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Posts Tagged ‘1970’

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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I don’t much like to shop unless I’m buying groceries, beer or guitars.

I’m willing to visit a store from the past, though, in the name of family history.

So pack your charge card and we’ll go:

October 7-8, 1970.

October 7-8, 1970. Nice weather, eh?

I have a few retail memories from my visits to Stamford, even though I didn’t like shopping as a kid any more than I like it as an adult.

I remember going to a Caldor discount store, probably in the early ’80s sometime. It was located in a shopping center where you could see Long Island Sound from the top floor of the parking deck. That made an impression on me.

I remember Stew Leonard’s, the grocery store with the petting farm; and another local grocer called Bongiorno’s — my maternal grandma called it “Bonji’s” and used to buy Italian sausage there.

Maybe five years ago, I was in Stamford for a cousin’s wedding, and the front-page lead story in the newspaper that day was the closing of Bongiorno’s. I hadn’t thought of the place in years, and there it was in the news. It was like they’d waited to close down until I got to town, just to poke me in the memory bank.

Then, as a teenager, there was a visit to a place called United House Wrecking, which sold all manner of windows, doors, frames and other items salvaged from old houses. That, I actually thought was kinda cool.

I have no memories of ever going to an E.J. Korvette store. And I probably never did: According to Wikipedia, the discount department chain closed in 1980, when I was seven years old.

Clearly my grandparents went there, though. I’m guessing they must have special-ordered something, since they apparently went to “Korvetts” after receiving some sort of telephone notification.

(Has anyone ever analyzed people’s curious tendency to attach the possessive to the names of retail businesses? I still think of Caldor as “Caldor’s” even though that name has no basis in reality. I’ve even heard people refer to “Burger King’s.”)

According to Wikipedia, E.J. Korvette stores offered a scattershot lineup of goods for sale — everything from pets to tires to clothing to to furniture to high-end stereo equipment. No way to guess, then, what my grandparents might have bought.

At its peak, E.J. Korvette was a discount retail groundbreaker, so much so that co-founder and visionary Eugene Ferkauf landed on the cover of Time magazine and was extensively featured in Fortune magazine, both in 1962.

By 1970, the company had merged with another retailer, and Ferkauf had been removed from management. And ten years later, during the Christmas season, Korvette was gone. Retail is a tough business: You either change or die, and sometimes, you change and die anyway.

This blog post tells a little more of the company’s story. (The comments are as interesting as the post itself.)

It also shows some images of what Korvette stores used to look like. From the sound of it, the New York suburbs were Korvette’s core market, so Stamford would have been a natural place for the company to do business.

I suppose you can tell a lot about a person by where he shops. My grandparents were frugal people, and I guess my grandpa’s mention of E.J. Korvette just shows that.

Now, if Tiffany’s had been on the calendar. that would have been a story worth telling …

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A little thematic music — and yes, you knew that was coming, didn’t you?

When last we left our hero (and his wife and his mother), he was packing up his car and heading out of town after enduring a steamy, humid week of vacation.

So where’d they all go, already?

Well, their itinerary wasn’t all that surprising. They went to the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., to see their son and six-months-pregnant daughter-in-law.

From there they made a day trip to the American side of Niagara Falls, coming back in time to eat at a restaurant that may still be in business in the Rochester area.

And then they made the eight-and-a-half-hour trip home.

Pretty much the only thing of interest to me is the route they took to get home, which involved a bridge I haven’t heard of in a long, long time:

August 2-3, 1970.

August 2-3, 1970.

In my own life’s travels, I’ve come to associate trips across the Hudson with the Tappan Zee Bridge, with the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge the most frequent second option.

But there’s more than one way to cross the river, and it looks like my grandpa was keeping all his options open.

(An interesting fact from Wiki: The Tappan Zee Bridge was designed to have a 50-year lifespan. It is now 57 years old. Perhaps I will stay on Dean Friedman‘s side of the Hudson for a while.)

At any rate, the Bear Mountain Bridge opened in 1924, and carries U.S. Routes 6 and 202 between Rockland and Westchester counties. It is roughly 25 miles north of the Tappan Zee, and roughly 15 miles south of the Newburgh-Beacon.

Unless you live nearby, it appears to be more of a scenic route — a leaf-peeper’s bridge, compared to the much larger spans to its north and south.

I wonder if my grandpa took it because he wanted to see the sights, or because he wanted to familiarize himself with a backup route, or because there was something happening on the Tappan Zee he wanted to avoid. (Probably not the latter: He would have been hard put to know much about road conditions on a long interstate trip.)

As I said, I didn’t have any memory tracks regarding the Bear Mountain Bridge when I sat down to write this.

But thanks to YouTube, I can retrace my grandpa’s path from the comfort of my computer. And when I saw the footage, it looked ever so slightly familiar. I’ve definitely been there before, though I couldn’t tell you when.

Finally, I see on the calendar that my grandpa had additional vacation at least the first Monday and Tuesday of August, after being off the entire previous week.

His resume says he was let go from that job because business slowed down. I kinda wonder if his extended “vacation” was not, perhaps, a furlough, and a harbinger of things to come.

No matter. He enjoyed his work, and for today’s purposes, we will leave him employed.

Perhaps he is already looking forward to his return to work as he unpacks his bags, shakes off the proverbial road dust, and decides in his mind whether he’ll take the Bear Mountain Bridge when he goes to Rochester to meet his first grandchild.

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My dad once suggested to me that I write about warm-weather calendar items in the middle of winter, to impart warmth to my readers.

Can’t say I listened to him. (Hey, why start now?)

But I’m going to write about a warm summer week this week, for no other reason than I’ve been craving weather like this for months, and we’re almost there … just about in beer-and-barefoot-grilling territory, so close I can touch it.

This particular summer week has some small degree of retrospective family significance, as well.

July 27-30, 1970.

July 27-30, 1970.

My grandfather’s job as a draftsman at Time Inc., his breadwinning gig for much of his adult life, ended in January 1970.

He then hooked on from April through September of that year with John McAdams and Sons, a small firm in nearby Norwalk, before work slowed down and they let him go.

He was jobless and looking until he had his first heart attack, in May 1971, at which point he retired.

So the week we’re looking at here — July 27-30, 1970 — might have been my grandfather’s last vacation as a working man.

A minor distinction, to be sure, but a distinction nonetheless. The promise of vacation helps make work tolerable, no matter what your job. And even a dutiful gent like my grandpa needed to put his feet up every now and again.

So what did he do with his time off? Barefoot grilling and beer?

Unfortunately, it seems like he had to spend some of it attending to chores — a doctor’s appointment for my great-grandma here, a service checkup on his car there.

And it may have been too brutally hot for him to really enjoy. (We’ve already established that he didn’t like humidity, and that he didn’t have air conditioning.)

I note that July 28 and 29 have pretty much nothing listed. While he probably spent some time doing routine household chores, like weeding the garden, I imagine he might have just grabbed a glass of cold lemonade and sat down in front of a floor fan for a while.

On July 30, he roused himself long enough to head down to the post office and stop his mail, in preparation for an out-of-town trip.

It’s interesting that he didn’t leave town a couple days earlier, even though there were no commitments on his calendar. Instead, he stayed in Stamford and baked in the stifling heat he disliked for a couple of days.

And then, escape was at hand for the traveling man.

But we’ll get back to that next week, I think.

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