Posts Tagged ‘stamford’

We’ll go back and write about a calendar entry like we used to. Why not?

Too much of nothing, the poet says, can make a man ill at ease.

But not this time of year.

November 30, 1968. (Yeah, I know, this could be the 30th day of any month. But, trust me. It's Nov. 30, 1968.)

November 30, 1968.

Yeah, I know, the picture above could be the 30th day of any month on my grandpa’s calendars. Anyway, trust me. It’s the calendar space representing the last day of November, 1968.

And, most importantly, it’s unmarked.

See, the Thanksgiving holiday is usually divided into two halves.

One part is the whirlwind we all celebrate, and that we all reminisce about after it’s over. This part is cumulatively composed of those overloaded periods we spend packing, driving, flying, reuniting, catching up, cooking and eating.

The other part is the complete opposite.

It’s the time we spend taking post-prandial naps with our mouths open … the time we spend (e)motionless in front of a screen staring at football (unless we are Detroit Lions fans, and even they’re numb by now) … the time when, meeting and greeting finished, family members scatter to different rooms and pursue their own entertainment.

We do not celebrate those amber-stuck hours of stillness quite so much as we celebrate the turkey and the togetherness. But they are an integral part of Thanksgiving as well, a cool autumnal counterweight to the hours of warmth and glee.

There are not that many times between the third week of November and the end of the year when we get to completely switch off. Indeed, the whole idea of “switching off” feels foreign to the season when we hang lights and decorate trees. Life is supposed to shine, all the time.

It’s not really that way, of course. We need that downtime. And the Thanksgiving break is an ideal place to find it.

Other calendar entries show that my grandpa’s Thanksgiving in 1968 was just as busy as everyone else’s. My parents, married less than a year-and-a-half, came back to Stamford to visit. So did my Aunt Elaine, still in college at the time.

My grandparents even made punch, a most uncharacteristic touch. I have no idea what was in it, though I expect it was not boozy (or not heavily so).

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

Nov. 27-28, 1968.

I’m sure Thursday, Nov. 28, was filled with turkey, stuffing, freshly baked dinner rolls, pie and all the other traditional fixings.

But by Saturday, Nov. 30, there was … just nothing. Nothing particular to do, no tasks to accomplish, no appointments to keep, no church service to attend.

Just time to throw off the yoke and put up the feet.

Sleep late, maybe. Dawdle an extra twenty minutes over the paper, even though there’s no news in it. Have a smoke. Step out into the barren yard. Get kissed by the wind for a few minutes. Go back in again. Put on a sweater. Take a nap.

This kind of time is not wasted. Now that we have smartphones that allow work and the world to dog us wherever we go, it might be more important than ever.

I subscribe thoroughly to its worth, and I’m already looking forward to drinking a bunch of wine and hoisting a test pattern for at least a couple of hours over Thanksgiving break.

Join me, won’t you?

(Not literally. You’ll have to find another room.)

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For almost 35 years — from the end of the 1940s until the early ’80s — my grandpa bought Fords.

For whatever reason, he decided he liked them; and the ones he bought served him well enough to keep him happy. And so the Blumenaus were, for almost all of their residence on Hope Street, a Ford family.

I know of only one occasion during those years when my grandpa’s attention wavered. We’ll go down that road this week — which gives us the opportunity to look at some classic Sixties marketing materials, as well.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special "Mannequin" has.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special “Mannequin” has. Why, it’s the standard for the entire industry!

Throughout the ’60s, my grandpa bought a new mid-sized Ford Fairlane every four years, in the presidential inaugural years of 1961, 1965 and 1969.

(His loyal patronage was not enough to save the model, which was discontinued in 1970.)

The marketing brochures for these cars, as well as other Fords from the ’40s and ’50s, still live in a worn yellow envelope in my folks’ basement, somewhat the worse for wear after many years of my pawing.

There’s also one non-Ford brochure from the ’60s, which shows that my grandpa — at least once — was willing to be flexible and consider something new, rather than plunk down his bills for the latest shined-up version of the same model.

When he went off the ranch, he went in a big way. He left behind the other members of Detroit’s Big Three and turned to the industry’s scrappy fourth-place player, Rambler.

The 1965 Rambler "X-Ray" catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great '60s design.

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great ’60s design.

When my grandpa went car-shopping in ’65, the Rambler brand had only been a stand-alone marque for about eight years, having emerged from the survival-merger of Nash and Hudson in the mid-1950s.

The company with a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had managed to make significant waves in the industry, though.

It had pulled off the eternally difficult trick of convincing Americans to buy compact cars. It had positioned itself as more nimble and creative than the Big Three, adding features the bigger players didn’t have. And it had won Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award in 1963.

An example of we-do-it, they-don't from the '65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

An example of we-do-it, they-don’t from the ’65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

Indeed, by the time my grandpa noticed Rambler, its best days might have been behind it.

Wikipedia suggests the company enjoyed its glory years under the corporate presidency of George W. Romney, and after Romney left to run for governor of Michigan in 1962, subsequent chief executives found the going tougher and tougher. (How might America’s automotive and political worlds be different today if George Romney had stayed in the auto business?)

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog plays on the company’s established giant-killer image, comparing Rambler autos to their big-name competitors. Not surprisingly, all the comparisons — from turning radius, to cargo space, to fuel economy, to reliability — come out in Rambler’s favor.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

Several pages of the catalog stack up Rambler models against their competitors in different size classes. Thoughtfully, Rambler put its Classic mid-size model on the same page as the Fairlane, so my grandpa could size them both up at a glance.

In retrospect, it doesn’t look like much of a choice. Both cars are plain and rather boxy, and would be difficult to tell apart at a distance. Still, I imagine my grandpa spent at least a couple minutes looking at this page.

Head to head.

Head to head. The adjoining page featured the Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Belvidere and Dodge Coronet.

A few other pages of the catalog showed my grandpa looking behind the hype and writing down questions about key features.

I didn’t think that many people cared about seat belts then, but the note on this page suggests it mattered to him:


“SEAT BELTS?” (Clearly the lack of headrests didn’t bother him, but the potential lack of seat belts did.)

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

I have to hand it to the forgotten marketing geniuses at Rambler: After reading the X-Ray catalog, I was ready to go out and plunk down my own money on a Rambler. They sold the hungry, quality-driven, thinking-man’s-choice, underdog image pretty well.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

Unfortunately, as I said 600 words ago, they couldn’t convince my grandpa. When the time came to make a decision, he turned his back on the little guys and stayed loyal to Ford.

This in and of itself was not life-changing to anybody. But repeat it a couple hundred thousand times, and it helps explain why Rambler and its successor brand, AMC, couldn’t last in the long term. Window-shopping doesn’t bring in any money, and Rambler/AMC didn’t get enough Americans to sign on the dotted line.

A shame: A ’65 Rambler Classic like this one — shown in its X-Ray glamour shot — might have looked nice in old family scrapbook photos.


Bonus multimedia content: Check out this ad, not for Ramblers, but for the X-Ray catalog.

Or, if you want to see a ’65 Rambler Classic in action:

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

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

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

The first page ...

The first page …

... and the last.

… and the last.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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