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Posts Tagged ‘stamford’

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my grandfather’s purchase of his first car, a brand-new 1949 Ford Fordor sedan.

I’m gonna duck back to that for a couple more seconds, to share another memento that shows what the big day meant to my grandpa.

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My dad was kind enough to scan this in from the family photo scrapbook my grandfather was keeping in the late ’40s.

The treatment given to the arrival of the new car was “bigger than anything else save for the arrival of Elaine and me,” my dad says.

(Regular readers here will recognize that my grandpa pulled out the explosion motif only for big occasions. He must truly have seen this as a major addition to the family. Did people in other countries get so excited about their cars, or was it just an American thing?)

It’s probably a trick of perspective, but the Fordor — touted in its own catalog as “a living room on wheels” and “a big car” — really doesn’t look that big to me, especially in the first of the two pictures.

I’m not going to go so far as to look up comparative wheelbase lengths, but the Fordor to my eyes looks almost … midsize. Maybe it’s a function of the car’s clean design. Or maybe you just had to be there.

All I know is, other cars that showed up in the Hope Street driveway over the years looked a whole lot bigger than that one.

Summer 1963: Imported from Detroit.

Oh, hi again, Dad.

Which leads into another Hope Street observation my dad made: You’ll notice the driveway in the 1949 pictures is pure grass, because no car had troubled it for any length of time.

When my dad got his first car — circa summer 1963, shown above — the back part of the driveway at Hope Street had been worn down to ruts. (The front section closest to the house and street was paved, but the back half never was.)

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July 1983. Behind me you can see the point where the pavement stopped and the ruts took over.

One last family note: You’ll see (especially if WordPress allows the photo to be expanded) that the first license plate number Connecticut bestowed on my grandpa was JR-932.

My grandpa saved all his license plates over the years, as well as the little punched-out metal tags that were placed on them as yearly registration markers. And when his grandson came along with an interest in cars and history, they got passed down.

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(I’m not sure this plate was actually used in 1956; I vaguely recall mixing and matching the metal tags off my grandpa’s old plates once when I was a kid.)

I enjoy the thought of my grandfather looking through a parking lot — outside work, or at his kids’ school, or at the commuter rail station — and his eyes lighting on JR 932, and his simultaneously feeling a small swell of pride and the comfortable recognition of, yup, that’s mine.

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No sooner does one member leave the extended family than another (bless her) joins it.

May’s a big month for weddings; and by and large, the men in my immediate family seem to favor it.

Not sure there’s any deep-seated reason for that. Maybe we all want to get things over with as soon as the weather’s favorable, and early enough that our summers stay free. Or maybe, generation after generation, some occult hand keeps our venues of choice free in May so we can each find an open date.

Anyway, my older brother is the latest to board the May train. By the time you read this, he will be two days married. I am flying out to San Francisco to be there for the big day, and am much looking forward to it. (The big day, not the flying.)

I’ve been on the same train a while myself. Two days after this post goes live, I will mark my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife and I were only a year out of college when we got married, and I suspect we chose our date so our friends who were still in school could come out and join us before they scattered for the summer.

My grandpa and grandma picked the first half of May as well, for reasons lost to history. They were married for almost 60 years.

This week’s calendar entry finds them at the same point in time I’m at now:

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May 3, 1961. I wonder where they went out to eat.

I would love to be able to tell you how to make a marriage last for 20 years, much less 60, but I am devoid of wisdom or vision. I just get up every morning and go to sleep every night and somehow the years go by.

(Of course, many of my readers have been married longer than I have and have no need for my advice. I’m just saying that I searched my soul and found nothing. It’s happened before.)

My brother and his wife invited their friends and siblings to share their thoughts on love and marriage — to email them to the celebrant for inclusion in the ceremony. My thoughts didn’t figure into it, because I couldn’t come up with any.

I briefly considered inventing a friend for Eric and sending in something absurdly flowery: “Eric’s friend Hassan says, ‘Love is like a welter of gleaming pearls, radiant in their brilliance. No, diamonds!'” But then I decided that pranking my brother’s wedding ceremony was probably a classless thing to do, so I kept my mouth shut. Except on my blog.

I dunno. Maybe there isn’t a fancy formula or mission statement that captures the soul of marriage. Maybe it’s different for everybody. Or maybe the secret is buried so deep in the stream of days and months that it’s hard to see.

At any rate, whatever it takes to keep two people happy together and pulling in the same direction, I hope my brother and his wife discover it together.

And I hope it only seems like months before they go out for their own 20th anniversary.

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It is Saturday, April 30, 1949. The Yanks are already in first; the Giants and Dodgers are not far back.

It’s a slow news day. There’s not much in regional papers except wire-service dispatches related to Communism and post-World War II Europe, and not particularly meaty dispatches at that. In one piquant news item, the wife of a G.I. shaves the head of her husband’s 18-year-old German girlfriend and douses her with acid.

The NATO defense alliance is roughly one month old. So is Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution is not being televised, but other things are: Arturo Toscanini has recently conducted Aida on NBC live from Rockefeller Center, while Milton Berle is three weeks away from landing on the cover of Time magazine. (Eugene Dennis, general secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S., is on this week’s cover.)

In New Canaan, Conn., a 38-year-old family man from nearby Stamford is registering himself as a firm supporter of capitalism. He’s signing papers, handing over checks, and achieving a core piece of the American dream.

His own wheels.

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As shown on the receipt below, this is the payment for license plates (“markers”), not for the full car.

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This was definitely my grandpa’s first new car; it may have been his first car of any kind. (You’ll note no mention of a used car on the receipt.)

Either way, I’m sure he was thrilled to take delivery.

For one thing, he had two young children, and he certainly wanted to move his family in safety and style.

For another, he’d been waiting for this car for a while. A handwritten sheet of his notes — yeah, that got saved too — suggests he’d put down a $100 deposit on his car two months before. I bet he spent plenty of time between February 5 and April 30 daydreaming about his new ride.

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Some time ago, I wrote a post wondering if any examples of my grandparents’ stationery still existed. The answer: Yes.

So what did he spend, and what did he drive away in?

$1,757 in 1949 money equals roughly $17,580 in today’s money, according to online inflation calculators. That’s more or less the MSRP for a brand-new Ford Focus sedan today. So, it’s good to know that the cost of a relatively low-frills family hauler bought straight off the lot maybe hasn’t gone up that much.

But, while today’s Ford Focus makes at least an attempt to be sporty, efficient and maneuverable, its 1949 equivalent proudly advertised itself as “a living room on wheels!”

Seriously, see for yourself:

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Ah, for the days when a car could be advertised as “as deep and comfortable as your sofa.”

It’s easy to jab at the styles of the past, but the Ford Fordor sedan (the coupe, inevitably, was called the Tudor) was actually a fairly exciting item in ’49. According to Wikipedia, the ’49 Ford line was the first all-new design introduced by the Big Three automakers after World War II.

Wiki goes so far as to say that the popular and attractive ’49 design saved the struggling company, and that 100,000 orders were taken on the cars’ first day of availability. I wonder if my grandpa’s order was among them.

Judging from his notes, he was torn between black, Midland Maroon and Sea Mist Green. He chose black. Based on a review of the paint chips, I would have picked the maroon, myself. But, it’s easy to jab at the styles of the past.

I also note that he sprung for a heater, but not for a radio. This is consistent with his later behavior: The car he drove 40 years later when I was in high school didn’t have a radio either. He liked music fine, but not while he was driving, apparently.

Unfortunately, he did not leave behind any notes on why he chose Ford over a number of other American automakers.

I’ve written many times about his loyalty to Fords, which continued until the early 1980s. That loyalty would have started here, in the spring of 1949, but I don’t know the reasons behind it. Maybe the brand-new style got him started as a customer and build quality kept him there.

Finally, I always enjoy Googling the landmarks of my grandpa’s time and seeing what’s going on there now.

You can’t buy a Ford at the intersection of Forest Street and Locust Avenue in New Canaan any more; but you can, if the New York Times is to be believed, dine quite nicely on brick-oven pizza and Italian nosh-plates.

An online search finds New Canaan Motor Sales carrying on into the early ’60s. I’m guessing the dealership changed its name at some point, but I don’t know what it became or how long it lasted.

(Back in the ’50s, New Canaan Motor Sales used to advertise at the Talmadge Hill commuter rail station in New Canaan — the next station up the line from Springdale, and a location my grandpa photographed some years later. Perhaps the auto ad along the platform in my grandpa’s photo is for some dealership descended from New Canaan Motor Sales. Alas, the photo gets no larger.)

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970.

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970. This seems like a good place to stop.

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A great person, and also a link to the Blumenaus of Hope Street, has passed.

So this week, we return to a time of loss and grief.

And, hopefully, solace.

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March 23-24 and 30-31, 1969.

My great-aunt Eleanor Kidd died April 1 in western Massachusetts. She was just about three months shy of 104 years old, and represented the last living relative of my grandparents’ generation.

She was a smart, funny, resilient lady who overcame adversity more than once and enjoyed the pleasures of long life and close family. (I won’t rewrite her obit, linked above, but suggest you check it out. It’s better reading than anything I’ve written in a long while.)

To explain her relationship to me in Hope Street terms, her sister Corine married my grandfather, the keeper of the calendars. And Great-Aunt El showed up on them from time to time over the years, while visiting or otherwise interacting with the Blumenaus of Hope Street.

She was also one-third of my family’s tightest birthday cluster: Hers was July 4, mine is July 5, and my cousin Brandon (the son of my Aunt Elaine) is July 6. This was not the sort of cluster you piece together by searching distant generations on a family tree: The three of us were all in the same room at least once or twice. This somehow escaped my grandfather’s notice, and he never took a photo with just the three of us; it was rather the sort of thing he would have thought of.

As an independent adult, I only spent a few days in her company. Not long after I was married, my wife and I (then living in Norfolk County, Mass.) went out to West Springfield one autumn weekend to visit Great-Aunt El and her family. I had a lovely time; the hospitality was warm and genuine; and it remains a regret that I did not stay in touch.

If you’ve been here a while, you might remember my post about Great-Aunt El on her 100th birthday … or the post I wrote about her husband, Bob Kidd, who died before I was born but whom I would have liked to meet.

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Reprinted from my earlier post just ’cause it’s such a great picture. Eleanor and Bob Kidd looking wicked happy at my parents’ wedding, July 1967.

Bob Kidd, El’s husband, died unexpectedly in early March 1969. The calendar entries posted above show a phone call to Springfield on March 23, and what appears to be a “long phone call to Springfield on March 30 or 31. (I wonder what “long” meant by Hope Street standards. Very few phone calls in the 15 surviving years of Hope Street calendars got that treatment.)

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what was going on. My Great-Aunt El was probably opening up to her sister in the aftermath of her loss, maybe talking about what she was going to do going forward to support her children … and my grandma was doing her best to comfort, reassure and support her as she started on a new path.

Or perhaps Great-Aunt El was talking about the mundanities of daily life — the kids’ grades, the spring thaw, the brakes on the car — as a way to think about anything other than her loss, and my grandma was providing an ear.

(Maybe my grandpa, too. The Blumenaus of Stamford and the Kidds of Springfield were close, and I know my grandpa felt the loss. He was perhaps not an enlightened/sensitive man as we define them in the 21st century, but he would have helped in any way he could recognize.)

I am not close enough to Great-Aunt El’s family to fill a similar role in their time of grief, decades later.

And, given the length and quality of her life, perhaps their grief is somewhat different in nature. Those who knew her best can treasure a life well-lived, instead of mourning a life cut short.

Still, my heart is with them, as my grandparents’ were with Great-Aunt El when she needed it. The loss of a remarkable person is the loss of a remarkable person, no matter how long you get to spend with them.

To her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, in all the places they’ve settled, I offer my condolences.

And to the memory of Great-Aunt El, I offer the preceding 740 words, and a tip of the hat.

Rest well.

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The basketball I care most about tends to take place outside of NCAA brackets.

Like the summer afternoon, back when I was maybe 10 or 12, when my group of friends decided to play hoops long-distance — with one team aiming for the basket at our house, and the other team aiming for the basket at a friend’s house around the corner.

(I’d love to say we went at it for hours; but the truth was that dribbling down the street wore us out fairly quickly, and we soon went back to talking about whatever we talked about when I was 10 or 12.)

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The approximate route of our basketball game.

The sport of the streets hasn’t much worked its way into the Hope Street narrative before. My grandpa, I think, was more into baseball.

But, I’m piqued by a certain calendar entry of my grandfather’s.

While the world’s basketball attention is drawn to the top college players, come back 54 years with me, to a drafty and probably empty middle-school gym. The rest of the world this week is watching Storrs, in the northeast “quiet corner” of Connecticut, but we’re going to the opposite corner of the state:

March 1, 1962.

March 1, 1962.

What we have here is a girls’ basketball game, pitting a team from Dolan Middle School — including my Aunt Elaine — against a team from a private school called Cherry Lawn. (Pitting? Cherry Lawn? I knock myself out.)

Aunt Elaine wasn’t an athletic pioneer in any real sense when she suited up in Dolan’s bloomer-inspired basketball uniforms. Girls and women had been playing sports in defined settings for many decades by 1962.

But, my perception is that girls’ sports didn’t get much in the way of support and acceptance before federal Title IX took effect, which happened roughly a decade after Aunt Elaine took the court against Cherry Lawn.

If anything, an interest in sports was a social black mark for girls, as my aunt confirms:

I can’t say I was particularly athletic but I liked playing basketball and made the team somehow. Being tall for my age probably helped. I had one friend on the team who was in the same boat, and the rest of the team members were what was known as ” jocks” or worse, which were not  favorable terms for girls at that time.

I also played in the annual badminton competitions in high school. I became quite good at that sport from playing nightly in the Blumenau backyard in the summers. However, people didn’t pay much attention to that competition either. Boys football and basketball were the attention-grabbers.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

Aunt Elaine playing badminton in the back yard at Hope Street, circa 1960.

The Cherry Lawn School yearbooks from that period of time are posted online, and I looked through them, hoping to find a shot of the Dolan-Cherry Lawn girls’ hoop game. But the only sports pictures in those yearbooks are football and boys’ basketball, confirming Aunt Elaine’s perceptions of the athletic pecking order.

(The Cherry Lawn School story, by the way, is an interesting trip. Cherry Lawn was an independent school that unfortunately fell by the wayside in the early ’70s — just when you’d think alternative-minded parents would be geared up to send their kids there. Check out the website linked above if that sounds interesting to you.)

Anyway, Aunt Elaine went on to say that no one turned out for her games, or for any girls’ games:

There were other girls’ teams in sports but I don’t remember much about them, because none of the girls teams were a big deal. I don’t remember your grandparents coming to any of the games, because the girls games were in the afternoon after school. I don’t know if anybody came to the games, except the teams!

With that in mind, I respect those girls who went out for sports — including basketball — back in the day.

Sports for girls and women are an everyday thing now, their benefits taken for granted, from gym workouts to marathons to the lowest starter-level soccer teams.

(Among the millions of women participating in sports: Aunt Elaine’s daughter Kara, a former high-school swimmer who runs, spins, lifts weights and plays ultimate frisbee to stay in shape and work off stress. Also making a name for themselves: The women’s hoop team at Aunt Elaine’s undergrad alma mater, who won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2007. And let’s not ignore the 14 girls on this year’s Dolan Middle School hoops team.)

I steal from Wiki here:

In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

We know that girls and women gain from their athletic experiences. But what we encourage and accept now, somebody had to stand up for in empty gyms and stake the first claims to.

So, three cheers to them. (The cheers they might have liked to have heard while they were actually playing.)

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