not to the instrument, per se — her upright piano remained in the living room at Hope Street after she stopped teaching — but to a certain connection to the instrument.

My grandparents’ upright piano made the move with them from Stamford to Rochester in the mid-’80s. It was not of the same quality as the Mason & Hamlin, though, and I don’t know what became of it. I suspect it was disposed of without great ceremony, which was in keeping with its age and condition.

The Mason & Hamlin may be the last piano in the  family for a while, as my brother and I have broken the keyboard tradition. (He took lessons for  a while; I was never coordinated enough to manage 88 keys.)

I do have a couple of guitars lying around the house, though. As I write this, I find myself thinking about some future time when my hands are too gnarled to play them and I finally sell them off, bringing another generational shift to the Blumenau family’s long relationship with music.

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It is the last month of a long decade.

My grandfather is fifty-nine years old; there is no one still living in his home who is nearly young enough to believe in Santa Claus.

And yet, when the season rolls around, my grandpa picks up a red pencil and sketches Santa, with a hearty, beaming face melting into an expanse of beard.

December 25, 1969.

December 25, 1969.

Maybe it is reflex. Maybe it is tradition.

Or maybe it is hope … the continued belief of a middle-aged heart, maybe not in Santa Claus exactly, but in the existence of some kind of positive force that rewards people for spending their lives trying to walk the right path.

(For being on the Nice list instead of the Naughty list, in other words.)

Perhaps that is why so many parents have been so eager to teach their kids about Father Christmas all these years. They want their kids to buy the notion that being good will bring them unexpected or unimaginable rewards from some higher source.

The red suit and the beard are just incidental in the end … they vanish, like training wheels, after their time is through.

(I am suddenly struck by the mental image of a towering junkheap containing thousands of pairs of training wheels. A nice representation of childhood’s end, that. Or, at very least, a good album cover for somebody.)

There ain’t no Santa Claus, of course. There ain’t no free lunch. And there is no higher reward, save perhaps for the twin gifts of health and sanity for as long as you can hold them.

That doesn’t stop the childlike faith from far outliving the child, though.

If you are still keeping the faith, I hope you are rewarded — perhaps under the tree, or perhaps in some other setting when you are less expectant.

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas.

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