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Posts Tagged ‘connecticut’

The winter storm that professional weather-promoters nicknamed Jonas dropped 26 inches of snow onto my back deck in a 24-hour period last month.

I know this for a fact because my grandfather helped me measure it.

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The storm was still going when I took this. I didn’t get a shot of the snow all the way up to 26 inches, but I like to think you will believe me.

I imagine many families have small “heirlooms” — items that are not formally handed down, but that make their way from house to house, find their small niche in life and drift comfortably along for years.

Things like potholders. Or those holder-things you put casserole dishes on when they’re fresh out of the oven, so they don’t scorch the table (their proper name escapes me.) Or modest two-level bookshelves. Or bottle openers. Or folding card tables topped with sticky vinyl.

Or, in this case, a yardstick.

I couldn’t tell you how it ended up in my hands. But pretty much since I moved out of dorms and into homes of my own, I’ve had the same yardstick.

It doesn’t get a lot of use for anything but snowstorms, so it stands a pretty good chance of getting passed on again … unlike my other grandpa’s novelty New York Football Giants bottle opener, whose NY logo has been worn to nothing over the course of thousands of beers.

But that’s a story for some other time.

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There is no Stamford Savings Bank any more. The institution still exists, but has been renamed First County Bank.

It doesn’t appear that the phone number on the yardstick was retained by any of First County’s 15 current branches, either, so don’t call it if you’re in the market for mortgage rates or certificates of deposit.

The actual piece of wood is not antique in any way, shape or form. I believe it dates to a specific window between May 1983 and April 1985.

The first date — if the Interwebs are correct — is when Stamford Savings Bank opened a new branch at 1110 Hope Street, in the Springdale neighborhood of Stamford, across the street from my grandparents’ house at 1107. (My cousin John, who is in the building trade in Stamford and who has shown up on this blog before, was apparently involved in the building’s construction.)

And the second date was when my grandparents, having sold the old home for demolition, moved out to start a new life in western New York.

The current Google Earth view of 1110 Hope Street.

The current Google Earth view of 1110 Hope Street. The former Springdale Methodist Church, which I’ve recently been told is closing, is to the right.

I have no concrete proof that my grandpa did his banking at Stamford Savings, as his financial records are long gone.

But I’m fairly certain the yardstick came from him. The bank was across the street, after all. And in my dad’s words:

My folks strongly felt a part of Springdale, and if there was a branch in Springdale, would likely have put their money there.  Although that being said, I think both of your grandfathers were of the type that started a new checking account at the bank du jour to get the free toaster.

(D’oh! I could have been handed down a toaster. Wouldn’t’a helped me measure the snow last month, though.)

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One of the most popular and enduring pop songs of the Seventies is now old enough to look in the mirror and sigh at its encroaching gray hairs.

This month marks 40 years since the Four Seasons — Sixties hitmakers in the midst of a surprising Seventies resurgence — released the single most people know by its subtitle: “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night).”

According to the song’s Wiki page, it was originally set in 1933 and was meant to recall the end of Prohibition.

But various parties involved with the song, including Frankie Valli, urged songwriters Bob Gaudio and Judy Parker to reconsider the lyric. And, instead of a meditation on the narrator’s first legal bender, the song turned into a warm recollection of a first romantic encounter.

(In 2015, the narrator is probably old enough to watch Viagra commercials more intently than he watches the football games that surround them.)

“December 1963” would hit Number One on the singles charts in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada early in 1976. And — buoyed by remixes, covers, party and wedding spins, and general nostalgia — it’s remained popular since.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the song, me. (No, this guy might hold that title.)

But, as a person who admires pop-music productions the way some people admire Renoirs, I have to concede that Frankie Valli and company built themselves quite a single.

This is also one of a group of pop hits (“Silly Love Songs” is another) that I can remember hearing on the radio in my parents’ big Plymouth Satellite during long holiday road trips to Stamford. So it has a pleasant childhood connection.

For Hope Street purposes, “December 1963” nicely spans the time period of my grandfather’s calendars: The ones still in storage start in January 1961 and end in December 1975, when the song came out.

I thought I’d look back at the calendar for December 1963 — or at least the portion of it I took pictures of — and see what the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, was up to during that fateful month.

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Of course there’s nothing intimate or personal on the calendar that month. Just the usual errands — plumber’s appointments, trips to the dentist, appointments to babysit, times to unload unwanted household trash.

(I’ve never heard “junkie” as slang for “junkman” before. But it’s consistent with other New England slang I learned during my years near Boston — “statie” for state cop, “packie” for package store, “Eastie” and “Southie” for East and South Boston respectively. Nowadays, I’d like to think someone would recycle that water tank, but who knows.)

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Of course there is a Christmas tree — an angular streamlined jobbie of the sort Charlie Brown might have seen on his famous errand two years later, yet not high-end enough to satisfy my aunt.

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And then there’s this potpourri of seasonal action. A son comes home from college and sees the dentist; a materfamilias goes to the doctor; the daughter of the family makes a few bucks overseeing someone else’s brats on a Saturday night; the sun goes down pisser early on the shortest day of the year; and the weather is by turns cold and winter-sloppy.

(I am reminded that I have written before about that Dec. 21, 1963, calendar entry. Three years later, the pain of that week’s news from the other end of Fairfield County is still fresh … and we, as a country, have not moved perceptibly forward. My grandfather would shake his head in frustration, and so do I.)

The rest of December 1963 I didn’t bother to take pictures of, which suggests there was nothing of interest on the calendar. Just everyday action even more mundane than that I captured.

Wiki’s page for December 1963 suggests the month was generally quiet in terms of news items, as well. A few births that became noteworthy later (Brad Pitt, Donna Tartt, Sergey Bubka, Lars Ulrich) and the first Beatles singles in the U.S., but nothing that would have really stirred people at the time — especially compared to the events of the prior month.

So, while the narrator of the Four Seasons’ single might have had a memorable month, December 1963 was not otherwise noteworthy for most actual non-fictional Americans.

The Sixties would go on to get a whole lot more eventful … but that’s another story.

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For almost 35 years — from the end of the 1940s until the early ’80s — my grandpa bought Fords.

For whatever reason, he decided he liked them; and the ones he bought served him well enough to keep him happy. And so the Blumenaus were, for almost all of their residence on Hope Street, a Ford family.

I know of only one occasion during those years when my grandpa’s attention wavered. We’ll go down that road this week — which gives us the opportunity to look at some classic Sixties marketing materials, as well.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special "Mannequin" has.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special “Mannequin” has. Why, it’s the standard for the entire industry!

Throughout the ’60s, my grandpa bought a new mid-sized Ford Fairlane every four years, in the presidential inaugural years of 1961, 1965 and 1969.

(His loyal patronage was not enough to save the model, which was discontinued in 1970.)

The marketing brochures for these cars, as well as other Fords from the ’40s and ’50s, still live in a worn yellow envelope in my folks’ basement, somewhat the worse for wear after many years of my pawing.

There’s also one non-Ford brochure from the ’60s, which shows that my grandpa — at least once — was willing to be flexible and consider something new, rather than plunk down his bills for the latest shined-up version of the same model.

When he went off the ranch, he went in a big way. He left behind the other members of Detroit’s Big Three and turned to the industry’s scrappy fourth-place player, Rambler.

The 1965 Rambler "X-Ray" catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great '60s design.

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great ’60s design.

When my grandpa went car-shopping in ’65, the Rambler brand had only been a stand-alone marque for about eight years, having emerged from the survival-merger of Nash and Hudson in the mid-1950s.

The company with a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had managed to make significant waves in the industry, though.

It had pulled off the eternally difficult trick of convincing Americans to buy compact cars. It had positioned itself as more nimble and creative than the Big Three, adding features the bigger players didn’t have. And it had won Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award in 1963.

An example of we-do-it, they-don't from the '65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

An example of we-do-it, they-don’t from the ’65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

Indeed, by the time my grandpa noticed Rambler, its best days might have been behind it.

Wikipedia suggests the company enjoyed its glory years under the corporate presidency of George W. Romney, and after Romney left to run for governor of Michigan in 1962, subsequent chief executives found the going tougher and tougher. (How might America’s automotive and political worlds be different today if George Romney had stayed in the auto business?)

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog plays on the company’s established giant-killer image, comparing Rambler autos to their big-name competitors. Not surprisingly, all the comparisons — from turning radius, to cargo space, to fuel economy, to reliability — come out in Rambler’s favor.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

Several pages of the catalog stack up Rambler models against their competitors in different size classes. Thoughtfully, Rambler put its Classic mid-size model on the same page as the Fairlane, so my grandpa could size them both up at a glance.

In retrospect, it doesn’t look like much of a choice. Both cars are plain and rather boxy, and would be difficult to tell apart at a distance. Still, I imagine my grandpa spent at least a couple minutes looking at this page.

Head to head.

Head to head. The adjoining page featured the Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Belvidere and Dodge Coronet.

A few other pages of the catalog showed my grandpa looking behind the hype and writing down questions about key features.

I didn’t think that many people cared about seat belts then, but the note on this page suggests it mattered to him:

"SEAT BELTS?"

“SEAT BELTS?” (Clearly the lack of headrests didn’t bother him, but the potential lack of seat belts did.)

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

I have to hand it to the forgotten marketing geniuses at Rambler: After reading the X-Ray catalog, I was ready to go out and plunk down my own money on a Rambler. They sold the hungry, quality-driven, thinking-man’s-choice, underdog image pretty well.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

Unfortunately, as I said 600 words ago, they couldn’t convince my grandpa. When the time came to make a decision, he turned his back on the little guys and stayed loyal to Ford.

This in and of itself was not life-changing to anybody. But repeat it a couple hundred thousand times, and it helps explain why Rambler and its successor brand, AMC, couldn’t last in the long term. Window-shopping doesn’t bring in any money, and Rambler/AMC didn’t get enough Americans to sign on the dotted line.

A shame: A ’65 Rambler Classic like this one — shown in its X-Ray glamour shot — might have looked nice in old family scrapbook photos.

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Bonus multimedia content: Check out this ad, not for Ramblers, but for the X-Ray catalog.

Or, if you want to see a ’65 Rambler Classic in action:

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I spent a fair amount of time at my grandparents’ house on Hope Street as a kid.

And through this blog, I’ve spent a fair amount of time revisiting it in my mind — most notably in a post from this week in 2012, when I wrote a room-by-room tour of the place from memory.

That’s why I was interested — though maybe not surprised — to discover that one of my grandpa’s recently discovered journals includes a year-by-year list of every significant improvement made to the house, starting in January 1946 and ending in October 1984.

The first page ...

The first page …

... and the last.

… and the last.

It would have been around October 1984 that my grandparents sold the house at 1107 Hope to developers, who tore it down the following year to make room for condos.

I can only assume that front porch roof really needed to be reshingled in the fall of ’84; I can’t imagine my grandpa enjoyed sinking $350 (about $800 in 2015 money) into a house he knew he was going to leave.

On the other hand, I am oddly touched by the $2.44 spent on a new toggle light switch for the bathroom medicine cabinet. It’s like a fresh young soldier reporting to a platoon that knows the battle’s lost. Here’s this shiny new part looking forward to a lifetime of service, and getting six months tops before the bulldozers come.

I won’t bore my Five Readers with a lengthy breakdown of what got spent, when. I know no one really cares about the details.

I will share some of the more interesting items, though.

For starters, here’s a list of the paint colors (besides basic gray, white, blue and green) applied to different parts of the house over that 38-year period. The house in my memory was fairly drab — maybe “plain” is a kinder word — but this parade of names makes it sound like a riot of color:

Pine green
Mint green
Light green
Kentucky green
Cordovan brown
Forest green
Dawn yellow
Pilgrim gray
Smoke gray
Park green
Misty gray
Blue moon
Provincial grey
Slate grey
Pastel pink
Battleship gray
Candleglow (it appears to be a light beige-yellow)
Mission rose
Antique white
Evergreen

And now for some journal entries:

October 1946.

October 1946. Twenty-five pounds of furnace asbestos. Wonder what that was — insulation, maybe? It was only a buck — good deal if you didn’t mind getting cancer years later.

April 1947.

April 1947. My grandpa splurges and blows eight dollars on evergreens. Wonder if they are the ones visible in this photo from circa 1973.

October 1947: Wood for the rose arbor.

October 1947: Wood for the rose arbor. This might or might not be the (heavily weathered) wood from the cover photo of Hope’s Treat, the official soundtrack to the Hope Street blog.

March 1956. Remember when a radio was something you got fixed?

March 1956. Remember when a radio was something you got fixed?

April 1957. Look, Ma, I made the newspaper.

April 1957. Look, Ma, I made the newspaper. Wonder how many of these building improvements — heck, how many of these buildings — are still extant today. Also, I have always thought of Stamford as a predominantly Italian city with a minority of eastern Europeans, and this clipping does nothing to change my mind.

August 26, 1967.

August 26, 1967. Home security is not a running theme in this journal, so the mention of a lock stands out. My grandparents’ home would be broken into in the early ’80s — perhaps a minor contributing factor to their eventual decision to sell.

October 18, 1968.

October 18, 1968. This is probably the same clothesline my grandfather photographed, encased in ice, after the ice storm of December 1973.

January-February 1975.

January-February 1975. Regardless of what Fela Kuti might tell you, water is the homeowner’s enemy. I think this is the only reference to an insurance claim in the entire journal. At least it’s the only one that sticks out now that I’ve been through it three or four times.

October 14, 1977. No idea why my grandpa saw fit to illustrate this, but here you go.

October 14, 1977. No idea why my grandpa saw fit to illustrate this, but here you go.

October 1979.

October 1979. It’s a family affair: John Jacobellis, who replaced part of my grandpa’s porch floor, is my cousin on my mom’s side. (He’s been active in the building trades in Stamford for many years, and is referenced in passing in this post from four years ago.) He shows up in my grandpa’s journal on one or two other occasions in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well.

March 5, 1981. Salty Grandpa shows up for a moment ("crap trap").

March 5, 1981. Salty Grandpa shows up for a moment (“crap trap”).

Summer 1983.

Summer 1983. My grandpa tackles a home improvement task — and, by his own concession, does a “lousy job.” The roots of the sale of Hope Street and the move to Rochester might lie in moments like this, as my grandfather realized he was no longer as capable of this sort of repair as he used to be.

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Last week’s arcane journey into the world of instrumental intonation might have been the least-read thing I’ve ever written in this space.

I dunno … I thought it was interesting, but I guess I disappeared into the notes and staves a little too far.

So, for this installment, we’ll take things back to my grandpa and his interactions with the world around him.

The fodder for this post might be the most personal note of my grandpa’s I’ve ever posted. I found it in his previously mentioned journal of work and personal information. It’s possible no one besides my grandpa had ever seen it; I doubt he showed it to anybody.

Depending on how you interpret it, it shows a side of him Hope Street has never shown — bitter, disappointed, and maybe a little vulgar.

Hard-working man that he was, it was his job that set him off.

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One of my grandpa’s two surviving journals includes a poem, torn from some sort of printed publication, called “Ode to a Draftsman.”

The poem, in rhyming doggerel, expresses the frustration of fixing all the company’s problems — only to have the solutions credited to people higher up on the totem pole. (No copy of the poem seems to exist on the Internet.)

At some point, my grandpa sat down and wrote his own ode to a draftsman’s weary, underappreciated lot … except that his dispensed entirely with rhyme and went straight for cynicism.

The “shoot in de pentz” ending could be some sort of lighthearted dialect joke — more on that in a second — but it doesn’t strike me that way.

I’m not sure if a “shoot in the pants” is a kick in the arse, a grab-the-belt-and-toss bum’s-rush, or something altogether coarser.

But to me, that detail is the key that sets the tone. Our narrator isn’t getting shown the door, or being put out to pasture, or some more genteel euphemism. He’s getting a raw deal, not at all in line with his years of contributions to the company.

I find it interesting that my grandpa wrote this in the sort of ethno-American dialect he might have heard as a child going to vaudeville shows. (It’s either overdone mock-Brooklynese, or five-years-off-the-boat German-American.)

Perhaps he intended that to be his alibi if anyone else ever read it: Oh, just a little doggerel. I was only being silly. Only joking.

Except I don’t think he was.

For one thing, he initialed it, as if to emphasize his authorship and approval. He didn’t have to; no one else ever wrote in that journal. But the initials at the end imply: This is my story.

I’m not sure when he wrote it, or who inspired it. It seems most likely to me that it dates to one of the following periods:

  • Sometime between mid-October 1969 — when longtime employer Time Inc. probably told him he was losing his job — and mid-January 1970, when he lost it. (I consider this the most likely time period, which is why I dated this post “winter 1969.”)
  • Sometime in September 1970, when his final employer, John C. McAdams and Sons, let him go. (I consider this less likely because he was only there for five months or so, and probably didn’t have a deep emotional connection to the place.)
  • Sometime in late 1970 or early 1971, when he was still seeking another job but couldn’t find one. (I’m not sure the tone of the poem quite supports this, but it’s a possibility, however distant.)

To me, the punning sketches up top also betray a concern about work. The journal has several pages with punny drawings — maybe we’ll get back to them in a future installment — but I think the idea of an “unemployed” clothesline came to him when unemployment was on his mind (even if he wasn’t quite there yet).

From a 21st-century point of view, it’s easy to interpret this as an ode not just to draftsmen, but to all skilled, higher-cost workers of about 55 or older who are starting to hear hints that it’s time to go put their feet up.

That will probably be me in about a dozen years. The thought of an impending future shoot in the pants has occurred to me before. And I expect it will cross my mind again on other Monday mornings, when I sit down at the desk to give wid mine head ideahs.

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