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Posts Tagged ‘journal’

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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I spent a fair amount of time at my grandparents’ house on Hope Street as a kid.

And through this blog, I’ve spent a fair amount of time revisiting it in my mind — most notably in a post from this week in 2012, when I wrote a room-by-room tour of the place from memory.

That’s why I was interested — though maybe not surprised — to discover that one of my grandpa’s recently discovered journals includes a year-by-year list of every significant improvement made to the house, starting in January 1946 and ending in October 1984.

The first page ...

The first page …

... and the last.

… and the last.

It would have been around October 1984 that my grandparents sold the house at 1107 Hope to developers, who tore it down the following year to make room for condos.

I can only assume that front porch roof really needed to be reshingled in the fall of ’84; I can’t imagine my grandpa enjoyed sinking $350 (about $800 in 2015 money) into a house he knew he was going to leave.

On the other hand, I am oddly touched by the $2.44 spent on a new toggle light switch for the bathroom medicine cabinet. It’s like a fresh young soldier reporting to a platoon that knows the battle’s lost. Here’s this shiny new part looking forward to a lifetime of service, and getting six months tops before the bulldozers come.

I won’t bore my Five Readers with a lengthy breakdown of what got spent, when. I know no one really cares about the details.

I will share some of the more interesting items, though.

For starters, here’s a list of the paint colors (besides basic gray, white, blue and green) applied to different parts of the house over that 38-year period. The house in my memory was fairly drab — maybe “plain” is a kinder word — but this parade of names makes it sound like a riot of color:

Pine green
Mint green
Light green
Kentucky green
Cordovan brown
Forest green
Dawn yellow
Pilgrim gray
Smoke gray
Park green
Misty gray
Blue moon
Provincial grey
Slate grey
Pastel pink
Battleship gray
Candleglow (it appears to be a light beige-yellow)
Mission rose
Antique white
Evergreen

And now for some journal entries:

October 1946.

October 1946. Twenty-five pounds of furnace asbestos. Wonder what that was — insulation, maybe? It was only a buck — good deal if you didn’t mind getting cancer years later.

April 1947.

April 1947. My grandpa splurges and blows eight dollars on evergreens. Wonder if they are the ones visible in this photo from circa 1973.

October 1947: Wood for the rose arbor.

October 1947: Wood for the rose arbor. This might or might not be the (heavily weathered) wood from the cover photo of Hope’s Treat, the official soundtrack to the Hope Street blog.

March 1956. Remember when a radio was something you got fixed?

March 1956. Remember when a radio was something you got fixed?

April 1957. Look, Ma, I made the newspaper.

April 1957. Look, Ma, I made the newspaper. Wonder how many of these building improvements — heck, how many of these buildings — are still extant today. Also, I have always thought of Stamford as a predominantly Italian city with a minority of eastern Europeans, and this clipping does nothing to change my mind.

August 26, 1967.

August 26, 1967. Home security is not a running theme in this journal, so the mention of a lock stands out. My grandparents’ home would be broken into in the early ’80s — perhaps a minor contributing factor to their eventual decision to sell.

October 18, 1968.

October 18, 1968. This is probably the same clothesline my grandfather photographed, encased in ice, after the ice storm of December 1973.

January-February 1975.

January-February 1975. Regardless of what Fela Kuti might tell you, water is the homeowner’s enemy. I think this is the only reference to an insurance claim in the entire journal. At least it’s the only one that sticks out now that I’ve been through it three or four times.

October 14, 1977. No idea why my grandpa saw fit to illustrate this, but here you go.

October 14, 1977. No idea why my grandpa saw fit to illustrate this, but here you go.

October 1979.

October 1979. It’s a family affair: John Jacobellis, who replaced part of my grandpa’s porch floor, is my cousin on my mom’s side. (He’s been active in the building trades in Stamford for many years, and is referenced in passing in this post from four years ago.) He shows up in my grandpa’s journal on one or two other occasions in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well.

March 5, 1981. Salty Grandpa shows up for a moment ("crap trap").

March 5, 1981. Salty Grandpa shows up for a moment (“crap trap”).

Summer 1983.

Summer 1983. My grandpa tackles a home improvement task — and, by his own concession, does a “lousy job.” The roots of the sale of Hope Street and the move to Rochester might lie in moments like this, as my grandfather realized he was no longer as capable of this sort of repair as he used to be.

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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:

scooter

(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.

102_1036

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.

102_1035

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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