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Posts Tagged ‘1973’

If the longtime Stamfordites in the audience want to chip in with personal memories on this entry, I’d welcome it.

Without that, we’re grasping at fragments and guesses — a wisp of wind-blown music here, the sound of thoughtful chatter there, a glimpse of paintings hanging, the feeling of damp grass underfoot, and big tents dyed an improbable hue.

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June 28, 1973. Mets and Yanks don’t win. Neither does lottery ticket 60688.

Every community worth its salt needs an annual festival of the arts (if not a couple annual festivals of the arts).

You know, the sort of thing that has bands and paintings and photos and craft booths and maybe food stands. The kind of event that draws both hardcore culture vultures, and everyday people just looking for a nice afternoon out.

Stamfordites of a certain age might remember the Pink Tent Festival as just such an event. It was originally held in Stamford’s downtown Mill River Park from 1968 through 1976.

(The sense I get from the Internet is that the park was on the run-down side, and the event was a way to put it to use and get more people to go there, but I could be wrong about that. Online searches also suggest that the tents that housed the festival were, in fact, pink.)

If you scroll down to the text box at the bottom of this page, you’ll get some idea of what the last original Pink Tent Festival involved.

The newspaper writeup cites four nights and two days of continuous arts performances; movies; crafts; flower art; special Bicentennial exhibits; and a tent with artists from throughout the Tri-State Region selling their work “in the Greenwich Village style.”

That last component makes me wonder whether my grandpa had his own work shown at the Pink Tent Festival — either in 1973, or some other year.  I don’t know how high the bar was set, and how serious an artiste one had to be to be included; it’s possible he didn’t make the grade.

My grandpa’s calendars indicate he also planned to visit the Pink Tent Festival in 1972 and 1974. There’s no mention of it from 1968-71 or in 1975, and his 1976 calendar does not survive.

After 1976, he was out of chances. According to the New York Times, that year’s Pink Tent Festival drew 50,000 people. However, the city Parks Department refused to grant permits for subsequent events unless organizers posted bonds against damage.

Some online searching suggests the name was revived for later events; it doesn’t appear that it’s still in use today.

There’s also been a Stamford Festival of the Arts set up since the end of Pink Tent. (In these municipal minutes from 1983, city officials seem to refer to Pink Tent and the Festival of the Arts more or less interchangeably.)

Mill River Park, meanwhile, has gotten a multimillion-dollar makeover since the last pink tent was struck, including the replacement of 100 cherry trees removed as part of the restoration of the river. It sounds like a nice place now, nicer than it was when my grandpa visited.

More than that I cannot add … but again, if you’re out there, and you remember the Pink Tent Festivals, do consider leaving a comment. They were a short-lived tradition, but it seems they’re not entirely forgotten.

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I really only wrote this post so I could use the word “Mamaroneck.”

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June 13, 1973. Mets and Yankees win. The Yanks are in first, but it’s a dogfight.

Some aficionados of New York City delight in the neighborhoods, nooks and crannies of the city proper. They can tell you exactly where Gerritsen Beach is, or the pleasures to be found in New Dorp, or the right combination of public transportation to take to get to Maspeth.

I’ve always been kinda ambivalent about New York City itself. Plus, I’ve had some of the happier times of my life in the suburbs of big cities — whether it was visiting Stamford as a kid, or living and working in the western suburbs of Boston as a young man.

(If you buy Rochester, N.Y., as a “big city,” you could say I spent my entire childhood pleasantly in that mode as well — identifying with the city, reading and watching its news, listening to its radio stations, but from a distance.)

So I’m not that attached to New York City proper.

No, my interest lies with that sweeping, humming, densely populated region called the Tri-State Area … all those bedroom communities whose names bespeak both a close attachment to the big city, and a certain separation from it.

They’re places that got blacked out in ’65. Places where people drive — or drove — station cars. Places where generations of fiction writers have set their comedies (or, perhaps more often, tragedies) of manners. Places sufficiently caught up in New York’s sprawl that their own names have attained a certain amount of familiarity as well.

Places like Secaucus, and Pound Ridge, and New Canaan, and Scarsdale (whose name I cannot hear without thinking, “Where the hell am Iiiii?”), and Englewood Cliffs, and Pelham, and Tenafly, and Massapequa …

… and, yes, Mamaroneck.

I don’t actually know anything about Mamaroneck; I’ve certainly never been there. I have a vague sense of how to pronounce it (heavy on the second syllable), and I know it’s in the Holy Sprawl someplace, and I figure there’s probably a commuter rail station there.

(There is, Wiki says. There’s also a well-known golf course. The town is in southern Westchester County, on the water, and Google Maps says it’s about 25 minutes from Stamford in Sunday-night traffic on Route 95.)

I’ve written before about the various painting and drawing classes my grandfather took, especially following his retirement in 1971.

Bob Calrow was a Connecticut-based watercolorist who taught a number of the painting classes my grandfather took. He was apparently very good: This August 1973 article from a Tri-State Area newspaper mentions that Calrow had won 50 prizes for his work in the previous four years. (You can see Calrow’s name mentioned in several of the images here.)

In October of that year, the New York Times noted that Calrow would be leading an educational painting trip to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas near year’s end. I can’t imagine my grandpa gave an expedition like that any serious thought, but I wonder if the idea tempted him at all.

Anyway, getting back to the calendar entry at hand, my grandpa probably headed out to Mamaroneck to check out his well-known teacher’s work in person and maybe mingle for a minute or two. Perhaps there were other artists on display whose work he found instructive as well.

Since my grandpa hadn’t even met his second grandson yet, he didn’t realize he was feeding his second grandson’s geography jones.

Sure was thoughtful of him, though.

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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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A couple odds and ends before we get into this week’s installation:

– For the two of you who dug the Hope’s Treat musical project, another of my offbeat musical explorations (not directly related to this blog) has been loosed on the world. The tunes live here; some writing that attempts to explain them is here.

– For the somewhat more of you who dug the blog post on sauerbraten, my parents very kindly unearthed my great-grandma’s sauerbraten recipe, along with a side recipe for potato dumplings.

If that sounds interesting to you, click here for the handwritten recipe. Let me know how yours turns out.

And now for this week’s adventures …

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I’m pretty well gassed when it comes to writing about my family.

There have been times in recent months when I’ve sworn that I’m not even going to think about anything that happened before I was 21, ever again, because I’ve spent so much time over the past four years picking it to shreds.

And, there have been lots of nights when I sat down at the computer and wondered what the hell else was possibly left to say. (Tonight, for a few minutes, was shaping up as one of those nights.)

I still plan to spend a bunch of time when I’m done here thinking about the history of freshwater mollusks, and the works of Hans Christian Andersen, and chocolate milk, and a bunch of other stuff that has nothing to do with my bloodline.

I find, though, that when I get burned out, something comes along to cheer me up and remind me why I do this.

Like the somewhat out-of-season calendar entry I’m featuring this week:

December 25 and 26, 1973.

December 25 and 26, 1973.

The first of two Els on my grandpa’s calendar — my Aunt Elaine — showed up, with her husband, at 1107 Hope Street in time for Christmas dinner. To extend the holiday festivities, my grandparents also talked on the phone with my dad and the other El, my Great-Aunt Eleanor.

If either El knew what my parents had in mind for the next day, they did an El of a job keeping it quiet.

My grandmother’s handwriting — my grandpa wouldn’t burst out like that — tells the story of what looks to have been a much-enjoyed post-Christmas surprise visit. I can only imagine the looks on their faces when Baby Kurt and family turned up at the door.

Since Aunt Elaine and her husband were already there, I’m guessing we stayed with my other grandparents elsewhere in Stamford. That’s the best kind of surprise visit — one where you can spend plenty of quality time, but don’t have to shoehorn borrowed cots and folded-out couches into every room in the house.

In fact, I know that’s what we did, because another entry from a few days later makes reference to a special sleepover on Hope Street. My grandfather’s all-caps seems a little more excited than normal — this visit seems to have been one surprise after another:

December 31, 1973.

A momentary pop-culture sidetrack: December 31, 1973, would have been my first New Year’s Eve. I doubt I stayed up long enough to catch the deliriously funky New Year’s special featuring George Carlin, Tower of Power and Billy Preston. But my dad, free of his kids for the night, just might have tuned in:

Anyway: When they planned their surprise visit, my folks might have had other things on their minds besides spreading holiday cheer.

Connecticut had been hit by a historically nasty ice storm a week-and-a-half before, and it’s possible my dad and my uncle came to town, in part, to save my grandfather the physical stress of cleaning his yard. (They spent some time doing just that, as recorded in an earlier blog post.)

Both sets of grandparents had also come to my folks’ aid three months before, after my mom got into a car accident. (Wrote about that too. See how I might get burned out?)  Perhaps, with my mom feeling better and more mobile, my folks came up for Christmas as a gesture of thanks.

Whatever the reasons, my parents’ surprise holiday visit seems to have pleased its unsuspecting recipients.

And that, to me, is refreshing, even inspirational.

I suppose that under everything I write — under all the YouTube links and wise-ass cultural references and lengthy digressions — is the spark of interpersonal contact with someone who is loved and cared about. That’s what family life is about, and what family history is about.

And that’s what happened the day after Christmas 41 years ago, when a big brown Plymouth Satellite pulled into the driveway on Hope Street.

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“APPOINTMENTS, MEETINGS & OBLIGATIONS,” the top left corner of my grandfather’s calendars chorused, month after month, year after year.

What we find him doing this week … well, it’s definitely an obligation.

My grandpa would often use the tops of his calendars to list chores to be performed at some point during the month. It didn’t really matter when he fertilized the dogwood or got his car tuned up, as long as it happened.

The tumultuous month of October ’73 — think war in the Middle East, an energy crisis at home, and worsening Watergate — found him going downstairs to a funky, long-forgotten part of Hope Street to do some dirty work.

(Or at least I will presume, for the sake of this tale, that he did so. He never crossed the errand off his calendar, so maybe it lingered into November. We know from a prior entry that he had something else on his mind for the first week or two of the month.)

The basement at 1107 Hope Street hasn’t been invoked much in this ongoing yarn. Mainly because it was dark, and seemed only semi-finished, and scared Young Kurt enough that he endeavored not to spend any time there.

I was fine with other people’s basements as long as the lights were on. My other grandparents elsewhere in Stamford had a big sprawling furnished basement that was essentially a first floor, and I didn’t mind that. But the basement on Hope Street seemed cramped and primitive to me, and I was never much interested in going down there.

It was also full of tools, paint and such, being my grandpa’s work space, and I have never had any aptitude for handiwork. Maybe that factored into my distaste for the place as well. Handiwork, in my childhood experience, was what made my dad get mad and swear at stuff; and who would relish that?

Even when I wrote a room-by-room tour of the house on Hope Street a year or two ago, I spent about a sentence-and-a-half in the cellar. That was about all I remembered of it, and all I cared to know.

It’s a measure of the cellar’s utilitarian nature that, try as I might, I cannot remember ever seeing a picture of it.

My grandfather was big on documenting his surroundings — you name it, from the tile in the kitchen to the icicles on the front porch — and he lived in that house for 40-plus years. But to the best of my knowledge, he never brought his camera into the basement. That was the boiler room, where the work got done.

My dad, who grew up in the house, has a few stories that shine more light on the basement than I can.

When my grandfather smoked (my grandfather smoked?), that was the only room in the house where my grandmother would allow it. And my great-grandma used to marinate the beef for sauerbraten by stashing it away in the basement.

My dad had long since moved out by the fall of ’73, when the work room apparently needed some work in and of itself. So he wasn’t there to join my retired grandpa in slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls.

I was going to suggest it might have been smarter to paint the basement in the summer, so he could open the windows and air the place out.

But the basement on Hope Street was below ground, so I don’t think there were many windows to open. (There was a big metal bulkhead door he could have left open, if he didn’t mind inviting every squirrel in the neighborhood to come stay down cellar.)

That coat of paint in the fall of ’73 could well have been the last coat he ever put on, and thus the coat that was there when I went to visit.

I couldn’t tell you what color it was, though. Everything I cared about was at the top of the stairs, not the bottom.

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