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Posts Tagged ‘calendar’

Tired of going to the beach yet?

This week, we’re going to follow the Hope Street Blumenaus on vacation again.

This time, they’re headed inland — on one of a series of trips that, I think, would have a lasting influence on my family’s life.

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On the world stage, the first few days of August 1962 are starcrossed.

They will be Nelson Mandela’s last days of freedom for nearly three decades: The South African anti-apartheid activist is arrested Aug. 5 and remains imprisoned until early 1990.

They are also Marilyn Monroe’s last days of life. Sometime on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 4, the screen icon takes a fatal overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles.

Drugs also prove the undoing of Tusko, a 14-year-old male elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo, who dies a seemingly bizarre and unnecessary death on Aug. 3 after researchers inject him with a megadose of LSD. (The researchers were trying to simulate a state of temporary madness that affects male elephants.)

Other matters that will change the world are simmering this week, but not yet ready to break.

CIA Director John McCone is, presumably, gathering evidence this week and building an argument on an important national security matter. On Friday, Aug. 10, McCone will send President Kennedy a memo raising his suspicion that the Soviet Union is putting missiles in Cuba.

Distinguished meteorologist Harry Wexler is looking ahead this week to an upcoming talk about the possible effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer. Unfortunately, he won’t get to deliver it: He dies Saturday, Aug. 11, while vacationing on Cape Cod. It’s later suggested that Wexler’s death is a significant setback to the issue of ozone layer depletion; the first scientific papers on the subject are not published until 1974.

And in England, a young man named Pete Best is approaching his two-year anniversary as drummer with the Beatles, one of the most popular “beat” groups on the Liverpool scene and recent recipients of an EMI recording contract. Best will be sacked on Thursday, Aug. 16; none of the rich and often conflicting lore that has arisen around the Beatles suggests that he saw it coming.

In the midst of all this, the Blumenaus of Hope Street, Stamford, Connecticut, are not on Hope Street. They’re getting away from the increasingly crazy world in a little corner of the Berkshires.

Becket Cottage.jpg

Becket, Massachusetts, is a small town southeast of Pittsfield, near the edge of Berkshire County. (Mapquest puts it at about two hours and 45 minutes from Stamford.)

I’ve not been there that I can recall, but from the sound of things, it’s a nice woodsy place where camps and cottages mingle with artists’ colonies.

In the ’50s and ’60s, a guy with the marvelously euphonious name of Heimo “Hoot” Huhtanen and his wife Olive owned a cottage on Center Lake (a.k.a. Center Pond) in Becket.

My grandmother was an old friend of Olive Huhtanen’s, and through that connection, the Blumenaus of Hope Street sometimes rented the cottage.

From the looks of it, it was no-frills but cozy, with boating, swimming, walking in the woods, and lying in the sun the chief attractions.

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Boating.

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Swimming. (FWIW, these pix are from a visit in the late ’50s sometime, not August 1962. The place didn’t change too much, I don’t think.)

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Walking in the woods. There’s the conical (not comical) sun hat again.

Corine and John

Lying in the sun. (My grandma is enjoying the collected short stories of John Steinbeck.)

My dad recalls the place thusly:

Yes, Becket was pretty basic.  The terlet was essentially a large porta-potty, which we had to take out to a specific site in the woods every day and empty.  And there was no running water; perhaps you’ve seen the picture of Elaine or me pumping the water.  But it was a great vacation cottage; I loved it.  And the old AM radio could get stations all over the eastern U.S. at night; I specifically remember listening to Albany and Troy stations as a portent of things to come.  Great stone fireplace where Drawing Boy would make a fire and make popcorn.

June 19, 2011: Dads.

Let a man come in and do the popcorn.

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My aunt on pump duty.

I suspect the Huhtanens’ cottage in Becket planted seeds in my dad’s mind regarding the pleasures and relaxing possibilities of a vacation cottage.

In the early 1980s, as a grown man with a family and a corporate job, he bought his own cottage in the Finger Lakes of central New York. He didn’t feel like renting it, so he sought to get as much out of it as he could; and it became a regular part of my family’s summer weekends to spend time at the lake when I was growing up.

(I don’t know if he gave any thought to buying in western Massachusetts. Probably not; it’s too far from Rochester for a relaxing weekend trip.)

A few years later, seeking more comforts and fewer hassles, my folks sold the first cottage and bought a nicer one. And just a year or two ago, they sold up in Rochester and moved to the Finger Lakes full-time.

So, that first week in August 1962 — as well as other, earlier visits to Becket — would shape the next generation of Blumenaus’ routines and experiences.

I didn’t take to roughing it as comfortably as my dad did, and I never enjoyed the place in the Finger Lakes as much as he did. So I don’t have a summer place of my own, either owned or rented.

But my kids have always enjoyed going to see their grandparents at the Finger Lakes. So maybe someday they will get away to a shack on the water, and the tradition of Becket will leap a generation and continue.

The lake in Becket is still there, of course, but the cottage that helped to start all this may be lost to history. My dad, again:

Went back there a few years ago, circled the whole damn lake and couldn’t find the cottage.  Probably just as good; it lives best in my memory!

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1963 was a pretty good year — dare one say, a high-water mark? — in the history of American beach culture.

The summer of ’63 has been pegged as the birth of the beach party movie trend, with the movie “Beach Party” leading the way.

The third of three Gidget movies was in theaters that summer too, and the third of six original Gidget novels could be found in bookstores.

On the radio, The Beach Boys were churning out Top Ten singles and albums, like the anthemic “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Surfer Girl” and “Be True To Your School.”

Lesser California acts had a pretty good summer too. In the week ending July 20, 1963, Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” (co-written by the ubiquitous Brian Wilson) became the first surf song to hit U.S. Number One.

In that sand- and sun-kissed summer, the Blumenau family of Hope Street was fortunate enough to have an ocean close to home. And while they weren’t surfin’, like Cal-i-for-ni-a, they enjoyed escaping the summer heat with a sedate, well-covered trip to the seaside.

This week we go with them to a semi-historic location that’s still around, and is probably packed as you read this:

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July 3-4, 1963. Yanks win and stay in first; Mets lose and stay in last.

A town or two up the coast from Stamford is Sherwood Island State Park, in the town of Westport.

According to various sources, the park on Long Island Sound was Connecticut’s first state park, with the first land purchases beginning more than 100 years ago. You can swim, picnic, bird-watch and fish there.

You can also see the New York skyline from parts of the park, which only adds to its summery appeal.

Nothing makes a cold lemonade taste sweeter, or a breath of sea air feel more refreshing, than seeing the sweltering city a stone’s throw away and knowing you’re not stuck there in a fourth-floor walkup or a traffic jam.

(On a more somber note, local residents gathered at the park on 9/11 to watch the aftermath of the attacks, and the part of Sherwood Island that faces Manhattan is now home to a living memorial to those who lost their lives that day. Having noted that, we return to the beach-crazed Camelot summer of ’63.)

What did the Blumenaus of Hope Street do at Sherwood Island on July 3, 1963?

The family’s worldly-wise 20-year-old son smoked a cigar, for one thing …

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Sorry, Dad. Love ya, but I have no idea what the hell you’re doing in this pic.

… they ate marshmallows …

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My dad appears to be playing chubby bunny here.

… and, they ate 39-cent Wise potato chips.

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My dad and aunt wore their bathing suits, and no doubt they enjoyed the water. I’m guessing my grandfather didn’t feel like bringing his camera down to the seashore to get pix. Didn’t want to risk getting salt water in the works, most likely.

This was not the family’s first or only visit to Sherwood Island; the pic below was labeled “Probably Sherwood Island ’58” by my dad, and shows my grandpa in full beachside grilling mode.

Prob Sherwood Island 58

It’s fun being the paterfamilias sometimes. God forbid you cook your hot dogs directly over the coals, though.

I’m not near a beach this holiday weekend, but these pictures bring back the feeling of sand in sneakers, and the cries of birds, and the sweep of tides … without the hassle of finding a beachside parking spot. A pretty sweet deal, all in all.

Pardon me while I put on some Beach Boys …

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No sooner does one member leave the extended family than another (bless her) joins it.

May’s a big month for weddings; and by and large, the men in my immediate family seem to favor it.

Not sure there’s any deep-seated reason for that. Maybe we all want to get things over with as soon as the weather’s favorable, and early enough that our summers stay free. Or maybe, generation after generation, some occult hand keeps our venues of choice free in May so we can each find an open date.

Anyway, my older brother is the latest to board the May train. By the time you read this, he will be two days married. I am flying out to San Francisco to be there for the big day, and am much looking forward to it. (The big day, not the flying.)

I’ve been on the same train a while myself. Two days after this post goes live, I will mark my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife and I were only a year out of college when we got married, and I suspect we chose our date so our friends who were still in school could come out and join us before they scattered for the summer.

My grandpa and grandma picked the first half of May as well, for reasons lost to history. They were married for almost 60 years.

This week’s calendar entry finds them at the same point in time I’m at now:

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May 3, 1961. I wonder where they went out to eat.

I would love to be able to tell you how to make a marriage last for 20 years, much less 60, but I am devoid of wisdom or vision. I just get up every morning and go to sleep every night and somehow the years go by.

(Of course, many of my readers have been married longer than I have and have no need for my advice. I’m just saying that I searched my soul and found nothing. It’s happened before.)

My brother and his wife invited their friends and siblings to share their thoughts on love and marriage — to email them to the celebrant for inclusion in the ceremony. My thoughts didn’t figure into it, because I couldn’t come up with any.

I briefly considered inventing a friend for Eric and sending in something absurdly flowery: “Eric’s friend Hassan says, ‘Love is like a welter of gleaming pearls, radiant in their brilliance. No, diamonds!'” But then I decided that pranking my brother’s wedding ceremony was probably a classless thing to do, so I kept my mouth shut. Except on my blog.

I dunno. Maybe there isn’t a fancy formula or mission statement that captures the soul of marriage. Maybe it’s different for everybody. Or maybe the secret is buried so deep in the stream of days and months that it’s hard to see.

At any rate, whatever it takes to keep two people happy together and pulling in the same direction, I hope my brother and his wife discover it together.

And I hope it only seems like months before they go out for their own 20th anniversary.

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A great person, and also a link to the Blumenaus of Hope Street, has passed.

So this week, we return to a time of loss and grief.

And, hopefully, solace.

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March 23-24 and 30-31, 1969.

My great-aunt Eleanor Kidd died April 1 in western Massachusetts. She was just about three months shy of 104 years old, and represented the last living relative of my grandparents’ generation.

She was a smart, funny, resilient lady who overcame adversity more than once and enjoyed the pleasures of long life and close family. (I won’t rewrite her obit, linked above, but suggest you check it out. It’s better reading than anything I’ve written in a long while.)

To explain her relationship to me in Hope Street terms, her sister Corine married my grandfather, the keeper of the calendars. And Great-Aunt El showed up on them from time to time over the years, while visiting or otherwise interacting with the Blumenaus of Hope Street.

She was also one-third of my family’s tightest birthday cluster: Hers was July 4, mine is July 5, and my cousin Brandon (the son of my Aunt Elaine) is July 6. This was not the sort of cluster you piece together by searching distant generations on a family tree: The three of us were all in the same room at least once or twice. This somehow escaped my grandfather’s notice, and he never took a photo with just the three of us; it was rather the sort of thing he would have thought of.

As an independent adult, I only spent a few days in her company. Not long after I was married, my wife and I (then living in Norfolk County, Mass.) went out to West Springfield one autumn weekend to visit Great-Aunt El and her family. I had a lovely time; the hospitality was warm and genuine; and it remains a regret that I did not stay in touch.

If you’ve been here a while, you might remember my post about Great-Aunt El on her 100th birthday … or the post I wrote about her husband, Bob Kidd, who died before I was born but whom I would have liked to meet.

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Reprinted from my earlier post just ’cause it’s such a great picture. Eleanor and Bob Kidd looking wicked happy at my parents’ wedding, July 1967.

Bob Kidd, El’s husband, died unexpectedly in early March 1969. The calendar entries posted above show a phone call to Springfield on March 23, and what appears to be a “long phone call to Springfield on March 30 or 31. (I wonder what “long” meant by Hope Street standards. Very few phone calls in the 15 surviving years of Hope Street calendars got that treatment.)

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what was going on. My Great-Aunt El was probably opening up to her sister in the aftermath of her loss, maybe talking about what she was going to do going forward to support her children … and my grandma was doing her best to comfort, reassure and support her as she started on a new path.

Or perhaps Great-Aunt El was talking about the mundanities of daily life — the kids’ grades, the spring thaw, the brakes on the car — as a way to think about anything other than her loss, and my grandma was providing an ear.

(Maybe my grandpa, too. The Blumenaus of Stamford and the Kidds of Springfield were close, and I know my grandpa felt the loss. He was perhaps not an enlightened/sensitive man as we define them in the 21st century, but he would have helped in any way he could recognize.)

I am not close enough to Great-Aunt El’s family to fill a similar role in their time of grief, decades later.

And, given the length and quality of her life, perhaps their grief is somewhat different in nature. Those who knew her best can treasure a life well-lived, instead of mourning a life cut short.

Still, my heart is with them, as my grandparents’ were with Great-Aunt El when she needed it. The loss of a remarkable person is the loss of a remarkable person, no matter how long you get to spend with them.

To her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, in all the places they’ve settled, I offer my condolences.

And to the memory of Great-Aunt El, I offer the preceding 740 words, and a tip of the hat.

Rest well.

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The basketball I care most about tends to take place outside of NCAA brackets.

Like the summer afternoon, back when I was maybe 10 or 12, when my group of friends decided to play hoops long-distance — with one team aiming for the basket at our house, and the other team aiming for the basket at a friend’s house around the corner.

(I’d love to say we went at it for hours; but the truth was that dribbling down the street wore us out fairly quickly, and we soon went back to talking about whatever we talked about when I was 10 or 12.)

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The sport of the streets hasn’t much worked its way into the Hope Street narrative before. My grandpa, I think, was more into baseball.

But, I’m piqued by a certain calendar entry of my grandfather’s.

While the world’s basketball attention is drawn to the top college players, come back 54 years with me, to a drafty and probably empty middle-school gym. The rest of the world this week is watching Storrs, in the northeast “quiet corner” of Connecticut, but we’re going to the opposite corner of the state:

March 1, 1962.

March 1, 1962.

What we have here is a girls’ basketball game, pitting a team from Dolan Middle School — including my Aunt Elaine — against a team from a private school called Cherry Lawn. (Pitting? Cherry Lawn? I knock myself out.)

Aunt Elaine wasn’t an athletic pioneer in any real sense when she suited up in Dolan’s bloomer-inspired basketball uniforms. Girls and women had been playing sports in defined settings for many decades by 1962.

But, my perception is that girls’ sports didn’t get much in the way of support and acceptance before federal Title IX took effect, which happened roughly a decade after Aunt Elaine took the court against Cherry Lawn.

If anything, an interest in sports was a social black mark for girls, as my aunt confirms:

I can’t say I was particularly athletic but I liked playing basketball and made the team somehow. Being tall for my age probably helped. I had one friend on the team who was in the same boat, and the rest of the team members were what was known as ” jocks” or worse, which were not  favorable terms for girls at that time.

I also played in the annual badminton competitions in high school. I became quite good at that sport from playing nightly in the Blumenau backyard in the summers. However, people didn’t pay much attention to that competition either. Boys football and basketball were the attention-grabbers.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

The Cherry Lawn School yearbooks from that period of time are posted online, and I looked through them, hoping to find a shot of the Dolan-Cherry Lawn girls’ hoop game. But the only sports pictures in those yearbooks are football and boys’ basketball, confirming Aunt Elaine’s perceptions of the athletic pecking order.

(The Cherry Lawn School story, by the way, is an interesting trip. Cherry Lawn was an independent school that unfortunately fell by the wayside in the early ’70s — just when you’d think alternative-minded parents would be geared up to send their kids there. Check out the website linked above if that sounds interesting to you.)

Anyway, Aunt Elaine went on to say that no one turned out for her games, or for any girls’ games:

There were other girls’ teams in sports but I don’t remember much about them, because none of the girls teams were a big deal. I don’t remember your grandparents coming to any of the games, because the girls games were in the afternoon after school. I don’t know if anybody came to the games, except the teams!

With that in mind, I respect those girls who went out for sports — including basketball — back in the day.

Sports for girls and women are an everyday thing now, their benefits taken for granted, from gym workouts to marathons to the lowest starter-level soccer teams.

(Among the millions of women participating in sports: Aunt Elaine’s daughter Kara, a former high-school swimmer who runs, spins, lifts weights and plays ultimate frisbee to stay in shape and work off stress. Also making a name for themselves: The women’s hoop team at Aunt Elaine’s undergrad alma mater, who won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2007. And let’s not ignore the 14 girls on this year’s Dolan Middle School hoops team.)

I steal from Wiki here:

In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

We know that girls and women gain from their athletic experiences. But what we encourage and accept now, somebody had to stand up for in empty gyms and stake the first claims to.

So, three cheers to them. (The cheers they might have liked to have heard while they were actually playing.)

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