Sunday, December 6, 2015

Unexpected Gifts, Surprises from Boston

I knew we would eat great seafood. I knew we would enjoy the historical museums, the little glimpses of America's struggle for independence. I knew we would love being on the Boston Harbor, cozy in our room in the historic Boston Custom's House right by the water. I've wanted to make that timeshare trade for years. I knew we would enjoy the different culture, different vibe of a Northeastern city at Christmas time. But I didn't see some of it coming. I love surprises, and Boston was full of them.

We Texans (after living here 40 years, I guess I count myself one) tend to think people south of the Mason Dixon line are friendlier. You know, just nicer. It's a Southern ego thing, I think.  But the brusque sounding people of Boston have a niceness of their own. It may seem a small thing, but whenever we pulled out a map, whether on our phone or in our hand, on the street or in a bustling subway station, someone always stopped to see if they could help. Men, women, young, old, long-time Bostonians (from their accent) and new arrivals (from theirs) stopped to see if they could help us get from here to there. Like the woman out walking her dog who took us a block in the right direction, telling us about her life. Like the man with the Eastern European accent,strong enough that I had to watch his eyes and hands to be sure that what I heard were the directions he was giving, who stood outside with us and kept talking til we got it. And the people standing in line at Giacomo's who wanted to be sure we knew where to go for the best dessert. I'm telling you, people in Boston are nice.

For me, the most wonderful surprise happened at the Lighting of the Tree on Boston Commons. Over and over we heard the story of how the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia have sent a glorious Christmas tree to Boston for almost 100 years. Their memory is long. In 1917, Halifax suffered a disaster. Over 2,000 people were killed in a terrible explosion. Boston sent a relief train the very next day. Halifax never forgot that generosity. This year, once again, they sent a thank you gift to Boston in the form of a beautiful 49' spruce tree. That is a wonderful story, in an of itself. But what I saw and felt at the tree lighting is also a wonderful story.

When I first heard about the tree lighting, I wondered if many would gather on a cold night in a city that had known terrorism not that long ago. In light of the recent attacks, and the fear that is a natural result of them, I wondered if Bostonians would show up en mass. They did. Mostly young-ish, not much gray hair in the crowd (my handsome husband and I excepted,) very diverse ethnically, the crowd surprised me with their enthusiasm. They sang along, bouncing around on the fast songs, swaying on the slower ones. The sophisticated looking 30 somethings in their black wool coats and hats smiled and sang. So much for judging people by their clothing, huh? When the tree was lit and the fireworks went off, I thought everyone would make a quick exit. But they stayed and sang some more with Santa. It was actually very sweet, and for a reason I can't quite put my finger on, it was very hopeful. And very American. Not really because it was Christmas, as there are tons of Americans who don't celebrate that holiday. It was a feeling of community, of solidarity, of courage and joy all rolled into one. I won't forget it.

I loved walking the city, seeing the residential streets, the big banking centers, the well-preserved small historic buildings in the middle of the metropolis. And I loved the seafood! Holy shellfish, Batman! The North End is filled with smells of garlic and seafood, small family restaurant after restaurant bustling with appreciative customers. Street performers and lots of decorations made the city seem festive. But it was the people that made Boston seem magical. Boston Strong, yes. And Boston kind, as well. Way to go, Boston. Thanks for the gifts, the surprises, the memories.

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