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Posts Tagged ‘connecticut’

How upright were the Blumenaus of Hope Street?

Why, they wouldn’t even cheat Ma Bell.

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February 22, 1970.

It’s early 1970. My Aunt Elaine is in grad school at Boston University, leading a life of her own, but still seeing her folks and her grandma from time to time.

On this particular day, she’s left Hope Street to go back to school (a trip that should only take three hours, according to Mapquest; perhaps the weather or traffic slowed her down).

To let her family know she dodged the maniacal New England highway drivers and got back safely, she’s made just about the shortest possible telephone call you can make and still be polite.

And it’s still cost somebody 3.5 cents per second.

(Not sure whether the call was collect, or on my aunt’s dime … but my grandpa made note of the cost, so he must have known. He may have been paying the bill either way.)

This makes me think of the old practice of collect-calling a previously agreed-on name as a means of delivering a message. The person being called would turn down the collect call request, because hearing the pre-arranged name told them all they needed to know — at no cost to anyone.

As I’ve mentioned before — five years ago to the day; how weird is that? — the name used on my mom’s side of the family for that purpose was “Evelyn Keyes.

In the mid-’80s, when my maternal grandparents either sold their old home in Stamford or closed on their new home in Rochester, we got a collect call for Evelyn Keyes — which we turned down, knowing events had gone according to plan.

My maternal grandma’s name was Evelyn; the “Keyes” part referred to Evelyn either getting the keys to her new home, or handing over the keys to her old one.

(I believe Evelyn Keyes was also pressed into service on prior occasions for we-got-home-safe purposes, though my memories of that are not as specific. Of course, once those grandparents moved to a home five minutes away from ours, our need for such deceptions declined sharply.)

My younger readers — if indeed I have any — might wonder why people went to such lengths to avoid putting through a short phone call. Was it really that big a deal?

Well, 35 cents in 1970 equals about $2.20 today. That’s not a budget-breaker for most people … but it’s a hell of a lot to pay when all you want to do is tell a loved one in Connecticut that you got to Boston okay. From a 2017 perspective, something like that should be free, right?

Plus, your regional phone company was a monopoly back then, and it kinda had things all its own way. It wasn’t doing you a lot of favors, so the tendency was to get your own back, in small ways, where you could.

To accomplish the same errand today, you might send your family an email or a text. Or you might mention on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that you got home safe. Or you might use your free friends-and-family calling plan and make a quick call. All user-friendly options; all instantaneous; all more or less free.

(What do you think the executives of Southern New England Telephone in 1970 would have said if you’d told them that, in the future, calls to friends and family would be free? They’d have metaphorically hung up on you.)

Personally, I kinda wish the ways Americans communicated hadn’t changed so radically, because I miss the fun of the cloak-and-dagger stuff.

If Ma Bell still had a monopoly, I would revel in creating so many collect-call aliases, my friends and family would need a folder to keep track of what they all meant.

A collect call from George Deukmejian? That means “too tired to cook tonight; order a pizza.” James Jackson Storrow? That must be “working late; eat without me.” Tristan Tzara? “Kidnapped by aliens; will be home in four days with curious rashes and significant memory loss.” (Hey, you gotta be prepared for anything.)

But, times have changed, and the old ways have gone.

And anyway, the underlying point of this whole essay is that the Hope Street Blumenaus didn’t take the easy way out. My Aunt Elaine didn’t make a collect call to Montgomery Clift or Kevin White at my grandparents’ phone number, and my grandparents didn’t turn it down with a wink and a nudge.

She put the call through, and however begrudgingly, my grandfolks took it. They noted every cent and every second, and they knew they would pay for it, but they took it.

I guess you need some folks like that in the world, to keep society on the rails and everything working right.

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I can vouch for my grandpa being a gentleman. But until this week, I didn’t know he was ever an officer of anything.

This week’s calendar entries open the door ever so slightly, but leave most questions unanswered:

My grandfather was not a big civic joiner.

Sure, he took part in church-related activities. He went bowling alongside his friends from work. And he participated in a group or two that aligned with his personal interests, like the Stamford Art Association.

But, as far as I knew, he was never a Lion, Moose, Jaycee, or member of any other community or social improvement group. Nor did he ever hold any position of official authority.

At least, that was what I thought until I uncovered the above calendar entry.

Then I went backwards through his calendars and discovered that, for portions of 1966 and early 1967, unspecified “board meetings” were regularly noted at 8 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. No other info was ever presented.

(The February 1967 meeting seems to have been the last one he attended. February is a curious time for any board to roll over its members; but, who knows?)

The notion of his serving as an officer on a board, or even attending a meeting, took my dad by surprise:

I certainly can’t picture him either seeking or enjoying such a function.

If I were to assume that he was indeed on some board, my guess as to what it would have been, in order of decreasing likelihood, would be:

1. Stamford Camera Club (although I think he was more active in that during the mid-late 1950s)
2. Springdale Methodist Church, or some sub-group thereof
3. Some Art Club / Society
4. Bowling League
5. Local branch of the Sons of the Alsace Schnitzelbenders

I can’t rule out any of those for certain; but again, in the absence of more specific info, I can only guess.

One potential clue comes from the calendar entry of March 14, 1966.

That word at the top doesn’t look like “officers,” nor does it quite look like “official,” and it’s certainly not “Schnitzelbenders.” But I can’t figure out what it is.

(It looks almost like “offernal,” which I went so far as to Google just to see if it was a church term related to the offertory. It isn’t.)

If I could sort it out, that might give me my answer. Any guesses from the peanut gallery?

March 14, 1966.

 

 

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The start of a new year is always a time for hope — whether it has plans and plots behind it (I’ve looked at my budget, and I’ve figured out how I can start saving money for retirement!) or whether it’s simply based on generic optimism (This is going to be my year, I just know it!)

For some portion of us, that hope will be repaid. For others, it will vanish before the month is out.

(I was tempted to write “for most of us, it will vanish before the month is out,” but that seemed exceptionally cynical. Things work out for some people. Who keeps statistics on the pursuance and fulfillment of hope, anyway?)

This installment finds my grandfather at the start of a new year, striking out on a personal project with at least some degree of hope.

Unfortunately, “striking out” seems to have been the operative phrase.

On January 4, 1971, my grandpa made an afternoon visit to the local unemployment office and returned with nothing. (I assume the zero with the dash behind it is a reference to his job search, and not to something else.)

This was not his first visit there — the office is mentioned on calendar entries from the end of 1970, as well. But, maybe the start of a new year rekindled his hope that somebody would be looking for an experienced draftsman.

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A week later, the same thing, only at a different time:

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A week after that, the weather turned cold and crappy. My grandfather made the trudge out anyway, and was rewarded for his persistence with nowt. (The big blue temperature marking only seems like another giant goose egg in this context.)

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One more week of Mondays in January, one more week of sloppy weather, one more week of returning home empty-handed:

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The 1971 calendars say my grandpa made one more fruitless expedition on Monday, February 1, and then — miracle of miracles! — landed an interview on Wednesday, February 10, with a company called Sonic Engineering. (Whether the interview arose from the unemployment office or from my grandpa’s own shoe-leather reading of the help-wanted ads is lost to history.)

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I know very little about Sonic Engineering except: (a) it apparently had an office in Norwalk, a community or two over from Stamford; and (b) it didn’t hire my grandpa.

And after that, the visits to the unemployment office disappear from the calendar, as do any additional references to interviews or jobs. (My grandpa’s heart attack in May of that year put paid to any remaining job-search aspirations.)

Am I trying to rain on the hopes of the new year? Definitely not. As I said, some people’s goals and wishes come true.

Maybe the message is that sometimes, if you don’t get what you want, you end up doing just as well or better in the end.

My grandpa was 60 years old in that first week of 1971. He would only have worked a few more years anyway; I don’t perceive that his life was that much worse because he didn’t. Maybe another job would just have been another source of stress.

He might have liked to have a few more years of paychecks in the bank, just on the general principle that you can never have enough money. Whether he would have spent that money or not is another question. As it happened, he got by without it.

So, hold tight to your New Year’s hopes … but if you don’t get what you have in mind, be flexible and wise enough to move with what you do get. Things have a way of working out.

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I’m having trouble saying goodbye to this year in any coherent way; a stifled retch feels most appropriate, like the sound you make when you’ve emptied your stomach but you’re not done throwing up.

(Setting aside national politics and the deaths of lots of famous people, the Hope Street universe lost a noteworthy person in 2016 — my Great-Aunt Eleanor, the last living member of my grandparents’ generation of the family. That in itself would make it a subpar year. There were other things too.)

Maybe what this year needs to close it out is a good dance. It could be something slow and mournful. Or it could be something fast, for those dancing to forget.

At least one of the Hope Street Blumenaus used to end the calendar year that way, back in the day:

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December 28, 1962.

Assuming the DJ was spinning the hits of the day, the kids at the church dance on Dec. 28, 1962, would have had pretty slim pickings. (“Pepino the Italian Mouse,” anybody?)

At the year-end 1963 dance, the young Methodists of Springdale might have heard something from a certain Liverpool band that was just sneaking onto New York radio and would shortly turn America on its ear. But in 1962, no such radical change was around the corner, and the bland musical interregnum between Chuck Berry and the Beatles was still in force.

It’s hard to anticipate any radical social or personal changes around the corner in 2017, either.

But, who knows? You never see them coming.

So turn out the lights on 2016, find a partner, and we’ll be back to see if next year is any better.

(Keep your hands where the chaperones can see them.)

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On Hope Street, the turbulent year of 1967 came in with fire and went out with ice.

(Granted, there were some pleasant moments in between.)

My earlier post about the Connecticut ice storm of December 1973 is one of the most-read installments in the history of this blog.

So when I learned from my grandpa’s calendar that there was another ice storm in Stamford six years earlier, I figured I’d write about that one too.

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December 11, 1967. Later in the week, just two towns over from Stamford, a child is born who will grow up to be a titanic figure of my college and early-twenties years in New England.

 

If you’ve never heard of the Ice Storm of 1967 … well, there’s a good reason; it turns out that it wasn’t that big a deal.

The New York Times dispensed with it in a 10-paragraph article on page 41 of the Dec. 12 issue, summarizing: “Icy rains pelted the suburbs, snapping power lines.” (The city proper was plagued by blowing, heavy mist and rain, but temperatures stayed above freezing.)

The article singled out classic Tri-State sprawl-spots like Mamaroneck, West Nyack, Ramsey and Nanuet for mention, but didn’t say anything about Connecticut. Presumably that meant there was no news fit to print there.

By the following day, ice had been replaced by what the Good Gray Lady called “muddy fog,” in a story noting that New York had received two-and-a-quarter inches of unseasonable rain in two days’ time. (The author of this shoe-leather mood piece? Future two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner J. Anthony Lukas.)

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, ran a one-paragraph brief on page 3 noting that “a sleet storm tore down power lines” in the New York suburbs. This item appeared beneath a similar one-graf news brief noting that the Maui Nukupuu — “a small bird with a large down-curving bill and a tubular tongue for extracting nectar from flowers” — had been spotted in Hawaii for the first time in 71 years.

The relative silence of my grandpa’s calendar suggests that the power stayed on and life went on more or less as usual. The calendar also makes no mention of a day off work, which my grandpa would usually note when heavy weather occasioned it. (Dec. 11 was a Monday.)

I guess, then, that the December 1967 ice storm was nothing epochal. It was just a bump in the road … something to be tolerated amidst the ongoing grind of holiday errands, like retrieving college-age kids, buying Christmas trees and putting up home decorations.

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December 16, 1967.

One hopes the people of Fairfield County tolerated it without too much grumbling. Just a few years later, they would see much worse.

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