Posts Tagged ‘history’

We’ll go back and write about a calendar entry like we used to. Why not?

Too much of nothing, the poet says, can make a man ill at ease.

But not this time of year.

November 30, 1968. (Yeah, I know, this could be the 30th day of any month. But, trust me. It's Nov. 30, 1968.)

November 30, 1968.

Yeah, I know, the picture above could be the 30th day of any month on my grandpa’s calendars. Anyway, trust me. It’s the calendar space representing the last day of November, 1968.

And, most importantly, it’s unmarked.

See, the Thanksgiving holiday is usually divided into two halves.

One part is the whirlwind we all celebrate, and that we all reminisce about after it’s over. This part is cumulatively composed of those overloaded periods we spend packing, driving, flying, reuniting, catching up, cooking and eating.

The other part is the complete opposite.

It’s the time we spend taking post-prandial naps with our mouths open … the time we spend (e)motionless in front of a screen staring at football (unless we are Detroit Lions fans, and even they’re numb by now) … the time when, meeting and greeting finished, family members scatter to different rooms and pursue their own entertainment.

We do not celebrate those amber-stuck hours of stillness quite so much as we celebrate the turkey and the togetherness. But they are an integral part of Thanksgiving as well, a cool autumnal counterweight to the hours of warmth and glee.

There are not that many times between the third week of November and the end of the year when we get to completely switch off. Indeed, the whole idea of “switching off” feels foreign to the season when we hang lights and decorate trees. Life is supposed to shine, all the time.

It’s not really that way, of course. We need that downtime. And the Thanksgiving break is an ideal place to find it.

Other calendar entries show that my grandpa’s Thanksgiving in 1968 was just as busy as everyone else’s. My parents, married less than a year-and-a-half, came back to Stamford to visit. So did my Aunt Elaine, still in college at the time.

My grandparents even made punch, a most uncharacteristic touch. I have no idea what was in it, though I expect it was not boozy (or not heavily so).

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

I’m sure Thursday, Nov. 28, was filled with turkey, stuffing, freshly baked dinner rolls, pie and all the other traditional fixings.

But by Saturday, Nov. 30, there was … just nothing. Nothing particular to do, no tasks to accomplish, no appointments to keep, no church service to attend.

Just time to throw off the yoke and put up the feet.

Sleep late, maybe. Dawdle an extra twenty minutes over the paper, even though there’s no news in it. Have a smoke. Step out into the barren yard. Get kissed by the wind for a few minutes. Go back in again. Put on a sweater. Take a nap.

This kind of time is not wasted. Now that we have smartphones that allow work and the world to dog us wherever we go, it might be more important than ever.

I subscribe thoroughly to its worth, and I’m already looking forward to drinking a bunch of wine and hoisting a test pattern for at least a couple of hours over Thanksgiving break.

Join me, won’t you?

(Not literally. You’ll have to find another room.)

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My previous post captured my grandfather in a bit of a chewed-up mood, so I think I’ll go in another direction this week … back to the days of his youth.

I can’t guarantee he was in a good mood when he made these undated sketches in his personal journal, but I imagine they brought back good memories. And of course, he always liked to roll up his sleeves and get into a little technical detail, so these sketches would have entertained that side of his personality.

First, we have him brain-dumping info on how to make every fourth-grader’s dream ride:


(Maybe some sailor out there can let me know what kind of knot “C.P.” is, as featured at top left.)

I’m not an engineer … but I have trouble seeing how the “steering bar” would work, given no apparent mechanism to actually change the direction of the wheels. Maybe it was less a steering bar and more a hang-on-and-shut-up bar.

No matter. I imagine this sort of scooter — requiring minimal and fairly common materials — was all the rage among the boys of Springfield, Massachusetts, during the Harding administration.

I’m sure if you told those kids they’d have to wear a polyurethane helmet for safety while they rode their scooters, they would have looked at you like you had three heads.

If you’d told them that a design of their scooters would show up on a worldwide computer network in the 21st century … well, I dunno how they would have responded to that, but it would have been fun to see.

(Sometimes I suspect that the technology for time machines really exists, but the people who have it are holding it back b/c they’re trying to save the people of 1870 from a steady stream of 21st-century visitors saying, “Look at my iPhone!” It was bad enough people in the Sepia Age had to deal with cholera and dysentery; they shouldn’t also have to deal with time-tripping jerks with selfie sticks. They didn’t get paid enough for that.)

“All well and good,” you say, “but summer is over. It’s the season when scooters get stowed in the back of the garage. Whaddya got for me for the coming cold winter?”

Ask and you shall receive, Bunky.


Unlike the scooter above, the Jumper appears to have been a commercial product, requiring things like braces and a steel runner — not the sorts of parts a kid was likely to have knocking around in the basement.

I also note the cost associated with the Jumper’s different height options. $3 to $5 in 1925 dollars is $41 to $68 in today’s money, if the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online inflation calculator is to be believed.

That’s maybe not out of a parent’s reach, pre-Depression, but not an impulse buy either; one imagines plenty of western Massachusetts kids delivering the local paper in hopes of raising money for a Jumper.

Apparently Jumpers were fairly common then. A Google search for “the jumper” and “adams mass” turns up a news story from January 1930 in the North Adams Transcript newspaper. In the story, a man suffers a broken left arm and injury to an already crippled leg when he is hit by a kid riding a Jumper. The vehicle is mentioned with no apparent explanation, which suggests that anyone reading the story should have known what one was.

(Modern newspapers are famous for overexplaining stuff on the assumption that some reader, somewhere, lacks a relevant bit of background. That was perhaps not the case in 1930.)

Anyway, if you want to make a Jumper of your own, my grandfather has laid out all the relevant parts. Not sure what nostalgia-trip inspired him to take up his pencil, but he did.

I don’t see a steering mechanism here either, and a Jumper has enough solid wood in it to hurt anyone it runs into at speed. So if you build one of your own, be a good chap and don’t hit anybody, eh what?

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Last week’s arcane journey into the world of instrumental intonation might have been the least-read thing I’ve ever written in this space.

I dunno … I thought it was interesting, but I guess I disappeared into the notes and staves a little too far.

So, for this installment, we’ll take things back to my grandpa and his interactions with the world around him.

The fodder for this post might be the most personal note of my grandpa’s I’ve ever posted. I found it in his previously mentioned journal of work and personal information. It’s possible no one besides my grandpa had ever seen it; I doubt he showed it to anybody.

Depending on how you interpret it, it shows a side of him Hope Street has never shown — bitter, disappointed, and maybe a little vulgar.

Hard-working man that he was, it was his job that set him off.


One of my grandpa’s two surviving journals includes a poem, torn from some sort of printed publication, called “Ode to a Draftsman.”

The poem, in rhyming doggerel, expresses the frustration of fixing all the company’s problems — only to have the solutions credited to people higher up on the totem pole. (No copy of the poem seems to exist on the Internet.)

At some point, my grandpa sat down and wrote his own ode to a draftsman’s weary, underappreciated lot … except that his dispensed entirely with rhyme and went straight for cynicism.

The “shoot in de pentz” ending could be some sort of lighthearted dialect joke — more on that in a second — but it doesn’t strike me that way.

I’m not sure if a “shoot in the pants” is a kick in the arse, a grab-the-belt-and-toss bum’s-rush, or something altogether coarser.

But to me, that detail is the key that sets the tone. Our narrator isn’t getting shown the door, or being put out to pasture, or some more genteel euphemism. He’s getting a raw deal, not at all in line with his years of contributions to the company.

I find it interesting that my grandpa wrote this in the sort of ethno-American dialect he might have heard as a child going to vaudeville shows. (It’s either overdone mock-Brooklynese, or five-years-off-the-boat German-American.)

Perhaps he intended that to be his alibi if anyone else ever read it: Oh, just a little doggerel. I was only being silly. Only joking.

Except I don’t think he was.

For one thing, he initialed it, as if to emphasize his authorship and approval. He didn’t have to; no one else ever wrote in that journal. But the initials at the end imply: This is my story.

I’m not sure when he wrote it, or who inspired it. It seems most likely to me that it dates to one of the following periods:

  • Sometime between mid-October 1969 — when longtime employer Time Inc. probably told him he was losing his job — and mid-January 1970, when he lost it. (I consider this the most likely time period, which is why I dated this post “winter 1969.”)
  • Sometime in September 1970, when his final employer, John C. McAdams and Sons, let him go. (I consider this less likely because he was only there for five months or so, and probably didn’t have a deep emotional connection to the place.)
  • Sometime in late 1970 or early 1971, when he was still seeking another job but couldn’t find one. (I’m not sure the tone of the poem quite supports this, but it’s a possibility, however distant.)

To me, the punning sketches up top also betray a concern about work. The journal has several pages with punny drawings — maybe we’ll get back to them in a future installment — but I think the idea of an “unemployed” clothesline came to him when unemployment was on his mind (even if he wasn’t quite there yet).

From a 21st-century point of view, it’s easy to interpret this as an ode not just to draftsmen, but to all skilled, higher-cost workers of about 55 or older who are starting to hear hints that it’s time to go put their feet up.

That will probably be me in about a dozen years. The thought of an impending future shoot in the pants has occurred to me before. And I expect it will cross my mind again on other Monday mornings, when I sit down at the desk to give wid mine head ideahs.

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As you might have guessed from my previous posts, I have a thing for New England.

Both of my parents and three of my four grandparents were born there. I went to college there; lived there for almost seven years afterward; and have gnashed my teeth a thousand times about my decision to move among the pierogi- and polka-loving people of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

There is plenty in the Lehigh Valley to like, and more arrives each year. But we all define ourselves to ourselves in our own ways … and in my heart of hearts, I am a New Englander. Preferably a Masshole, but other states would do.

(It’s true that both sides of my family settled on just about the southwesternmost crag of New England, firmly in the shadows of New York City. But our roots in the region run deeper than that, deep enough to support my personal mythmaking.)

A fat man at the Quabbin Reservoir, winter 1998.

A fat man at the Quabbin Reservoir, winter 1998. Only true New Englanders visit the Quabbin Reservoir. I miss those sideburns.

My folks recently found some interesting journals kept by my grandpa — the same dude who kept the calendars. (These journals will provide much of the fodder for future installations of Hope Street, and I’ll describe them more as we go.)

The entry I’ll look at this week raised a question that shook me to my imaginary granite foundations:

What if, instead of New England, my grandparents had settled in the Lehigh Valley … and instead of building memories at 1107 Hope St., I’d spent my childhood vacations going to Forks Township or Catasauqua Borough or someplace?

Heck, what if I’d lived here all my life, and New England meant nothing more to me than some dusty branches on the family tree?

The mind reels.

Click to see larger.

Click to see larger.

I found this entry in a scientific and technical journal kept by my grandpa. He used it to record information useful to his job as a draftsman, as well as random scientific tidbits he found interesting.

It’s undated — and the entries seem to hop around in time, so there’s no clear way to identify when this was written.

But it seems that my grandpa came to the Lehigh Valley decades before I did, taking the Lehigh Valley Railroad to visit a company in the city of Easton, on the New Jersey border.

I don’t know much about his destination. Sheridan Machine Company is one of those companies whose name only shows up in obituaries, and not always recent ones.

A post on a railroad forum mentions a Sheridan Machine in Easton, but says it was “gone by the ’70s,” and the nearest train line is now a paved bike path. It’s possible I’ve been on that path without knowing it.

All I know for sure about this train ride is that it happened after my grandpa moved to Stamford from Springfield, Mass. (roughly around 1941), but before the Lehigh Valley road ended passenger operations (roughly 1961, if Wikipedia is correct). I’d bet pretty strongly on the early end of that spectrum.

Of course, I wonder whether he went to the Lehigh Valley for a job interview, which would have changed family history.

My grandpa didn’t settle at Time Inc. in Stamford, his largest and longest-lasting employer, until 1946. Before that, he worked for a company in Bridgeport that he must not have liked that much, because he only stayed there four years.

It’s possible — maybe remotely possible, but possible — that this trip came during a time in his life when he was checking out his options.

If he’d gotten a job here, my parents, who grew up and met in Stamford, might never have crossed paths. And whatever version of me ended up getting born might have grown up coming to the Lehigh Valley for my vacations, instead of Connecticut, and thinking of Easton as my home away from home.

(Heck, I might even have grown up here. My folks didn’t settle in their shared hometown of Stamford after marrying because it was an expensive place to live. That would not have been an issue for a young couple with roots in Allentown, Bethlehem or Easton.)

It’s also possible that the train trip was solely for business purposes. Perhaps my grandpa’s employer at the time was considering doing business with the company in Easton, and my grandpa was part of a traveling party going to check out their facilities and capabilities.

That doesn’t necessarily make sense either, though.

If he’d traveled on the company’s behalf, the company would probably have made his arrangements, and he wouldn’t have taken such precise note of the details. (Don’t I wish I could ride the train from Easton to Stamford for $8 today? Or the train from Easton to anywhere?)

Also, my grandpa was never a boss, as far as I know. I’m not sure he would have been in a position to be an “insider” on any kind of business deal. People higher up would have made those decisions.

So, I’ll never know what brought my grandfather to Easton.

All I know for sure is it was a round trip … and that, perhaps, I owe part of who I am to that ticket home.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go eat a Hoodsie cup.

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Good things end; and today, after four years and 251 posts, so does this blog.

I thank my dad and my aunt for generously sharing their memories of 1107 Hope Street. I also thank everyone else who served over the years as readers, commenters, providers of additional information, speakers of encouraging words, muses, goads and even contest supporters.

Bill Blumenau would have been befuddled by this blog, probably; but he would have appreciated your interest, as his grandson does.

Back to it, then, one more time.

# # # # #

Bill Blumenau and his maniacal-looking grandson. Christmas, circa 1994.

Bill Blumenau and his maniacal-looking grandson. Christmas, circa 1994.

Having come to the end of Bill Blumenau’s story online, it seems like I should mention how it ended in real life.

My grandfather suffered a heart attack — his third — in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2001, and was found dead later that morning in the nursing-home room he shared with my grandma. He was 90.

If memory serves, he also was suffering from prostate cancer, but could not be operated on because of his advanced age and the fragility of his heart. I suppose it is better to die quickly than slowly, though the outcome is the same either way.

My grandpa is buried not in Stamford but in Rochester, N.Y., his last home. I do not remember the last time I visited his grave. I prefer to think of him as he was in life, and I do not think my absence (or anything else on the earthly plane) matters to him at this point.

Having just mentioned all that, I have not spent the past four years bringing my grandfather to life on this blog just to have him die at the end.

Instead, we’ll round out our explorations in a sensible place — at the very last calendar entry available to us, on a day my grandpa probably spent quietly puttering around his house.

Since the calendars we have on hand span the years 1961 to 1975, we’ll be setting the WABAC machine to …

December 31, 1975.

December 31, 1975.

Wednesday, December 31, 1975, is a full working day for President Gerald Ford. The president spends the day talking with such distinguished personages as Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Dick Cheney, Alan Greenspan and James Brown.

(No, not the Godfather of Soul; this James E. Brown is an executive at Thiokol Corporation. He gets a seven-minute phone convo with Ford shortly before 11 p.m., while the rest of America is icing down its Champale.)

The year seems to be winding down fairly quietly, without much in the news. As the new year dawns, the Liberty Bell is about to be moved to a new enclosure in time for the bicentennial. The movers say they can do the job without further damaging the symbol of liberty, and they are as good as their word.

Investigators are probing a bomb blast two days earlier that killed 11 people at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, fewer than 40 highway miles from Hope Street. Presumably the investigators are still probing, as the bombing has never been solved.


Guy Lombardo plays one of his last New Year’s Eve specials, joined by guest Aretha Franklin. Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve fights back with Neil Sedaka, KC and the Sunshine Band, Melissa Manchester, Freddy Fender and the Average White Band. And — this being a regular workday for Johnny Carson, just as it is for President Ford — The Tonight Show features Joan Rivers, Orson Bean and Charles Nelson Reilly as guests.

Frances Drake’s syndicated horoscope warns Capricorns against a “tendency toward indiscretion,” cautions Scorpios to “be prepared for all contingencies,” but tells Cancers that travel could lead to “a most unusual and highly stimulating experience.”

According to the morning front pages of December 31, U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger denied a request the day before to delay a multibillion-dollar increase in the nation’s postal rates.


And that — not the airport explosion, or Guy Lombardo, or preparation for all contingencies — is what’s on my grandpa’s last calendar entry of this sequence.

It’s a natural thing for my grandpa to make note of. Postal rate increases are scattered throughout his 15 years of calendars.

At least one of the other postal rate hikes is illustrated with a drawing of a letter with wings. But this one seems hefty enough for my grandpa to skip the whimsy.

I’m sure he counted every cent, and an increase from 10 cents to 13 would have been something he noticed — another sign that the basics of American life just kept getting more and more and more expensive.

Other items of interest at 1107 Hope Street that day:

– My grandfather didn’t have a watercolor painting class. (His teacher, unlike President Ford and Johnny Carson, must have taken the day off.)

– The weather was pretty unmemorable — overcast, nippy and rainy, more Novemberish than wintry.

Despite the rain and the postal rate increase, there were other things on the horizon in December 1975 that would have made my grandfather happy.

He had two healthy grandchildren, and had just found out a third was on the way in the new year. His kids were both within visiting distance, more or less, and visits were not rare.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. It's December 25, 1975, and my Aunt Elaine and her husband Steve are visiting Hope Street.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. This is December 25, 1975, and my Aunt Elaine and her husband Steve are visiting Hope Street.

He’d been retired a few years, and he hadn’t had any more heart attacks, so he was probably pretty well comfortable with his lifestyle at that point. He knew what he could do and what he shouldn’t, and he’d made his peace with it.

(My dad has said many times that my grandpa adapted after his heart attack in ways that many people don’t. He not only made lifestyle changes, but figured out how to relax. The Bill Blumenau of December 1975 was a different man, and in some ways a better one, than he was in January 1961.)

The bicentennial year was coming up, too, and as a patriot, my grandpa would have bought into the idea of celebrating America. I can see him being interested in what was to come.

So, I think my grandfather would have seen out the old year 1975 on a positive note. Life was pretty good on Hope Street. My grandpa had paid his dues in the rat race; now he could sit back and watch the wheels.

And that’s where I think I’ll leave him.

He is sitting on the couch in the front room, a skinny older man in a plaid shirt, reading about Mother Theresa in the latest issue of Time. There are no end-of-year holiday visitors; he is alone in the house with his wife and mother, who are already upstairs, quietly preparing for bed.

The nighttime rain patters gently outside, as it has all day, but he doesn’t pay it much attention. He has nowhere to travel, and his roof will hold.

As page follows page, he starts to think about turning in for the night and saying goodbye to another year. It scarcely seems like another 365 days have passed, but here it is, a new year coming. And if the taxman doesn’t ratchet things up too many more notches, it could be a pretty good one, he thinks.

He yawns, gets up and switches off the light, tossing the magazine onto the coffee table.

As his footsteps disappear up the stairs, the first floor of 1107 Hope Street settles into darkness and silence, with only the eternal streetlights and the occasional tire-slick of a passing car on the wet street to interrupt the stillness of the night.

April 2011-April 2015

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