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Posts Tagged ‘grandfather’

A couple of days ago I went with my son on his first formal college tour.

More tours are planned for this coming summer, including several in New England. I look forward to the chance to fill the trunk of my car with Narragansett Bohemian Pilsner — er, I mean, accompany the kid as he gathers information to help him make the biggest decision of his young life.

During Friday’s college tour, we saw just about the entire campus, with one significant exception: We didn’t go inside the dorms.

Perhaps they were left off the agenda because of the security hassles involved in bringing 30 strangers inside the building.

Or maybe it was because, well, kids are still living in ’em.

(You can never be entirely sure what you’ll encounter if you lead a gaggle of guests into an occupied dorm. At the very least, you might run into some kid who’s been up for 36 hours, cranked up on Mountain Dew and advanced physics, giving it his best Raoul Duke. Not a great vision for a tourload of kids and parents just in from Altoona.)

My grandpa never got the chance to go to college himself. Never drank Mountain Dew either, so far as I know. But he worked to send both of his kids off to college.

And this week’s calendar entry finds him in a college dorm.

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April 28, 1968. Yanks split a doubleheader with Detroit; the Mets beat Cincinnati. Neither team troubles the leaders in their respective leagues.

Not far southwest of Stamford, a major American university was being torn by student revolt on Sunday, April 28.

My grandparents, and maybe even my great-grandma, were headed in the opposite direction, though.

They were headed to the campus of what was then Southern Connecticut State College in New Haven for a student event at Wilkinson Hall, the college dorm where my Aunt Elaine lived as an undergraduate.

This was not their only trip there. A previous Hope Street blog post makes passing mention of their going to Wilkinson Hall in May 1966 to see “Wilkinson Follies,” a dorm talent show fondly remembered by my aunt.

My aunt was involved in the ’67 Wilkinson Follies, too, earning her a brief mention in the Naugatuck Daily News newspaper. (The content is intentionally jumbled here, so’s to make you pay for a clear view, but you can make out what you need to in the article text box at the bottom of the page.)

I wonder if my grandpa got a chance to actually go up into the six-story building during any of his visits, and if so, what he thought of his glimpses of college life. Maybe there were posters, and music pouring out through half-open doors, and maybe even a shaggy-haired guy visitor here or there.

(I wonder what I’ll think the first time I go into my son’s dorm. It won’t be quite so much an excursion into alien territory as it would have been for someone my grandfather’s age in 1968 — I think — but it will remind me how old I am.)

Wilkinson Hall is still there, as it happens, retrofitted for the 21st century with microfridges, cable TV hookups and wireless Internet. Freshmen and sophomores live there now, and presumably, prospective members of the school’s Class of 2022 will soon be pouring in for summer visits.

You can also “tour” a standard double room such as those found in Wilkinson online; they don’t look any too large, but what dorm room does?

An online search for the phrase “Wilkinson Follies” suggests the dorm variety show may be an extinct tradition. Somehow I find that easy to believe: I imagine today’s college dorms are full of kids who are either staring at their cell phones or listening to music through earbuds.

I guess I’ll find out whether that’s true soon enough, when circumstances require me to make my own excursions into alien territory.

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April 30, 1971, is a Friday. It’s the end of another work week, and as the year hits one-third finished, people stop and wonder where all the time’s going.

In the national headlines, President Nixon signals an interest in visiting China, while Americans await the imminent launch of a new national passenger rail service, Amtrak. (China is much in the news: The covers of both Time and Life magazines feature pictures and stories about a U.S. ping-pong team whose visit to the country indicated a developing thaw in relations.)

It’s a travel day for the president, though not to Peking just yet. Nixon takes breakfast at the White House with former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, then flies to California and eats dinner in San Clemente with the president of Reader’s Digest.

“Summer of ’42” is in movie theaters, as is Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” concert movie, whose ads promote “All Elements of the Truth Captured Live On Film.” On TV, the post-Diana Ross Supremes appear on David Frost’s show, while Fred Astaire visits Johnny Carson and Don Meredith stops in on Mike Douglas.

This being the ’70s, the sounds on the radio are a wild ragbag of the sacred and the profane (“Put Your Hand In The Hand” next to “One Toke Over The Line”), the raging and the conciliatory (“Eighteen” next to “We Can Work It Out”), and the disposable and the eternal (make your own calls here.)

In basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks win their first NBA title. In baseball, the Mets and Yankees both win, and the Mets close out April in first place in the National League East, a game in front of the Montreal Expos. Sportswriters are reporting that New Orleans — with its proposed Superdome — and Honolulu have moved ahead of Dallas-Fort Worth as the favored cities to obtain major-league baseball teams through relocation or expansion.

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April 30, 1971.

Of course, you know how these posts work; you’re just waiting for me to dial the focus in on 1107 Hope Street and, in particular, its head of household.

It seems to be a fairly quiet day for my grandfather. He’s not working. The only event that passes muster to be recorded on his calendar is a phone call to Boston, where my aunt is going to grad school.

My aunt’s car, which was still registered to my grandpa, had been stolen and then recovered two weeks before. It appears the call had something to do with that.

My aunt was also scheduled to graduate in two weeks’ time, so maybe they spent some time talking about commencement arrangements too.

# # # # #

Whatever those arrangements were, they would not come to pass.

April 30, 1971, turned out to be a historic day for my grandpa, for reasons not anticipated and not shown on his calendar.

The next day he had a heart attack that laid him up for a while. As my dad has commented here, it changed my grandpa’s personality and approach to life. He became more relaxed, and less likely to get wound up by daily details.

That change didn’t happen instantly, of course; but you could argue that April 30, 1971, was the last day that Bill Blumenau approached the world in the way he had become accustomed to approaching it. After that, life required something different of him.

The heart attack also officially ended his working years. He’d been semi-sorta-retired before it; he was retired after it.

If you roughly divide my grandpa’s life into periods — we’ll call them Boy, Teenager, Young Workingman and Family Man — April 30, 1971, could be seen as his last day as a Family Man … the last day of that swath of years in which he brought home a paycheck (or wanted to) and provided for a household with kids.

(My dad was already out of the house, married with a kid of his own, by April 1971. My aunt’s impending graduation and entry into the real world also signaled that the family years at 1107 Hope Street were coming to an end.)

The bright side — at least seen in retrospect — is that the transition to a new phase of life ended up working out pretty well. My grandfather lived 29 more years. He met three more grandchildren and a great-grandchild. He painted. He grew tomatoes. He drove to the grocery store. He watched the Buffalo Bills on the television. He took things easy.

So if there’s anything to be learned from April 30, 1971, it’s probably the obvious:

  • The status quo can take a hard left turn on any day. Today could be your April 30, 1971. (Or mine.) So take time to be thankful for those ruts, routines, abilities and daily experiences that favor you.
  • When life does change, it’s not always for the worse, so keep your eyes open, be patient and try to adapt.

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One year — 1961, to be specific — in the life of the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, as jointly interpreted by William H. Blumenau (calendar entries) and Charles A. Berry (text):

American history and practical math
You’re studying hard, hoping to pass

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January 23-24.

Cruising and playing the radio
With no particular place to go

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January 27.

She just don’t have the appetite
For gas somehow,
And Dad, I got four carburetors
Hooked up on it now.
I tried to hook another
To see if I’d do a little good,
But ain’t no place to put it
‘Less I perforate the hood

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February 2.

If she’s in the mood no need to break it
I got the chance and I oughta take it
If she can dance we can make it
C’mon, Queenie, let’s shake it

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February 11.

Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:05
Man, I didn’t know if I was dead or alive

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February 23.

Don’t care to hear ’em play the tango
I’m in no mood to dig a mambo

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February 25.

I go to court tomorrow morning
And I got the same judge I had before
Lord, I know he won’t have no mercy on me
‘Cause he told me not to come back no more

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April 7.

Sweet little sixteen
She’s just got to have
About half a million
Framed autographs
Her wallet filled with pictures
She gets ’em one by one

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April 9.

Nothin’ outrun my V-8 Ford

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May 1. (The new car in question really *was* a V-8 Ford, if memory serves.)

In the heat of the day down in Mobile, Alabama
Workin’ on the railroad with a steel-drivin’ hammer

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August 10.

Ring! ring! goes the bell

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September 6.

I must admit they had a rockin’ band
Man, they was blowin’ like a hurr-i-can

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September 21.

All day long you’ve been wantin’ to dance

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September 27.

Roll over, Beethoven
And tell Tchaikovsky the news

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October 2.

The engine with blood was sweaty and damp
And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp
And imps for fuel was shoveling bones
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans

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October 31.

I was campaign shoutin’ like a Southern diplomat
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November 7.

Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
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December 5.

It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock ‘n’ roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me.

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December 30.

Thanks for everything, Chuck.

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It was pretty bitter this past weekend in Pennsylvania. Not depths-of-January bitter, but colder than one would have hoped for.

It’s been a mild and uneventful winter. Indeed, the biggest storms we’ve had (just a weekend or two ago) were summer-style wind and lightning storms, even a tornado an hour or so north of here.

Still, you wonder just about until April whether winter has one last blast to deliver. Maybe this weekend was it, as far as cold goes. Or, maybe that whopper snowstorm we never did get earlier in the winter is just starting to assemble itself, high above Saskatchewan or someplace.

This week we stop in on my grandpa as he deals, gracefully, with winter as it stomps and kicks its way out the door:

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March 18, 1973. It’s a Sunday.

When I first saw this entry I read “waxes” as a noun, and wondered what he was talking about. Was there some sort of wax you put on your car in the winter for extra protection against road salt? (I knew he wasn’t a skier, so that sort of winter wax wouldn’t have mattered to him.)

But then my mind adjusted and I realized “waxes” was a verb. Things wax and wane; and on this particular Sunday, winter was waxing one more time, in advance of the inevitable wane.

(There is no corresponding “winter wanes” notation on this page of the calendar … but you’ll notice that the temperature reached a sunny 60 degrees exactly a week later. So we know it happened.)

I am looking forward to watching local college baseball games, and running without a hat and gloves, and any number of other signs of spring. So I’m looking forward to the final waning of winter here.

Just wondering how much waxing there’ll have to be first.

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How upright were the Blumenaus of Hope Street?

Why, they wouldn’t even cheat Ma Bell.

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February 22, 1970.

It’s early 1970. My Aunt Elaine is in grad school at Boston University, leading a life of her own, but still seeing her folks and her grandma from time to time.

On this particular day, she’s left Hope Street to go back to school (a trip that should only take three hours, according to Mapquest; perhaps the weather or traffic slowed her down).

To let her family know she dodged the maniacal New England highway drivers and got back safely, she’s made just about the shortest possible telephone call you can make and still be polite.

And it’s still cost somebody 3.5 cents per second.

(Not sure whether the call was collect, or on my aunt’s dime … but my grandpa made note of the cost, so he must have known. He may have been paying the bill either way.)

This makes me think of the old practice of collect-calling a previously agreed-on name as a means of delivering a message. The person being called would turn down the collect call request, because hearing the pre-arranged name told them all they needed to know — at no cost to anyone.

As I’ve mentioned before — five years ago to the day; how weird is that? — the name used on my mom’s side of the family for that purpose was “Evelyn Keyes.

In the mid-’80s, when my maternal grandparents either sold their old home in Stamford or closed on their new home in Rochester, we got a collect call for Evelyn Keyes — which we turned down, knowing events had gone according to plan.

My maternal grandma’s name was Evelyn; the “Keyes” part referred to Evelyn either getting the keys to her new home, or handing over the keys to her old one.

(I believe Evelyn Keyes was also pressed into service on prior occasions for we-got-home-safe purposes, though my memories of that are not as specific. Of course, once those grandparents moved to a home five minutes away from ours, our need for such deceptions declined sharply.)

My younger readers — if indeed I have any — might wonder why people went to such lengths to avoid putting through a short phone call. Was it really that big a deal?

Well, 35 cents in 1970 equals about $2.20 today. That’s not a budget-breaker for most people … but it’s a hell of a lot to pay when all you want to do is tell a loved one in Connecticut that you got to Boston okay. From a 2017 perspective, something like that should be free, right?

Plus, your regional phone company was a monopoly back then, and it kinda had things all its own way. It wasn’t doing you a lot of favors, so the tendency was to get your own back, in small ways, where you could.

To accomplish the same errand today, you might send your family an email or a text. Or you might mention on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that you got home safe. Or you might use your free friends-and-family calling plan and make a quick call. All user-friendly options; all instantaneous; all more or less free.

(What do you think the executives of Southern New England Telephone in 1970 would have said if you’d told them that, in the future, calls to friends and family would be free? They’d have metaphorically hung up on you.)

Personally, I kinda wish the ways Americans communicated hadn’t changed so radically, because I miss the fun of the cloak-and-dagger stuff.

If Ma Bell still had a monopoly, I would revel in creating so many collect-call aliases, my friends and family would need a folder to keep track of what they all meant.

A collect call from George Deukmejian? That means “too tired to cook tonight; order a pizza.” James Jackson Storrow? That must be “working late; eat without me.” Tristan Tzara? “Kidnapped by aliens; will be home in four days with curious rashes and significant memory loss.” (Hey, you gotta be prepared for anything.)

But, times have changed, and the old ways have gone.

And anyway, the underlying point of this whole essay is that the Hope Street Blumenaus didn’t take the easy way out. My Aunt Elaine didn’t make a collect call to Montgomery Clift or Kevin White at my grandparents’ phone number, and my grandparents didn’t turn it down with a wink and a nudge.

She put the call through, and however begrudgingly, my grandfolks took it. They noted every cent and every second, and they knew they would pay for it, but they took it.

I guess you need some folks like that in the world, to keep society on the rails and everything working right.

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