Posts Tagged ‘penfield’

Still making with the snapshots. The calendar entries will be back soon.

If last week’s Blumenau family snapshot is like a behavioral experiment — how will the members of a small group of people interpret or resist a request? — this week’s photo poses a different question:

How will the members of a small group of people respond to unexpected adversity?

The seven people in this picture are in a situation we’ve all been in at some point in our lives:

– They are arrayed in front of a camera that’s been set to go off via self-timer.

– The camera, a high-precision assemblage of the best consumer imaging technology Japan has to offer, has gotten stuck.

– The people have waited – first patiently, then less and less so – for the shutter to fall, holding their poses and nursing their smiles.

– At long last, the camera master has given up and gone to fix the problem.

– And then, inevitably: Click.

Summer 1978.

Summer 1978.

Most of the family appears to be clinging to some semblance of their formal poses. They know in their bones that the camera will click as soon as they slacken. They are locked into a test of patience, a steely death-match that rewards its winners with the eternal appearance of calmness and composure.

My grandfather, the camera master, has done what camera masters have done in this situation since time eternal. Like a captain staying on the bridge as his ship takes on water, he is honoring a moral code. It is his duty to break his pose, walk toward the errant camera — and, inevitably, lose the death-match.

My father appears to have craned his head around and behind my mother’s to get a glimpse of the camera, as if that would allow him to diagnose what was wrong with it. In this moment of hubris, he has also lost the death-match.

(The little kid in the cutoffs, whose name is Kurt, has also let his concentration slip, but not as badly as his father and grandfather. And anyway, little kids get free passes in situations like this.)

Perhaps my grandpa’s control over his camera has slackened because he is not on Hope Street.

The setting for this photo is the backyard of my childhood home in Penfield, N.Y. The assemblage behind us is a temporary screened-in structure, erected in spring and dismantled in fall. It lives on in family lore as “the scream house” — not because it was used for the torture and dismemberment of passing hoboes, but because of a childish mispronunciation of “screen house.”

Finally, I cannot help but compare this week’s picture to last week’s, and note what 18 years did to my grandfather. Last week he looked virile; this week he looks old.

The years between 1960 and 1978 were busy, demanding and sometimes quite challenging for my grandpa.

(If you don’t know the details, click here and read forward. I suggest you set aside some time…)


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Time to get in the car. Grab a seat by the window, and settle in. This is going to be a long, long blog post.

The good news? You don’t have to buckle up if you want. This is 1975, you see.

Specifically, it’s Friday, May 23, 1975. My grandparents and great-grandma are about to spend (almost) 10 hours (mostly) in a car, driving from the southwestern edge of Connecticut to (almost) the shores of Lake Ontario.

And we’re all going to ride with them, as I re-create the sights and sounds of an all-day interstate car trip with the Blumenau family elders as faithfully as I can.

Don’t worry — you’ll get a chance to pee.

May 23, 1975.

May 23, 1975. Yanks and Mets win.

Your vehicle for the trip will be a 1969 Ford Fairlane 500, somewhere between cream and pale green in color. It was extensively described in this earlier post, if you want to go have a look at it. It’s reliable and well-kept, though the vinyl upholstery might get a little squirmworthy after seven or eight hours on a sunny day. There is, of course, no air conditioning.

(My grandpa — he’ll do all the driving — has one of those plastic seat inserts that cab drivers use to get just the tiniest bit of airspace between one’s arse and the vinyl. Being The Man has its perks.)

Your fellow passengers will be my grandmother, Corine, in the front seat and my great-grandma, Pauline (known in the family as Grossee, short for the German Grossmutter) in the back. There’s plenty of room; you can stretch your legs.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step on the gas pedal.

And this journey starts on the back roads — specifically, on Long Ridge Road (a.k.a. Connecticut Route 104), which my grandfather takes across the Rippowam and Mianus rivers and over the state line, roughly 13 miles to the little town of Bedford, New York.

Once in wealthy Westchester County, the roads gradually start to get bigger. State Route 172 westbound from Bedford feeds into Route 684 northbound, which connects in turn to Interstate 84.

I-84 wends westbound through the quiet southern chunk of New York state between Westchester County and Woodstock, occasionally watched over by wary staties in ungainly yellow-and-blue Dodge Monacos. The Fairlane does nothing to attract their attention, and they take no notice of it.

Doing a responsible 60 mph or so, the Fairlane crosses the north-south Taconic Parkway in the company of Ramblers and Mercurys, then sits in a bottleneck until it finally gets a chance to  soar over the Hudson River on the 12-year-old but already overcrowded Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

Around this time, you start to notice that the ride lacks for interpersonal stimulation.

My grandfather is largely content to focus on his duties as driver. My great-grandma — while ordinarily affable — clams up during car trips, reluctant to do anything that might distract the driver. And my grandmother’s bursts of chattiness are hindered by her deafness and the engine noise, which conspire to turn any conversation into an adventure.

For a time, the putative conversation turns to the Blumenaus’ beloved grandchildren — one four-and-a-half, the other not yet two — who are waiting for them in western New York. The kids are still at ages when life consists of one big discovery after another, and the members of the traveling party look forward to hearing about the latest.

At the otherwise unremarkable downstate town of Middletown, N.Y., my grandpa turns onto New York State Route 17.

Route 17 carries the big cream-colored car north through Catskills towns like Wurtsboro, Monticello and Liberty. Even at this late date, it is possible to see both billboards for Borscht Belt resorts and the fading resorts themselves from the highway. Billboards for Monticello Raceway are also frequent, some of which feature neon horses waiting for nightfall to come out and trot.

Route 17 flirts with the Pennsylvania state line in the towns of Hancock and Deposit, where my father was stranded for a night in April 1972 by an unseasonally heavy storm en route to Stamford to play organ at my Uncle T.J.’s wedding. No doubt that story comes up among the travelers.

Route 17 meets Route 81 North near the city of Binghamton, and my grandpa turns onto still another major interstate. Traffic is again heavy in spots: It’s Memorial Day weekend, and even in the early afternoon, people are trying to get somewhere else.

By this time, you and your fellow occupants of the Fairlane are hungry and need a break. Once back on a big highway, you start looking for an opportunity to get off the road. (Being frugal Yankees, my grandparents and great-grandmother have packed their own lunches, so the enticements of McDonald’s hold no appeal to them.)

Unfortunately, the nearest rest stop on northbound I-81 is several miles behind you, just north of the New York-Pennsylvania line. You have to wait 30-odd miles until the town of Homer, near the colleges-and-farms burg of Cortland, for a proper rest area.

Once there, you hit the bathroom, claim a shady picnic table and settle down to your delayed repast — ham sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise, apples, and a thermos full of lemonade. The family chats and eats without hurry, oblivious to the cars and trucks grinding past to their own destinations. You make a note to pack some sriracha for the return trip, to lend your sammich something resembling flavor.

At some length, everyone bundles themselves back into the waiting Fairlane. The windows have been closed, and the air has become hot and thick inside, and scented with vinyl. Fighting the urge to drowse, the family sets off again.

But only for a short time. This is 1975, after all, and you’re riding in an American car with at least a V6 engine in stop-start traffic. So my grandfather grabs the first opportunity to pull off the highway again and refill his tank at some small-town gas station, perhaps in a town like Homer, Tully or Preble. He pays cash.

The Fairlane creeps north gradually toward Syracuse. It is roughly 5:15 p.m. by the time you reach the Salt City, and Memorial Day traffic combines with the regular Friday-afternoon drive-time exodus to choke the roads.

The worst of it is leaving the city — not coming into it, as the Fairlane is — but as my grandpa hangs his final left turn onto the New York State Thruway westbound, the pace of traffic slows a bit.

From Syracuse it is a straight shot westbound to Rochester, the last real leg of the trip, roughly an hour-and-a-half in regular traffic. My grandfather, his right foot perhaps getting heavier, manages to make it in more or less that time. (Perhaps there is another bathroom break, quicker this time, somewhere along the Thruway.)

At 7 p.m. or so, as the skies hint at their eventual darkening, you get off at Thruway Exit 45, Route 490, Rochester.

And about 15 minutes later, my grandpa’s Fairlane  is in the driveway of his son’s suburban home at 50 Timberbrook Lane, Penfield. A late dinner and family comforts await. The trip is over.

Get out. Stretch your legs. Relax and enjoy.

In three days or so, you’ll be doing it again, the other way.

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There will not be much of my grandfather in this week’s edition; we’re back to the self-centered blabber.

Here we are, then, at the end of the third week of November, 1971. What’s new?

The fourth Led Zeppelin album, for one thing. The microprocessor, for another. Mars orbit, for a third, as the Mariner 9 spacecraft becomes the first to reach that destination.

Oh, and a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home at 50 Timberbrook Lane, Penfield, New York.

The house itself was not literally new that week. It had been built about five years earlier by Seeler Homes, the seemingly indefatigable development company that threw up neighborhood after neighborhood full of split-levels, ranches and colonials in suburban Penfield in the 1960s and ’70s.

But it had new owners that week — a young couple and their year-old son moving in from elsewhere in town, with an intent to someday add at least one more kid to fill up another of those four bedrooms.

November 20, 1971.

I do not have a good record of when my grandparents and great-grandma first visited the new house. My grandpa, having had a heart attack earlier in the year, might still not have felt in shape to drive long distances. Eventually, as his strength and outlook improved, he made any number of trips to Timberbrook Lane.

I lived at 50 Timberbrook for the first 14 years of my life, until my folks decided they wanted a more distinctive place to live and we moved to another house in Penfield.

(The “more distinctive” thing was pretty valid, by the way. Seeler used the same basic five or six layouts for all its homes, and it was not rare to visit someone’s house for the first time and realize that you’d been there before. I no longer remember who else in ’80s Penfield youth society had the same house I did, but I know some people did.)

It also happened that we convinced both sets of grandparents to move to the Rochester area around the 1986-87 time frame.

This must have been a titanic sell job by my folks (I only overheard parts of it), to convince both sets of grandparents to leave their established friends and routines and move to a cloudy gray city in the Rust Belt. But it worked.

And one of the consequences was that we no longer needed a spare bedroom, since the people who most commonly filled it now had homes of their own a short drive away. That cleared the way for us to break out of the standard big-houses-for-growing-families mold and move to a slightly smaller place.

Me in front of 50 Timberbrook, 1979.

My memories of 50 Timberbrook are … well, “bittersweet” sounds far too melodramatic; let’s go with “mixed.”

I lived there at an age when I didn’t really have to think about the broader world. I went to school and liked it there; and I played in the snow and rode my bike around the neighborhood and threw tennis balls against the garage door and liked that too. It was a good quiet childhood cocoon to be in.

That said, our move to a new house coincided with a fair amount of personal growth. I started my freshman year in high school just after we moved, and started playing in my first band around the same time. And it was around then that I gained some perspective, and started figuring out that a lot of things in life really aren’t important enough to sweat about.

Don’t get me wrong — I was still an immature dweeb when I woke up on my first morning after moving. But I was starting down the path of getting more clued-in, and that was a positive development.

(How far down that path I’ve gotten is open to debate.)

So, in my mind, 50 Timberbrook is my childhood home, with the shelter and comfort that entails. Other places were (and are) my teenage and adult homes, with the growth, exploration and responsibility that entails.

I would rather be an adult than a child, so I suppose 50 Timberbrook suffers in comparison with other times and places.  But it served my family about as well as we could have hoped on the day we moved in.

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I used to love going to see my grandparents (both sets) in Stamford.

I can remember my parents coming to get me at my elementary school an hour or two early on holiday getaway days, so we could set off on the lengthy trip from western New York to southwestern Connecticut in as much daylight as possible. School was nice, but getting a special pass out of it was nicer.

I can also remember specific things I used to look for on the drive down, like the animated lit-up sign of a horse and jockey that announced the presence of Monticello Raceway, or the town of Bedford, New York — a sleepy little place that was always long since comfortably asleep when we passed through.

My folks used to deputize me to look for a specific road — New York State Route 17K — on our way down, presumably to give my cooped-up energy something to focus on. (A couple of years ago, while traveling to and from the Albany area, I was pleased to notice 17K again.)

Sometimes, in those days before child seats and seatbelt laws, I would rest my elbows on the back of the front bench seat of our old Plymouth Satellite and just watch the highway traffic coming the other way. It seemed like a festival of lights, some sort of wild ever-shifting interstate art installation.

Less frequently, my grandparents and great-grandma made the trip the other way, coming up to Rochester to see us.

My grandpa didn’t have the luxury of lounging in the back seat. As the only licensed driver in his household, he had to make the entire haul while staying attentive behind the wheel.

He appears to have enjoyed the trip all the same:

Oct. 18 and 19, 1968.

I can’t take credit for his evident pleasure at going to Penfield. I hadn’t been born yet, and neither had my older brother. I guess his son and daughter-in-law were enough of a pleasure to elicit an outcry of delight on the calendar.

After we came along, he was still pretty jazzed to make the drive to WNY:

October 1974: “Penfield? Yes!”

October 11, 1974. A long day on the road does not dampen his enthusiasm.

May 23, 1975. “Yes!” circled *and* in red, this time.

Bonus shot from Penfield, May 1975, featuring three generations of the women of the Blumenau family. Not particularly connected to today’s narrative; I just thought I’d throw it in.

When you’re a kid, you never think much about your grandparents being happy to see you, because you’re always so happy to see them.

Sure, you notice that they smile, and ruffle your hair, and just happen to have cold Seven-Up in the fridge for you. But you never suspect, being young and sorta self-centered like kids usually are, that they’ve been counting the days until they see you, just as you’ve been counting them yourself. It’s a nice thing to realize, no matter how long it takes you to figure out.

My grandpa might have had some other reason for writing “Yes!” so exuberantly on his calendars. But, if so, I don’t care to know what they were.

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