Posts Tagged ‘rochester’

The second episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “One For The Angels,” tells the story of a salesman who outwits Death and saves a child by delivering the sales pitch of a lifetime.

It’s not the most incisive half-hour Rod Serling ever scripted, but it’s fondly remembered, largely due to Ed Wynn’s charming performance in the main role.

This week’s installment of Hope Street — starring my dad — makes me think of that long-ago episode. (There’s a Rod Serling connection in this tale, too, which we’ll get back to in a few hundred words.)

My father is not a salesman by trade, and I don’t expect he could tie up the Grim Reaper in knots of argument.

But 30 years ago, he dedicated himself to the biggest sales pitch of his life — convincing his elderly parents and grandmother to leave their home of 40-plus years and move to a wintry, unfamiliar region in a different state.

Damned if he didn’t pull it off.

Because my grandfather saved much of the correspondence, the story can be retold in detail. (It says something that my grandpa saved these letters. He must have been impressed. Touched, even.)

This week, then, we’ll open the envelope and revisit the sales pitch we’ll call the Rochester Letters.


By the early ’80s, my grandparents’ home at 1107 Hope Street in Stamford, Connecticut, was showing its age. Bringing it up to date would have required more money than my grandparents could spend.

The residents of 1107 Hope were also starting to show their age. My grandpa was in his 70s and had had two heart attacks, while my great-grandmother was almost 100 and still climbing a steep flight of stairs to and from her room each day.

It couldn’t last as a living arrangement. And finally, the time came when it didn’t.

In the fall of 1984, my grandparents signed a sales agreement with a developer that had plans to demolish old single-family homes and build condos in their place.

In return for a good payout, they agreed to be out of the house by April 15 of the following year, so the builders could begin their work.

(A curious coincidence: April 15, 1985, was my family’s deadline to leave the house on Hope Street. As previously announced, the last post on the Hope Street blog will be the week of April 15, 2015 — exactly 30 years later. I had no idea about that when I picked the date. Cue the Twilight Zone music…)

My grandparents talked about moving elsewhere in Connecticut — to the nearby city of Danbury, or up the coast to the town of Clinton.

But as weeks passed, they didn’t seem to be coming to any decisions or taking any firm action. That concerned my dad.

Starting in November, his letters began to reflect a common thread: Move to Rochester, and we’ll find you a nice house and take care of you.

Consider these excerpts dated Nov. 16, 1984. My dad acknowledges my grandparents’ concerns, like weather, taxes and distance from friends and family …

Click any of these to read larger.

Click any of these images to read larger.

… and then tries to rebut them.

That last theme — you cared for me; I’ll care for you — shows up a few times in the Rochester Letters. This angle was sentimental enough to hook my grandma, but logical enough to appeal to my grandpa’s German-American ideals of fair play and obligation.

I don’t know if my dad really felt that deeply in debt for his upbringing, but — speaking as a communications professional — I find it an effective piece of messaging.

0109852changeddiapersAs December passed — and my grandma fell on some ice and broke her wrist — my dad kept pushing back against the inevitable pushback.

And, to set the wheels in motion, my parents began working with a realtor to identify homes that might appeal to my grandparents. The Rochester area has a respectable stock of affordable small ranches and Capes, so it wasn’t hard to find suitable places.


December 21, 1984.

Christmas ’84 was a pivotal point in the Rochester Letters. My grandparents still hadn’t been swayed to Rochester, but weren’t moving in any other direction either. Apparently, they were even starting to think that they might use my grandmother’s injury as an excuse to buy more time.

Some of the strongest-worded and most affecting messages of the Rochester Letters date to the final days of that year.

Dec26841Dec26842That approach must have lit at least some sort of fire under my grandparents, because the correspondence of January 1985 finds the push toward Rochester gaining some momentum.

My dad recapped his earlier statements that western New York is not the Arctic wasteland it’s sometimes thought to be …

"Winters up here are overstated."

“Winters up here are overstated.”

… and also repeated the notion that he and his family were ready to help in case of any emergency:


Health care was a major part of my dad’s argument — and it might have been around this time that he made a spoken faux pas that could have derailed all the work of the Rochester Letters.

During a phone call, my dad was reiterating the point that Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital has a well-regarded cardiac care department. Trying to bolster his argument, he cited a famous son of western New York who had come to Strong in his hour of greatest need.

“Oh, yeah, they’re famous for their heart care,” my dad said. Rod Serling died there.

I can still hear my mom’s appalled gasp at that one. But thankfully, one misstep didn’t quash the entire effort.

From my grandparents’ perspective, the fact that famous people went to Strong for heart care seems to have outweighed the fact that not all of them walked out afterward.

That might have helped the breakthrough in January, when my dad finally got my grandmother to fly to Rochester and see some houses. (It might have been her only plane trip. My grandfather, who stayed behind with my great-grandma, was never known to have flown.)


January 17, 1985.

And, building on that breakthrough, my dad poured on the family messaging:

January 20, 1985. He bought a printer.

January 20, 1985. He bought a printer.

By my dad’s recollection, my grandma saw only a few houses during her quick trip to New York. It only took one to win her over — a small yellow house on Lynnwood Drive in the suburban town of Brighton.

She liked it enough to convince my grandpa to buy the place sight unseen. I was press-ganged into action, along with family and friends, to make all manner of improvements to the place in a hurry, from laying new insulation in the crawlspace to repainting the big central room.

In the spring of 1985, the sales pitch of the Rochester Letters came to a triumphant conclusion as my grandparents and great-grandma moved into a new home in a new town.


On the back deck in Brighton, summer 1991. My grandpa the keeper of the calendars is in the red shirt; his wife is in the red-blue-and-white shirt. The other older lady is my other grandma, who had also settled in Rochester by then … but that’s another story.

The back yard in Brighton a few days after the ice storm of '91. Winters up here are overstated.

The back yard in Brighton a few days after the ice storm of ’91. Winters up here are overstated.

My grandparents’ life in Brighton went just about as well as my dad predicted it would.

My grandparents were a regular presence in the lives of my brother and I as we were growing up. My folks’ social network welcomed them, giving them connections and opportunities to get out and mingle when they wanted to.

My family handled heavy lifting and home maintenance, while my grandpa got to plant his garden and do tinkering chores that kept him content.

I don’t know whether my grandpa was ever treated at Strong Memorial Hospital, or whether he benefited from the heart specialists there. But I think that being relieved of major housework, and knowing he had family nearby to help with any need, did his heart a lot of good.

The Rochester Letters did not beat the Reaper, then, but perhaps they bought a few years of his absence.

As sales pitches go, they don’t come much better than that … not outside the Twilight Zone, anyway.


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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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An unrelated note: Yesterday I posted the results of a long-simmering personal project to my other blog, Neck Pickup. It’s sorta cool, in a goofy way, and if anyone has time to check it out, I appreciate it. Thanks.

Now for this week’s regularly scheduled programming …

In past blog posts, both recent and distant, we’ve explored the routes my family took to get between Stamford, Conn., where my grandparents lived, and Rochester, N.Y., where my parents settled.

It’s not a short trip, even in the best of weathers. Nor is it a particularly direct route. There are a number of road changes to navigate, and some small towns to pass through late at night when things aren’t as well-lit as they might be.

It looks like my aunt took a different way to get to Rochester, 45 years ago this month. It wasn’t the cheapest way, but she might have gotten a bag of peanuts and a Coke out of the deal.

June 15, 1968.

June 15, 1968. (Why anybody would skip town in the middle of a strawberry festival is beyond me.)

It just so happens that I have a scanned-in picture of my grandfather’s, dated 1968, that I’m guessing shows this exact flight on the tarmac. (It was scanned in under the title of “Elaine Flight.”)

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe my grandfather was ever on a plane. So when someone in his family was, it was a big deal, and worth taking pictures of:

Check your bags, ma'am?

Check your bags, ma’am?

“Mad Men” fans, history buffs, and readers over 50 will recognize Mohawk Airlines.

Utica, N.Y.’s second-greatest gift to the world and the first American airline to employ a black stewardess, Mohawk was a successful and well-known regional carrier throughout the 1950s and ’60s. If you were going to places like Glens Falls or Keene or Hartford or Worcester, Mohawk was going your way.

Below, a mid-1960s promotional film for Mohawk. Ah, for those golden days when lengthy meetings with middle-aged men in suits were considered guarantees of quality, rather than the very epitome of stodgy, bullheaded business as usual:

Unfortunately, the little airline that could was already starting to stagger by the time Aunt Elaine bought her ticket.

Only about two weeks after her flight, the national air traffic controllers’ union launched a protest job action that significantly slowed flights nationwide, costing airlines money.

A general economic slowdown in 1969, which blossomed into full recession the following year, hurt all airlines. And a pilots’ strike against Mohawk that began in November 1970 cost the company further money it could not afford to lose.

Undone by this series of body blows, Mohawk agreed to a buyout by Allegheny Airlines in 1971.

A Mohawk jet crash in March 1972 near Albany, N.Y., killed 17 people, providing a bitter coda to the history of a once-successful company. The last Mohawk flight took place the following month.

For those keeping score at home, Allegheny later changed its name to USAir, then again to US Airways, and is now getting swallowed up by American Airlines — a final victory for the national mega-carriers Mohawk used to insult in its TV advertising.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

I don’t know anything about my aunt’s particular flight. I didn’t ask her, and I’m not sure she’d remember it. But clearly she got to Rochester and back.

When we look back at companies that aren’t around any more, there’s a tendency to think of them as failures, losers or relics. If they were any good, the thinking goes, they’d still be here.

There’s some truth to that. But at the same time, some of those companies — like Mohawk Airlines — were pretty good at what they did before the challenges and pressures of doing business brought them down. (It doesn’t take many missteps or much adversity to put a company in the doghouse.)

A successful plane flight isn’t long-lasting currency. The experience recedes quickly in the mind, and we forget how much trust it took us to get on the plane and how much skill it took the airline to get us where we wanted to go, intact and on time.

Somewhere there is a reservoir of karma for these sorts of defunct enterprises … a place where Mohawk Airlines still gets credit for the difficult task of  moving a plane full of people from the New York City area to Rochester one long-ago morning in 1968.

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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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