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Spanish Views from a Small Town

Thoughts about life in a small Spanish town from a transplanted American, commenting on things that catch my attention.

Not So Fast, 36 & 37. If I Could Visit Again...
15 August 2021 @ 17:07

A few days ago, I saw on a Facebook page about Boston, that they were asking where readers would go if they had twenty-four hours in Boston. Is it possible to choose?

I would go to my old haunts in Jamaica Plain. The triple decker where we used to live. I've seen pictures of it on Google Earth, and the cherry tree is gone. They've re-done the front porches, and the bushes and roses are gone. It looks tattered now. Or it did, when Google sent its car around. 

There are trees lining the street, now, to protect some of the houses from the afternoon glare. I would go down the street to the old Seaver School, where I attended kindergarten. It's long been converted to condominiums. I still remember the class I was in, with books lining one wall, desks and small chairs, an emergency exit door with glass panes, where the play kitchen was set up. I envied the play kitchen, but a group of friends had a monopoly on it, and would only sometimes let me, the outsider, play, if I asked nicely. I had more fun with two boys who became my friends. We would play cops and robbers during free play time. Once, when Mrs. Linero opened the chest where she kept beautiful wooden blocks, we were told to form groups and make our own creations with them. The two boys and I decided to make a city, laying out pavements and streets by laying blocks out flat, and standing them to create buildings. 

After that visit, I would walk up the street behind my back yard to reach the Francis Parkman School, which now seems to be called the Boston Teachers' Union Pilot School. I attended first and second grades here. I still remember kind Mrs. Matthews, and the stern yet loving Mrs. Lodge. I remember a girl I admired, Celeste. She was a bit like a mother hen to me, and I loved how calm and collected she was, and her pretty caftan blouses (it was the 70's, after all). Then, I was accepted at Saint Andrew's, and I went there until sixth grade. 

Saint Andrew's was our parish, just kitty corner from the Parkman School. I remember the church, cool and cavernous. My First Communion was there, along with the entire second grade class of the parochial school. Now, it's the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Sanctuary. I don't know if they still operate the school building behind the church. There was also a building that housed the nuns that helped run the school, the Sisters of Charity. The school, and the parish, was closed in 2005. When my daughter and I visited in June of that year, I took her to see the school, and learned of its closing from Sister Mary, the last nun still living in the convent, and the first grade teacher for many years. After one of the parish priests had been convicted of child molestation in the years I attended, and been lynched in jail, back in the 1990's, parents weren't too keen on sending their children there. 

My visit would continue down Walk Hill Street back toward my street. I would cross at the corner where we would go on Sunday mornings to pick up a dozen doughnuts at Dunkin' Donuts. On the other side of the street, the tracks of the commuter rail ran, coming down from Forest Hills Station down the street. But, here, there was (I hope there still is) a wooden pedestrian bridge, which my mother and I would cross to get to Washington Street. There, at the stop in front of Wellesmere Monuments, down the street from Puritan Ice Cream, we would catch one of the many buses that passed through Roslindale Square.

We would go there on Saturday mornings to go to the bank. If my father didn't work, he would drive. If he did work, my mother and I would go on the bus. At the Square, we would go to the bank, to Sullivan's Pharmacy if my mother needed a refill, and maybe a visit to Kresgee's department store. The store where I bought my school uniform was there, on that street. Every year, my mother would take me to buy new shoes. The uniform would only be replaced if I really needed a new one or if the rules changed, because my mother believed in buying clothes to grow into them. She would pull up the hems at home, and, if I grew, then she would take them down during the year. There was no way I would have escaped hand-me-downs if I had had an elder sibling.

Some Saturdays we would visit the Roslindale branch of the Boston Public Library, where I first got a library card. Any book I would take out, I would start to read while waiting at the bus stop to go back home. Rare would be the day I wouldn't read forty pages in that piece of time.

On to Forest Hills station, and the Orange Line train into town. I still remember the rickety el, with the sharp, screeching, slow curves around Dudley Station. I loved to kneel on the seat and look at the passing attics, and the street below. As the train neared the South End, after Dover Street, I would see how the train would lower itself to street level, and then plunge into a loud blackness of the underground tunnel. Only then would I sit correctly on the seat, with nothing to see outside. When the new, below street level tracks were built, and the elevated tracks taken down at the end of the 1980's, travelling on the train was no longer magical. 

In town, I would visit the shopping area around Washington Street. I remember staring at E.B. Horn's window, marvelling at the jewellery sparkling in the lights, each piece with its price in big, bold numbers. I loved visiting Jordan Marsh and Filene's, especially Filene's Basement, which looked like it hadn't changed since twenty years before I was born. Crowds of people pawing everything, shoving merchandise aside, trying to find the perfect piece at the perfect discount. Because the Basement was a knockdown area. Forget outlets, this was the real deal. Merchandise that wasn't sold on the upper floors was taken to the Basement and sold there at a discount. The longer it stayed in the Basement, the bigger the discount, until it was finally taken away and either donated or thrown out. Unfortunately, both Jordan Marsh and Filene's are gone.

From there, I would probably go past the Old State House, past the new, atrocious City Hall and Government Center, to Haymarket, on a Saturday morning. When we visited in 2005, it was already missing part of its enchantment. When I was a child, there were also fish vendors, with their wares on old carts, stuffed with ice. There were fruits and vegetables of all kinds, and the market wrapped itself around the block, hampering cars that wanted to join the Southeast Expressway. There were butcher's shops along the street, where I would follow my mother, into the musky smelling interiors, dried blood on the counters, and a few flies finding the place. That never bothered me. There was also a pizza place, run by Portuguese immigrants, where my mother would sometimes buy me a slice, after watching the cook twirl the dough into a flat circle. I also remember coolers of ice filled with cans of tonics, root beer, Coke, ginger ale for sale on summer mornings. 

When my father was free on Saturdays, we would take the car into town, and he would park in the parking lot beneath the Expressway. There was a pedestrian alleyway that wound through the parking lot, connecting Haymarket with the North End. My mother and I would also visit shops there, and my 24 hours would continue into there.

We lived at Hanover Avenue, which, ironically, was a bit of an alley off Hanover Street, that connected with North Street, for my first five years. I remember going to the Green Cross Pharmacy nearby, with my father, where he would buy me a square of Cadbury chocolate, preferably with raisins and nuts. I also remember playing around the statue of Paul Revere, in a park there. There was a clinic nearby, where I got my obligatory shots as a child. With one shot, I remember some kind of marking on my skin, that I claimed was a tattoo, and I told my mother I wanted one, just like some of the men had. Little did I know then, that I would get one, one day. 

And Mike's Pastry can't not be visited. From the beginning, every birthday cake that darkened our threshold, both when we lived in the North End, and when we lived in Jamaica Plain, came from Mike's Pastry. We so missed their rum-soaked cake, that the first year we were here, we asked a local bakery if they could also soak a cake we ordered with rum. But Mike must have had a secret ingredient, because it simply didn't taste the same. 

The rest of the twenty-four hours, if any were left, I would spend wandering all over the place, from Beacon Hill, to the Common, to the wharves, to Back Bay, to my old alma mater, Boston Latin School, to the medical area, to the rest of Jamaica Plain, down to Dedham Mall, where we spent a lot of Sundays, and around the Jamaica Pond area, and the Arboretum, where we also went for walks in the nice weather. And, even so, there are many more streets and neighborhoods that would beckon to me to be remembered, some for past's sake, others for their own sake. Twenty-four hours in Boston is like twenty-four hours in Paris; impossible. 

Life continues, full of nostalgia.



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