As I said in my previous post, we took the opportunity to explore some local campuses while Tara and I visited Massachusetts. Friday morning we went to work with M and thus were able to explore the city site of UMass Boston, which we agreed was our favourite of the trip. The student body was diverse and humming with life. The atmosphere was welcoming and comfortable.
We walked to the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum from there. I sat in a sunbeam in the foyer and got our itinerary a little more organized while Tara explored and was subsequently captured by an octogenarian who gave a personal 15 minute tour. From the brochure: “The library’s archives include more than 8.4 million pages of the personal, congressional, and presidential papers of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It also houses the papers of Robert F. Kennedy and more than 300 other individuals who were associated with the Kennedy Administration or mid-20th Century American history.” There are also photographs, audio recordings, printed materials and film.
Soon R showed up and insisted on taking T to the Harvard campus, which he knew from having worked there a few years previous. Tara repeated interest in West Coast schools and not East Coast schools, but my friend revealed his ulterior motive: “Yes, but if you go to school here, we get your mother. I have to try.”
We made a quick trip through Harvard Square, which is the neighborhood surrounding the old campus. We walked through the campus itself, which was lovely in the waning Fall colours. Those historic brick buildings are gorgeous in any season.
Then we hit Rte 2 and went out west to see my beloved E and her family. When I went to school here, I lived out in Fitchburg and rode the commuter train to campus. It was the closest I could be to town and afford a house. Ever the clever opportunist, I used the situation to my advantage and did my Masters Thesis about negotiating fear among strangers on commuter rail trains. The one hour and ten minute ride one way provided lots of captive subjects to interview.
When we arrived in Fitchburg we had requests: Tara wanted to stop at Dunkin Donuts (they don’t exist in the West), and I wanted to stop at the old Halloween store. Not because of the season – that was merely a fabulous coincidence – but for the building itself, as you will see. At the donut shop, the staff were in costumes, and a nun greeted us as we walked in. “Hello! Can I take your confession?” Little did she know, R has his own congregation in Carlisle, and was in the act of pointing out to her that nuns don’t take confession, when she acknowledged it herself. And then she fed us donuts, so for the next ten minutes we really didn’t care anymore about job descriptions in Catholicism.
To our disappointment, the Halloween Store has gone out of business. However, it did not dim our enthusiasm for long, because Tara and I promptly marched around back. This is why:
Years ago I stumbled around the corner onto one of the artists at work. I said that I periodically took photos of the work (since it’s always changing) and asked what he thought of that. He was pleased to have my appreciation, and didn’t mind the photos. He wouldn’t give me his name, and said there were three artists (this was in 2007) who had permission from the building owner to paint back there. He pointed out the signatures of the different artists on their different work, and then pointed out his own tag. He joked about how expensive it was to buy paint, about running from the cops now and then, and then he told me it is serious business. It is Art, and not vandalism, and with a purpose. On that day a freshly painted VT was up there, commemorating the tragedy of Virginia Tech that spring.
At long last we made our way up into the hills of Fitchburg (a place that brags about being the second hilliest city in the nation, compared to San Francisco), and my girlfriend E. We waved goodbye to R and joined the family as they got their boys ready to go trick or treating. The Lego Movie was big in their household this year, so the oldest went as Vitruvius, and the youngest went as Micromanager. They were awesome. And lest you think that my friends were the only amazingly creative and capable parents out there assisting kids with homemade costumes, let me set the record straight. These were some of the best I’ve ever seen. There was a six-foot Olaf (from the movie Frozen) obviously made by the 10-year old who wore it, a flying pig with pig hind quarters jutting out behind the girl, with wings and fiber optic tail. There was – I kid you not – a child dressed as one of those arcade games where you drop the claw and get a stuffed animal. The boy was inside the clear “glass” part, with a claw hanging down, and stuffed critters around his waist. One girl went as “bubbles.” She wore a pale leotard and tights and cap, and was covered from head to knees in clear balloons, looking for all the world like a clump of bubbles from the bath. Obviously there were lots and lots of Elsas (Frozen), but that goes without saying. I would describe more, but I can’t remember them all.
We went to the city of Ashburnham to trick or treat. It was from right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Hundred year old homes with big porches and families sitting outside to see the trick or treaters. Beer in one hand, bucket of candy in the other. There were red, gold, orange, and yellow leaves cascading down onto us and the streets, and Tara and I kicked through piles of leaves with glee! Up and down the hills in the frosty air, we saw parents calling hello to each other, kids squealing with delight when they recognized a classmate. So much perfect fun.
But that was not the end. Next we found our friend S and her kids, and piled into our cars and went to her house. We had pizza and hummus with carrots. The boys sprawled on the floor and watched Neverending Story, Tara went upstairs to catch up with a long-missed friend, and the grown-ups sat and talked and laughed and emptied the wine bottles. If I was moving to this town for the first time again, I would feel so lucky to meet these exact same people. Oh, how I love them.
Finally the night was over, and for the second night my friends gave up their own bed to sleep on the floor while Tara and I luxuriated. I can’t understand why I haven’t taken advantage of this arrangement sooner! Friends of mine across the country: be on alert.