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Posts Tagged ‘february’

I’ve written about all kinds of community anchors that come and go.

Last week it was banks. In previous installments we’ve hit stores (like Gimbels and E.J. Korvette), movie theaters, churches, and too many restaurants to list.

I’m pretty sure we’ve never hit schools. Indeed, the schools attended by the Blumenau family of Hope Street, Stamford, have shown admirable staying power.

Springdale Elementary School — just up the street from 1107 Hope Street, and a place where I used to walk with my dad and brother for some open-field exercise — is still in business. So is my dad’s alma mater, Stamford High School, on the wonderfully named Strawberry Hill Avenue.

(Now that I think of it, I did once write about my dad’s old junior high, Dolan. That’s still around too.)

While those schools have lasted, other schools come and go — sometimes much quicker than anyone imagined they would.

This week finds my grandpa dropping off his recycling at a school that went from community institution to closed within a quarter-century’s time.

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February 6, 1971. The expansion Buffalo Sabres, in their first season, are outperforming the established Detroit Red Wings.

My dad, a member of Stamford High’s Class of 1961, attended double sessions at the school all three years he was there because of overcrowding. My mom spent her first year of high school in double sessions at Stamford High as well.

As it happened, the city of Stamford had a plan in place to respond to its teenage population boom. In the fall of 1961, the city opened its second public high school, Rippowam High School, on High Ridge Road.

The Hope Street Blumenaus’ younger child, my Aunt Elaine, graduated from Rip. So did the young woman who would later become my mother. And so did her younger brother, my Uncle T.J.

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These pix of Rippowam High’s football team (I think they’re in dark) were taken by my other (maternal) grandpa. My Uncle T.J. is almost certainly on the field somewhere. Rippowam’s most famous football player is not pictured, as he was 12 at the time; he did not take the field for Rip until later in the Sixties.

Rippowam High — named for a Native American tribe, which also lent its name to a local river — primarily drew students from the more affluent northern half of Stamford, while Stamford High drew from the city’s middle-to-working-class lower half.

(This seems to have been a common social pattern. When I lived in Framingham, Mass., 20 years ago, there was a Framingham North High School serving the leafy suburban parts, and a Framingham South serving the grittier southern parts where the freight trains ran through.)

In 1971, when my grandpa took his empty bottles there, Rip would have been settled in as a regular part of the city’s daily fabric.

But that didn’t last.

This New York Times article, despite its melodramatic lede, tells the story: As birth rates declined, the city of Stamford didn’t need Rippowam as much as it did in the early Sixties. Rippowam was closed following the 1982-83 school year. According to the Grey Lady, that was part of a larger trend: Stamford’s public school district declined from 24 schools in fall 1971 to 16 in fall 1983.

A third public high school in the northern part of town, Westhill High School, opened in 1972. Since Westhill was newer, Rip might have lost out to it when city officials were deciding what to close.

(A few of my cousins are Westhill grads and grew up in a house that backs up to the school’s property. Once in the late ’80s, when my brother and I were on our high school track team, we were visiting my cousins in Stamford and decided to sneak over to Westhill for a track workout. I jogged some laps while my brother — who won a New York State championship in indoor track around this same time — lit up a bunch of 400-meter intervals. The Westhill team was watching from the sidelines by the time we were done, wondering if the speedy stranger was a friend or a foe. They never found out for sure, because we never talked to them; when we were done, we just left. My brother had a flair for the dramatic during his competitive years, and leaving a bunch of kids asking each other, “Who the hell was that?,” was one of his great moments in that regard. This has nothing to do with Rippowam High or the patterns of Stamford’s teenage population. It was just a fun moment, and a favorite story of mine. And you get to hear it too.)

Anyway, the Rippowam building was used for alternative education programs, adult education, and for a science and technology magnet school.

Then, with enrollment on the rise again around the year 2000, it was pressed back into service as Rippowam Middle School, and remains in that use today.

Perhaps, fifty-plus years after its opening, Rippowam has finally found its permanent educational niche.

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A start to springtime growing
A harvest date to keep
A time to dream of sowing
A time to kneel and reap.
— Sir Ian Lake-Maspenock, “Verses of Olde Albion”


Winter is terrific — crisp and bracing, with a hushed sanctuary at its center.  Nothing else quite like it.

Still, a time comes in February and March when a man starts dreaming of busting out of the sanctuary, breathing the fresh air and digging his hands into overturned loam. The winter coat starts hanging heavy on the shoulders, and the rime on the sidewalk seems grubbier and more cynical than it did in December.

It’s a time when a man’s thoughts turn to only one thing; and that one thing can only be … Burpee.

February 1974.

I imagine my grandfather was already looking forward to the coming year’s garden in February of 1974. Being a thrifty sort, his interest was piqued still further by the prospect of an early-bird discount.

(Looking on the current Burpee.com website, I find no mention of any discount for pre-season orders. Is this a relic of days past? An anachronism? Simply a one-year offer to coax inflation-battered Americans to part with their money? Hmmm.)

As I write this, I cannot for the life of me find a good photo of my grandfather in his garden.

And it’s chapping my arse, because he very much enjoyed gardening. Tomatoes, especially. You could count on my grandfather to have stakes in the ground each year, and to give you an update on the progress of his crop whenever you stopped by.

My dad came through with this picture. It's nuts and I love it. 1980.

My parents tell me that he mainly grew flowers, not vegetables, until his heart attack of May 1971. After that he branched out into tomatoes.

At first he grew them with the intention that my grandma would put up a supply of salt-free tomatoes each year for wintertime consumption. By the time I was a teenager, that goal had been pretty much abandoned, and the tomatoes were eaten warm from the vine as a summer treat.

(Let us all pause for a moment, in our various wintry outposts, and imagine the summery sights, sounds and smells as we walk into our backyards, pluck a ripe tomato and walk it back into the kitchen. G’wan, cut yourself a slice. You deserve it. You can even let the seeds run down your chin if you want; no one’s watching. The best things in life are free — or, at least, can be had for the cost of a mail-order seed packet and a little TLC.)

Gardening crossed over and enriched other areas of my grandfather’s life.

Hanging in my parents’ kitchen is a still life, painted by my grandpa, showing a row of tomatoes — his tomatoes — sat on a windowsill to ripen. Green tomatoes may be a well-known Southern specialty, but this batch is a testament to New England frugality: My grandfather got not only a meal but a work of art out of his unripe crop.

And his photography skills, combined with his playful sense of humor, produced several trick photos of “monster” tomatoes whose bulk seemed to verge on breaking the kitchen scale. I still smile to think of them, the same way I imagine my grandfather smiled while lining everything up just right in those pre-Photoshop days.

That's a lot of marinara right there.

I can’t say for certain how my grandfather’s 1974 crop turned out. Although it would have been just like him to keep an annual tomato diary, he did not (as far as I know) record the relative success of each year’s plantings.

I do know, though, that by the end of February he was ready to plant as soon as nature allowed — with his 5 percent discount in hand, to boot. And, with sunny 50-degree weather outside, another year’s harvest must have seemed practically close enough to taste.

February 28, 1974

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