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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.

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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.

bombings

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.

mailincrease

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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It occurs to me that I’ve never written about one of my grandfather’s chosen leisure-time activities … and if I don’t do it this week, it ain’t gonna happen.

So we head back to April 1969, to a room filled (no doubt) with cigarette smoke and the reek of beer, not to mention the rustle of chatter and the clack and rattle of wood against wood.

April 30, 1969.

April 30, 1969. The Mets and Yankees are both in third.

I don’t know that much about my grandpa’s kegling career. I’ve seen pictures of him lined up alongside his bowling teammates — I’m assuming they were co-workers, but maybe not.

I know my parents had his bowling ball (they probably still do) and maybe even a trophy or two he picked up over the years.

I don’t know how good he actually was … although that doesn’t really matter all that much. Unless you’re Earl Anthony, bowling is probably something you do to get out of the house and hang out with friends, not something you do to relentlessly hone your game.

I guess my grandpa was serious enough to buy his own ball at some point, which says something, but I don’t think he was that hardcore about bowling. I can’t remember his ever taking me bowling as a kid, or offering to. I had a dim awareness that he’d bowled years before, but it seemed like something from the remote past.

In fact, there’s a distant possibility that this calendar entry marked his last trip to the lanes — or, at least, his last trip as part of an organized league.

Several years of calendars mention a “final bowling” in late April, followed by a “bowling banquet” in early May. Like this:

May 7, 1969.

May 7, 1969. Artom Manor was a banquet hall in Norwalk; Google suggests they did a steady business in wedding receptions.

 

I don’t have his entire calendar for May 1970, but the pictures I have don’t show any bowling references.

Same deal for early May 1971: No references to a “bowling banquet.” (He happened to be flat on his back at the time recovering from a heart attack, but before he got sick, he didn’t write anything about bowling on his calendar.)

He stopped working at Time-Life in January 1970. So if his teammates were co-workers, he might have lost touch with them, or not been invited to return for future seasons.

So April 30, 1969, could have been my grandpa’s last evening in harness. I hope he enjoyed it, and that he picked up some spares.

A few other Bill Blumenau bowling moments:

May 3, 1962.

May 3, 1962. The bottom of this entry got cut off, but it indicates my grandpa’s bowling goes back just about to the beginning of this run of calendars. Maybe earlier.

May 4, 1966.

May 4, 1966. Chatham Oaks was another banquet place and caterer in Norwalk. Apparently it’s still around, run by the same family.

May 1967.

May 3 and 10, 1967. Note that the final night of bowling this year coincided with my grandparents’ wedding anniversary. Seems like he bowled anyway. Good man.

My real interest in my grandfather’s bowling entries really doesn’t have anything to do with his skill, or lack thereof. It has more to do with the idea of him as a social animal, taking part in one of America’s definitive leisure-time pursuits, going out at night with his friends.

I did not much get the chance to see my grandpa as a regular person, mingling with people he knew and shooting the breeze about work, family and the world. (Relatively few of us get to see our grandfathers this way, I think. And if we are, we are too young to appreciate what we’re seeing.)

It would have been interesting to attend one of these bowling nights to see my grandfather in that kind of setting. I’m sure my grandpa was not a dramatically different person in the company of friends and co-workers … but it still would have been cool to observe.

That’s about it. See you next week, one more time.

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At this juncture, I have forgotten most of what took place during my two years in middle school.

And what I have not forgotten, I am hard at work on, using all the tools at my disposal. (Chiefly, rye whiskey.)

Elementary school is a fond memory, and high school’s good too. But those two years where the early stirrings of puberty collided with a primitive definition of social cool  … mmmmm, let’s not get into those.

I skipped my 20-year high school reunion and fully expect to skip the rest, because … well, what’s supposed to appeal to me about seeing people who remember me when I was 13?

I wish them all the success in the world, but what they haven’t forgotten, I don’t care to know.

XXXX

Me (at center, with Fender Precision, big ears and high-water jeans), early 1987, at Bay Trail Middle School. The kid at right played drums in my high school garage band, and is one of maybe three classmates with whom I still correspond.

What has all this angst to do with my grandfather?

Not a huge amount, really. But this week’s calendar entry captures a rare thing — a community institution that’s still extant, in the same place it was when my grandpa mentioned it. I always like to spotlight those when I can find them.

And that institution just happens to be a middle school.

April 17-19, 1962.

April 17-19, 1962. The Mets still haven’t won a game yet.

Dolan Junior High School, opened in 1948, would have been less than 10 years old when my dad attended in the late 1950s. My aunt would have been going to school there in April 1962, when the above calendar entry was made.

I didn’t ask either of them for their memories of middle school; I didn’t want to stir up that muck any more than I want someone to stir up mine. I know my dad was active in whatever passed for Dolan’s music program, anyway.

I don’t imagine my grandpa spent more than a few hours inside Dolan Junior High. I know my dad and aunt were the sorts to take care of business, so I’m sure my grandpa never had to go there for disciplinary reasons.

I know he stopped by for special occasions, with his camera in hand:

Dolan Junior High, 1958.

Dolan Junior High, 1958.

The Dolan Junior High Band prepares to march. Presumably my dad is somewhere in this pic. 1958 again.

The Dolan Junior High Band prepares to march. Presumably my dad is somewhere in this pic. 1958 again.

1958 again. I don't know much about this, except that my dad is at far right in the white shoes, a la Billy Johnson. Two drummers and two bass players must have made for some serious free-form exploratory jamming ... or so I can dream.

1958 again. Concert at Dolan. I don’t know much about this, except that my dad is at far right in the white shoes, a la Billy Johnson. Two drummers and two bass players must have made for some serious free-form exploratory jamming … or so I can dream.

Today, the school is known as Dolan Middle School. It boasts of being “nestled in a hard-working residential area of Stamford.” (Not sure what that’s code for; I’ll leave the significance of that to a more experienced Stamford-watcher.)

The website also says that Dolan has “evolved over the years” from a traditional junior high to “its more recent middle school curriculum model.” Not really sure what that means either … but I suppose it’s only natural to expect the school to do business in a different way than it did in the ’50s and early ’60s.

(The school also appeared as a setting for the 2007 movie Reservation Road, in case anybody out there wants to see what it looks like. I missed that one, myself, but I don’t see too many films, anyway. Cove Island, which has previously appeared in this narrative, also shows up in the movie.)

The current Google Earth view of Dolan.

The current Google Earth view of Dolan.

I dunno whether they still host jazz jams at Dolan like the one pictured above. But, the school is putting on an adaptation of “Legally Blonde” as its annual musical, so we know there’s still music in the halls.

I can only imagine how many middle-school moments this old school has seen — how many I-made-the-team-and-you-didn’ts, or how many that-outfit-was-cool-last-years, or how many I-changed-my-mind-and-want-to-go-to-the-dance-with-Joeys.

If Dolan Middle School could write a book, it would either be fascinating, or hellishly boring in a same-crap-different-decade kind of way.

No matter. It’s kinda cool that it’s still there in some form, a physical tie to the Stamford my grandfather knew, and the Stamford my dad and aunt grew up in.

The faces (and the clothes, and the hairdos, and the names scrawled on the folders) may change. But the building is similar, and so is the experience — no longer a child, not yet an adult.

I imagine the same is true at Bay Trail Middle School. It’s expanded since the mid-’80s to include sixth grade, all the better to suck additional kids into its vortex of social discomfort.

Good luck to the Bay Trailers, and also to the Dolanites. Ride it out: Things will get better with time.

If they don’t, well, there’s always rye whiskey.

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A couple odds and ends before we get into this week’s installation:

– For the two of you who dug the Hope’s Treat musical project, another of my offbeat musical explorations (not directly related to this blog) has been loosed on the world. The tunes live here; some writing that attempts to explain them is here.

– For the somewhat more of you who dug the blog post on sauerbraten, my parents very kindly unearthed my great-grandma’s sauerbraten recipe, along with a side recipe for potato dumplings.

If that sounds interesting to you, click here for the handwritten recipe. Let me know how yours turns out.

And now for this week’s adventures …

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I’m pretty well gassed when it comes to writing about my family.

There have been times in recent months when I’ve sworn that I’m not even going to think about anything that happened before I was 21, ever again, because I’ve spent so much time over the past four years picking it to shreds.

And, there have been lots of nights when I sat down at the computer and wondered what the hell else was possibly left to say. (Tonight, for a few minutes, was shaping up as one of those nights.)

I still plan to spend a bunch of time when I’m done here thinking about the history of freshwater mollusks, and the works of Hans Christian Andersen, and chocolate milk, and a bunch of other stuff that has nothing to do with my bloodline.

I find, though, that when I get burned out, something comes along to cheer me up and remind me why I do this.

Like the somewhat out-of-season calendar entry I’m featuring this week:

December 25 and 26, 1973.

December 25 and 26, 1973.

The first of two Els on my grandpa’s calendar — my Aunt Elaine — showed up, with her husband, at 1107 Hope Street in time for Christmas dinner. To extend the holiday festivities, my grandparents also talked on the phone with my dad and the other El, my Great-Aunt Eleanor.

If either El knew what my parents had in mind for the next day, they did an El of a job keeping it quiet.

My grandmother’s handwriting — my grandpa wouldn’t burst out like that — tells the story of what looks to have been a much-enjoyed post-Christmas surprise visit. I can only imagine the looks on their faces when Baby Kurt and family turned up at the door.

Since Aunt Elaine and her husband were already there, I’m guessing we stayed with my other grandparents elsewhere in Stamford. That’s the best kind of surprise visit — one where you can spend plenty of quality time, but don’t have to shoehorn borrowed cots and folded-out couches into every room in the house.

In fact, I know that’s what we did, because another entry from a few days later makes reference to a special sleepover on Hope Street. My grandfather’s all-caps seems a little more excited than normal — this visit seems to have been one surprise after another:

December 31, 1973.

A momentary pop-culture sidetrack: December 31, 1973, would have been my first New Year’s Eve. I doubt I stayed up long enough to catch the deliriously funky New Year’s special featuring George Carlin, Tower of Power and Billy Preston. But my dad, free of his kids for the night, just might have tuned in:

Anyway: When they planned their surprise visit, my folks might have had other things on their minds besides spreading holiday cheer.

Connecticut had been hit by a historically nasty ice storm a week-and-a-half before, and it’s possible my dad and my uncle came to town, in part, to save my grandfather the physical stress of cleaning his yard. (They spent some time doing just that, as recorded in an earlier blog post.)

Both sets of grandparents had also come to my folks’ aid three months before, after my mom got into a car accident. (Wrote about that too. See how I might get burned out?)  Perhaps, with my mom feeling better and more mobile, my folks came up for Christmas as a gesture of thanks.

Whatever the reasons, my parents’ surprise holiday visit seems to have pleased its unsuspecting recipients.

And that, to me, is refreshing, even inspirational.

I suppose that under everything I write — under all the YouTube links and wise-ass cultural references and lengthy digressions — is the spark of interpersonal contact with someone who is loved and cared about. That’s what family life is about, and what family history is about.

And that’s what happened the day after Christmas 41 years ago, when a big brown Plymouth Satellite pulled into the driveway on Hope Street.

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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.

SaveEnvelope

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.

111684Pt2
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.

1284NonIssues
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.

122184

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:

RochLetters010985

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.)

011785

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.

3434693884_5482b09f58_o

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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