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Posts Tagged ‘1970’

How upright were the Blumenaus of Hope Street?

Why, they wouldn’t even cheat Ma Bell.

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February 22, 1970.

It’s early 1970. My Aunt Elaine is in grad school at Boston University, leading a life of her own, but still seeing her folks and her grandma from time to time.

On this particular day, she’s left Hope Street to go back to school (a trip that should only take three hours, according to Mapquest; perhaps the weather or traffic slowed her down).

To let her family know she dodged the maniacal New England highway drivers and got back safely, she’s made just about the shortest possible telephone call you can make and still be polite.

And it’s still cost somebody 3.5 cents per second.

(Not sure whether the call was collect, or on my aunt’s dime … but my grandpa made note of the cost, so he must have known. He may have been paying the bill either way.)

This makes me think of the old practice of collect-calling a previously agreed-on name as a means of delivering a message. The person being called would turn down the collect call request, because hearing the pre-arranged name told them all they needed to know — at no cost to anyone.

As I’ve mentioned before — five years ago to the day; how weird is that? — the name used on my mom’s side of the family for that purpose was “Evelyn Keyes.

In the mid-’80s, when my maternal grandparents either sold their old home in Stamford or closed on their new home in Rochester, we got a collect call for Evelyn Keyes — which we turned down, knowing events had gone according to plan.

My maternal grandma’s name was Evelyn; the “Keyes” part referred to Evelyn either getting the keys to her new home, or handing over the keys to her old one.

(I believe Evelyn Keyes was also pressed into service on prior occasions for we-got-home-safe purposes, though my memories of that are not as specific. Of course, once those grandparents moved to a home five minutes away from ours, our need for such deceptions declined sharply.)

My younger readers — if indeed I have any — might wonder why people went to such lengths to avoid putting through a short phone call. Was it really that big a deal?

Well, 35 cents in 1970 equals about $2.20 today. That’s not a budget-breaker for most people … but it’s a hell of a lot to pay when all you want to do is tell a loved one in Connecticut that you got to Boston okay. From a 2017 perspective, something like that should be free, right?

Plus, your regional phone company was a monopoly back then, and it kinda had things all its own way. It wasn’t doing you a lot of favors, so the tendency was to get your own back, in small ways, where you could.

To accomplish the same errand today, you might send your family an email or a text. Or you might mention on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that you got home safe. Or you might use your free friends-and-family calling plan and make a quick call. All user-friendly options; all instantaneous; all more or less free.

(What do you think the executives of Southern New England Telephone in 1970 would have said if you’d told them that, in the future, calls to friends and family would be free? They’d have metaphorically hung up on you.)

Personally, I kinda wish the ways Americans communicated hadn’t changed so radically, because I miss the fun of the cloak-and-dagger stuff.

If Ma Bell still had a monopoly, I would revel in creating so many collect-call aliases, my friends and family would need a folder to keep track of what they all meant.

A collect call from George Deukmejian? That means “too tired to cook tonight; order a pizza.” James Jackson Storrow? That must be “working late; eat without me.” Tristan Tzara? “Kidnapped by aliens; will be home in four days with curious rashes and significant memory loss.” (Hey, you gotta be prepared for anything.)

But, times have changed, and the old ways have gone.

And anyway, the underlying point of this whole essay is that the Hope Street Blumenaus didn’t take the easy way out. My Aunt Elaine didn’t make a collect call to Montgomery Clift or Kevin White at my grandparents’ phone number, and my grandparents didn’t turn it down with a wink and a nudge.

She put the call through, and however begrudgingly, my grandfolks took it. They noted every cent and every second, and they knew they would pay for it, but they took it.

I guess you need some folks like that in the world, to keep society on the rails and everything working right.

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My grandpa was so close to some of his co-workers at Time Inc., they were on a last-name basis.

Or so I gather from today’s calendar entry, which has me pondering the curious ways in which grown men interact.

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January 15, 1970. The New York Rangers have a slim lead over Boston in the NHL’s Eastern Division.

This entry marks the second-to-last day of my grandfather’s 23-year employment at Time Inc.’s Springdale Labs. The following day, he packed up his desk and left forever. (He landed one final short-term job, then worked the last rat-race day of his life in mid-September.)

I am intrigued by the short list of colleagues who accompanied my grandpa to the Darien Holiday Inn for his going-away lunch.

I don’t know anything about them as people. Instead, I’m interested in my grandpa’s differing methods of presentation.

Al. D. (I cannot help but think of him as Al D. Sure!) and Charlie S. get first names, but Engel, Simonson, Sutter and Rice get last names.

Perhaps the guys with the first names were the real close friends and running buddies, and the guys (ladies?) with the last names were the boss types who were there because they were obligated to attend.

Or maybe the guys with the first names just had last names that were too complex to fit on the calendar. Al. D. might really have been Albertus Dinatatropolis, or something like that.

Whatever the possible explanation, I’m intrigued by the variation.

In my own corporate (and non-corporate) work experience, it’s been rare for me or anyone I know to refer to people generally by last name. Mostly the more convivial first name is used, or sometimes first and last to differentiate one Dave or Paul from another.

My memory of my dad’s corporate career says that his dinner-table conversations were a mix of first-and-last and just last names. I don’t, unfortunately, remember how that was classified — whether superiors got last names and peers got both names, or any such taxonomy. I suspect there was rhyme or reason, even subconscious, but I don’t know what it was.

And it appears that, left to his own devices, my grandpa was most apt to use last names alone.

Does this reflect the ongoing casualization of the American workforce over the decades? Will my kids’ generation refer to their co-workers simply using tiny electronic portraits? Emoji, even?

(Or will they hold home-based jobs that prevent them from forming any relationships at all with co-workers? Perhaps my grandkids won’t even know what co-workers are. It’s hard to have going-away lunches when you’re in Omaha and your partner is in Poughkeepsie. But I digress.)

Or, maybe this reflects a declining number of veterans in the workforce. Maybe the people who were roughly of my grandpa’s generation got used to using other peoples’ last names (rank permitting) while they were in Europe fighting World War II, and it stuck with them when they came back home. But now that every able-bodied boy isn’t enlisting, the method of address has changed.

(This is just a wild guess; it may be that those in the military address each other using altogether more creative things than their last names.)

Of course, the quirks of nomenclature go both ways. It would be interesting to know what Al, Charlie, Engel, Rice, Simonson and Sutter wrote on their own calendars.

Was it Bill’s Going-Away Lunch? Blumenau’s Going-Away Lunch?

The answers, alas, are under 46 years of dirty diapers in whatever landfill Stamford employed to stash its trash. My research capabilities do not extend quite that far.

And it does not matter to my grandfather, who has, in more ways than one, gone away.

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It’s been a challenging winter for a lot of people, including me.

As I write this, the Lehigh Valley is about nine inches shy of setting a new record for its snowiest winter ever.

Temperatures this winter have threatened or surpassed records for cold, as well, and the local electric company reported a new one-day record for power demand. (A fair amount of the heating in central and eastern Pennsylvania runs on electricity.)

I used to eat these winters for breakfast when I was a kid in upstate New York. They were just standard operating procedure. I had no more idea than a penguin has that other climates existed.

And I still profess, as an adult, to like this weather. I watch hockey; I wear layers; I eschew a snowblower and hump the snow myself. I’m not near moving to Florida yet. I declare I never will, me, stomping my boot in the ice and setting my jaw firmly against the cold wind.

But … these real severe winters are not as much fun as they used to be. I can only close my eyes and pretend I’m in Quebec (or Rochester) so many times. I can only go back outside to clean up the snowplow’s wet, heavy leavings so many times.

And mentally evoking the hardy ancestors on the New England and French-Canadian branches of my family tree doesn’t work any more.

Tabarnac! they say. You look back too much. Stop invoking your ancestry as though it meant something. We lived our lives; this one is yours. Go live it as if someone 200 years later was looking back at you. And stop whining.

It was nice this past weekend — close to 50 degrees on Saturday, with an invigorating breeze. It felt like the dawn of spring.

But, as my grandpa’s calendar reminds me, we’re not out of the woods. Winter can stick around for weeks yet.

March 29, 1970.

March 29, 1970.

I seriously don’t know what I’ll do if we get nine inches of snow on Easter, in one of those snowstorms that begins with the work day and ends close to bedtime.

Well, yeah, I know what I’ll do. I’ll put on a flannel shirt and my trashy jeans, and go out to the driveway again, and spit defiantly into the snowbank, and start shoveling. That’s what my grandpa did in 1970, give or take a few details.

It will seem like a cold eternity … but I will once again shovel until the driveway and sidewalks and mailbox are cleared.

And when the snow finally melts, I will treasure the first crocuses of the permanent spring as though they were the Stanley Cup.

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My great-grandmother Grossee lived most of the way to 108 years. And up until the final few of them, her health seemed just about as solid as mine did.

Sure, she couldn’t walk or hear as well as she used to. But she knew where she was, and where she’d been, and who you were. And she still could do things like peel fruit and cut it up for a salad.

I don’t remember her getting that many colds or significant illnesses, either. (This may have been because she didn’t leave the house much as she grew older, and was less exposed to the public bustle of germs. Her retirement as a piano teacher in the early 1970s may have been a wise decision in that regard.)

My great-grandmother, spring or summer 1971.

My great-grandmother, spring or summer 1971.

In short, her core functions seemed remarkably strong for a person her age, up until maybe the last two or three years of her life.

But my grandfather’s calendar, and my relatives’ memories, teach me this week that it wasn’t always so.

September 8 and 9, 1970.

September 8 and 9, 1970. My great-grandma is a month shy of 84 years old.

On the day my Aunt Elaine heads back to college at Boston University, we have a call to the family doctor, Dr. Edward Malloy — and not a scheduled one, judging from the way it is written.

And on the next day, my great-grandma (she is the mother of the keeper of the calendar, hence “Ma”) goes to the hospital. Apparently her problem is not serious, as she is back at 1107 Hope Street by day’s end.

But that doesn’t seem to be the end of the story. In subsequent days, Dr. Malloy comes by for a house call, and my Aunt Elaine returns from Boston — not the sort of thing a college student usually does four days after leaving.

September 11 and 12, 1970.

September 11 and 12, 1970.

My aunt and my dad, looking back, don’t remember exactly what happened that week.

But they told me something I didn’t know: For a time, my great-grandma was troubled by short periods when she would lose touch with reality.

In my aunt’s words, they were “spells in which she would be unable to focus and would simply shrug her shoulders in confusion. … Their origin was unknown to the family for some time.”

Or, as my dad puts it: “I believe Grossee had a couple of “spells” in which she either passed out or went into la-la land briefly.  Today I believe these are called TIAs.  The first such episode might have scared your grandparents enough to call an ambulance.”

As my dad suggests, Grossee’s symptoms are consistent with what are now called transient ischemic attacks — in layman’s language, mini-strokes.

Like strokes, TIAs are caused by a disruption of blood flow to the brain. Unlike strokes, their effects can clear up within minutes or hours — though they are also capable of causing lasting damage. They also indicate an increased risk of real stroke.

My aunt and father indicate Grossee had several of these types of spells, and that the events described in September 1970 may have been the first.

By my aunt’s recollection, Doc Malloy didn’t find anything concrete to diagnose. When he retired in 1971, the family switched to a new doctor, who prescribed my great-grandma treatment for what he thought were seizures. (My aunt says my grandma described the medication as “something like a vitamin.”)

From today’s viewpoint, I’m not sure what that treatment would have been. Wikipedia (which, granted, must always be taken with a grain of salt) says lifestyle changes are the most commonly trusted prevention against TIAs, not vitamins or other medicine.

But, something worked — whether it was medication, or just the unknowable internal indomitability that kept my great-grandma getting up in the morning for so many years.

Grossee’s condition improved. She sidestepped serious, lasting damage. And, for most of the rest of her life, confusion and disorientation were not concerns. Certainly, they did not prevent her great-grandchildren from knowing her and interacting with her.

Grossee and darling great-grandson, summer 1977.

Grossee and puddin’-headed great-grandson, summer 1977.

This seems like a good place to wish my readers a happy Thanksgiving. So I will. Let us all savor our plenty.

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November 1970.

November 1970.

What does one say about older brothers?

Do you talk about the times they spilled your secrets, or the times they kept them?

Do you talk about the times you swapped punches with them, or the times you closed ranks with them?

Do you talk about the flak they generated, or the flak they absorbed?

Do you think of the things they taught you, or the things you found out for yourself? Do you take out the scales and try to weigh the balance between the two?

Do you depict them as irresponsible, or merely true to themselves?

Do you marvel at the ways in which they are different from you, or the ways in which they are the same?

Do you wonder how frequently and how closely you will stay in touch with them after the unifying central bond of your parents is gone?

You could do any and all of those.

Or, you could just page through the years of memories and look for one you like.

It would have been sometime around 1991 or ’92 when my older brother Eric spent a summer working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, one in a long line of summer jobs he held over the years.

Working the late shift meant he got to divvy up the remaining chicken with his co-workers and take some home at the end of the night.

We got sick of the bird after a few days, and he stopped bringing it home. But early on, we were still looking forward to it.

And the first night he brought home a box, he and I sat around the family dinner table ’round midnight, cheerfully devouring the chicken while we shot the breeze about Public Enemy or Michael Jordan or our summer jobs or whatever else was top-of-mind to a couple of college-age kids in the suburbs of the Rust Belt.

While I’ve grown to know the health hazards of late-night eating, there is something wonderfully cozy about sitting around a table late at night sharing food with someone else — especially when one or both of you has just come home. A single light shining through the kitchen window into the darkness, and a modest treat on the table, is as welcoming as home gets.

I think I first got this feeling when we would take family trips from Rochester to Stamford. We’d arrive late — maybe around midnight — but we’d still be a little strung out from the road, not yet ready to turn in, and sometimes we’d gather around the kitchen table and have a short glass of Seven-Up or something, and immerse ourselves in the comfort of having reached a friendly destination.

But, back to the Nineties:

There were no Big Reveals and no heavy discussions on this semi-forgotten evening. Just a straightforward, open, very pleasant sharing of time and space and chicken.

It is a fonder memory than its raw materials would indicate.

Happy birthday, older brother.

November 16, 1970.

November 16, 1970.

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