Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Family Road Scholars: Tourists in Boston

By day six of our road trip, I relinquished my teacher reins and placed them firmly in the claws of Lobstaman.  Lobstaman was our driver and guide on the Old Town Trolley Tours in Boston.  Spending so much time with my kids, I had grown emotionally and no longer needed to prove I knew it all for my family. Plus, I was worn out. In my former life, I would rather have died than look like a tourist, but now I was a mother with three children to teach and only one full day to do it. I had never been to Boston so the trolley tour and harbor cruise made sense. 

We hopped on the tour across from the state building near the top of Beacon Hill and next to Boston Common.  Lobstaman began his lessons in history and regional phonetics immediately.

“Climb on, folks, and grab a seat.  We gotta book it outta here to stay on schedule. Where you guys from?”

“Atlanta!” Greg shouted over the roar of the wind as Lobstaman gunned it down Beacon Street and hung a right onto School.  

“That’s wicked good ‘cause I was gonna make you stand if you were Nooyawkahs.”  
Laughing at New York’s expense, I settled next to the trolley’s open window and let Lobstaman’s corny jokes and the fall breeze lighten my mood.  I thought, “Is there anything better than a crisp, clear autumn day?  Who would want to be sitting in a beige, concrete-block walled classroom on a day like this?”

Our group rattled along the streets of Boston deciphering the American history as we went.  To our right, the Old South Meeting House where the People of Boston assembled and planned the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. I thought all was done in secrecy, but in reality posters were plastered all over the city exclaiming the meetings to discuss responses to the Tea Act: 

Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! That worst of Plagues, the detested tea shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the Harbor; the hour of destruction, or manly opposition to the machinations of Tyranny stares you in the Face… 

“Machinations of Tyranny…” How vivid!  The People first planned to meet at Faneuil Hall, but over five thousand showed up, so they moved to the larger Old South Meeting House.  Again, I was mistaken in my understanding of The Boston Tea Party.  I thought it was a few brave souls-not thousands! After a month of dead-end negotiations and unsuccessful pressure-plays with the loyalist tea purveyors, the People left it to the Sons of Liberty to carry out the final plan to prevent the tea from hitting shore and a tax being due upon it.  On the night of December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty, numbering 116 Mohawk Indian impersonators, sneaked aboard the three tea ships moored in the harbor and dumped 342 chests of British tea overboard.  So much for my image of Sam Adams and three other dudes doing all the work.  Actually, the whole event was carried out in a gentlemanly manner with the dumpers sweeping the decks clean and replacing a broken lock after their peaceful protest was complete.

Our trolley tour included a harbor cruise that pointed out the location of the Tea Party- although historians believe the actual watery location was covered by landfill of the ever growing City of Boston many years ago so the official historical plague rests at the corner of Congress and Purchase Street.  On board our ship, we watched as the water glimmered in the late September sun.  I didn’t tell the kids about the true garbage-filled historic site; Boston harbor was more poetic. 

“When legend becomes fact, print the legend,” Greg said quoting his favorite movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

“And they did.” We leaned against the rails admiring our view of the blue sky, shimmering water, and the stars and stripes flapping in the wind.  This Colonial America trip was bringing out the patriot in us all.

After viewing the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”   from the War of 1812 fame, we resumed our trolley tour, rolling around Bunker Hill, and eventually rattling past the Old North Church from whence the “Two if by sea” lights shined causing Paul Revere’s famous ride- another fictionalized event in American history thanks to William Wadsworth Longfellow’s iconic poem.  The more we toured America the more I began to realize how skewed my elementary education had been.  All my teachers took the Liberty Valance movie quote to heart.  In teaching my own kids, I wanted to get it right. The facts of the “midnight ride” were this:  

Actively engaged in the patriot’s cause, Paul Revere warned John Hancock, Sam Adams, and the town of Lexington that the ‘British were coming’ three days before his ride.  He set up a signal system for warning patriots in Charlestown of the moment and direction of the British’s movement in case Revere couldn’t leave Boston- in other words, the lights in the Old North Church were not for him.  But he made it across the Charles River and safely traveled on horseback to Lexington only to be captured by four British soldiers in route to Concord.  Luckily, there were three riders on this famous midnight ride: Revere, William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott.  Only Prescott reached Concord to alert the Minute Men to hide their storehouse of ammunitions and prepare to face the British in time. This field trip year was becoming an education for all of us and a hell of a lot more work than I expected just researching all the historical facts. 

The trolley jolted to a stop.  Downtown traffic snarled as rush hour approached giving us a break from the onslaught of facts, but we couldn’t escape the intertwining of history with modern America.  With a graveyard to our right and a bar to our left, I could see Sam Adams’ headstone out of the corner of one eye and people drinking Sam Adams’ beer out of the other.  

“Man, I’m thirsty,” I said.

“Ready to hop off?” Greg’s interest was waning. There was only so much information a person could process in a day.

“We’re not far from Fenway Park.  Why don’t you and Wyatt hop off there for a tour and the girls and I will continue on to Cambridge?”  Greg agreed immediately.  Baseball always perked him up.

We waved the boys goodbye in the shadow of the Green Monster.  Greg back-kicked Wyatt in his rear end as they approached the ticket booth.  The Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox were out of the pennant race, but the love of baseball continued.  Visiting all the major league parks was a bucket list item for Greg.  He checked off Turner Field, Old Yankee Stadium, Camden Yard, and now, Fenway- only twenty-six to go. 

Crossing the Charles River over the Harvard Bridge to Cambridge, Boston College crew boats sliced the water with precision navigating around sailboats and Boston whalers. We didn’t see many rowing teams in the South, and this Georgia Bulldog felt a little in awe as we entered the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  I taught gifted children for over ten years where we considered MIT the holy grail of universities with Harvard a close second.  The girls and I smiled into the crisp late afternoon breeze ready to increase our intelligence by osmosis; we must glean something from being this close to our nation’s brain trust.  My eyes swept the campus squares ready to note any student behavior, their dress, walk or general demeanor, that might give insight into the brilliance needed to gain admission to this school.  Nothing. No one in sight. Any given Friday in September on University of Georgia’s campus would show kids of every color celebrating life without parents; girls in dresses outside sorority houses, boys in jeans tackling one another on lawns, kids shouting and laughing- just happy to be alive.  On MIT’s campus at four o’clock on Friday afternoon, every light was on in the industrial-like buildings, while tumbleweeds drifted through the parks and streets. Apparently, attending MIT took a more diligent work ethic than your run-of-the-mill SEC university.  On this glorious afternoon, I was thankful for my average education.  I bet no MIT graduate would quit her job to take off and explore the world with her family.  Go, Slacker University!

Our trolley tour ended, but I wanted more of Boston.  Anabel and Emma did not.

“Let’s walk through the Common and back to Charles Street.  I want to take a look in the shops.”

“I’m so tired,” said Emma. 

“Me, too. Can we go back to the hotel?” asked Anabel.

“It’s beautiful out.  Who knows when we’ll be back to Boston… come on, girls, stick with me.”  I tried to convince them to power through and walk Beacon Hill with me, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I loved sharing a new city with my kids, but nothing beats exploring all alone.  

Savenor's Shop Window
With Greg and Wyatt at the ballpark and Anabel and Emma tucked in the hotel room with a movie, I walked.  I walked through the Common to the most delightful street in America: Charles Street.  Shop windows displayed autumnal colors in clothing and food, in antiques and even pharmaceutical products. From slate gray arm chairs with red and gold throw pillows to a pyramid of Gold Bond Powder, each purveyor did their part to give the street a seasonal feel.  A burnt orange and taupe scarf called my name, but budget-minded, I averted my eyes. Mothers and nannies strolled the youngest of each robust brood of children reminiscent of the Kennedy clan.  Down a side street to my left was the Charles River with a lone man maneuvering a kayak off the hood of his Subaru. Up a street to my right were Beacon Hill’s brass door knockers and elaborate window boxes filled with tangerine mums, purple and white cineraria and yellow tinged juniper against a background of variegated ivy.  I smiled as I passed every person, shop and door.  I walked without stopping until I arrived at Savenor’s. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the wonderful tips for Boston! Our family is planning a trip this summer and I need all the help I can get. :-)


Thanks for reading and commenting! Heaven knows, I need some interaction...