People often ask me how I can think of something to write about twice a week. I tell them that there is so much going on in life that I am never at a loss.
Today, though, it is not that I can’t find a topic for a column. My problem is that I want to write about something, but don’t know how.
I feel an affinity to Boston, having grown up in one of its western suburbs, Framingham. As kids we loved to go into “town” with my father, who for a while worked for the Massachusetts Department of Education. He shortly thereafter went back to teaching at Framingham State, the country’s first Normal School.
It was a treat for us to be allowed to take the train into Boston with Dad. I really can’t remember why he took us. This was well before “Take Your Daughter to Work” became a thing to do. There we would be, though, on the train, surrounded by men reading newspapers, their faces obscured by the papers. They all wore suits, shiny shoes, and had hats that they put on the rack above their seats.
At Dad’s office, we were kept busy collating papers and stapling them together. Sometimes they were exams, sometimes reports — nothing very interesting to us.
The best part of the day was lunch, when we took another train a short way to Joe Beckwith’s hardware store. Joe was one of my dad’s best friends. They met in the service in World War II. Bowler (my dad), Beckwith, and Ben Beaulieu — all Bs — met during training, and looked each other up again after the war was over. They and their wives remained lifelong friends.
Joe Beckwith took over his family’s Boston hardware store, but his heart wasn’t in it. He later became an English teacher, a much more apt profession for him, but not so much fun for us.
In Boston for lunch, we would pick up Joe at the store and walk under the elevated tracks either to a deli, which was my favorite (so many choices!), or to Jacob Wirth’s restaurant, a favorite of Joe and my dad. It was an old-fashioned place, all dark wood. There were only male waiters, with long white aprons and napkins over their arms and (it seemed to me) they all had big mustaches. The food was German, and always happened to come with beer.
We loved Joe because he laughed a lot, and had a booming, infectious laugh. Much later in our lives, my sister acted as his caretaker. She told us he always said he wanted to live long enough to see the Red Sox get to the World Series, which they did in 2004, the year Joe died.
During my high school years, friends and I took frequent trips into town to shop, go to museums, to plays, to coffee houses. (That’s where I first saw Bob Dylan, before he became famous!) Boston was a visitor-friendly place. A walk on Boston Commons to see the swan boats and the gardens was safe. Visits to historical sites were easy and safe (with the exception of the Bunker Hill Monument, which always seemed slummy back then).
It was a great place to grow up.
That’s why seeing the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the panic, the carnage, was so horrible. Then today, seeing images of Boston closed down while one of the suspected bombers was being sought, it felt other-worldly. I had never seen the streets of Boston empty.
So you see, I wanted to write about the bombings, the suspects, the unfathomable reason people would bomb their fellow citizens. But it’s just too much to digest. All I can think of is Boston before this tragedy happened, and wonder if it will ever become again what it was.