I have been craving “vacation” for quite some time now. It has been a year since I had the opportunity to get away from the normal routine and explore uncharted territory, so to speak. My friend Thiago was planning a trip to Boston to see his grandmother, whom I have met twice before and absolutely adore. Our friend Gabe Watson was visiting Thiago from Tennessee, and decided to make the trip up North as well. The three of us are good friends and always have a great time together. I imagined all of us being able to go on a road trip together and what an amazing time we would have, and Thiago expressed the same sentiment. Unfortunately, as it always does, work was standing in the way of me and fun. I went back and forth in my mind: was it a good idea to take a week off? Would I even be able to get people to cover my shifts? A couple days before the boys were leaving, I decided to go for it. I released my shifts and asked God to do the rest. If they didn’t get covered, I wasn’t meant to go. My coworkers were absolutely amazing and every one of my shifts got picked up in time for me to be able to tell the boys to make room for one more!
We left around 9:30 on the morning of June 2o. It was a Thursday, and it was hot! Luggage in the trunk, and off we went. The trip up went quickly, and before we knew it we were in Philadelphia. It was cheesesteak time. We googled “best cheesesteak” and got the name of a place named “Campo’s” on Market Street. This was my first time in Philly, and I found it enchanting. There was so much to explore, but we had a mission to fulfill. The city was full of tourists, history, and family owned restaurants. It’s amazing: the further North you go, the more you find people who are still immersed in the culture of their forebearers. There is pride in knowing where your family comes from and tradition, family, and recipes are cherished and celebrated through each generation. Campos’s was a small Italian place in an old storefront with a rude cashier (the owner’s daughter) and beautiful exposed brick. Even the bathroom was charming, with pink marble floors and a beautifully hewn oak door. The cheesesteak hoagies were good, but not life changing. However, Philadelphia itself was a city with endless places to explore and I loved my little taste of it.
After 6 more hours of driving (one in the wrong direction!!), we arrived in Boston. We dropped Gabe off at a bar in the North End so that he could catch the last quarter of the Spurs vs. the Heat, and Thiago did a mini tourguide impression as we circled around tyring to find parking. The city was beautiful; the centuries- old buildings lit up bright, bars and courthouses alike. The streets were bustling with night owls, strolling and laughing in the mild summer night air. Eventually we found parking and hiked over to meet Gabe and enjoy a celebratory “Happy Boston” drink.
My night was made when the bartender leaned close and said “That’ll be seven doolahs..seven and a qwartah.” Perfect. We stayed out a little longer, went to a place called “Hong Kong” and had a fruity punch called a “Scorpion Bowl”,
and then headed just north of the city to a little industrial town called Everett, Massachusetts (aka Dirty E) , where Thiago spent much of his young adulthood.
We trudged up the stairs in his grandmother’s house a little after 1 am, and fell into our respective beds. Sleep!!
Thiago’s grandmother Celia and great aunt Zeza (visiting from Brazil) showed us amazing hospitality and made us feel so welcome. I have met Celia a couple times before when she visited her grandchildren in Richmond, and have felt close to her even through the small amount of time I’ve spent with her. It must be a gift that runs in the family, because Zeza was the same. Thought her English was very limited, she showed love and affection to us (complete strangers) with hugs and kisses and an effervescent, joyful smile. Two very special ladies who can put anyone around them at ease.
We spent of it bit of time visiting with Thiago’s family, and then headed out to see Boston by day. Thiago showed us much of the city: Quincy Market, which is a big shopping square which boasts the site for “Cheers”,the historic buildings, the residential streets, and finally we made it to the place that Gabe had been longing to see: Fenway Park, home of the Boston Redsox. We walked around the perimeter of the stadium taking pictures (Gabe got an unwittingly risque photo with a statue) until a man with a wicked Boston accent reclining in a plastic chair told us about the bar under the bleachers. There’s an opening at the back of the restaurant with floor to ceiling chain link fencing and the boys were able to see the field up close and personal from behind the pitchers’ mound. That made Gabe’s day.
We walked Newberry street, full of pricey boutiques, comparable to an upscale Carytown for all my Richmonders.
Afterwards, Thiago continued our tour and took us to the Harvard campus and all around Cambridge, Massachusetts: a college town that was a little more laid back than Boston Proper but still very old school New England. Actually, Cambridge reminded me a bit of Richmond, with lots of little shops and restaurants and college students all around. The difference: it is one of the intellectual capitals of the Northeast. It was awesome to stroll on the green in between the old buildings at Harvard, which started out as a divinity school way back in the day.
It was neat to think of all the decades and centuries throughout history of young, hopeful college students who walked these very paths. We took the long way back to Everett to see the Charles River, calm and dotted with sailboats, the city majestically rising from the distant shoreline.
At six we had dinner with Celia, Zeza, Thiago’s mother, and his old friend Joao. We had something like a meat pancake, similar to a doughy lasagna, and also fried yucca. Everything was delicious, and it was great to sit around talking and laughing with Thiago’s family, even if half the conversation was in Portugese. The laughter translated just fine. His family was so glad to have him back among them and it was a celebratory feeling there that night. The boys and I sat on the front porch for a while after dinner, enjoying the warm summer evening.
An hour later, we headed back to Cambridge for a night of dancing at Middlesex (Joao’s recommendation), and then Phoenix Landing, Thiago’s favorite bar in Cambridge because of the laid back, unpretentious atmosphere and the eighties music.
Afterwards we went next door for pizza at a little place called Hi Fi. In a booth by the storefront window, eating delicious pepperoni pizza, we showed Thiago a Facebook status announcing an engagement that took him by surprise and he may or may not have shouted “Noooooooo!!!” so loudly that everyone in a little pizzeria turn around and stared, cooks and cashier included, until he waved his hands and said “Nothing to see here, its fine.” We all just about died laughing.
After another much needed rest, Saturday dawned, bright and hot from the early hours. We spent time with the family in the morning, had another thoughtfully provided breakfast, and then went next door to visit Celia’s neighbor, Susie. Susie had sent over a tin of homemade cookies when she heard Thiago was visiting, and Thiago wanted to go thank her in person. We went up the back stairs to the second story apartment where she has lived for the past 82! years. A small woman, with soft brown hair and gold earrings welcomed us and beckoned us to sit down with her in the kitchen. Susie, though 98 years old, still possessed all of her wits and mental agility. Though it was hard for her to move around much, she seemed to be in great shape for her age. She offered us (what else) cookies, and told us a bit about herself. She had emigrated to the U.S. from Italy in 1930 at the age of 15 years, 8 months. Her soon to be husband (a union arranged by the families) picked her up at Ellis Island and took her by train home to Everett, where he worked as a fisherman and she birthed and raised five children. Although it was not an easy marriage (he was given to strong drink), she stayed with him because she believed in the sanctity of marriage. He died twenty two years ago, and she has also buried two of her children thus far. Her widower son-in-law occupies the first floor apartment, and her widowed daughter-in-law resides on the third floor. She is very grateful for them and the care they provide for her. She said repeatedly that she wasn’t sure why she was still living at such an old age, after so many loved ones were long gone. She also repeated that “life was hard”, and “what are you gonna do”, a marriage of Italy and Boston in her accent. I was intrigued by her story, Gabe wondered what her life was like now, and Thiago tried to unlock her key for longevity, plying her with questions about her diet and daily routine. He even checked the fridge to see what it held.
Susie gave us a circular tour of her apartment, showing us old photographs and clowns on trapezes she had crafted by hand. She had a hard time moving around, relying heavily on a walker. She doesn’t leave the apartment much at all and maybe gets out on her porch for 15 minutes a day just for a little fresh air. Susie made an impact on all of us. What was it like to have lived so long, seen so much, and now to just be waiting for God to remember her? Her only joy seemed to be talking to her daughter, who called her once a day, and making cookies and pizza to give to friends and neighbors. She did an impression of a young girl whose mother was not very friendly. Apparently whenever they pass by the house, the toddler says “Cookie, cookie”. Susie’s face and voice changed comically as she imitated the little girl. She gave Thiago a plate of said cookies to take back to his brothers in Virginia, and we left her there, in her apartment, and went to explore the city a little further.
Our waitress had a huge tattoo over the top of her chest, and upon questioning we found that it was a sacred heart bearing the verse Proverbs 3:5- the first part of one of my favorite verses: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Pretty cool to find a Christian in Boston. I was wondering why she was so nice!! We walked around the harbor, saw the seals swimming in the outdoor display at the Boston aquarium, and then went to the Italian North End, where we descended upon “Mike’s Pastry”, THE place to get cannoli in Beantown.
It was busy, but we got in and out quickly with a string-tied box of ricotta-filled pastry deliciousness. We stopped by a little Gelateria next door so that Thiago could try gelato for the first time. He wasn’t too impressed, but it was fun to sit in a corner booth and pretend to be Italian.
Gabe had started talking in a fake Italian accent right before we got to Boston, and it continued throughout the trip. His favorite things to say were “Hey! Itsa Thiago!!”, and “I go back to the ocean”, an ad lib of what Susie’s fisherman husband would say when they argued.
We drove out around five to the town of Belmont, a suburb about half an hour outside of Boston. Thiago’s friend Laila was having a small cookout, so we gathered with about six new friends in a tree lined backyard. A train track was just outside the fence, and came by about twice and hour, loud but brief. We met Moses, a student at UMass from Uganda:Anya from Poland; Laila and her fiance, Nate; Mike, an insurance salesman with what could pass for a Boston accent; and a little later Aga, a redhead also from Poland. There was plenty of delicious food and beer, and pleasant company and Polish candy filled with liquer. For dessert: spiked watermelon. I was too full to eat. but it was a lovely, relaxing evening and I was sad to say goodbye to this delightful group of friends. Before we left, Aga implored gabe to sing a country song because of his deep voice and even deeper Tennesee accent. After thinking it through, a small chorus of “Ring of Fire” was sung, and the crowd was satisfied.
We attempted to go out on the town again that night, but we were all exhausted and couldn’t agree on what to do, so after witnessing a parade of tiny tricked-out cars and a crowd of North Shore girls fighting a bunch of bouncers, we decided to call it a night. Ater all, we had alot planned for the next day!