October 1993

It’s October 1993. Our son Ben is working in Boston during a gap year between college and medical school. Stephen, my husband, and I, intending to check out Ben’s apartment and see how he’s doing,  pack our bags and visit him.  In the fall, Boston charms with its historic buildings and sites oozing early American history—and its foliage. We go to Concord and walk around Walden Pond with Ben’s then girlfriend and her father, lateral descendants of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I can testify that the experience is transcendent. Strolling along wooded paths, we admire leaves changing colors—mostly golden dotted with red, a King Midas fantasy.

The city itself has the stronger draw for us, however. We explore the North End and savor the flavors and aromas distinguishing restaurants and cafes, like Il Saraceno, Caffe Vittoria, and Mike’s Bakery, where President Clinton made one of his famous eating stops while jogging. We love these stubbornly ethnic streets where Italian is the first language you hear, where men gather in two’s and three’s to pass the news and comment on the state of everything, and where, sadly, older women in worn cloth coats plod along the narrow sidewalks with plastic shopping bags in each hand, their shoulders drooping under the weight of daily purchases.

The North End is the oldest part of Boston proper before the land was filled in to join the north and south banks of the Charles River. Famous patriots lived there at sometime in their lives, like Adams, Franklin, and  Paul Revere, aka Rivoire. Now it’s home to another group of immigrants.

On another day during our stay, we visit the Old North Church. A tourist group is gathering outside it, so we join them, find a box pew, and listen to the rector tell the church’s story. He asks who held the “one-if-by-land-and-two-if-by-sea” lanterns in the belfry for those awaiting a signal across the bay in Charlestown. Who knew it was Robert Newman, the sexton and Captain John Pulling?[1]

After the rector’s talk, we walk out to the park behind the church, through memorabilia of past patriots and war casualties, to the Protestant church’s competition, one of the oldest Catholic churches and, incidentally, as architecturally spare and sparsely adorned as the Protestant version. From there we go to Paul Revere’s house and The Old Granary Burial Ground for more Revere-revering.

We end our visit, filled throughout our stay with many good meals, coffee stops, and site-seeing, by lunching in Harvard Square, a nostalgic pause for Stephen and me as we watch our son experience the same settings we enjoyed the first two years of our marriage. Ben’s clean, structurally sound apartment, his first independent home after college, is close to his job; that reassures us, but we are even more delighted he has this year to enjoy Boston’s cultural riches and vibrancy.

Revised  June 24, 2019 from a journal entry by Susan Bass Marcus

[1] “One, if by land, and two, if by sea” phrase was coined by the American poet, Henry W. Longfellow in his poem, Paul Revere’s Ride. It was a reference to the secret signal orchestrated by Revere during his historic ride from Boston to Concord on the verge of American Revolutionary War. The signal was meant to alert patriots about the route the British troops chose to advance to Concord…and Captain John Pulling carried two lanterns to the steeple of the church while Thomas Bernard kept the watch outside on the street. The two lanterns were meant as the message that the British forces left from Boston Common, which then bordered the Charles River, and rowed over to Cambridge.—Paul Revere Heritage Project.


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