Posts Tagged ‘stamford’

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

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:


(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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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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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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