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Posts Tagged ‘grandfather’

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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This week, we go back 60 years to the month, to find my grandpa breaking the law and probably getting fleeced at the same time.

Can’t beat that combo, can you?

From my grandfather's personal journal.

From my grandfather’s personal journal.

I have only the dimmest memory of ever hearing of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake (yes, singular — Sweepstake).

Like Conelrad or the Chicago Cardinals, it’s a name from a generation or two before my own. I was apparently 13 when the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake ceased to exist, and I don’t recall taking any notice.

As its name indicates, the Sweepstake was a legal lottery in Ireland, established in 1930. It was promoted as a way to raise money for hospitals, with uniformed nurses — or women in nurses’ uniforms, anyway — drawing the winning tickets.

As the Interwebs explain it, winning tickets were then assigned to horses running in major races in Ireland. So it sounds like a contestant’s chances of hitting the jackpot depended not only on nurses, but horses as well.

It worked for some people: According to news reports, the lottery paid out $500 million in prize money over its half-century or so of life.

But those for whom the Sweepstake worked best were neither the nurses nor the ticket-buyers.

Reportedly, much of the money raised went into the pockets of the people who ran the lottery, with a relatively small percentage — I’ve seen 10 percent quoted — going to health care.

(Some sources say the people who profited re-invested in Irish business, creating jobs in other areas. That’s as may be, but that’s not what the people who bought tickets thought they were supporting.)

The Sweepstake also walked a questionable legal line. It targeted ticket-buyers in England and the United States, more affluent countries where substantial numbers of Irish expats lived — but where lotteries were generally illegal. The Wiki page on the Sweepstake characterizes those sales as a “black market,” and says the U.S. Postal Service destroyed lottery materials being mailed back to Ireland.

So I’ll never know whether the ticket bought jointly by the engineers at Time Inc.’s facility in Stamford even made it back to the auld sod. Since I know of no family legends regarding the Irish Sweeps, it seems safe to assume my grandpa and his cohorts did not win.

My grandpa’s penchant for playing the lottery has been a recurring theme here over the past few years, starting with this post.

And, lotteries like the one described in that post would help kill the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. As state governments in the U.S. began to legalize lotteries, Americans abandoned the faraway temptations of the Irish Sweeps for closer, safer options at home.

(Which they still didn’t win.)

Bonus multimedia content: This 52-minute Irish TV program is a pretty fascinating history of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. Check it out, even in part.

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When you’re a kid, you never stop to think how your parents and grandparents achieved their particular talents.

If I thought about it at all, I probably thought that my grandfather (my brother and I called him “Drawing Boy”) had been effortlessly turning out painted canvases and sketched caricatures for decades, with as much inborn natural grace as he used to remove a splinter.

I didn’t have any concept of the work he’d put into his artistic skills. He’d just always been doing it.

Discovering his daily calendars and some of his personal journals has brought into better focus the effort he put into improving his art.

I can’t ever remember seeing him go to art class — maybe because he would have blown off such events when I was in town, to spend time with his family.

His calendars have schooled me on the number of classes he took in the ’60s and ’70s. In the early days, his classes were simply a hobby. As he got older and retired, they filled other needs: They also became a chance to get out of the house where he spent most of his time, meet like-minded new people, feed his head with knowledge, and relax.

As with his other public endeavors, I wonder whether anyone from those long-ago art classes remembers him. Is there someone still kicking around Fairfield County who sat in the same room with an earnest, friendly retired draftsman from Springdale? Someone who chatted with him about Vietnam or OPEC or Bobby Valentine during breaks from the easel?

If there is … well, the Comments box is at the bottom of this post.

In the meantime, I’ll devote the rest of this week’s post to drawings and notes from my grandpa’s sketchbook, spanning roughly the years 1966 to 1974. (Some are dated, some are not.)

There’s probably nothing here you won’t find in the journals of a half-million people who have taken art classes over the years.

Still, the drawings mean something to me, just because they represent my grandpa simultaneously at work and at play, learning and relaxing, unwinding and improving … and, above all, doing something near to his heart.

I didn’t see a lot of that firsthand as a kid, but I enjoy seeing it now.

Undated, but one of the first shots I have from the art notebook. My grandpa comes face to face with an eternally difficult lesson: Technique is just a means to express what you have to say.

Undated, but one of the first shots I have from the art notebook. My grandpa comes face to face with an eternally difficult lesson: Technique is just a means to express what you have to say.

Oct. 24, 1966. Learning the formal basics of perspective.

Oct. 24, 1966. Learning the formal basics of perspective.

Oct. 17, 1966. Don't worry, I'm not gonna show you every single page of detail from his sketchbook. Just found this interesting. Wonder if people taking art class today get the same primer on colors?

Oct. 17, 1966. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna show you every single page of detail from his sketchbook. Just found this interesting. Wonder if people taking art class today get the same primer on colors?

March 4, 1968. "DON'T MAKE UNINTERESTING LINE." Easy to say, hard to live by.

March 4, 1968. “DON’T MAKE UNINTERESTING LINE.” Easy to say, hard to live by. (This entire blog post might be an uninteresting line. Sorry, folks. I haven’t taken any blogging classes.)

Circa 1969. Some interesting aphorisms here (whoops, forgot to mention that you can click these to see them larger.) Wonder when my grandpa achieved the 100-watercolor threshold?

Circa 1969. Some interesting aphorisms here. (Whoops, forgot to mention that you can click these pictures to see them larger.) Wonder when my grandpa achieved the 100-watercolor threshold?

Circa 1969. I can't remember any painting of my grandpa's in which he went into such detail on trees.

Circa 1969. I can’t remember any painting of my grandpa’s in which he went into such detail on trees. His poplar looks kinda fake, but I totally buy his birch. No dogwoods, unfortunately.

I kinda love this one; it looks like my grandfather is creating a windblown New England village from scratch, like a merciful yet puritan God.

I kinda love this one; it looks like my grandfather is creating a windblown New England hill-village from scratch, like a merciful yet puritan God. In my mind this is somewhere near the Quabbin Reservoir.

We skip ahead to January 1973. The teacher, who asks, "Who likes dirty snow?," has clearly never lived near the Great Lakes in April.

We skip ahead to January 1973. Some hippy-dippiness interspersed with some useful tips. The teacher, who asks, “Who likes dirty snow?,” has clearly never lived near the Great Lakes in April.

Year-end 1973. It ain't cheap being an artist, yo.

Year-end 1973. It ain’t cheap being an artist, yo.

Year-end 1974. Note that he's got some money incoming to offset his expenses.

Year-end 1974. Note that he’s got some money incoming to offset his expenses. Who bought “Full Steam Ahead” and “Reflections On A Rainy Day,” and are they still on somebody’s wall?

Back to February 1973. Some useful tips on surf -- though, again, I am not sure my grandpa ever availed himself of them in his personal art.

Back to February 1973. Some useful tips on surf — though, again, I am not sure my grandpa ever availed himself of them in his personal art.

July 10, 1973. I doubt my grandpa hunted or spotted ducks once in his lifetime, so this lesson must have been useful. Somebody's darling grandson is five days old.

July 10, 1973. I doubt my grandpa hunted or spotted ducks once in his lifetime, so this lesson on marshes and estuaries must have been useful. Somebody’s darling grandson was five days old.

Sept. 18, 1973. The birthday of a friend of mine who grew up in Rochester but whom I didn't meet until college. The sketch at bottom predates a painting.

Sept. 18, 1973. The birthday of a friend of mine who grew up in Rochester but whom I didn’t meet until college. The sketch at bottom predates a painting in my personal collection.

One last from mid-September 1973. We leave my grandpa contemplating the intersection of metropolis and tugboat.

One last from mid-September 1973. We leave my grandpa contemplating the intersection of metropolis and tugboat. Is there any god or cosmic force that disapproves of a humble tugboat?

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One of the most popular and enduring pop songs of the Seventies is now old enough to look in the mirror and sigh at its encroaching gray hairs.

This month marks 40 years since the Four Seasons — Sixties hitmakers in the midst of a surprising Seventies resurgence — released the single most people know by its subtitle: “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night).”

According to the song’s Wiki page, it was originally set in 1933 and was meant to recall the end of Prohibition.

But various parties involved with the song, including Frankie Valli, urged songwriters Bob Gaudio and Judy Parker to reconsider the lyric. And, instead of a meditation on the narrator’s first legal bender, the song turned into a warm recollection of a first romantic encounter.

(In 2015, the narrator is probably old enough to watch Viagra commercials more intently than he watches the football games that surround them.)

“December 1963” would hit Number One on the singles charts in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada early in 1976. And — buoyed by remixes, covers, party and wedding spins, and general nostalgia — it’s remained popular since.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the song, me. (No, this guy might hold that title.)

But, as a person who admires pop-music productions the way some people admire Renoirs, I have to concede that Frankie Valli and company built themselves quite a single.

This is also one of a group of pop hits (“Silly Love Songs” is another) that I can remember hearing on the radio in my parents’ big Plymouth Satellite during long holiday road trips to Stamford. So it has a pleasant childhood connection.

For Hope Street purposes, “December 1963” nicely spans the time period of my grandfather’s calendars: The ones still in storage start in January 1961 and end in December 1975, when the song came out.

I thought I’d look back at the calendar for December 1963 — or at least the portion of it I took pictures of — and see what the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, was up to during that fateful month.

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Of course there’s nothing intimate or personal on the calendar that month. Just the usual errands — plumber’s appointments, trips to the dentist, appointments to babysit, times to unload unwanted household trash.

(I’ve never heard “junkie” as slang for “junkman” before. But it’s consistent with other New England slang I learned during my years near Boston — “statie” for state cop, “packie” for package store, “Eastie” and “Southie” for East and South Boston respectively. Nowadays, I’d like to think someone would recycle that water tank, but who knows.)

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Of course there is a Christmas tree — an angular streamlined jobbie of the sort Charlie Brown might have seen on his famous errand two years later, yet not high-end enough to satisfy my aunt.

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And then there’s this potpourri of seasonal action. A son comes home from college and sees the dentist; a materfamilias goes to the doctor; the daughter of the family makes a few bucks overseeing someone else’s brats on a Saturday night; the sun goes down pisser early on the shortest day of the year; and the weather is by turns cold and winter-sloppy.

(I am reminded that I have written before about that Dec. 21, 1963, calendar entry. Three years later, the pain of that week’s news from the other end of Fairfield County is still fresh … and we, as a country, have not moved perceptibly forward. My grandfather would shake his head in frustration, and so do I.)

The rest of December 1963 I didn’t bother to take pictures of, which suggests there was nothing of interest on the calendar. Just everyday action even more mundane than that I captured.

Wiki’s page for December 1963 suggests the month was generally quiet in terms of news items, as well. A few births that became noteworthy later (Brad Pitt, Donna Tartt, Sergey Bubka, Lars Ulrich) and the first Beatles singles in the U.S., but nothing that would have really stirred people at the time — especially compared to the events of the prior month.

So, while the narrator of the Four Seasons’ single might have had a memorable month, December 1963 was not otherwise noteworthy for most actual non-fictional Americans.

The Sixties would go on to get a whole lot more eventful … but that’s another story.

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