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Posts Tagged ‘december’

December — in my dreams, anyway — is supposed to be a time to breathe deeply and reflect.

A time to think quietly about the year nearly past and the fresh year to come.

A time to notice the crunching sound your shoes make when you walk through fresh snow on the sidewalk, and the puffs of your warm breath in the cold morning air.

A time to relax and enjoy the company of friends and family.

But that’s just in my dreams.

In the real world, December is a time to go nuts, in between trying to wrap stuff up at work; finishing end-of-season household chores, like raking the last leaves of the year; and trying to shop, cook, neaten and otherwise prepare for holiday entertaining at month’s end.

Thirty-nine years ago, that seems to be where my grandparents were.

December 1974.

December 1974. Appointments, meetings and obligations.

Let’s see if we can figure out all those tasks crammed into the top of the calendar:

Christmas Fair 6 & 7 – Guessing this is a church or community event. Probably, my grandparents and great-grandma were in attendance. Maybe one of them manned the raffle ticket table or something. Not a major stressor, but an obligation nonetheless.

Art Apropos – No idea what this means, though “Art Apropos” would be a wonderful name for some fictional character — like the crusty, salt-spattered head of Stamford’s Department of Public Works.

(Google suggests there is an Art Apropos Stamps & Papers company in Spokane, Wash. No idea if this has anything to do with them, or whether they even existed 39 years ago.)

Fiston – Again, no idea. This has an X next to it rather than a check mark, suggesting that this particular item might have been canceled rather than completed.

Recycle glass and papers – I wonder how often my grandparents recycled their glass and papers in those days? I assume it was a haul-to-the-dump deal; I doubt Stamford was that far ahead of the curve in terms of recycling bins.

Winterize mower – I’ve written about this task before. In 1975, my grandpa winterized his mower as early as Oct. 13. That struck me as wicked early; December might be a little late, but it makes more sense.

(I just winterized my mower earlier today — it happens to be Nov. 23 as I write this. One less task to hang over into the busy days of December.)

Paint gutters – Seems like an unusual, out-of-season task for December. Maybe it was a touch-up job, rather than a full-on repaint.

Rx Refill – I don’t know specifically what my grandfolks had to refill, but I’ve written about their pharmaceutical regimen before, as well.

For all we know, that might only be half of their special to-do list; there’s another chunk of writeable space to the right of “DECEMBER” that’s not captured in this photo.

As you can see, my grandparents couldn’t really tackle any of these jobs until Dec. 3, as my family was in town for a Thanksgiving visit through Dec. 2 (as previously referenced at the end of this post.)

My grandparents weren’t working in December 1974, so the holiday rush was probably a lot easier to take.

Plus, their approach to holiday gift-giving was always intelligent and conservative; they were not people to either drown you in gifts, or spring for big-ticket items. For them, Christmas shopping was probably a simple matter to be handled in a single afternoon, rather than a spiritual and philosophical quest.

I think I will do my best this year to have one of their kind of Decembers. Busy, but sane; with time enough to fulfill all my responsibilities and still enjoy the crunch of my shoes in the fresh snow.

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“The Reverend, Rabbi and Rod” sounds like the start of a walks-into-a-bar joke.

In real life, it was a minor chapter in the long history of community radio … a small part of a nationwide movement to bring popular music into the church … and a curious footnote to a long-ago Christmas.

Put aside your last-minute wrapping, then, and switch on the Wayback Radio. (Are the tubes glowing? Good. We’ll proceed.)

December 25-26, 1964.

December 25-26, 1964.

“The Rev” mentioned above was Rev. E. King Hempel of the North Stamford Congregational Church. The rabbi’s name is lost to history, at least among the Blumenau family.

Together, the men of the cloth hosted a weekly talk show on WSTC-AM, Stamford’s longtime local news and talk radio station.

This sort of Upstanding, Thoughtful Community Programming was once a staple of America’s locally owned, community-focused radio stations. I’m sure this kind of show carries on today in the world of low-budget local radio, interrupted only by the occasional teenage jokester calling in to request “Free Bird.”

(The Interwebs tell me “WSTC” stood for STamford, Connecticut, as indeed it probably did. Radio call letters are a marvelous topic of discussion … there is a station in Massachusetts that will forever be known to me as Wet Porno Love Music. But I digress, big-time.)

“Rod” was my father, a sage 21 years old at the time. He wasn’t a regular panelist on “The Reverend and the Rabbi,” not having the necessary qualifications.

Instead, he was in front of the mic as a special guest, discussing a most contemporary topic — the marriage of worship and popular music.

The day after the Rev., the Rabbi and Rod rocked the mic together, my dad led a special jazz worship service at North Stamford Congregational Church. He pulled together a small combo to play music he wrote himself. (Today he dismisses it as “lousy.” No recording survives.)

An ad for the jazz service. Presumably this hung in Stamford's hipper hangouts.

An ad for the jazz service, courtesy the Rod Blumenau Collection. Presumably this flyer hung in Stamford’s hipper hash dens.

My dad, in a small way, was part of a nationwide movement of musicians looking for ways to combine faith and jazz.

By the mid-’60s, Duke Ellington and Vince Guaraldi were composing and performing in church settings, while John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and others were cutting music that was deeply spiritual, if not directly intended for performance in church.

Tenor saxophonist Ed Summerlin is often credited with pioneering the movement with his 1959 composition Requiem for Mary Jo, which he followed up with similarly themed pieces like Jazz Vesper Services.

Summerlin appeared on national TV in 1960 to discuss his “liturgical jazz,” which leaned more toward the cerebral than the gutbucket. (He also performed, around the same time, at the Methodist church across the street from my grandparents’ house on Hope Street. My dad attended.)

The idea of jazz in church spread quickly. My dad’s band director at Stamford High, Russ Martino, performed a local jazz service in the early ’60s. And Herb Hodgson, the Protestant chaplain at the college my dad attended, was enthusiastic about new ideas. My dad remembers him as “a really cool guy,” a rare accolade for a man of the cloth.

So, in 1963, with Hodgson’s encouragement, my dad rounded up some musician friends at college and performed a musical service of his own at a church in downtown Troy, N.Y. He reprised the music, with some of the same musicians, in Stamford in December 1964.

The idea, he says now, was to promote the legitimacy of jazz as a music capable of expressing spirituality and connecting with a 20th-century audience. (This was much the same point he made on the radio with the Reverend and the Rabbi, too.)

In his words:

I didn’t believe in a religion that said you have to say the same words in the same language as Jesus did, or people in Rome did. I thought you could express your feelings in a modern way. … I thought, “Jazz is legitimate, serious music with which one can contemplate the meaning of life just as much as Bach or Beethoven. Why not?”

There was no burning bush or flash of light … I just thought it would be kind of fun.

# # # # #

The service in Stamford was a special event held in the evening and was promoted as a “Demonstration Service,” which rubbed my dad wrong:

That suggested even E. King wasn’t convinced of my position. In Troy, we did it in a downtown church, and it was their Sunday morning service — take it or leave it.

The faith-jazz trend, as it turned out, would have larger obstacles to overcome than the misgivings of local reverends.

While the movement would produce some memorable recordings, such as Ellington’s first Sacred Concert, jazz’s niche popularity limited its penetration into mainstream church services. By the Seventies, the guitar, not the tenor sax, would become the chosen weapon of preachers trying to reach the masses in Their Own Language.

My dad says:

The fallacy of my reasoning, which I did not realize at the time, is what a small minority of the U.S. population jazz lovers were. I thought jazz represented youth, modernity; in actuality, that died with WWII. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry represented youth and modernity!

Today many churches feature house bands which play their (amateur) stylistic interpretation of the “music du jour.” Probably a large percentage of their congregation views this music as their own, and therefore, this does a better job of making liturgy more meaningful than jazz ever did.

That doesn’t stop musicians from continuing to bring jazz into churches. My dad performed jazz services many times when I was growing up. Those were blowing sessions, rather than formally programmed liturgical music. And they usually drew a full house or close to it.

The Sixties vision of jazz as a link to the common man will probably never come true.

But if every man prays in his own language, then there seems no reason why jazz can’t be one of them.

# # # #

As a side note, check out my grandpa’s Christmas calendar entry: A record high of 63 degrees on Christmas Day, 1964, followed by 60 degrees the next day.

I doubt that’s still the record, but it’s warm, even by today’s standards. (As I write this, the National Weather Service is calling for a high of 36 degrees in Stamford on Christmas Day 2012.)

My grandfather’s illustrations try to capture a sense of holiday gaiety. I love the intricate blue-and-white ornament; he put some time and effort into that. But the green grass underneath the tree makes it clear this was no white Christmas.

Thanks for reading and have happy holidays, whether they’re green, white or somewhere in between.

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We Americans love our suburban angst.

It’s become a cultural cliche that the suburbs (all suburbs) are so bland and intellectually vacant that the people who live there have only two choices — turn off their minds and conform, or give in to the temptations of booze, drugs, adultery and other whatever-gets-you-through-the-night fixes.

One of the classic documents of suburban angst is Rick Moody’s 1994 novel “The Ice Storm,” subsequently made into a major motion picture.

(Remember when paperback books used to carry the slogan, “Soon to be a major motion picture”? Americans love major motion pictures almost as much as they love suburban angst.)

Anyway: The novel and film, set on Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, tell the story of two families in affluent New Canaan, Connecticut, who are all heavy into booze, sexual experimentation, shoplifting and general dysfunction. Then a nasty ice storm rolls into town and blows the lid off the whole corrupt setup, more or less.

My grandparents were living in neighboring Stamford at the time. I genuinely doubt that they were dabbling in uppers, brandy or spouse-swapping.

And I don’t have any indication that they believed in suburban angst. I suspect they viewed the suburbs through the original, rose-tinted post-World War II perspective — as a new, better, less crowded place to raise morally and physically healthy kids.

But there was a nasty ice storm in the ‘burbs of Connecticut in 1973 — not on Thanksgiving weekend, but about a week before Christmas.

And that’s what this week’s blog post is about.

Dec. 16-18, 1973. Click to view larger.

According to the Hartford Courant, one-third of the state of Connecticut lost power as a result of what my grandfather — ironically, or maybe just incorrectly — called “The Great Electrofying Ice Storm.”

The storm is also commonly referred to as Ice Storm Felix, which makes me think of Felix the Cat, and seems like kind of a playful name for a sock-in-the-gut natural disaster that killed two people (not including “The Ice Storm”‘s fictional Mikey Carver.) But hey, I didn’t think of it.

For some in the Nutmeg State, power would take a week to restore, as crews struggled with lines burdened by 24 hours of ice-rain. It looks like my grandparents and 87-year-old great-grandmother made out OK: They at least had power during the overnight hours of Monday the 17th and Tuesday the 18th.

While it’s not my intent to exactly retrace my grandpa’s steps, I sometimes like to use his details to imagine him at a specific point in time. His documentation of the Dec. 17 power outage — 5:18 a.m. to 7:58 p.m. — provides one opportunity to do that.

While Joanne Woodward and Don McLean were appearing on “The Mike Douglas Show;” the U.S. Senate was voting to confirm William Saxbe as Attorney General;  Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” was hitting theaters; and Todd Rundgren was enjoying his first, last and only visit to the Top Ten, my grandparents were bundling up and eating out of cans.

All part of life’s rich pageant, I suppose.

Of course, a once-in-a-generation ice storm was the sort of event to bring my grandfather out of the house, camera in hand. (He appears to have limited himself to taking pictures around the yard, which suggests that his driveway must have been impassable.)

In lieu of more words, then, here are a couple of William Blumenau’s better shots of Ice Storm Felix. Click to see ’em bigger.

The back yard at 1107 Hope Street.

I can just about hear the cracking noise of tree limbs in the wind.

Crrrrrrrack.

A coating of ice.

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