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Posts Tagged ‘aunt’

These calendar entries of my grandfather’s aren’t just windows into what was.

From time to time, they’re glimpses into what wasn’t — things that could have become part of the family history, but didn’t in the end.

We’ve looked at the Rambler he didn’t buy, the retirement village he didn’t move into, and the lottery ticket that didn’t make him a millionaire. (More than one of those, actually.)

We’ve got another one of those entries this week featuring an institution that could have been part of the Blumenau family warp and weave, but didn’t make the cut.

Join us in the old Ford, then, on another steaming hot New England summer day. We’re going to visit a college:

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July 17 and 18, 1964. Yanks split two. Mets lose two, the latter in sickening fashion. The 4 Seasons are at Number One, but the Beatles have a hot new one on its way up. Rod’s skin is still around today, with Rod in it, so the tests of the 17th must have come out OK.

Google Maps today shows the University of New Hampshire at three hours and fifty minutes away from Stamford, even with an accident in Hartford and a battalion of work crews blocking the way. Either the highways of 1964 weren’t what they are today, or similar long-ago impediments got in my grandpa’s way.

This was my aunt’s trip, so I’ll turn to her to lay out the basic information:

Yes, I visited the University of New Hampshire in the summer of 1964. I was interested in the education program there, so Drawing Boy, your grandma, and a friend who was also interested in the school took a ride there to check it out. I recall the campus was beautiful!

My friend wound up going to UNH and the New England setting was great for her skiing enthusiasm. I chose Southern Connecticut State because I was looking for more urban education programs.

I couldn’t tell you if it was the best choice, but it was the right choice at the time! As I have said previously, college choice was not the huge deal then that it is now!

(As the parent of a soon-to-be high school senior, I can attest that college choice is indeed a huge deal now, and will only get huger between now and next March or so. Maybe I am making too much of it.)

What did my aunt miss by not going to UNH from 1965-69? Let’s see:
– A mob of 2,000 students pelted 20 pacifists with eggs.
– Sargent Shriver spoke on campus, telling students: “There is only one war and we are all in it. It is the same war in Watts as it is in Vietnam. … The war for human dignity and human rights is going on everywhere.”
– Also speaking at UNH: Labor leader Walter Reuther; U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse; poet Stephen Spender; political theorist Hannah Arendt; and socially active priest Father James Groppi.
– Performers on campus included the Shirelles, cellist Janos Starker, and the Juilliard String Quartet.
– The hockey team was pretty good; the football team won some and lost some.
– The Public Service Company of New Hampshire announced plans to build one of New England’s first nuclear power plants in Newington, about seven miles from Durham. (The plan was shelved, then resuscitated in the early ’70s farther down the coast in Seabrook. It became the site of extensive anti-nuclear protests.)
– People attending UNH during that time included Carlton Fisk; future New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill; actor Michael Ontkean, who played on the hockey team; college football coach George O’Leary; and television producer Marcy Carsey.

(Some of the above info comes from Wiki, while other tidbits come from back issues of the Granite, the UNH yearbook, helpfully digitized by the university library. The rant that opens the 1967 yearbook, in particular, is a hoot — though it probably hits home to the members of the Class of ’67.)

After graduating from Southern Connecticut State, my aunt went to grad school at Boston University. I eventually chose to go to BU as well.

Since that visit in July of 1964, the closest the University of New Hampshire has come to being part of the Blumenau family story has been to serve as the target of boos and jeers at the BU hockey games I attended long ago.

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I’m scheduled to go back to New England in a few weeks for — yup — a couple of college visits. UNH is not on the agenda, so it looks like another generation of Blumenaus is passing up whatever charms it has to offer.

As I tour the various campuses, I’ll be wondering in the back of my mind which one becomes part of the family’s life, and which ones will end up as a footnote many years from now.

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Last year around this time, I wrote about my dad’s trips back to college, and some of my own as well.

My Aunt Elaine had a more interesting and eventful college experience than either one of us, I think.

So as college kids nationwide head back for another year on campus, we’ll focus this week on her days in one of America’s great college towns.

Sept. 4-5, 1969. “Registration B.U.”

This calendar entry captures the beginning of my aunt’s two years of graduate school at Boston University. She chose the school for various reasons:

“I chose BU School of Social Work because I wanted to do social work in an urban area. BU had a good reputation in social work and certainly was urban. Your mother, upon learning that I wanted to work with people with all kinds of challenges,  said I would probably like Boston because it had a lot of nuts! (She was right.)

“Also, Martin Luther King graduated from their graduate school (the one for ministers) and I had actually seen him in Stamford around 1963 and was impressed.”

(Hold on. My aunt saw Martin Luther King Jr. in person? That’s awesome. I had no idea. Another blog post for another time, perhaps.)

There’s an entry for the end of her days at BU, too:

May 14 and 15, 1971. Good thing my grandpa got that last tuition check in the mail before the postage went up to eight cents.

During that period, the college on Commonwealth Avenue — like many other colleges and universities — was rocked by tremendous internal and external upheaval.

Massive student protests following the Kent State killings led BU to cancel its spring 1970 commencement ceremony and end the school year early. The Class of ’70 would not get its formal commencement until 2010.

Two months after the riots, BU President Arland Christ-Janer resigned, having apparently had his fill of campus social unrest. Christ-Janer’s two immediate predecessors as BU president had lasted 25 and 16 years. He lasted three.

His interim replacement, Calvin B.T. Lee, spent six months in charge before the school chose its next full-time president — a brusque, highly motivated former dean at the University of Texas. John Silber remained in charge for an eventful quarter-century, guiding the college toward educational and financial improvement while regularly clashing with critics.

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My Aunt Elaine didn’t take much notice, as far as I know, of the turnover in BU’s ivory tower. But she certainly saw what was going on down on the streets:

“It was quite the tumultuous time in Boston and much of the country, as well as BU. There were racial tensions and anti-war protests  which spilled over into a general distrust of anything establishment.

“My roommate and I would joke about how we would walk down Commonwealth Avenue and come home to our apt with stacks of literature about all types of issues that were being protested. Also, we learned to dodge panhandlers and hari-krishna people who positioned themselves on Commonwealth Ave.

“I had a blind date with a guy who was in Officer’s Training School who wore his uniform, and he was hissed at when we went to dinner in  Cambridge.  A tad awkward.”
My aunt found her way to some of the anti-war rallies:

“The first one I attended seemed weird because it took on the atmosphere of a football rally. We did have a professor at BU who had been in  the POW camps in Germany , and he helped expand my mind to become part of the anti-war sentiment. 

“I didn’t pay the tax on my phone bill as a protest to their supporting the Viet Nam War.  The phone company called your Grandma and Grandpa, who didn’t understand the antiwar thing, and they paid the tax part of the bill to them.

“Unfortunately, the anti-war rallies became more radical. I attended a huge one on Boston Common (or some major place)  with Abbie Hoffman speaking and he literally told the crowd to go out and burn the streets. There were fires in Boston that night and people were arrested for inciting violence (I think Abbie Hoffman was one of them.) This was in 1970 or 1971.”

My aunt at Hope Street, 1971.

And, she came into contact with one of the legendary street organizations of the 1960s and ’70s as it tried to improve its violent public image:

“While at BU,  I and my project partner actually had contact with the Black Panthers and got to observe a school they were starting for black kids only.  The Black Panthers weren’t too thrilled to hear from us, but when we said we were in Social Work, they allowed me to come observe at their school.

At that time, the Black Panthers were a big deal!  They were trying to do some positive things for their community and I think they wanted people to know they did things besides shoot police officers.”

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While Abbie Hoffman, the Black Panthers and anti-war protests were obvious icons of their time, other developments of that period at BU would not emerge as noteworthy until years later.

In December 1969, the first gay student organization in Boston, the Boston University Homophile Club, announced its presence with a typewritten flyer. While the club itself is lost to history, it laid a foundation for the LGBT organizations now publicly entrenched on college campuses, like BU’s current Spectrum group.

The protests of May 1970 inspired the birth of a new, independent student newspaper at BU called the Daily Free Press.

The Freep is still around today, having evolved from a ragtag enterprise fired by pot smoke and passion to an effective pre-professional training ground. It was there, between 1993 and ’95, that I learned the basics of the journalist’s trade. (And danced on desks.)

Also, in the spring of 1971, an upstart five-piece rock band heavily influenced by the Stones and Yardbirds began playing impromptu gigs at BU’s George Sherman Union and cadging rehearsal space in BU dorms.

I used to have — and may still have somewhere — a copy of a picture of the band that appeared in a spring 1971 issue of the Daily Free Press.

Its matter-of-fact caption: “Aerosmith, a rock band, played the George Sherman Union.

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My aunt got a social work job in New Haven after graduation and, as far as I know, has not lived in Boston since.

I arrived at BU 20 years after my aunt’s graduation and found it much quieter. There were no protests to speak of during my four years on Comm. Ave.

I’ll give my aunt the last word, again:

“It was a fascinating time, though sometimes disconcerting and mind-boggling. I have been amazed to see how Boston has returned to a rather quiescent state. When I was there, it seemed like this was where the whole country was going and would remain!”

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Bonus multimedia content: For anyone feeling nostalgic, Flickr user AntyDiluvian has been kind enough to post an excellent set of photos of Boston in the 1970s.

The excellent Nick DeWolf Photo Archives on Flickr also has photos of a post-Kent State protest in Boston in May 1970 and an anti-war protest in Boston from October 1970, as well as sundry other shots from the city around that time.

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Some spectacles just aren’t as spectacular as they used to be.

Take the Olympics, for instance: My interest in the Games has been slowly dwindling since about 1988. I think it’s a combination of doping scandals, general adulthood, and the loss of that juicy rivalry we used to have with the USSR and East Germany.

Or consider the Super Bowl, which is now so garish, gluttonous and over-the-top as to completely turn me off. I don’t watch it any more unless I care about one of the teams. And since I’m a Buffalo Bills fan … well, let’s just say that I get out of bed on Super Sunday for the chili.

And then there’s the World’s Fair. These peaked before I was born, so I don’t have personal knowledge of their glory.

But I understand that, once upon a time, World’s Fairs were major cultural events. They were places where people came in droves to experience other cultures for the first time and see new things. (World’s Fairs around the turn of the 20th century introduced visitors to such diverse inventions as moving pictures, escalators, Ferris wheels and Dr. Pepper.)

Even into the 1960s, the World’s Fair was still making a dent on the popular consciousness. Elvis Presley, perhaps America’s most bankable star, capitalized on the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair as the setting for his movie “It Happened At The World’s Fair.” Granted, the setting was probably chosen to lend a little cheap exoticism to Elvis’ threadbare plot lines, more so than for any other reason. Still, the fact that he was there at all says something. Can you imagine Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez filming a World’s Fair movie nowadays?

My grandparents were stay-at-home types, rarely venturing anywhere more exotic than Leominster or Chicopee. The World’s Fair, with its friendly world-at-your-doorstep vibe, was tailor-made for them.

So when the 1964/65 World’s Fair came to Flushing Meadows — a manageable drive from their home in the Connecticut suburbs –my grandfather recorded the grand opening on his calendar, complete with a rough sketch of the fair’s Unisphere encircled-globe symbol.

April 22, 1964

And three months later, when things had warmed up and the initial crowds had subsided, they made a date to see the world and still get home in time to sleep in their own beds.

July 21, 1964

(45 minutes from Stamford to Queens seems like pretty good time. Alas, my grandfather did not record the route he took. The best route Mapquest can offer nowadays — I-95 to the Hutchinson River Parkway southbound — has a listed time of 55 minutes.)

My dad did not go to the Fair. He was busy with his summer job at Parker Instruments in Stamford, and had no time for such silliness.

But my Aunt Elaine, who went three times (once with family, once with friends, and once with her high school class), was kind enough to share her memories of the big event:

— Seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta, which had been carefully shipped over for display at the Vatican pavilion. The sculpture was “just breathtaking and seemed to have its own display house, with beautiful lighting and music,” my aunt writes.

“This was the first time I rode on mobile flooring (like they have in airports), which was interesting in itself to me,” she adds. “I guess they didn’t want anyone loitering around the Pieta.”

(My mother said she didn’t think she’d gone to the fair until she read my aunt’s e-mail, which brought back memories of seeing the Pieta in the same setting.)

— The Spanish pavilion, which my aunt describes as “one of the most impressive total exhibits with art, live flamenco dancing and music.” (Her future husband, my Uncle Steve, also visited the Fair while on leave from the Navy, and says he “lived” in the Spain pavilion.)

— A Bavarian or Austrian mountain village, with good food.

— African dancers and music, which my aunt loved, being a dancer herself.

— “Also, in some of the walkways between exhibits there were musical bands of various cultures,” my aunt writes. “I particularly remember the steel drums of Trinidad or somewhere like that.”

The 1964-65 fair, along with Montreal’s Expo ’67, may have been the last great fairs to capture the American imagination. Subsequent fairs would be held in second-rank cities like San Antonio (1968), Spokane (1974) and Knoxville (1982) before departing the U.S. entirely.

In her e-mail, my aunt quipped, “I’m thinking if the price of gas keeps going up, they may have to start having World’s Fairs again, because people won’t be able to travel so readily to the actual places!”

I was surprised — as I suspect she would also be — to find out they’ve never stopped having World’s Fairs. In the past decade, fairs have been held in Aichi, Japan; Zaragoza, Spain; and Shanghai, China. And upcoming events are scheduled in Yeosu, South Korea (2012) and Milan, Italy (2015), if you want to book your travel now.

I suspect, though, that the appeal of the World’s Fair is pretty well faded thanks to the Internet.

In 1964, my grandparents wouldn’t have known much about the people and customs of, say, Thailand.  A trip to the Thai pavilion would have given them an educational, if  sanitized, glimpse of the country, probably the closest they were ever going to get.

Today, with a half-hour online, you can catch up with the latest breaking news in Thailand; see high-quality pictures of the major cities and countryside; and learn about Thai customs and important historical figures. You might even luck into a cyber-chat or e-mail correspondence with a person living in Thailand, for an unfiltered view of daily life there. And if that made you hungry, you could pick from hundreds of online recipes for pad thai or tom ka gai to make in your own kitchen. (Or you could call out for Thai takeout, which my grandparents almost certainly couldn’t do in 1964 Connecticut.)

Most of the futuristic predictions made at World’s Fairs over the decades have flown far wide of the mark. But one common refrain from the ’64-’65 World’s Fair has been proven true by the Internet:

It is, indeed, a small world after all.

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