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Posts Tagged ‘family’

It is Saturday, April 30, 1949. The Yanks are already in first; the Giants and Dodgers are not far back.

It’s a slow news day. There’s not much in regional papers except wire-service dispatches related to Communism and post-World War II Europe, and not particularly meaty dispatches at that. In one piquant news item, the wife of a G.I. shaves the head of her husband’s 18-year-old German girlfriend and douses her with acid.

The NATO defense alliance is roughly one month old. So is Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution is not being televised, but other things are: Arturo Toscanini has recently conducted Aida on NBC live from Rockefeller Center, while Milton Berle is three weeks away from landing on the cover of Time magazine. (Eugene Dennis, general secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S., is on this week’s cover.)

In New Canaan, Conn., a 38-year-old family man from nearby Stamford is registering himself as a firm supporter of capitalism. He’s signing papers, handing over checks, and achieving a core piece of the American dream.

His own wheels.

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As shown on the receipt below, this is the payment for license plates (“markers”), not for the full car.

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This was definitely my grandpa’s first new car; it may have been his first car of any kind. (You’ll note no mention of a used car on the receipt.)

Either way, I’m sure he was thrilled to take delivery.

For one thing, he had two young children, and he certainly wanted to move his family in safety and style.

For another, he’d been waiting for this car for a while. A handwritten sheet of his notes — yeah, that got saved too — suggests he’d put down a $100 deposit on his car two months before. I bet he spent plenty of time between February 5 and April 30 daydreaming about his new ride.

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Some time ago, I wrote a post wondering if any examples of my grandparents’ stationery still existed. The answer: Yes.

So what did he spend, and what did he drive away in?

$1,757 in 1949 money equals roughly $17,580 in today’s money, according to online inflation calculators. That’s more or less the MSRP for a brand-new Ford Focus sedan today. So, it’s good to know that the cost of a relatively low-frills family hauler bought straight off the lot maybe hasn’t gone up that much.

But, while today’s Ford Focus makes at least an attempt to be sporty, efficient and maneuverable, its 1949 equivalent proudly advertised itself as “a living room on wheels!”

Seriously, see for yourself:

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Ah, for the days when a car could be advertised as “as deep and comfortable as your sofa.”

It’s easy to jab at the styles of the past, but the Ford Fordor sedan (the coupe, inevitably, was called the Tudor) was actually a fairly exciting item in ’49. According to Wikipedia, the ’49 Ford line was the first all-new design introduced by the Big Three automakers after World War II.

Wiki goes so far as to say that the popular and attractive ’49 design saved the struggling company, and that 100,000 orders were taken on the cars’ first day of availability. I wonder if my grandpa’s order was among them.

Judging from his notes, he was torn between black, Midland Maroon and Sea Mist Green. He chose black. Based on a review of the paint chips, I would have picked the maroon, myself. But, it’s easy to jab at the styles of the past.

I also note that he sprung for a heater, but not for a radio. This is consistent with his later behavior: The car he drove 40 years later when I was in high school didn’t have a radio either. He liked music fine, but not while he was driving, apparently.

Unfortunately, he did not leave behind any notes on why he chose Ford over a number of other American automakers.

I’ve written many times about his loyalty to Fords, which continued until the early 1980s. That loyalty would have started here, in the spring of 1949, but I don’t know the reasons behind it. Maybe the brand-new style got him started as a customer and build quality kept him there.

Finally, I always enjoy Googling the landmarks of my grandpa’s time and seeing what’s going on there now.

You can’t buy a Ford at the intersection of Forest Street and Locust Avenue in New Canaan any more; but you can, if the New York Times is to be believed, dine quite nicely on brick-oven pizza and Italian nosh-plates.

An online search finds New Canaan Motor Sales carrying on into the early ’60s. I’m guessing the dealership changed its name at some point, but I don’t know what it became or how long it lasted.

(Back in the ’50s, New Canaan Motor Sales used to advertise at the Talmadge Hill commuter rail station in New Canaan — the next station up the line from Springdale, and a location my grandpa photographed some years later. Perhaps the auto ad along the platform in my grandpa’s photo is for some dealership descended from New Canaan Motor Sales. Alas, the photo gets no larger.)

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970.

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970. This seems like a good place to stop.

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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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It’s always fun to look back at the things we took for granted, the things we thought were omnipresent and would never change.

It’s also fun to apply hindsight to hubris … to burst the bubbles of people or organizations that blew their own horns a little too loudly.

So this week we’ll do a little of both.

Specifically, we’ll sit down in the family room of 1107 Hope Street, where the TV was, and watch as a well-known American institution pats itself on the back for a quarter-century of success.

Probably no one involved — from the stars, to the producers, to the viewers in family rooms like my grandpa’s — had any inkling that the institution being celebrated had fewer than a dozen years of Life left.

No, that’s not a typo:

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March 2, 1961.

Strictly speaking, Life magazine wasn’t 25 years old in the spring of 1961; it was 78.

The original Life (I steal liberally over the next few paragraphs from Wiki) was founded in 1883 as a humor and general interest magazine. Apparently it influenced The New Yorker, which promptly ate its lunch.

Life had been struggling for years when Henry Luce bought the name in 1936, relaunching it as a weekly newsmagazine with a focus on photography. Sparing no expense on capital letters, Luce described the revamped magazine as “THE SHOW-BOOK OF THE WORLD” in the prospectus he prepared before its launch.

As we all know, Luce’s vision paid off. The magazine was selling a million copies a week just four months after launch. Its coverage of World War II, as well as copy contributions from well-known authors, further established Life as near-required American weekly reading.

As TV caught on in the 1950s, Life’s circulation began to drop. Americans could now see the kinds of images in which Life specialized every day in the comfort of their living rooms.

I cannot imagine, then, that Henry Luce was entirely happy about handing cash to a TV network — NBC, as it happened — to host a celebration of Life’s quarter-century as a photo magazine. (News articles from the time describe the 90-minute show as being “sponsored” by Life; NBC didn’t independently¬† decide that the subject was worth covering.)

But, TV is a visual medium; and Life was a predominantly visual magazine; plus there was a story the company wanted to tell. So in the end, Luce’s desire to celebrate his success won out over his reluctance to pay a competitor for America’s eyeballs.

Did they hire Bob Hope? Of course they hired Bob Hope. Heck, they even got President John F. Kennedy to record remarks for the occasion. Since I can’t find a video of the show online, Kennedy’s remarks appear to be the only scrap of “25 Years of Life” that is available on the Internet 55 years later.

I take that back: Another remnant of the show is available on eBay if you care to pay for it. Life commemorated the event by pressing a vinyl record with musical and comedic highlights of the show. I’d love to know how many they pressed, how many they sold, and how many were ever spun more than once. Something tells me handsome copies can still be found at your local flea market.

A flea market — rather than a newsstand — is also your best bet for copies of Life. The magazine ceased weekly publication at the end of 1972. Life changed, and left Life behind.

I can’t say whether my grandpa watched “25 Years of Life” because he was genuinely interested, or because Time Inc. company men were expected to. Some of both, most likely.

Either way, I wonder whether he questioned at any point in those 90 minutes why people would put up with still photographs when they could watch them move.

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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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My grandpa was so close to some of his co-workers at Time Inc., they were on a last-name basis.

Or so I gather from today’s calendar entry, which has me pondering the curious ways in which grown men interact.

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January 15, 1970. The New York Rangers have a slim lead over Boston in the NHL’s Eastern Division.

This entry marks the second-to-last day of my grandfather’s 23-year employment at Time Inc.’s Springdale Labs. The following day, he packed up his desk and left forever. (He landed one final short-term job, then worked the last rat-race day of his life in mid-September.)

I am intrigued by the short list of colleagues who accompanied my grandpa to the Darien Holiday Inn for his going-away lunch.

I don’t know anything about them as people. Instead, I’m interested in my grandpa’s differing methods of presentation.

Al. D. (I cannot help but think of him as Al D. Sure!) and Charlie S. get first names, but Engel, Simonson, Sutter and Rice get last names.

Perhaps the guys with the first names were the real close friends and running buddies, and the guys (ladies?) with the last names were the boss types who were there because they were obligated to attend.

Or maybe the guys with the first names just had last names that were too complex to fit on the calendar. Al. D. might really have been Albertus Dinatatropolis, or something like that.

Whatever the possible explanation, I’m intrigued by the variation.

In my own corporate (and non-corporate) work experience, it’s been rare for me or anyone I know to refer to people generally by last name. Mostly the more convivial first name is used, or sometimes first and last to differentiate one Dave or Paul from another.

My memory of my dad’s corporate career says that his dinner-table conversations were a mix of first-and-last and just last names. I don’t, unfortunately, remember how that was classified — whether superiors got last names and peers got both names, or any such taxonomy. I suspect there was rhyme or reason, even subconscious, but I don’t know what it was.

And it appears that, left to his own devices, my grandpa was most apt to use last names alone.

Does this reflect the ongoing casualization of the American workforce over the decades? Will my kids’ generation refer to their co-workers simply using tiny electronic portraits? Emoji, even?

(Or will they hold home-based jobs that prevent them from forming any relationships at all with co-workers? Perhaps my grandkids won’t even know what co-workers are. It’s hard to have going-away lunches when you’re in Omaha and your partner is in Poughkeepsie. But I digress.)

Or, maybe this reflects a declining number of veterans in the workforce. Maybe the people who were roughly of my grandpa’s generation got used to using other peoples’ last names (rank permitting) while they were in Europe fighting World War II, and it stuck with them when they came back home. But now that every able-bodied boy isn’t enlisting, the method of address has changed.

(This is just a wild guess; it may be that those in the military address each other using altogether more creative things than their last names.)

Of course, the quirks of nomenclature go both ways. It would be interesting to know what Al, Charlie, Engel, Rice, Simonson and Sutter wrote on their own calendars.

Was it Bill’s Going-Away Lunch? Blumenau’s Going-Away Lunch?

The answers, alas, are under 46 years of dirty diapers in whatever landfill Stamford employed to stash its trash. My research capabilities do not extend quite that far.

And it does not matter to my grandfather, who has, in more ways than one, gone away.

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