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Posts Tagged ‘1971’

April 30, 1971, is a Friday. It’s the end of another work week, and as the year hits one-third finished, people stop and wonder where all the time’s going.

In the national headlines, President Nixon signals an interest in visiting China, while Americans await the imminent launch of a new national passenger rail service, Amtrak. (China is much in the news: The covers of both Time and Life magazines feature pictures and stories about a U.S. ping-pong team whose visit to the country indicated a developing thaw in relations.)

It’s a travel day for the president, though not to Peking just yet. Nixon takes breakfast at the White House with former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, then flies to California and eats dinner in San Clemente with the president of Reader’s Digest.

“Summer of ’42” is in movie theaters, as is Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” concert movie, whose ads promote “All Elements of the Truth Captured Live On Film.” On TV, the post-Diana Ross Supremes appear on David Frost’s show, while Fred Astaire visits Johnny Carson and Don Meredith stops in on Mike Douglas.

This being the ’70s, the sounds on the radio are a wild ragbag of the sacred and the profane (“Put Your Hand In The Hand” next to “One Toke Over The Line”), the raging and the conciliatory (“Eighteen” next to “We Can Work It Out”), and the disposable and the eternal (make your own calls here.)

In basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks win their first NBA title. In baseball, the Mets and Yankees both win, and the Mets close out April in first place in the National League East, a game in front of the Montreal Expos. Sportswriters are reporting that New Orleans — with its proposed Superdome — and Honolulu have moved ahead of Dallas-Fort Worth as the favored cities to obtain major-league baseball teams through relocation or expansion.

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April 30, 1971.

Of course, you know how these posts work; you’re just waiting for me to dial the focus in on 1107 Hope Street and, in particular, its head of household.

It seems to be a fairly quiet day for my grandfather. He’s not working. The only event that passes muster to be recorded on his calendar is a phone call to Boston, where my aunt is going to grad school.

My aunt’s car, which was still registered to my grandpa, had been stolen and then recovered two weeks before. It appears the call had something to do with that.

My aunt was also scheduled to graduate in two weeks’ time, so maybe they spent some time talking about commencement arrangements too.

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Whatever those arrangements were, they would not come to pass.

April 30, 1971, turned out to be a historic day for my grandpa, for reasons not anticipated and not shown on his calendar.

The next day he had a heart attack that laid him up for a while. As my dad has commented here, it changed my grandpa’s personality and approach to life. He became more relaxed, and less likely to get wound up by daily details.

That change didn’t happen instantly, of course; but you could argue that April 30, 1971, was the last day that Bill Blumenau approached the world in the way he had become accustomed to approaching it. After that, life required something different of him.

The heart attack also officially ended his working years. He’d been semi-sorta-retired before it; he was retired after it.

If you roughly divide my grandpa’s life into periods — we’ll call them Boy, Teenager, Young Workingman and Family Man — April 30, 1971, could be seen as his last day as a Family Man … the last day of that swath of years in which he brought home a paycheck (or wanted to) and provided for a household with kids.

(My dad was already out of the house, married with a kid of his own, by April 1971. My aunt’s impending graduation and entry into the real world also signaled that the family years at 1107 Hope Street were coming to an end.)

The bright side — at least seen in retrospect — is that the transition to a new phase of life ended up working out pretty well. My grandfather lived 29 more years. He met three more grandchildren and a great-grandchild. He painted. He grew tomatoes. He drove to the grocery store. He watched the Buffalo Bills on the television. He took things easy.

So if there’s anything to be learned from April 30, 1971, it’s probably the obvious:

  • The status quo can take a hard left turn on any day. Today could be your April 30, 1971. (Or mine.) So take time to be thankful for those ruts, routines, abilities and daily experiences that favor you.
  • When life does change, it’s not always for the worse, so keep your eyes open, be patient and try to adapt.

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The start of a new year is always a time for hope — whether it has plans and plots behind it (I’ve looked at my budget, and I’ve figured out how I can start saving money for retirement!) or whether it’s simply based on generic optimism (This is going to be my year, I just know it!)

For some portion of us, that hope will be repaid. For others, it will vanish before the month is out.

(I was tempted to write “for most of us, it will vanish before the month is out,” but that seemed exceptionally cynical. Things work out for some people. Who keeps statistics on the pursuance and fulfillment of hope, anyway?)

This installment finds my grandfather at the start of a new year, striking out on a personal project with at least some degree of hope.

Unfortunately, “striking out” seems to have been the operative phrase.

On January 4, 1971, my grandpa made an afternoon visit to the local unemployment office and returned with nothing. (I assume the zero with the dash behind it is a reference to his job search, and not to something else.)

This was not his first visit there — the office is mentioned on calendar entries from the end of 1970, as well. But, maybe the start of a new year rekindled his hope that somebody would be looking for an experienced draftsman.

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A week later, the same thing, only at a different time:

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A week after that, the weather turned cold and crappy. My grandfather made the trudge out anyway, and was rewarded for his persistence with nowt. (The big blue temperature marking only seems like another giant goose egg in this context.)

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One more week of Mondays in January, one more week of sloppy weather, one more week of returning home empty-handed:

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The 1971 calendars say my grandpa made one more fruitless expedition on Monday, February 1, and then — miracle of miracles! — landed an interview on Wednesday, February 10, with a company called Sonic Engineering. (Whether the interview arose from the unemployment office or from my grandpa’s own shoe-leather reading of the help-wanted ads is lost to history.)

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I know very little about Sonic Engineering except: (a) it apparently had an office in Norwalk, a community or two over from Stamford; and (b) it didn’t hire my grandpa.

And after that, the visits to the unemployment office disappear from the calendar, as do any additional references to interviews or jobs. (My grandpa’s heart attack in May of that year put paid to any remaining job-search aspirations.)

Am I trying to rain on the hopes of the new year? Definitely not. As I said, some people’s goals and wishes come true.

Maybe the message is that sometimes, if you don’t get what you want, you end up doing just as well or better in the end.

My grandpa was 60 years old in that first week of 1971. He would only have worked a few more years anyway; I don’t perceive that his life was that much worse because he didn’t. Maybe another job would just have been another source of stress.

He might have liked to have a few more years of paychecks in the bank, just on the general principle that you can never have enough money. Whether he would have spent that money or not is another question. As it happened, he got by without it.

So, hold tight to your New Year’s hopes … but if you don’t get what you have in mind, be flexible and wise enough to move with what you do get. Things have a way of working out.

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I’ve written about all kinds of community anchors that come and go.

Last week it was banks. In previous installments we’ve hit stores (like Gimbels and E.J. Korvette), movie theaters, churches, and too many restaurants to list.

I’m pretty sure we’ve never hit schools. Indeed, the schools attended by the Blumenau family of Hope Street, Stamford, have shown admirable staying power.

Springdale Elementary School — just up the street from 1107 Hope Street, and a place where I used to walk with my dad and brother for some open-field exercise — is still in business. So is my dad’s alma mater, Stamford High School, on the wonderfully named Strawberry Hill Avenue.

(Now that I think of it, I did once write about my dad’s old junior high, Dolan. That’s still around too.)

While those schools have lasted, other schools come and go — sometimes much quicker than anyone imagined they would.

This week finds my grandpa dropping off his recycling at a school that went from community institution to closed within a quarter-century’s time.

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February 6, 1971. The expansion Buffalo Sabres, in their first season, are outperforming the established Detroit Red Wings.

My dad, a member of Stamford High’s Class of 1961, attended double sessions at the school all three years he was there because of overcrowding. My mom spent her first year of high school in double sessions at Stamford High as well.

As it happened, the city of Stamford had a plan in place to respond to its teenage population boom. In the fall of 1961, the city opened its second public high school, Rippowam High School, on High Ridge Road.

The Hope Street Blumenaus’ younger child, my Aunt Elaine, graduated from Rip. So did the young woman who would later become my mother. And so did her younger brother, my Uncle T.J.

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These pix of Rippowam High’s football team (I think they’re in dark) were taken by my other (maternal) grandpa. My Uncle T.J. is almost certainly on the field somewhere. Rippowam’s most famous football player is not pictured, as he was 12 at the time; he did not take the field for Rip until later in the Sixties.

Rippowam High — named for a Native American tribe, which also lent its name to a local river — primarily drew students from the more affluent northern half of Stamford, while Stamford High drew from the city’s middle-to-working-class lower half.

(This seems to have been a common social pattern. When I lived in Framingham, Mass., 20 years ago, there was a Framingham North High School serving the leafy suburban parts, and a Framingham South serving the grittier southern parts where the freight trains ran through.)

In 1971, when my grandpa took his empty bottles there, Rip would have been settled in as a regular part of the city’s daily fabric.

But that didn’t last.

This New York Times article, despite its melodramatic lede, tells the story: As birth rates declined, the city of Stamford didn’t need Rippowam as much as it did in the early Sixties. Rippowam was closed following the 1982-83 school year. According to the Grey Lady, that was part of a larger trend: Stamford’s public school district declined from 24 schools in fall 1971 to 16 in fall 1983.

A third public high school in the northern part of town, Westhill High School, opened in 1972. Since Westhill was newer, Rip might have lost out to it when city officials were deciding what to close.

(A few of my cousins are Westhill grads and grew up in a house that backs up to the school’s property. Once in the late ’80s, when my brother and I were on our high school track team, we were visiting my cousins in Stamford and decided to sneak over to Westhill for a track workout. I jogged some laps while my brother — who won a New York State championship in indoor track around this same time — lit up a bunch of 400-meter intervals. The Westhill team was watching from the sidelines by the time we were done, wondering if the speedy stranger was a friend or a foe. They never found out for sure, because we never talked to them; when we were done, we just left. My brother had a flair for the dramatic during his competitive years, and leaving a bunch of kids asking each other, “Who the hell was that?,” was one of his great moments in that regard. This has nothing to do with Rippowam High or the patterns of Stamford’s teenage population. It was just a fun moment, and a favorite story of mine. And you get to hear it too.)

Anyway, the Rippowam building was used for alternative education programs, adult education, and for a science and technology magnet school.

Then, with enrollment on the rise again around the year 2000, it was pressed back into service as Rippowam Middle School, and remains in that use today.

Perhaps, fifty-plus years after its opening, Rippowam has finally found its permanent educational niche.

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Wednesday, August 18, 1971, was a summer day like countless others on my grandfather’s calendars — humid and hazy, with a high of 88.

But on this day, the lurid orange sun had to share space in my grandpa’s hand-drawn sky with a foreboding sign of the times.

August 18, 1971.

August 18, 1971. The Mets and Yanks, both in fourth place, win.

The threat of environmental pollution, so long ignored, was becoming inescapable by August of 1971.

News programs were making note of the growing crisis. On the very night of Aug. 18, David Brinkley reported for nearly five minutes on NBC’s Nightly News about a group of schoolchildren who wrote letters about pollution to U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. (The kids presumably saw Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, as a sympathetic ear.)

TV watchers that month were also seeing one of the most famous public service announcements of all time, launched in April to coincide with the second Earth Day.

Seen through skeptical 21st-century eyes, the ad stumbles because of its lack of authenticity. It’s now known that lead actor Iron Eyes Cody was the son of Sicilian immigrants to Louisiana, and had as much Native American blood as Joe DiMaggio.

The use of Native American imagery to make a point also rankles. America has never really taken care of its original residents — in fact, we’ve kinda screwed them at every turn — but we’re glad to trot them out to make a point in a big ad campaign.

None of that seemed to bother viewers much at the time. The PSA resonated so well, and was so talked-about, that it ran for 15 years. I remember seeing it, and you probably do too:

Of course, the message about pollution’s dangers didn’t have to come via the TV. My grandfather might have noticed it just by looking out his window.

According to newspaper reports, the state health department issued an air pollution watch for Fairfield County on the 18th because of a stagnant high-pressure weather system extending from the Midwest to New York. It was the first such alert of the summer in the county; a similar alert was declared in New York City.

The weather system was expected to remain in place through the weekend, trapping pollution in the air.

Officials called on residents and businesses to cut unnecessary combustion — such as driving — and said they might require a major power plant in the area to switch to low-sulfur fuel.

I don’t know how long the alert lasted, or whether my family took any action to curb its infinitessimal share of Fairfield County’s smog.

I do know that my grandpa’s calendar entry for the following Sunday makes no mention of smog, pollution or clouds. I’ll take that as a positive indicator.

Man’s inhumanity to the environment remained a top news story well after the smog lifted in southwestern Connecticut.

Just two days after this calendar entry, a U.S. Navy refueling ship accidentally dumped 1,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean, fouling the beach at President Nixon’s oceanside California retreat.

And air pollution issues continued to show up on my grandpa’s calendars year ’round, not just in the thick of summer.

February 10, 1972. An air inversion is ...

February 10, 1972. An air inversion is the same weather pattern that contributed to trapping pollution in August of 1971.

 

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We’ve already established that my grandpa was a space buff, chronicling American missions on his calendar throughout the 1960s and ’70s.

There’s a Cape Canaveral-sized hole in his calendar in April 1970, when the Apollo 13 mission narrowly escaped becoming America’s first outer-space catastrophe.

Given that the fate of Apollo 13 made worldwide headlines, I am surprised that my grandfather made no written reference to it.

Maybe he was too absorbed in it to write anything down. Or maybe he didn’t write anything down in the middle of the ordeal because he was afraid of how it would end, and he didn’t look forward to having to record the worst-case.

In any event, the three men aboard Apollo 13 made it home safely.

And the next time Americans went into space, about 10 months later, my grandpa was back on board with them, so to speak.

February 5 and 6, 1971.

February 5 and 6, 1971. It was not sleeting and raining on the moon, presumably.

Maybe space buffs can rattle off facts about the Apollo 14 mission off the tops of their heads.

But I don’t know much about it myself, except that the mission went more or less as planned, and America presumably breathed a big sigh of relief.

(There were a few potentially significant mechanical issues, but the astronauts and Mission Control managed to iron them out together; I don’t know to what extent they were publicized at the time.)

Wiki tells me that Apollo 14 was captained by Sixties space pioneer Alan Shepard, who became the only one of the original Mercury astronauts to walk (and play golf) on the moon.

I also learned that I’ve been in the same parking lot with a memento of the mission. Astronaut Stuart Roosa brought hundreds of seeds along, which sprouted back on Earth into what were called “Moon trees.”

One of the Moon trees was planted outside the police station of a little town in Massachusetts where I used to live. Presumably, barring lightning strikes or other catastrophe, it is there to this day.

Apollo 14 returned to Earth without incident on Feb. 9, and my grandpa was glad to record its arrival.

After the near-tragedy of the previous flight, it was — as the British say — a restoration of normal service.

February 9, 1971.

February 9, 1971.

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