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Posts Tagged ‘1974’

For Richard Nixon, August 1974 was the month when he finally reaped what he’d sown long before.

My grandpa (a Nixon voter) spent that month doing pretty much the same thing.

Except, instead of calumny and disgrace, he had his hands full harvesting a much happier crop:

Tomatoes.

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August 10, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win.

My grandfather’s calendar entries from early 1974 (such as this one) indicated he had his mind set on a serious year of gardening. He had his eyes on the seed catalogs in February, and he got an early start.

And in August — just after Nixon shuffled off to California in disgrace and Gerald Ford took office — my grandpa began to reap the benefits of his work and attention.

On Aug. 10 — the first day on the calendar that specifically mentions tomatoes — he harvested a dozen, weighing more than seven pounds. On the next day, a Sunday, the haul continued under sunny skies:

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August 11, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win. Again.

Two days later was his 64th birthday, and he marked it with three more tomatoes weighing a pound and a quarter.

By the end of that week, he’d harvested 18 more tomatoes weighing more than nine pounds. The week after that (Aug. 18-24), he took 82 tomatoes weighing roughly 40 pounds.

(Just how big was his patch? I don’t remember it being that big. But he had a decent-size yard to work with. And in this period of time, he seems to have dedicated himself to working with it.)

My Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve moved to a new place the following week, which called my grandpa out of town. He made up for it upon returning, picking a one-day record number of tomatoes:

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August 30, 1974. Mets and Yanks both win. President Ford meets Woody Hayes.

The harvest continued at a slightly slower pace into September. In fact, you could technically say it continued into the fall, as the last tomato-related entry shows up a day after the autumnal equinox. (It’s slightly unclear on which day the tomatoes actually got picked, but it doesn’t matter at this distance.)

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September 23-24, 1974. Mets lose. Yankees are swept in a doubleheader, knocking them out of first place, which they will not regain. President Ford meets Bart Starr.

Actually, I take that comment back about the last tomato-related calendar entry: On Oct. 2, the calendar records “100 green T.” Ever thrifty, my grandpa, and not one to let possibly usable tomatoes wither on the vine.

And at the end of October, he did the math and summarized the season’s take:

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October 1974. It is entirely possible my grandpa picked his own weight in tomatoes between Aug. 10 and Oct. 2.

If there’s a downside to this run of calendar entries, it’s that my grandmother almost certainly couldn’t make a marinara, Bolognese or puttanesca sauce worthy of the name.

The idea of all those garden-fresh tomatoes makes the mind reel with recipes, most of them involving olive oil and garlic … but, most likely, the season’s bounty was either eaten raw or put up in jars.

No matter. I’m sure every one of those 347 tomatoes was enjoyed, for flavor, for thrift, and for health.

And I imagine Richard Nixon — ailing and stuck in San Clemente — would have given what little he had that summer and fall to swap harvests with my grandpa.

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Rather than one long disquisition this week, we’ll make a couple of stops, beginning with a subject we touched on last time around.

My post on the Pink Tent Festival, an annual arts festival held in downtown Stamford’s Mill River Park in the ’60s and ’70s, raised but did not answer the question of whether my grandpa ever had his paintings displayed there.

A little more calendar digging suggests he did:

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June 24, 1974. Mets win, Yanks lose, Phillies in first (what?)

“Koreen” was a family nickname for my grandma, Corine.

Longtime readers will recognize that June 24, 1974, would have been a birthday ending in five or zero for her … hence the dinner out at Chimney Corners, which longtime readers might also remember hearing about.

But what catches my eye here is the mention of “art delivery” at the Pink Tent trailer at two points during the day. (While I didn’t take a pic, the adjoining calendar entry for June 30 mentions “art pickup.”)

I’m taking that to mean that my grandpa must have had a painting or two on exhibit at a significant local arts festival, since he had art dropoff and pickup marked on his calendar.

That’s pretty cool. My grandfather flew the flag for the enthusiastic (and not unskilled) amateur, and I’m glad to know that an event like Pink Tent had space for the likes of him alongside more commercially successful artists.

I also enjoy the thought of thousands of culture-minded Stamfordites strolling through the festival, taking a look at his work, regardless of what they thought of it.

What’s more, I remember that his year-end roundup of art expenses for 1974 mentions two art sales. I wonder if either of them took place at Pink Tent? Maybe he picked up less than he dropped off.

Cool, anyway.

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From there, we’ll make two more stops over the following weeks, just for giggles.

The first will be the Fourth of July, which landed on a Thursday that year (making for a super-convenient, beer-soaked, heat-stroked four-day holiday weekend):

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July 4, 1974. Mets win, Yanks split a doubleheader, Phillies already back down to third place.

This is what a Fourth of July is supposed to be. It’s wretchedly hot, there’s fireworks, and there’s a picnic of some sort.

(The “J’s” were my maternal grandparents, who also lived in Stamford. There must have been a big family get-together over there, probably full of corn and burgers and macaroni salad. Indeed, I feel full of corn and burgers and macaroni salad just thinking about it.)

And finally, the end of the vacation:

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July 8, 1974. Mets and Yanks win; Phillies in second.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day (I sometimes write these entries a week or two in advance.)

While days like Father’s Day tend to focus on Life-Changing Teachings and Formative Moments, this entry strikes me as one of the thousands of smaller-scale times when fathers (and mothers) earn their stripes.

We’re looking at a more than six-hour interstate road trip in a big hot car with two little kids, one three-and-a-half years old, the other just turned one. I don’t know how gracefully my parents got through it, but they did, and that’s as much a credit to them as any Big Lesson they conveyed.

Perhaps my grandpa watched them leave and remembered when he’d been the boss of similar trips, back in the day … and he wondered how the boy in his back seat had gotten to be thirty-plus years old with two kids of his own.

Or maybe he just went back inside and opened a cold bottle of 7-Up and thought, “Damn, it’s hot.”

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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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We all know Halloween traditions differ from region to region.

For instance, the Oct. 30 “Mischief Night”  or “Devil’s Night” is a bigger, more entrenched deal in some areas than it is in others.

Where I grew up, Mischief Night was talked about more than it was ever actually celebrated. In other places, the toilet paper flies wild and free every Oct. 30.

And in still other areas, they skip the petty vandalism and go straight to burning stuff down. (Wiki tells me Detroit has adopted citizens’ patrols, running several nights a year, to deter arson and other serious crimes on Devil’s Night.)

Another example of regional differences: Some areas insist on holding tricks-or-treats on Oct. 31 every year, while others hold them on the Friday night immediately preceding Halloween. My feelings on that subject have already been explored in this space.

I never thought there was any disagreement on when tricks-or-treats should start on the big night, though. Kids aren’t supposed to go out until after dinner, and preferably not until after things get a little bit dark, for proper atmosphere.

Right?

I find myself questioning that after reading my grandfather’s calendar entry from this week 40 years ago.

October 31, 1974. Apologies for the poor photo quality of some of the 1974-75 examples used here recently.

October 31, 1974. Apologies for the poor photo quality of some of the 1974-75 calendar entries used here recently.

The entry appears to suggest that kids began arriving “after 3 p.m.”

If they did, my grandpa would not have been there to serve them, as he would have had to drive my great-grandma (“Pauline”) to her 2:30 p.m. doctor’s appointment.

Presumably my grandma stayed home and handed out the Mary Janes, or Zagnut bars, or whatever old-school candy my grandparents stocked themselves with. Unless they gave out nickels or something. That would have been like them.

This entry seems remarkable to me. I’ve never known anyone, anywhere to make the rounds of houses in daylight.

There’s no indication of rain on the calendar, or anything else that might have forced an early Halloween. In fact, my grandpa’s calendar entries say October 31, 1974, kicked off several days of Indian summer, with temperatures reaching 80 degrees the following day. So, weather clear, track fast, as they say in the racing game.

Also, Halloween 1974 fell on a Thursday. I’m not sure kids of trick-or-treating age were even out of school at 3 p.m. that day. (Not to mention that at least some of their parents would still have been at work and unable to accompany them.)

Hope Street, in fairness, was no leafy cul-de-sac. It was a busy street in the ’70s (it’s even busier today), and maybe not an ideal place to walk after dark. So that might be one understandable argument for holding tricks-or-treats early.

I still find the idea of daytime trick-or-treating too bizarre to accept, though.

So I’m going to stick with the hypothesis I find most believable: Maybe one kid showed up at 3:30 because he was sick, or his family was going out of town, or some other emergency arose. Then all the other kids showed up at the expected time after dark.

That’s probably it … there was one seven-year-old kid back in the Ford administration who had a touch of grippe, and went out trick-or-treating early so he could get his candy before the creeping crud set in … and his tortured meanderings have just occupied a solid hour-plus of my life here in 2014.

Hope you got a good haul, dude.

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It’s July 1974.

The economy sucks, the Presidency is a cesspool, and old reliables like gasoline and hamburger meat seem to cost twice what they used to just a few years ago.

And in one little microcosm of America — an aging, none-too-large home in southern Connecticut — 19 people are gathered to celebrate one thing that national trends and tribulations cannot weaken:

Family ties.

July 6, 1974.

July 6, 1974. The Yanks and Mets are both playing home games at Shea Stadium, and they’re both in last place.

It’s easy for an amateur historian to overplay people’s awareness of national affairs.

Even though the problems of mid-Seventies America loom large in retrospect, Americans didn’t spend all their time thinking about fuel embargos, or the cost of living, or the sorry state of the Presidency.

They did their jobs and came home and had fun and raised kids and drank beer and went bowling, without using the woes of the republic as a dramatic backdrop for all their activities.

That said, I still like to frame this week’s calendar entry in that greater context.

I find it comforting to think of people turning to family as a worthwhile source of support at a time when they were getting screwed, betrayed, or at least mildly disappointed by many of their social institutions.

I like the post-Independence Day timing of the family reunion, too. The fireworks are over, as is the obligatory hype over the Great American Experiment. What’s left? Blood kin, sharing food and companionship, catching up in person and marveling at how big the kids are getting.

(Oh, yeah: A belated note to my grandpa. “Family & Relative Yard Party” is redundant. Family is relatives. In some faraway place, my grandpa is surely regretting lending his bloodline to a professional editor. What the hell; we couldn’t all be engineers.)

So what became of those 19 people gathered at Hope Street?

– Five of them — both sets of my grandparents, and my great-grandma — are gone now. (“Tom and Eve” were my maternal grandparents.) Remarkably, my Great-Aunt Eleanor is still chugging; she’ll be 102 this week.

– Both of my western Massachusetts cousins, Ron and Bob, are long since divorced from the wives they brought to the party. They’re still around, though, as are Ron’s three kids.

– “El and Joe” are my Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve, who have appeared in this space any number of times. While my grandpa’s writing style makes it look like Eric and Kurt are their kids, that’s incorrect: They welcomed their first child two years to the day after this yard party.

– Speaking of children, young Kurt (son of Rod and Lynn; brother of Eric) celebrated his first birthday the day before the big yard party. He doesn’t remember much about it now. He’s since gone on to become a blogger of no particular repute, and sort of a general waste of space; but he does his thing.

Hopefully, at least a few of you out there have a family reunion lined up over the Fourth of July break — or if not this week, then sometime this summer.

I hope you enjoy it.

Savor the companionship. Ask to hear plenty of family stories. Have another hamburger. And don’t let the perilous state of the republic get you down.

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