Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Chums along the Charles

When I left the Boston area in 1988 I thought I'd be back regularly. I was also concerned that I'd miss living there terribly, and that the move to Minnesota might be a big mistake. But none of that came to pass. I've certainly been back to Boston, but Minneapolis felt like home immediately and visiting Boston, enjoyable as it often was, didn't touch my heart with a sense of longing.

My trip to Boston the other week felt different, more emotional. This may be because enough time has passed that nostalgia has crept up, or it may just have been my general mood. This time I walked the streets of Boston and Cambridge (and walked and walked until my feet were blistered) and felt a happy and powerful connection to the place. At one point, since I was literally walking through my old North Cambridge neighborhood on my way to a restaurant, I went over to the apartment I lived in between 1979 and 1987. I stood and stared up at it for a long while, imagining all the years I lived there and placing myself back in that time. While walking there from Mass Ave, a route I had walked hundreds and hundreds of times, I had the odd but not surprising sensation of heading back to my own living quarters, and I half-expected to be able to walk right in and up the stairs. The interior, as it was twenty years ago, was vivid and immediate in my mind. Fortunately the place has been spiffed up and the exterior looks different, so the sense that this was still mine vanished quickly.

In general I found that my sense of Boston has averaged out into what it looked like in the middle years of my sojourn there rather than what it looked like when I left. When my friend Glenn drove me from his home in Lexington to where I was staying in Cambridge early in my visit, I pointed out that the Route 2 rotary was gone. He noted that this had to have been gone before I moved. He was right, but only by a year or two. This set the tone for the rest of my trip, as I realized that the vast changes to the landscape of Cambridge and Boston that began in my last few years there have faded from my memory, at least when I don't think too hard.

This trip I realized how very, very badly I do miss many of the folks I knew back then. At the time I left, I considered that the hardest thing about the move would be leaving Norumbega Harmony, the folks with whom I sang shape-note. (At the last singing I attended, on the eve of my departure, they presented me with a friendship quilt they had spent several months making.) I maintained the illusion for a long time that I would be able just to show up at a singing and see everyone again. But, of course, it was only mere months before what I now call Norumbega-as-I-knew-it existed no more. It's a living group with a shifting membership, as it should be. There was no easy way to immerse myself in a specific past.

I contacted a few Norumbega friends in advance of my trip, and the wonderful response I got set a tone for me. My friend Bill, filling me in on what Norumbega itself would be doing while I was in town (rehearsing for a recording, it turns out), wrote, "You are always welcome to any Norumbega activity, and those of us who have been around for a long time would love to see you again." That struck me as something more than mere politeness. Then, as part of the arranging to meet up with my friend Sarah (who lives in Watertown), she wrote this: "...I can easily meet you anywhere in Cambridge, unless you have a yen to come to Watertown, where you are always welcome."

I know, it seems like a simple comment, but it says (from somebody I've seen only two or three times in 16 years) "You are always welcome in my home." Always. Welcome. Home. They are like keywords. Add this to "you are always welcome to any Norumbega activity" and you've got me feeling very special, and sentimental. When I later tried to tell Sarah what her comment yielded in me she interrupted by saying, "But you are always welcome in my home." Yes, yes, I know. I even believe it.

On my first night in Boston I went to Legal Sea Food in Kendall Square (nostalgia, remember?) with friends of very long standing indeed, and it was comfortable and easy. I met up with several Norumbega friends over the course of my visit, and each meeting was as lovely as the next. I spent a long and happy Saturday night at a gathering of some of my friends in Boston who have livejournal accounts, a gathering that took place at the Cambridge home of my gracious hosts rsc and jwg.

I had a fine time, a sentimental time, a nostalgic time, and I got drawn into caring about the world series playoffs. Not too bad for what was barely more than a long weekend.
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