I love early Sunday mornings. And have, for as long as I can remember. I love the quiet, the solitude, the gift of being out and about when the world is still asleep. Summer Sunday mornings are always good for bike rides in the cool of the day, before the traffic picks up and the sun bears down. Winter Sunday mornings up north are good for heading out to ski early, when the trails tend to be less crowded. Back when my body parts were more agile, early Sunday mornings were for long runs on back roads. My sweetie tells stories about me slipping out in the dark and coming back to bed, my long loop completed, before he’d so much as opened his eyes. These days, when it’s too cold to bike and when I’m not going skiing, early Sunday mornings are for extended city perambulations.
It’s funny how my walking rambles have changed over time. For years, I had a favorite route out from my front door, one that covered a whole lot of upscale residential real estate in My Fair City. Cambridge is full of fancy houses, as I first discovered during my college ski team workouts. Some co-captain or other took off along Brattle Street for a training run back in the day, where on that first run I spent more time ogling the colonial homesteads than minding my pulse. Later on, I devised running routes that took me to many quiet side streets and byways, always with an eye for more historic architecture.
But over time, I’ve found myself less attracted to fancy homes, and more drawn to the grittier parts of town, the places where odd things bump up against one another. I’ve also discovered that as I’ve grown older, and as my joints have become less springy, my runs have slowed down and turned into trips down memory lane.
While my destinations and exact routes are never thoroughly pre-planned, I do have some basic options. One trek that always beckons to me on Sundays is my Cambridgeport walk. I begin by retracing my younger son’s commute to high school, and from there, on to our beloved public Library.
Where, sadly, I recently encountered the demise and disappearance of an old friend. One of the stately European beech trees on the library front lawn, a grand dame that had been showing signs of blight, had been cut down, probably just the day before. Sad as I was to encounter the stumpy remains, I was glad I hadn’t wandered by when the chain saws and chippers were in action. I also found it comforting to realize that the library’s other specimen beech tree–the one that my kids measured their climbing skills on with every library visit–was still standing tall, its arms spread wide.
From the library, my Cambridgeport walk takes me to Massachusetts Avenue, the asphalt backbone of My Fair City. Mass Ave is the sort of thoroughfare that can be annoying to drive on, with all its traffic lights and bus stops and crosswalks. But on a Sunday morning, Mass Ave is a window-shopper and phone-cam photographer’s delight.
Here’s the thing: I’ve lived where I live long enough that I’m beginning to feel like my dad–a man who had a story about every bend in the road. Here’s where I saw a fox, he’d say. Here’s where I got pulled over for a faulty break light. Here’s where we saw a rainbow. I remember wondering, back when I was in high school, if there was a stretch of pavement on our regular drives that didn’t have a specific memory for him. And now, that’s me. I see the Door Store, and I remember telling the first person other than my husband about my lousy mammogram. I see the Plough and Stars, and I think to myself, here’s where I had a flat tire, back when my kids went to school in around the corner. I don’t have as many stories at the ready as my dad did, but in this little realm, my home town for three decades, the stories are filling in.
Here’s the building where my kids went to school, when they were little. It was the Webster School before they showed up, then it became a new-fangled alternative school, renamed for City Counselor Saundra Graham and civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Graham & Parks later moved to West Cambridge, and for a spell this proud building sat empty. These days it’s the Amigos School.
This cool climbing structure wasn’t around back in my kids’ day. Which you might think was too bad, except that its presence means the elimination of the playground activity my guys lived for: Wall Ball.
See that granite curve? That was the critical element in Wall Ball. You throw a tennis ball at just the right angle, just the right velocity, and pow! Over the fence it would fly, out onto Upton Street, landing between the cars–a ground rule home run.
During its Graham and Parks days, the Upton Street facade got some artistic embellishment, including this mural with the lyrics to the folk song, “If I Had a Hammer.” It’s a story bout love between my brothers and my sisters, after all. Those were hopeful days for the school, for the world.
Ah, this Magazine Street house, just beyond the former Webster-then-G&P-turned-Amigos. I parked in front of this house, on my older son’s very first day of kindergarten. It was covered with ivy back then, too. It seems almost overrun with the stuff now.
I turn a corner, and I find another place where I parked on a regular basis. One of these townhouses was where my firstborn’s first piano lessons happened. This was probably where my life as the mom who drives and waits began.
Another landmark that marks time for me, from my days as the mother of boys and after school activities and friends who live nearby. I remember the jockey; I don’t recall the strings of holiday lights. I approve of this little addition.
And on to a park I love for the fact that it even exists. Here George Washington decreed that a few cannons be deployed and a couple of embankments built up, as a hedge against any of King George’s ships sailing up the Charles in search of, well, anything. Turns out they never did any reconnaissance up the river. So, quite literally, a sign could be posted here that says, “On this spot, in 1775-6, nothing of note happened.” In the intervening years, this area soon turned into an early industrial complex of tanneries and other noxious factories, which by complete happenstance kept this place intact as a low level fortress. Years later it was salvaged and spruced up, but never got any traction as an historic place of note. Mostly it’s amazing how far it is from the river, these days. A testament to the industrious filling in of the river’s tidal flats, long since claimed by new industries, along with MIT’s playing fields.
From Washington Park, I wind my way back home, stopping to admire the remnants of an ambitious snow fort by one of Cambridgeport’s painted ladies. Which mostly just reminds me of the days when my young men were young. They would have loved this. As would I.
As would my dad.