love letter to the cobbled city by the bend in the river charles…
dispatch from 02139 (final edition)…
the parabola of time has caught up with me. it’s the morning i couldn’t imagine. the end of the year i could hardly wrap my head around, long long ago when word of it first flickered across my imagination, when i knew i couldn’t say no, but could not figure how i’d say yes.
i turn back into a pumpkin in precisely 23 hours and 49 minutes (as of the moment i typed that calculation), when the big jet plane huffs and puffs and in a somersault of gravity defiance and aeronautical wonder hoists its belly off the runway, pointing toward sky, toward home.
trouble is, i’m leaving a place that’s come to feel like home. when i lope round the bend onto franklin, just past petsi’s pie bakery & cafe, when i spot the curlicues of victorian frou-frou that bedeck our triple-decker at 608, i start fumbling for my keys. i know there’s a place up there, the aerie, where the breeze blows through, where the walls of books whisper sweet somethings in my ear.
true, i am headed home to a place that knows the secret hiding coves of my heart, to the muscled city that dares to rise up from the prairie along the great lake’s ruffled edge, to the creaky stairs of my old house, to my rambling roses now blooming in a tussle all along the white picket fence.
i’m headed home to the place where the walls are covered in black-and-white snaps of people we love, the people who came before us. to the place where two rooms at the top of the stairs are chambers that forever hold the frames of childhood that loop for both of my boys. i’m headed home, oddly enough, to the hand-me-down jug of the jolly quaker oats fellow my papa brought home from work a long, long time ago, and for reasons that could never be charted is way more priceless than old pottery has reason to be.
home is equal parts hodgepodge and heart. it’s quirky and lumpen. it creaks and it groans. sometimes you have to bang on the hot-water spigot just to get it to dribble. home soothes us nonetheless, kneads the knots out of our worn-down spirit at the end of the day.
and that’s what i’m coming home to: the real-deal, deep-soother rendition of that place where we lay down and breathe.
but before i zip the last of my bags, before i slip the key in the door one last time, turn and blow a kiss, i need to riffle through my cantabrigian* memory box one last time, pull out a few of the blessings i’ll never forget, won’t leave behind.
if there’s one frame that will forever spring to mind, it’ll be that meandering walk down by the charles river (the one pictured above), under the london plane trees, past the boat houses that hug the banks, dowagers of the past. it’s the walk that carried me, countless dawns, to my stone-walled monastery, where the monks always welcomed, and the votive candles patiently awaited the matchstick that lit them aflicker. mile after mile, week after week, we’d take to that path, the tall one, the professor, and i. it became our early-morning ritual, mostly on weekends, when we’d have a rare chance to catch up on what each other might have been up to in the long spaces between.
i’ll miss my kaleidoscope of neighbors here on franklin street: white-haired nan, of the caribbean-painted cottage, nan who fell in love with a civil rights compatriot, and wept fresh tears on my stoop just last night, as she clutched a framed photo of the pipe-smoking, tweed-jacketed gentleman she lost to cancer nearly two years ago, after 40-some years of marriage. nan, who found in cambridge a place where, back in the ’60s, no one looked twice at a white-skinned woman arm-in-arm with the black-skinned love of her life.
i’ll miss sarah, sarah who looks as if she’s just come in from blueberry picking in maine or, truer still, stepped off the pages of a children’s storybook with her sun-kissed hair and faintest freckles and that twinkle that never leaves her eye. sarah who came to the door with a tinfoil-wrapped platter of chocolate-chunk cookies on the day we arrived, and again last night, on the eve of departure. “bookends,” she called them. she is just that sort of across-the-way neighbor. and i will love her till the end of time.
and i’ll miss jane, eighty-something jane, who was born in a double-decker down the block, and has never left, spending her days leaning up against the cyclone fence or shuffling in bedroom slippers and top-knotted headscarf up and down the cobbled slopes of franklin and putnam and bay, the rectangle that defines her life’s landscape.
i’ll miss the harvard book store, and the coop, and the sun-drenched cambridge public library, my holy trinity of literary haunts, where books come curated by brilliant minds who know just which words will swoop deep into a reader’s heart and stir for a good long while.
i’ll miss the polyglot stew that rises up from the round-the-world crowds in harvard square, and the letters from the cambridge public schools that always come translated in at least 10 languages on the backside of every page. because here, in the 02138s and 9s, no one assumes english is the first language.
i’ll miss the intellectual bunsen burner that is 02139 and 02138, the zone the new york times proclaimed “the most opinionated ZIP code in america,” where ideas are the coin of the realm, and the shabbier the khakis, the holey-er the button-down, the better.
i’ll miss the body parts of cambridge that come pierced, stapled, studded, stretched and permanently inked in tattoos that know no end. i’ll miss the leggings in rainbow colors that peek out from underneath shorts that barely stretch across bums. i’ll miss the most eloquent cardboard pleas from the homeless folk who station themselves all along mass avenue.
i’ll miss the eastern seaboard, and the magic in the mist that coaxes rhododendrons and roses and dogwood and lilac to grow to proportions i never knew possible.
i’ll miss the breads of massachusetts and maine, just up the road. “when pigs fly” is my bakery of choice, and don’t be surprised if i lug home a suitcase packed to the brim with raisin-studded whole-grain goodness.
i’ll miss cambridge from dawn till starlight. i’ll miss cambridge when, plonked on an old wicker chair on my summer porch, i look up and catch the moon rising. i’ll know that a mere 1,000 miles away, that same sliver moon shines down on the charles, and the cobbled lanes that rise up from its banks to the hill i called home.
it’s a holy place, the place that opens your heart, that teaches you lessons. most of all the one where you find out that one simple “yes” made it all possible.
bless you, 02139.
*cantabrigian: a quirky latin-derivative adjective for all things harvardian or cambridge, englandian. took me most of the year to pick up on it, so i’m passing it along, providing the shortcut for you.
so that’s it, chair people. cinderella’s ball is winding down. only cinders by the hearth, come morning. though i couldn’t be more twitterpated at the thought of swooping through the clouds to touch down in sweet home chicago. forgive the cambridge-centric year; twas a promise to mamas who wanted in on every drop. or at least the week’s highlights. we’ll be back to musings from the home front soon as i unpack the 27 boxes now motoring along the massachusetts turnpike. can’t believe i’ll next type from my old pine desk, but tis true.
from the bottom of my heart, bless you and thank you for the solace, the comfort, the wisdom you brought to me here at the table, where each friday i plugged in, and felt zapped with all your goodness. blessings. and love, the chair lady.
Have enjoyed every bit of your visit !! Xo
Sent from my iPhone
I had the pleasure of showing you and your family around the Vassal Lane Upper School last spring and hoped your son would be placed there. That was not to be. Another Upper School was the lucky school to have you.
Having grown up in Cambridge I sometimes forget how unique it is. It was wonderful to read your blog each week and read about this great city from a fresh set of eyes.
I will take a closer look and enjoy the “River” while in traffic or maybe loop through the “Square” or stop in the Coop and remember this is where I met my husband more than 40 years ago while in high school.
I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Cambridge… We enjoyed having you.
Safe travels back to family and friends.
ohhhhhhhhh mary, i am melting reading this. i never ever knew you were reading or would ever find this ol’ chair. we LOVED meeting you, and wound up getting a school that wasn’t even on our list, but that we wound up adoring. one of teddy’s BEST friends in cambridge got lucky and got your wonderful school. i cannot tell you the goosebumps that just covered me as i sit here, at my old pine table back home, and discover this marvelous cambridge secret. mary frawley made me love cambridge when we went to vist a year ago june.
dashing next door for a surprise engagement announcement party. a dear girl i have loved since she was little got a diamond ring tonight, and thank goodness i am home to be there when she walks in with it fresh on her finger.
bless you, mary. bless you, bless you….
This was a love letter, indeed, mostly to Cambridge, but also to
Massachusetts and to the East coast. Most opinionated zip code…lol. What a year, what an exquisite opportunity — all of you will be forever changed. Welcome back to your other home.
bless your heart, sweetheart. after a long day of rediscovering my old house, i am beyond exhausted. so so lovely to find a ring of old friends here. xoxoxoxo
I am late … But the wishes are sincere … Welcome, welcome home, dear heart. xoxoxo
thanks, darlin. i think i’ll have sweet dreams tonight. xoxox
Dear bam, you gave us the best travelogue ever of Cambridge and Ye Olde New England, along with introspection as warm as lamplight. Enjoyed every drop. And appreciated that little errand you ran to the NH bookstore in search of my beloved high school English teacher, even though she had moved on. Welcome back to these leafy environs and look forward to seeing you at the farmers market. You’re back just in time for strawberry-o-rama! If you’re in a jam, always hope that it’s with strawberries! (Did that make any sense? Just being silly.)
oh, sweetheart. i can’t WAIT to bump into you and your bags and bags of organic tortoise greens, as you feed your flocks only the very best! love your jam joke. love your “warm as lamplight.” love your way with words, indeed. finally caught my breath long enough to come see what’s happening at the chair. as the unpacking unfolds (27 boxes arriving today!!! egad.) i will be back. tucking sweet teddy on a plane to germany in a few hours, thus this mama cannot sleep. thanks for the sweet welcome home!
Welcome back to the more familiar of chairs! Hope your flight was uneventful. Enjoy getting reacquainted with your home. And many thanks to you for taking us with you on your adventures in Cambridge! I absorbed every word and hope to return there for another visit sometime soon.
bless your heart!
Home from adventure and back to that magnificent house of yours. Hoping Turkey Baby made the trip without expelling his tuna. I wish I could have been there to see your face when you walked in the door and found yourself falling in love with that house all over again.
Thanks for letting each of us travel along with you … smelling the smells and tasting the tastes with each weekly installment. Loved every single delicious post. Again, my dearest bam – you’re a wonder. xoxo
oh, honey, TB still thinks he’s won the kitty lottery and is literally purring so loud, i fear we’ll need a replacement battery for whatever is the purring part. he had a look of PURE joy on his sweet little kitty face. who knew you could read joy so undeniably on a cat?!?! he sniffed every wall of every room, then trotted to the back screen door, disappeared into the jungle of a garden, and was out meandering for some 40 minutes — his first time roaming in 10 months, poor baby. he is literally in cat heaven. what a life. a garden. fresh food. his old favorite soft spots.
more to come as i try to sift through to the bottom of the moving boxes….
My folding camp chair is hanging back up in the garage and I’m back in my perch overlooking my anticantibridgian back yard. Thank you for a delightful year-long “virtual summer camp for the mind and soul”! It’s been heavenly. And the li’l bro is off to see more of the world and visit his old guest? His “what I did this summer” essay will call for a binderful of wide-rule. Now, I suspect you’d better go build some more bookcases for those box contents, no?
notherbarb … I would love to read that essay!
Yay! Turkey Baby made it home and remembers it! Honey, we’ve missed you, and I for one am happy you’ve had to return. Sweet memories, blessed days to come.
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