Posts Tagged ‘boston’

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.


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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I think after last week’s screed, I’ll write something inoffensive about home and hearth this time around. Disaffected patriots are a dime a dozen on both sides of the aisle, anyway.

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On a shelf in my parents’ basement sits a small box, labeled in my dad’s hand with words to this effect:

Rod & Lynn Love Letters (Yech)”

When I was a small boy who loved poking around in the basement, I was young and daft enough to read a few of the letters my parents exchanged before their marriage. I don’t remember what they said any more, and wasn’t really old enough to understand them anyway.

(OK, one letter I can’t help but remember. It was the mid-1960s, and my mom was going to college in Boston. My dad had the cheek to address a letter to her at “Boston University, Somewhere Near Where The Strangler Is, Boston, Mass.” I would later inherit his blue eyes and his black sense of humor.)

The time period of my grandfather’s calendars — 1961 to 1975 — trace my dad’s evolution from high school senior to married father of two.

And in so doing, it provides the occasional awww-isn’t-that-sweet glimpse of my parents when they were young and in love … just like the letters inside the yech-box.

The glimpses look kinda like this:

January 21, 1967.

January 21, 1967. (Coincidentally, Albert DeSalvo – who claimed to be the Boston Strangler – was convicted of other, unrelated crimes earlier that week.)

I didn’t ask my folks whether they remember anything about their trip to New York for an engagement ring (however exotic it might have been — were there no acceptable rings in Stamford?)

I guess I’d rather imagine what those days were like.

I can’t imagine them too specifically, of course, since I wasn’t actually there. My mental images of my young-and-in-love folks are kinda like cardboard figures, fleshed out somewhat by my knowledge of their personalities and my views of photo albums from those early days.

I know they were both musical, and that probably provided considerable common ground in their earliest days.

I know that they carried on much of their courtship more or less long-distance, without benefit of Skype or email, and made it last anyway.

I know they moved together, right after their marriage, to a place neither of them had much of any familiarity with, and found it a place to sink roots.

And I know that, despite their disparate personalities, they had some unquantifiable degree of interpersonal chemistry.

A bit of byplay at my folks' wedding rehearsal dinner. July 21, 1967.

A bit of byplay at my folks’ wedding rehearsal dinner. July 21, 1967.

Forty-six years after that calendar entry, the same ring is still on my mom’s finger. My parents have gone from being young soon-to-be-marrieds, to being the last couple standing when the wedding DJ starts clearing the dance floor a decade at a time.

It hasn’t always been easy (it never is), but some essential part of the compact they forged back in the mid-1960s is still alive. Something lives in the yech-box that has not been chased away by kids and job pressures and gray hairs and all the other pressures of adult life.

How ’bout that.

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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.


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.”


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.


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!”


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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