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Elisia’s exit reminded me of the old days when my group of friends rode the Fitchburg train together.

Boston is so close to my old life, when I lived in Fitchburg and rode the commuter train to school in Waltham. After exploring Boston for a day, the next day Will and I spent the whole day traveling old routes, walking old paths, gaining new perspectives on old vistas.

First we took Route 2 out to Fitchburg. I pointed out the spot where I was pulled over for speeding, and Massachusetts forgot to ask me to pay the ticket for FIVE YEARS. I became disproportionately excited to see the Exit 32 sign to Leominster. When I lived out here I rode the train to school every school day for three years. I got on the same train at the same time every morning, and rode into the city with all the same people. We got to know each other. I even did my Masters Thesis on how fear and feelings of safety are managed on the commuter rail train when packed in there with strangers. My very best friend at that time was Elisia, who lived in Leominster. She has a lovely English accent and we were all delighted the day she told us the highway exit to her home was number 32. We made her say it a dozen times. We giggled with glee and found opportunities to ask about Exit 32 (prounced in Lissy’s English accent) whenever we could, from then on.

A 2005 photo of the house when I lived there.

What it looks like now. Not much change. A new fence, solar panels, a bigger tree, and neglected garden and lawn.

Our first stop was my old house. The old neighborhood looked almost exactly the same except that the trees along the street were larger. The landscaping around my old house looked ratty and unkempt, and there was a For Sale sign out front. I was sad that none of the trees or lilac bushes I had planted had survived. There was a new fence in the back yard and solar panels. I recalled shoveling snow from that driveway so many times.

We drove around the town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. It has tiny pockets of commerce scattered around the outskirts leaving the center almost desolate. No people walking, and many empty buildings. When pawn shops and consignment shops for children’s clothes are on main street, it’s a sign that people are shopping somewhere else. My two favourite sightings from my past were the library, and of course the train station. It’s a sad town and I felt validated for never liking it while I lived there.

Walden Pond, from the end where the train passes close by.

We returned to Route 2 toward Boston and stopped at Walden Pond, made famous in Henry David Thoreau’s book. While traveling to school I had looked out the train windows at the pond, twice a day, day in and day out for more than a year before I realized which pond it was. Then I read Walden again, despite not liking it the first time I read it, and realized that Thoreau even mentions the train.

Will in the pond. It was a hot day and the cool water felt good on our feet.

I splashed around, getting water on my head and back, and cooling off. {photo by Will Murray}

The pond today is a park, visited by nearly 500,000 people a year. It is open to swimming, fishing, and boating, and is surrounded by trails. Though Thoreau kept fit by jogging around the lake every day, visitors who want to emulate his experience are asked not to run on the trail that follows the shore, but to keep their running activity to the trails farther away.

Will and I explored the brand new beautiful visitor’s center, and then made our way to the pond. The pond is always more serenely beautiful than I expect, for so famous a tourist destination. Today it is protected land, and I get the sense that it is more forested and more lush than when Thoreau lived there. There are many easy trails to follow and we followed them. On the far side of the pond, Thoreau’s cabin no longer exists, but there are granite stones set to show where it used to be. Nearby is a large mound of rocks left by people in remembrance. He wasn’t living there at his death, but close friends the Alcotts (including the famous author Louisa May) laid the first stones at the site after his death. It began a tradition.

The site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin. You can see the pile of rocks to the left.

A large pile of stones carried by admirers from around the world. Many contain messages from those who left them.

As we prepared to leave, I gave the all-day parking pass that we had purchased to the next car that pulled in to the lot. It was a small car packed with kids that looked around the age of 20, and they were so grateful for the pass. I try to do this whenever I can, handing over a parking pass when there is still time left on it. I think having to pay to park a car is annoying, so I cheat the system. I’m such a law-breaker rebel!!

Next we went to the campus of Brandeis University, where I received my BA and MA in 2007. It was 6pm and nearly empty of people. I was surprised to find every door unlocked. We wandered across the entire campus and you can bet I marched us right inside every building I wanted to explore.

First of all we went into the art building. My first two years at school I knew the Art building because of my job. I modeled for the painting classes. It was good money ($10 an hour – the highest pay available to a student on campus) for very little work. I am not shy about my body and found it interesting and challenging to find new creative poses and then to hold perfectly still. The students were amazingly kind and grateful, and always let me watch them work during breaks. Finally I had completed enough required courses that I had room for an elective, and I took a beginning oil class. The classroom was just as I remembered it, except for a new ugly ducting tube on the ceiling.

Art room Spring 2019.

Painting of art room. Fall 2006.

We walked through the Student Union building where I had talked with Anita Hill the year before she became a professor there, and where I had heard Thomas Friedman tell us why the World Is Flat. (At the University I also heard lectures by Howard Zinn, Azra Nomani, and President Jimmy Carter – it was a good place to hear people.) Up the hill we passed the library with floors that sink down instead of rise above ground level. We climbed the stairs at the Brown Social Science Center, up to the Anthropology Department. It’s still an old, outdated building, but filled with many happy memories. The halls smelled the same. Many of the professors I knew are still there, I could see, from bios posted on a bulletin board. I wrote a note on a paper towel from the bathroom and left it for Laurel, the woman in the office who keeps everything running. I said “Hi, I miss you all.”

We walked up all the steps of the Rabb Graduate Center and on up the hill to the Mandel Quad, where I took an Introduction to Judaism class once I realized I was attending a Jewish-centric school. Ha! Can you believe I had no idea until I arrived on campus? I’m so silly. Finally we went over to my other favourite building on campus: the Mandel Center where I took most of my classes for conflict resolution, mediation and peace building. It’s my favourite because that is where I met two of my best friends in all the world, Mads and Romain, who were also in the conflict resolution program.

This statue of Louis Brandeis is hard to resist. I wanted to show him more stuff, but he was focused on making the world a better place.

It began to rain as we walked back down the long hill. I told Will things like, “if you had a class at the Art building, then your next class was up here at Rabb, or the Mandel Center, you would just be late. That’s all there is to it.” I remembered having a law class at the top of the hill, then auditing a society & economy class with Robert Reich (well-known American economist and political commentator) down at the Slosberg Music Hall at the bottom of the hill. I was always late, and the packed theatre room never had seating available, so I sat on the floor with the other students who couldn’t arrive early.

Will and I were soaked through when we found our car at the bottom of the hill. I had spent a week with Will 24/7 and I am an introvert and used to living alone. Prior to the trip we had scheduled in two days away from each other. I drove him to the train station and he caught a train home to Providence. I drove to a random hotel that I had chosen because it was the cheapest in the whole Boston area, ha ha. I planned to visit with friends for two days and then go meet Will in Rhode Island for the final week.

High Rock Tower in Lynn, Massachusetts.

On our way out of Salem we made a fun stop in Lynn, Massachusetts, to climb up the hill at High Rock Tower Park. The tower is tucked into a densely populated residential area, and the approach that we used has no parking area (we found street parking). There are no informational or directional signs, so when we found it, then hiked up the hill to see it, I felt like we had discovered something special.

This approximately 5-acre piece of land has held an observation tower since the 1840s. The original tower was burned down in 1865. The current tower is 107 feet high and was built of granite in 1904. Since 2002 the observatory has been open to the public for views of the starry skies, from 8-10pm. It contains a 12-inch Meade telescope and visitors get a good look at the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn and the great storms of Jupiter.

If a person were to approach from the other side of the hill, there are wide streets and parking spaces. I don’t know why the map app sent us in the back way, but it was more fun. Up on top we found a small city park there as well, with a jungle gym for the kids and grassy lawn to play in. A few parents and kiddies were running around, but it was mostly abandoned. No one was appreciating the beauty of the place, the tower itself, the gigantic boulders of fascinating porphyry rock (a reddish rock with big crystals embedded in it) all over the site, or the incredible views. Will and I did appreciate all of that, however.

View of the sea overlooks Stone Cottage, also part of the site. There is a clear view of Nahant Bay, and the community of Nahant, on an island.

The Boston city skyline appears to the south, while standing at High Rock Tower.

Will then took me to see a ball game in his hometown of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, at McCoy Stadium. That is the home (for now) of the Pawsox (the Pawtucket Red Sox), a team affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. Of course seeing a hometown minor league game was fun, but there was the added excitement that we might get to see one of the major league players on the field, while they got up to speed after an absence from the Boston team. Will thought maybe Dustin Pedroia would be playing that night. Pedroia is one of the players who was a star when I was watching a lot of baseball about ten years ago, so it would be super cool to be able to watch him play.

DSC_0211

Tickets for the game.

Pedroia would be playing!

It was a warm night. We parked in a neighborhood and walked to the stadium. It felt wonderful to be sharing a small-town experience with all the other happy people walking to the game with us. Once we got our tickets and got inside the stadium, I checked the roster. Yep, Pedroia was on there.

We were hungry and I had fun standing in line for deep fried food and beer, all the stereotypes of baseball you could ask for. We found our seats and settled in. By the time we sat down the game had already started.

The Pawsox played the Gwinnett Stripers, from Gwinnett County, Georgia. I didn’t know anything about either team, but you can learn the players pretty fast by watching them during a game. These days of course you get up-close photos of the players, their positions and their stats up on the marquee every time they are at bat or make a significant play. That helps you learn. Another fun tradition is that each player picks a theme song and a few seconds of it are played as they approach home plate to bat. I learned who the country guy was, the hip hop guy, etcetera.

Hoping for a Pawtucket Red Sox run.

We had a pretty decent view of the field from our seats.

Stripers pitcher fixin’ to let loose.

Even though I only had my phone camera, I thought it did alright with capturing the scene.

The Stripers started off strong with three runs in the first inning, and another run in the the second. Pawsox gained momentum as they played, and by halfway through the game were clearly putting their hearts into it. That isn’t a way to win a game though. We finally got two runs in the 5th inning, but never caught up, and we lost the game 5-2.

I’m glad I got to see a game there. The team has been sold and is going to move to the city of Worcester in 2021. Once they move they will no longer be the Pawsox. It’s a pretty significant loss for Pawtucket, a small town that really doesn’t have much to brag about, or for the citizens to come together and enjoy.

After the game we hung around for fireworks. It’s a summertime tradition at McCoy stadium. Will’s mom is not a fan of the fireworks I hear, because it makes a lot of noise when many people are trying to get some sleep. I recommend being AT the game for the fireworks, because then all the light and noise go together, and it’s a lot of fun. After the show we walked back along the sidewalks to the car, in among many tired happy families heading home.

Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse at the end of the day.

We arrived in Gloucester in early evening: too early to quit the day. So we went to the beach in search of a lighthouse, and found two.

It is said that Gloucester has the oldest seaport in the U.S., with documented use by Europeans since 1616. I’m sure the Wampanoag tribes were using it before then.

Eastern Point Lighthouse on Gloucester Harbor is operated by the Coast Guard and today is not open for visitors. You are allowed to park in a nearby parking lot and walk the beach, however. It is photo-worthy and worth the visit. The Eastern Point Lighthouse also has an interesting history.

In the 1820s, to protect mariners and their interests, the community at Gloucester Harbor lobbied for a lighthouse. In 1829 President Andrew Jackson tried to block construction (the lighthouse friends website notes that Gloucester had not supported Jackson in the 1828 election), but Congress overruled and work eventually went ahead. So many costs were cut in construction that the original 1832 structure was poorly made. It was soon battered and decayed in the harsh conditions of the seashore, and appeals went out for it to be replaced.

The next lighthouse was completed November 3, 1848. The current tower was built in 1890.

Originally the Eastern Point Lighthouse had a fixed white light. For a time it had a fixed red light, then a flashing red light. Today it has a white light that flashes every 5 seconds. For those who aren’t familiar, lighthouses employ different strategies to differentiate themselves from each other in the night or in a fog, such as colours or the seconds in between flashes of light.

Looking back at Eastern Point Lighthouse from Dog Bar Breakwater.

Since we were there anyway, we walked out along the huge granite stones placed along the Dog Bar breakwater. A few people were out there fishing from the breakwater. We walked to the very end and that’s where we found Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse, which doesn’t look like more than a shack with a light on top, but in the fog, it’s really all you need.

The breakwater was constructed over Dog Bar Reef. It is 2,250 feet long and constructed of local granite blocks. Built to further protect the harbor, construction lasted from 1894 to 1905. So many ships crashed into the breakwater during construction that it became obvious that another light was needed to help ships avoid it. Before automation, the lighthouse keeper had the additional duty of attending to the breakwater light, which could be a treacherous journey under crashing waves and icy granite boulders in the winter. Yikes!

Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse.

The fishing boat Still Kicking approaches, with the Boston city skyline visible on the horizon.

Still Kicking makes her way safely around the end of the breakwater.

From shore we looked back across the water, lit up in the sunset, to the breakwater light you can pick out on the left.

We watched a golden sunset and made our way back to the beach and called it a day.

The next morning we had planned to spend all morning on the sea for a whale watch. The weather was cold and raining and windy, so that was perfect. Not. But at least the weather was not so bad that the whale watch was canceled. I put on the warmest clothes I had, put a fushia raincoat over the top of that, and off we went!

Cape Ann Whale Watch does a pretty good job of taking care of their passengers. They provide safety instructions, informational talks, educational talks, and updates on what’s going on. They guarantee a whale sighting on every trip, and we definitely saw whales. But for the first 3 1/2 hours, we saw a whole lot of rain on the waves, each other, and nothing else. One really awesome thing is that this was my very first trip on the Atlantic Ocean!

Cruddy weather notwithstanding, the group of about 100 passengers on board was excited. While we waited to leave the dock, most people were outside on the deck, smiling, joking around, taking photos of the sights in every direction. While waiting, we watched a ship dropped from dry dock into the water. I was interested because I had never seen that happen before. I think working sea vessels have a great look about them, and I enjoyed all the sights of the shore.

We looked at all the activity around us while the boat was still docked.

I thought this old mill building was really pretty.

Thatcher Island Twin Lighthouses. If a ship puts sights on both towers, they point to true north, so that sailors can check and/or adjust their compass.

When we were finally underway, there was no lollygagging! We headed out to sea quick, quick. For a solid 90 minutes aboard the Hurricane II, we left solid ground behind us. The Hurricane II claims to be the largest and fastest whale watch ship in the area, and can cruise up to 30 knots! Speeding along out at sea in that weather drove almost everyone indoors.

A few of us tried to stay outside and make the most of our whale-less morning.

I was soon soaked through and went indoors to warm up and to buy snacks because we had skipped breakfast. We sat indoors and read information placards on the walls that provided whale information. Did you know that since whales have to actively remember to breathe, they can never actually go to sleep? They go to sleep with half their brain, while the other half reminds them to surface and breathe, then the active half goes to sleep and the rested half wakes up and takes over. Did you know that the white and black pattern on the tails of Humpback Whales are unique, so that’s how they can be identified?

The woman providing annoucements also told us about the mysterious sea serpent believed to be in the area. The first recorded sighting is dated 1638, and sightings continued through the 1800s. There were many sightings in 1817 near Ten Pound Island, just offshore from the city of Gloucester. Possibly the “sea serpent” was a whale.

Will is better at being cold and wet, but I am sensitive to cold, so he followed my lead on indoors vs. outdoors. When I thawed out, we went back on deck. Every 45 minutes or so, we would get an update over the loudspeaker that went something like, “Well, we saw whales here yesterday, but now we don’t see anything, not sure why. We’re gonna head up north and check it out there.”  And later, “We haven’t spotted any whales here, so now the Captain’s gonna take us over to this one place where there are usually whales.” And finally, “As you know, whales are wild animals, and they don’t come when we call. We are glad that these whales are free to live in their environment without restraint and we can continue to learn about them. We are heading back in folks.”

Grumpy, cold, wet people (many of whom had been drinking for three hours with nothing else to do), complained about the absence of whales. And then, viola! Whales everywhere. In the next 30 minutes as we headed toward shore, the crew spotted six whales and some dolphins. It was still raining and the visibility wasn’t awesome, but we definitely saw them. The whale pics are all Will’s photos, because my fingers were frozen and I kept my gloved hands in my pockets for extra warmth.

Here’s me, demonstrating my balancing skills as the boat tossed around on the waves. {photo Will Murray}

A whale tail! You can see the white markings on the black skin. {photo Will Murray}

The crew spotted six humpback whales with their binoculars, but we only followed one at a time, and the passengers got to see two of them up close. {photo Will Murray}

This is what the whales looked like diving. {photo Will Murray}

With great relief, the crew did not have to go back on their word about guaranteeing a whale sighting on every trip. They handed out little cards as we got close to shore. The cards were brief surveys. Apparently there was supposed to be some kind of environmental education during the trip, because the final question was, “What changes will you make in your personal life to support a safe and healthy environment for the whales?” Since I didn’t know what they wanted to hear from me, and since I already try to minimize my carbon footprint and protect the environment, I didn’t know what to write. Will suggested “Eat less whale.” So that’s what I wrote on mine. I am fairly certain I’ve never eaten whale, but I’ll continue to avoid it.

The incentive to get us to fill out our cards was that all completed cards would be submitted to a drawing for a free whale watch. Guess who won a free whale watch!! I laughed out loud and was convinced that  someone must have got a kick out of my promise to eat less whale. The whale watch was a $45 value and transferrable and had no expiration. Though I doubt I’ll want to repeat this experience, I have lots of Boston friends who might.

Back on shore I wanted to ride around in the car for a long time with the heater on, to dry my jeans out. Will drove and I rested my hands on the heater vents and finally I got warm again.

We explored the Gloucester seashore, and found that it is a city that loves its monuments. We found a bunch of them in a short amount of time.

A monument to Ten Pound Island lighthouse.

We saw a plaque for the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse, which the Hurricane II passed close by earlier in the day. Though the website for Eastern Point Lighthouse claims that Winslow Homer lived there, it looks rather that the famous painter lived with the Ten Pound Island lighthouse keeper in 1880. While there he painted harborscapes that remain famous today.

Along the Gloucester beach there are many monuments, such as this one that acknowledges the mariners that have died at sea here since 1716.

“In honor of an intrepid son of Gloucester, Nathanial Haraden, sailing master of the US frigate Constitution, commended for gallantry in action at the seige of Tripoli, August 3, 1804.”

Fishermen’s Wives Memorial with the family poignantly looking out to sea.

Gloucester’s most famous memorial, the Fishermen’s Memorial.

The Fishermen’s Memorial commemorates the many lives lost at sea. It includes a quote from the Bible, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. Psalm 107 23-24.” And also: “Men known to be lost at sea and honored here: 5,386.” The total is lives lost from 1716-2001. Think about that: 5,386 lives lost. As of 18 years ago. The people honored at this monument include the crew of the Andrea Gail, lost at sea in 1991, whose story was told in the book and movie The Perfect Storm.

Photo from medievalart.org

When we had our fill of monuments, we hopped in the car, said goodbye to Gloucester, and made our way toward Boston. On the way we drove past Hammond Castle. It was closed, so we just looked at it from the parking lot. This place was built in 1926-1929 as a private residence. Whoah. Today it’s a museum and hosts events like medieval festivals and halloween parties – of course! Lots of people have their wedding photos taken there. I’ve included a shot of the other side of it that I grabbed off the interwebs.

Our view of the back of Hammond Castle, through the trees. Not impressive in a photo, but it was cool to see it in real life.

A glimpse of the Harvard Campus

A glimpse of the Harvard Campus

DSC_0747As 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.

R and Tara walk through a Harvard courtyard

R and Tara walk through a Harvard courtyard

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.

Yellow leaves and red brick

Yellow leaves and red brick

Veritas, the Harvard logo meaning "truth," above a boar's head.

Veritas, the Harvard logo meaning “truth,” above a boar’s head.

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.

Crazy for donuts!

Crazy for donuts!

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:

My favourite grafitti spot is in Fitchburg, Mass. I find it powerful that such beauty is created and then destroyed weeks, or even days later, when the artists come back to paint something new.

My favourite grafitti spot is in Fitchburg, Mass. I find it powerful that such beauty is created and then destroyed weeks, or even days later, when the artists come back to paint something new.

I don't know what ICH stands for, but this is amazing.

I don’t know what ICH stands for – maybe the artist – but this is amazing.

Don't you think these artists should be working in graphic design in New York or something?

Don’t you think these artists should be working in graphic design in New York or something?

Happy and goofing around

Happy and goofing around

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.

Vitruvius and Micromanager prepare to hit the Ashburnham streets

Vitruvius and Micromanager prepare to hit the Ashburnham streets

New England trick-or-treating

New England trick-or-treating

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.

Plane banks as we head toward the Boston bay. Crepuscular rays light up the shoreline like an invitation.

Plane banks as we head toward the Boston bay. Crepuscular rays light up the shoreline like an invitation.

This kind of scene would warm a teacher's heart.

This scene would warm a teacher’s heart.

I graduated from Brandeis University in 2007. I attended in my thirties, and clearly stood out from most of my classmates because of it. Despite the differences, I made some pretty tight friendships with other students, and the people whose lives intersected with mine. Interestingly (or perhaps predictably) the people I connected with were others who stood out from the crowd. They’ve been begging Tara and me for visits since my last trip to Massachusetts in 2008.

Finally! We made it back for one whirlwind friendship weekend.

R picked us up from the airport and took us to the UMass Boston campus to get our friend M.

Looking across the bay from University of Massachusetts Boston, while we waited for Mads to get off work.

Looking across the bay from University of Massachusetts Boston, while we waited for M to get off work.

New England homes and foliage across the bay.

New England homes and foliage across the bay.

Snapping photos from the back seat as we leave the airport.

Snapping photos from the back seat as we leave the airport.

This city looks beautiful even when photographed from a moving vehicle.

This city looks beautiful even when photographed from a moving vehicle.

Illuminated white tower at sunset and brilliant foliage reflected in the water. Some scenes are inescapably New England.

Illuminated white tower at sunset and brilliant foliage reflected in the water. Some scenes are inescapably New England.

Since the three of us were Brandeis graduates, and since there were a couple of hours left in Thursday, we hit the campus next. Tara is a senior and we are all about colleges these days. Applications, scholarships, and of course: pleading Mom for visits to campuses. Though T is not interested in East Coast schools, I assumed it couldn’t hurt to explore a few of them. We hit the bookstore before they closed and updated our Brandeis gear. I’m sure after everything we spent, the school was very glad they were still open that night.

Tara, R, and me in the Brandeis Admissions parking lot

Tara, R, and me in the Brandeis Admissions parking lot

The school's namesake: Justice Louis Brandeis

The school’s namesake: Justice Louis Brandeis on our photogenic campus.

We walked around, pointing out different things we all remembered. Tara, too, had childhood memories of it, like watching movies at the library while I was in class. What a trip down memory lane. To my delight, we caught the Brandeis Quidditch team at practice. You know, from the Harry Potter books? Well apparently it’s caught on in our world as well. The sticks between their legs are the brooms. Because of the angle, you can’t see it, but the “posts” on the end are three hoops at different heights through which the team is trying to lob the quaffle.

We walked through a great display in front of the Rose Art Museum from artist Chris Burden, called Light Of Reason. The work’s title borrows a quote by the university’s namesake, Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis: “If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.”

Light of Reason

Light of Reason

The lampposts are recycled antiques.

The lampposts are recycled antiques.

Best of all was when we decided to walk inside and down the stairs of the Mandel Center, the place where it all began. Where eight years ago I wandered into a classroom for International Peace and Conflict studies, and I think I was the only student who claimed to be from the United States. To you, it will look like a classroom that is remarkable only in its total lack of interesting qualities. M, R, and I stepped through the door and were hit with memories like an almost physical force. We sat in our old seats and remembered who sat where, and what countries they were from. We talked about our professors, our assignments, and how M’s final project regarding Sri Lankan conflict for Professor Johnson’s class is now cited in publications around the globe. We mentioned how small the classroom was in comparison to our memories of it (why do places always seem smaller when you go back?).

How did we all fit into this small space?

How did we all fit into this small space?

Reliving the old days.

Reliving the old days.

Finally we went for dinner and the guys became fans of my Tara. All that kid has to do is loosen up and start talking, and the fan base grows. I am so proud to be the parent of this awesome human being. We said goodbye to R, then M slept on the floor and gave us his bed. There is something pretty great about being spoiled by a friend. Maybe it’s the knowledge that one day I’ll get a chance to pay it back.

M and R at dinner. I love them so very much.

M and R at dinner. I love them so very much.

 

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