Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Red Line to the Moon

My brother Jim died in July 2001, and my brother Dan died a month later, in August. In the six months after they died, I wrote The Jim and Dan Stories, a chronicle of the grieving process that weaves together stories of growing up as one of nine siblings with the details of my brothers’ last weeks. By Christmas that year, I was nearing the end of the book and felt the need to bring the stories full circle, back to my hometown, the peninsula of Hull, Massachusetts, where the stories began and where my parents still lived. I don’t usually visit my family in winter, but that year was different. I was homesick for my childhood and confused as to why I had been living in Virginia for the past 20 years when the rest of my family was in Massachusetts. I wanted to see that my parents and my remaining siblings were alright. I didn’t know how the book would end, but I knew I had to go home and find out. Below is an excerpt from the book about that Christmas trip home and a family excursion into Boston.

On the Red Line to Park Street from the subway train window, I saw the December full moon. I was sitting next to two year old Patrick who was on the look-out for Christmas lights. “I see something!” he would periodically exclaim. I followed the moon while walking with my family to the Boston Commons and then to Fanueil Hall. Under this full moon we found The Enchanted Village, a magical world of moving mannequin children who, dressed in late 20’s clothing, were placed in Christmas settings. I had seen the Enchanted Village in the downtown department store windows of Jordan Marsh when I was five years old. It was a vague memory that I questioned the reality of. What a wonderful surprise to find out it was true, to find the Enchanted Village (now in a pre-fab heated building) again. And how well it fit the theme of my trip, a re-visitation of my childhood roots.

We had almost walked passed it when I broke off from the group to take a closer look. “I think it’s a wax museum,” I had said, by then everyone was curious. The man at the door who was collecting our dollars wouldn’t let us pass until we told him something we had gotten for Christmas.

“A journal,” I told him trying to think fast. “Will that get me in?”

“It depends on what you write in it,” he answered with a grin.

I don’t remember seeing the moon again until the day I was riding in Sherry’s car to catch the ferry that would bring me to the water shuttle and then to Logan airport on the day I headed home. It was up in the sky in the middle of the day looking like a ghostly visitation. It was a ¾ moon by then. I pointed it out. “See what I mean about the mysterious moon. I can never predict when it’s going to show up,” I said to Sherry, who was driving.

I looked for the moon from the ferry boat window, from the airport terminal, and from my window seat in the back of the plane, but I never found it again that day. That was alright, though, because there was so much else to look at.

The ocean sculpts the land into hooks that look like Cape Cod. One of those hooks is Hull. The plane I was on, departing from Boston, flew right over Hull, low enough so that I got treated to a tour of places that I loved. I saw 10 ½ Spring Street where our house used to be, the tower at the forts, the windmill at Pemberton, the outline of Allerton and Strawberry Hill. I recognized the landscapes, parts of Hingham and Quincy, the mural painted gas tanks in Neponset. The city of Boston looked like a floating island of skyscrapers from my window seat in the sky.

I had no such recognition when we flew over Roanoke. It was just after dusk but even if it wasn’t, I don’t know the landscape of Roanoke and its surrounding areas the way I know the South Shore of Boston. Everyone below had their porch lights on, but I still couldn’t find the mountains.

I was leaving the north where they had no snow and arriving in the south where they had several inches of it. Things were still mixed up. I was still sad that I had a whole other life that my friends in Virginia weren’t a part of and that my family wasn’t a part of my life here with them. But I was happy to be back and as the days went on, in the paradise of my own yard, I remembered why I live in the country where my closest neighbor’s house isn’t part of my view, where the pace of life is slower, and the drinking water is better.

After a few days of transition, I called all my friends to tell them I was home and to tell them I was thinking of them. After doing that, I took a deep breath and felt ready to begin the New Year.

Originally posted on on December 26, 2005.

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