Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why I love Boston - Part 1

Although not written yet, I can tell this is going to be a three part blog.  I have loved the city of Boston since I was a small boy, but through each phase of my life, I found more or different things to love about it, so I am going to break this down and write a blog about each time period, Enjoy.  

    My mother grew up in Southie.  Her last house was on K street in South Boston, just down the street from the L street Brownie's Bathhouse.  They take their annual dip in Boston Harbor (pronounced Ha-Bah if you are a native), to promote their club, which is the 2nd oldest swimming club in the country.  That's one of the many draws to Boston for me, its rich and longstanding history. At that time the bathhouse was all male and swimming was clothing optional.  They had a fence that wrapped around
the property and then went all the way to the ocean for privacy.  One of
L street bathhouse
great family stories from that time, was the one of my brothers convincing my sister Meter Maid to look over the fence to see the "whale" there.  She did look over, but she did not see a whale.  My history with Boston, as I recall it, started in the early 70's.  My Grammie and Grandfather still lived in that house on K street, and we went to visit often.  It was a strange place to visit considering the small town that I was coming from.  The houses all touched each other, there were small patches called lawns, and the streets were packed with cars.  There weren't porches, there were stoops. I couldn't even order a soda or a pop at the local corner store,  I had to remember to ask for a tonic. At first it was a strange and sometimes scary place.  The more I went, however, the more I felt like a part of that neighborhood.  I fondly remember my Grandfather keeping vigil at his window and watching the neighborhood like we watch TV.  The corner grocer even got to recognize me as one of Grammie Mascal's grand-kids when I visited. It took almost a day for the drive to Boston back then, but after we arrived the activity never stopped.  We always went walking around the neighborhood first to see what had changed.  Stores opened and closed, houses had been remodeled, and there were always construction cranes putting up new buildings, something I didn't see at home. There was a variety store around the corner that was a frequent haunt.  I had my other favorite places back then, and I had to visit them to make sure they stayed the same.

     Every summer trip we took included a stop at Castle Island. For me it meant 3 things, plane watching, Fort Independence and great food at Sullivans.  We would lay on the grass and the planes from Logan would pass over our heads, and they seemed close enough to touch.  We'd spend hours touring Fort Independence and peering through the cannon mounts to aim our pretend cannons, and at some point we'd get hot dogs or fried foods from Sullivans.  I never got hot dogs, we had those at home.
I had found these things called fried clams, so I always got those.  They were either fresh strips or whole bellies, done in a light clam batter and fried until golden.  They served them in paper cups back then they tasted like heaven to me.  I would go back home and try to order them at restaurants, but no one near me had anything except the small breaded clams, that tasted like rubber bands. Some foods are unique to certain places and for me fresh whole bellies are unique to New England. I rarely miss a meal of these when I am in Boston.  I can't get to Sullivans as often but the Legal Seafood at Logan has some good ones too.  If you go there, say hi to my bartender friend Sully (I think his last name is Sullivan too and this is his nickname)  and tell him Bill the taco guy sent you. 

     After word had spread that the Yargers were in town, our cousins would start popping by.  Some were close to my age, but most of them were a few years older and they were a mixed bag of characters.  One of the families was comprised of tough and street wise kids, and they and my older siblings would roam Boston and see what mischief they could get into. I think you had to be tough in Boston in those days just to survive. I'll paint the picture of Boston a little more clearly for you from that time.  One of the years I recall they had just started mandatory busing of the kids between schools.  Southie was primarily made up of white kids and some of them got bussed to Roxbury and some blacks got bussed into Southie.  It was not a good plan, especially when decided upon quickly, and forced down the throats of the residents.  Nobody seemed to like the plan except for the courts, and racism reared it's ugly head a time or two.  I think a lot of people got cast as racists that year when in actuality they just didn't like the change and wanted their kids to go to school in the neighborhood like they used to.  It was kind of the point of moving to a neighborhood to begin with, and historically the people in Boston don't like to be told what to do without having a voice.  You remember the Tea Party right?   I do remember seeing some racist graffiti including some that said "Bus them back to Africa" It was a tumultuous time.  

Boston's Combat Zone circa 1990
 Boston even had an area that they dubbed the "Combat Zone" that was more dangerous and rife with prostitution and all things seedy.  If we had to go near there, we would go quickly through it to avoid the inevitable trouble that would follow you from there.We could get in enough trouble without even getting near the Combat Zone, mostly due to my cousins.  I'm not going to name the family or even nickname them, because frankly they still scare me a little and there are like 9 of them.  On one visit, we saw the father of the clan and he was taped up fully around his chest with gauze and bandages.  A burglar had broken into the house and stabbed my Uncle several times.  This awoke his boys and they chased the burglar out of the 3rd floor window by beating him with baseball bats (I'm not sure any of them even played, they just had bats, or at least that was how I saw it).  The burglar was more injured than my uncle by the time he leaped from that window.  They were a force to be reckoned with.  I got to hang with them a few times, once riding mini bikes on a baseball diamond, that I was sure was Fenway (after all that was the only baseball park I had heard of in Boston).  Even hanging with some of them on K Street got dicey sometimes.  I remember one night when my brother Redface and I were hanging with one of my cousins, I'll call her "Roberta", and a bunch of kids (gang) came by.  Redface and I retreated to the shadows of the house in the driveway (just wide enough for the pale blue Volkswagen Beetle to fit in), while she full on heckled them.  I am glad that they kept on walking, because to this day I don't know if the rules of chivalry apply to loud, trouble-making girl cousins, or not. I do have an instinct for survival after all.  I fared better when we visited my other cousins nearby.

     Some lived in Quincy and I remember camping in that yard a time or two.  Once we broke in because we got there early (Now, who are the hoodlum cousins?).  It was quieter there and we could sit in an actual yard and drink our tonics.  A playground was down the street and was easily walkable (even by my one sister's standards). We could spend a whole day just playing PIG and HORSE (although the spelling of HORSE was vastly different back in the Combat Zone).  We stayed there a few times, which is probably why that Aunt got nicknamed my father's "girlfriend".  The rest of my early memories of Boston I can't attribute to any certain relatives or places.  I remember getting Chinese take out from an authentic Chinese restaurant, they hadn't come to Canandaigua yet.  I remember picnics on lawns and tours of the city in cars.  I remember a bunch of us swimming in a pool with dragonflies nearby.  We called them "Darning Needles" back then, and the rumor was, if you swore they would sew your lips shut.  I didn't fall for that because, well, I had met all my cousins and none of them had their mouths sewn shut.  Not even "Roberta". 

I think I'll end Part 1 here and let my family fill in the blanks with their comments. If you are not mentioned here chalk it up to my aging and not you not being memorable. The best parts of Boston are yet to come, and yes even some beer relates. 


cdyarger said...

Ha-Ha!!! I can't wait for parts II and III!!!! So funny!

Anonymous said...

It's funny to think you were afraid of the "Southie Cousins".. I always thought they were a blast!! Love Sullies!! I bring my little one there now..

Dolly said...

I can't wait for Part II brought back so many memories of your family when you would come and visit. Ask Curley (Rob) about one of his visits to the city. Next time in Boston give us a call to make some more memories of the family.

Anonymous said...

Love your stories!! Your cousin hung out with the boys so she had to be tough. Guess who she hung out with when you came to town.

Joel T Johnson said...

Great! Looking forward to parts II and III! We used to visit our cousins in Cambridge when I was a kid. Not as colorful as Southie, but like you, my cousins were a lot more street wise than us country kids.

Reggie Wharity said...

I loved going to Boston, and still do! The differences between the cousins is something that bonds us like glue, just like it did for our mother and her sisters. Often when we left to come home from our visits, my mother would once again get her "Boston" accent back. There is nothing more important than family, no matter how far away they are! And Bill, my memory of the bath house and looking over the fence with Meter Maid, there were many BEACHED WHALES!! Men that should never be nude :)

Anonymous said...

That's a great pic of the Combat Zone as it looks completely different today. But given the mid to late '80s cars in the picture, it's definitely not circa 1975, probably closer to 1990.