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Posts Tagged ‘1973’

After a long, trying, arctic winter and a fitfully rainy spring, it’s finally here, effective 6:51 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

Nothing looks more promising when it’s coming, or fades faster when it goes away, than summer.

I wonder who the two guys were who came by to scrape off the white paint. With a few strokes of his pencil, my grandpa conferred upon them both immortality and anonymity.

They dwell forever on the furthest periphery of the Blumenau family saga, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, their motivations and machinations known only to each other.

But, anyway.

It’s the start of summer. A time when all but the most cellar-dwelling baseball teams have a chance, every tree looks climbable, every teenage love affair looms as something epic, and every day seems — to the winter-hardened soul — to last forever and ever and ever.

Most of summer’s promises don’t come true, I’m fairly sure. Ask any schoolboy about his summer, the night before he embarks for school, and he’ll tell you what he didn’t manage to get to.

(Maybe that’s why I usually prefer fall and winter, which underpromise and overdeliver by comparison.)

We still relish the arrival of every summer, though.

It’s the brightest and breeziest season, and the most leisurely, and the one where the unpredictable breaks of life seem most likely to bounce our way.

The summer of 1973 would be an eventful one for the Blumenaus of Hope Street.

Between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, they would welcome their second grandson; see their daughter married (as per the “ordered invites” note on this week’s calendar entry); say goodbye to my grandmother’s closest friend; and ride out a particularly vicious heat wave.

I don’t know if there was anything special they left undone at summer’s end. Seems to me they packed plenty in.

Let us all hope this coming summer goes as well — successful, but salted with enough bittersweet to remind us we are human. That seems like a worthy and realistic prayer, no matter our station in life.

Whatever summer has for us, good or bad, we’ll know soon enough.

Because — after a long, trying, arctic winter and a fitfully rainy spring — it’s finally here.

Hooray for promises.

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Over the years, I’ve used my grandfather’s calendar entries to follow him to all kinds of long-closed businesses.

There was Stamford’s beloved Chimney Corner Inn … the Clam Box in Wethersfield, a heavenly-sounding family-owned seafood place … a Red Coach Grill chain restaurant in Framingham, Massachusetts … and the expensive-but-worth-it Carriage House in Westport, just to name a few.

It’s kinda nice to come across a place on his calendars that’s still in operation, under its original name, all these years later.

It’s like a minor connection to his world — and a reminder that, while the retail world is fleeting and capricious, a few businesses do it well enough to really last.

June 6, 1973.

June 6, 1973. The Yanks, winners today over Texas, are only a half-game back.

New Hampshire has only 13 miles of coastline (18 by some measurements), so I figured Amarante’s had to be one of a relative few restaurants lucky enough to nestle in. Must be some of the state’s most expensive real estate, I figured. Did the food match the view?

I was totally off the mark, of course. “N.H.,” in this case, meant New Haven, just up the coast from my grandparents, a city they’d visited when my Aunt Elaine went to school at what was then Southern Connecticut State College.

And it was my Aunt Elaine they were once again meeting there — this time, I’m guessing, to scout out the potential site of a wedding reception.

Amarante’s, unlike the places I listed above, isn’t a restaurant. It’s a wedding and function hall overlooking the ocean, in the Morris Cove area on the east side of the city’s harbor.

Apparently, the place did well enough at the June 6 visit to win over my family and get the gig.

August 17 and 18, 1973.

August 17 and 18, 1973. Hope they remembered the napkins.

Serpe Bros., the tuxedo shop mentioned in my grandpa’s August 17 entry, is still in business on Bedford Avenue in Stamford.

And Amarante’s, now known as Amarante’s Sea Cliff, is still serving up chicken piccata and “Brick House” to a whole new generation of southern Connecticut brides and grooms after more than 50 years.

I’ve not been there myself, so I couldn’t endorse the place, but they must be doing something right. It takes some degree of skill to keep any service business going that long, no matter how good the location.

I’ve wondered before about how much, or how little, my grandfather would recognize if he were able to visit his old stomping grounds today.

Change is inevitable — and often for the better. But it’s still kinda cool to find out about a place he’d know, and a place where he (presumably) had a good time while marking a major family event.

Although I’ve never been to Amarante’s, I can sort of imagine my grandfather looking out across New Haven harbor in his rented gladrags, munching a plate of cheese and crackers, and smiling.

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I don’t know whether the name George Gershwin means anything to today’s young people. I’m guessing probably not, for the most part.

It didn’t have much solid meaning to me — until a couple of minutes ago, when I read his Wiki entry and was astonished at how many of his compositions I knew, or at least knew of.

I’m pretty sure my grandpa would have been a big fan, though.

Gershwin’s peak years — from the early ’20s to his death in 1937 — were my grandfather’s teenage and early adult years. I like to imagine my grandfather as a young man, sitting in front of some improbably large wooden radio with glowing tubes, admiring the creativity and craftsmanship in songs like “Fascinating Rhythm,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Embraceable You.”

(When I was that age, radios were plastic and they played Phil Collins. My grandpa got the better of that deal.)

How can I be sure my grandfather appreciated George Gershwin?

From one of his calendar entries, of course — one written 35 years after Gershwin’s passing.

February 28, 1973.

February 28, 1973.

The stamp in question can be seen here. Even though the stamp was issued in a decade not known for its aesthetic good taste, I think it came out pretty well. I like the way the pine green and gold play off each other.

(I wonder how many stamps the U.S. Postal Service has ever issued that featured both Jewish people and African-Americans. Three cheers for American diversity.)

It was common for my grandpa to mark postal service price increases on his calendar. He chronicled the coming of the ZIP code, too, and the postal strike of 1970.

I don’t remember him keeping track of any other stamp releases, though. Maybe one or two others, but not many. So the Gershwin stamp must have meant something above and beyond all the other stamps the U.S. Postal Service issues in any given year.

To my grandpa, buying a book of George Gershwin stamps must have been akin to punching up one of his songs on a jukebox, or buying an LP of his music … a way to support the artist, even if Gershwin’s family didn’t see any financial benefit.

And, for at least a few months in the spring of 1973, anyone getting a letter from my grandfather could have learned something about him, had they taken a moment to look at the envelope.

This would not be my grandpa’s only opportunity to put George Gershwin on his letters. In September 1999, the Postal Service issued a joint stamp honoring George and his lyricist brother, Ira.

I would have been getting occasional letters from my grandparents around that time, but — of course — I’m not sure I saved any. So I couldn’t say for sure whether the second stamp made it into his rotation.

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Forty years ago this month, my mom set out for an appointment in the family Ford Maverick. She was running late, and put on the gas to make up time.

It didn’t work out.

Just the way it happens in driver’s-ed movies, my mom’s haste got her into a nasty accident. The car was totaled, and she got banged up pretty badly — broken ribs, bruises, that kind of thing.

Nothing life-threatening, but bad enough that she couldn’t hold her adorable almost-three-month-old son for a little while, which I’m sure seemed like a fate worse than death.

With time, my mom got over her injuries. And ever since, she’s been careful not to try to make up time on the road — a lesson she’s also tried to pass along to her kids. (One of ’em listened, more or less, usually.)

The Ford Maverick leaving Hope Street in happier times, spring 1971.

The Ford Maverick leaving Hope Street in happier times, spring 1971.

As you might imagine, my mom’s injuries immediately drew my grandparents into action. My dad had to go to work, after all. And even if he’d taken time off, he’d have been challenged to care for a two-year-old and an infant, not to mention his injured wife.

(It is an accepted part of family lore that my dad never changed a diaper, and apparently he wiggled through my mom’s downtime without breaking that streak. Well played, Seventies Dad.)

The arrival of the family cavalry made for some unusual and even touching entries on my grandpa’s calendars.

September 28, 1973.

September 28, 1973. I assume everything is squiggled out on the 27th because the plans, whatever they were, got abruptly canceled.

Corine (it was family habit to spell it “Koreen”) was my paternal grandma — the wife of the guy who kept the calendars — while Tom was my maternal grandfather.

They weren’t common travel partners, at least not without their significant others in tow.

But Corine couldn’t drive. Someone had to take her to Penfield, and I think my other grandma was already there.

So, Koreen and Tom set out on what must have been an interesting (and long) car trip.

(If you look at the entry for Sept. 29 close up, you can see the word “PENFIELD?” erased. I guess the Stamfordians must have been making their mutual assistance plans from day to day.)

Two days later, we find a poignant calendar entry:

September 30, 1973.

September 30, 1973. The Yankees play, and lose, their last game at the original, pre-renovation Yankee Stadium.

My grandparents were close throughout their married life, and I cannot imagine there were too many times over their nearly 60 years of marriage when they went to bed in different states.

I wonder what that phone call was like, and whether my grandfather let any tenderness show, or whether he kept a stiff upper lip.

They remained separated for a full week (including another phone call), until my grandpa and great-grandma made their way to Penfield to supplement the war effort.

October 5, 1973.

October 5, 1973.

I didn’t take a pic of the rest of the calendar, so I don’t know how long everyone stayed. I see weather on the calendar the following week, which suggests my grandpa was back in Stamford by then.

Eventually, life got back to normal for the Blumenau family — thanks to the sacrifices of some branches.

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A little thematic music.

There’s an old expression you can probably still hear wherever high-school football coaches gather: “He got his bell rung.”

In those grand old manly days before anyone cared about the long-term effects of concussions, “getting your bell rung” meant sustaining a hit to the head that left you disoriented and staggering — or, perhaps, laid flat.

(But not for more than a couple of plays. A man played through it, even if he couldn’t see straight.)

This week’s calendar entry makes me think of somebody getting his bell rung — not by a beefy defensive tackle, but by sizzling summer weather.

August 3 and 4, 1973. Another Coast Guard Day, another sizzler.

August 3 and 4, 1973. Another Coast Guard Day, another sizzler. The Mets are nine-and-a-half back.

“Ding-donger,” I suppose, is a more socially polite equivalent of “blisterbitcher.”

To me, it summons visions of heat intense enough to make a man feel a little dizzy, like he’d been slapped upside the head by Deacon Jones on his way past. Like in the old cartoons, where somebody totters around after taking a lick, and you see ringing bells and twittering birds circling his head. That kind of thing.

I also find the word tremendously evocative of summer. I imagine myself broiling in some little New England town, and hearing church bells struggling to push their way through the thick air and be heard. I can just about feel that scene, for some reason.

88 degrees doesn’t seem quite hot enough for such a rousing declaration, though. I can only guess it was a humid, windless 88 degrees, hotter than it looks on the page at a distance of four decades.

(I also note that it only went down to 70 the night before, so my grandparents’ stuffy old house probably got heated up pretty good by the time the temperature hit 88.)

You’ll see how the weather on Aug. 3 bleeds over the line and enters the morning of Aug. 4. That’s a neat detail: I can just about imagine the sun burning off the early-morning clouds and taking over.

The real story of this calendar entry didn’t get written down or illustrated, though.

You’ll see that my Aunt Elaine and her fiance (just two weeks away from their wedding) stopped by for dinner.

While my grandpa was pulling at his collar and wiping his brow and drinking cold Seven-Up and getting all melodramatic about the weather, my grandma was in the steaming hot kitchen making a proper dinner — probably with an assist from my great-grandma.

Five will get you ten that neither of them pissed and moaned about the heat.

I bet, in their own subdued way, they survived the ding-donger with poise and composure that would have impressed even a high-school football coach.

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