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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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I have previously mentioned the young girls with rakes and faces but no names.

They had names then, of course, and friends and schoolbooks and favorite candy bars and maybe posters on the wall.

But they passed through the history of Hope Street — this history of Hope Street, anyway — without anyone writing their names down. They do not seem to have made it onto my grandpa’s calendar, for instance.

Here at my computer in the autumn of 2016 they are only images on a thumbdrive of my grandpa’s old photos … one-dimensional children in short-sleeved T-shirts in the tall fall grass, doing a neighborly favor.

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(Did they shiver and complain about their lot in life? No. Most likely they were quite comfortable.)

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I imagine they were my grandparents’ next-door neighbors, possibly even from the light-colored house in the rear of the photo above. (The folks on the other side of my grandparents had a son my dad’s age.)

If I had a 1975 city directory at my fingertips, I could probably find out their names, or their parents’, quickly enough.

I also imagine their house disappeared in the same condominium sweep that tore down my grandparents’. I wonder if they have been back to Hope Street lately, or if there is nothing for them there.

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If you’re reading this post, you already know the backstory. My grandfather suffered a heart attack in 1971 that required him to scale back his household activities as much as possible.

The house at 1107 Hope Street had a good-sized back yard and a lot of trees. Raking all those leaves would have been one of those jobs my grandpa looked to outsource, either to professional yardsmiths or neighborhood urchins.

How many years of help did my grandpa get from the girls next door? Maybe not many. The older one, especially, looks to be approaching the age where she can invent plausible other things to do besides squatting in the grass to clean up somebody else’s yard.

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Of course I wonder where they are now, and what they are doing. It is that time of year, after all.

Perhaps they have kids who are bracing to spend the coming weekends with rakes in their hands (though some back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the girls in these photos are probably empty-nesters already. Time does fly.)

Perhaps they have grown into the sort of people who refuse to dirty their hands with leaves, and hire yard companies to do the work. “I’ve bagged enough leaves for one lifetime,” they sniff.

Or maybe, in a different lawn with different trees in a different state, they are still at it. Perhaps they even enjoy it. Maybe, for reasons they can’t quite remember, it reminds them of good deeds and hard work well-appreciated.

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In recognition of the end of another losing season of Philadelphia Phillies baseball.

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Regular readers would be excused for thinking that my family is a bunch of maniacal hoarders.

In the five-plus years of Hope Street, I’ve posted things like:
my grandfather’s resume
the license plates he got for his very first car, and the check he wrote the dealership for them
– itineraries and costs for a long-ago train trip on a line that no longer exists
– excerpts from a journal that show every significant improvement my grandpa made to his house, from the 1940s to the 1980s
– an internal company newsletter from 1963
– and, of course, all the day-to-day calendar entries that have defined the blog’s soul.

I suspect these are more mementos, and more obscure, than the typical American family has in its basement.

Now that they’ve turned out the lights at Citizens Bank Park, though, I’m going to write this week about one family item that didn’t make it down the years.

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The old baseball cards scattered throughout this week’s entry date to the Fifties, but they aren’t from my dad’s collection.

That’s because, at some far-distant and unnoticed point, my grandma threw out my dad’s cards.

Coulda been while he was off at college; or sometime after he moved out and got married. Who knows? It wasn’t a big enough event to end up on my grandpa’s calendars, that’s certain.

All that matters is that, at some point, they went … the superstars, the bonus babies, the steady veterans, the flashes in the pan, even the umpires … all out to the curb, alongside the wrapper from last Thursday’s pound of hamburger.

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Lest you think I am winding up to sing you the blues … no, not really. Despite being an avid card collector as a kid, I’ve never been all that worked up about the ones that got away.

I read about the hobby as a kid, and I was aware that quite a few American mothers had thrown out their kids’ cards — never anticipating that anyone would have an interest in them. It was a common thing, and easy enough to understand.

Plus, this was my grandma we were talking about … the kindly lady who baked blueberry pies. You don’t get mad at your grandma, or at least you didn’t in my family.

So, while I would have found it interesting to have a big stack of Washington Senators and Philadelphia A’s to look at, it was no big thing that I didn’t.

I had a friend in elementary school whose dad’s collection had made it through the years. He let me trade some of my Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden cards for some of his dad’s doubles, which fulfilled any desire I had to own vintage cardboard.

At the time — circa 1984 — Dwight Gooden for Jim Greengrass seemed like highway robbery. Now, it doesn’t look quite so skewed.

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The cards I’ve collected from my generation, including my remaining Goodens and Strawberrys, aren’t worth enough on an individual basis to buy a sandwich … and my grandma played a role in that too.

See, the supply of ’50s baseball cards is limited, in part because of all those cleaning-happy moms who threw out their sons’ stashes.

The sons, who never anticipated future demand either, are also to blame for doing destructive things like putting cards inside their bicycle spokes to go flap-flap-flap. Things like house fires and basement floods have claimed a percentage of the remaining ’50s stock over the years, too.

Rarity made the prices of older cards boom in the ’80s, as nostalgic baby boomers and new collectors alike pursued cards that were tough to find in good condition.

(The prices of those cards are still booming. Just last year, a pristine example of the famously rare 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle fetched upwards of $525,000.)

The prices being commanded by ’50s cards put the light of future profits into collectors’ eyes. They bought brand-new cards and socked them away in pristine condition — all the better to cash in in 30 years — while card manufacturers stepped up production.

Unfortunately, nobody threw any of the new cards out, much less stuck them in bicycle spokes or doodled on them with ballpoint pens.

So the pendulum of supply and demand swung back on a grand scale. Relatively few cards produced in recent decades are worth all that much. Some cards are desirable, but few are truly rare or command anything close to the older cards’ prices.

This story about the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck card, the most famous card of my generation, provides some context. There may be as many as 1 million of these cards in the world, and while examples in absolute mint condition can cost you three figures, you can also pick one up for less than $10.

(The ’89 Upper Deck Griffey has been called “the last iconic baseball card,” a phrase that speaks volumes.)

These developments don’t really bother me either. I’ve never bought a pack of baseball cards, or an individual card, with the intent of reselling it — much less sending my kids to college on the proceeds.

The trends are amusing to watch from a distance, though, as I tell myself that the kindly old lady with the blueberry pies is partially responsible.

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I enjoy looking at things from my grandparents’ daily lives, like car catalogs from years gone by. And I’ve made considerable hay from those leftovers on this blog over the past five years.

But I don’t have to have or hold everything that passed through 1107 Hope Street. What went by the wayside is interesting too.

Some things — like the hope that attends the start of each Phillies season — just have to be parted with.

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