by Roger Johns
My past has been catching up with me, lately. On a recent trip to Baton Rouge, LA, I had a chance to get together with two old friends whom I had not seen in decades – one from high school and college and the other from law school. My friend from high school and college brought pictures from the old days. (Note to Reader: It seems I had a bad hair day that lasted from 1970 to 1978) All that catching up and reminiscing put me in the mood to page back through some other episodes from my past.
An encounter with another a friend who had lived for a while in the Northeast caused me to focus on my brief sojourn in Boston, where, during the late 80s, I spent a year getting a specialized law degree in preparation for an academic career. It’s a time of life that I often speak of, but rarely examine in any detail. So, I opened the metaphoric “My Year in Boston” file in my head to see what memories were still there.
For this life-long Southerner, my time “up there” was an amazing, eye-opening experience. On two occasions, as a kid, in the early 1960s, I accompanied my father on business trips to New York. But, besides the Big Apple, Tennessee was the farthest north I traveled until I moved to Boston. The Northeast was just an area on the map, or part of a history lesson, or the setting for a TV show – a beautiful place, judging by the pictures, but until I moved up there, it was really just an abstract idea.
When, in the late-80s, I decided that the shine had worn off the ultra-exciting practice of financial institutions law, I set my cap for a college teaching career and the extra law degree was going to be my ticket into the academy. So, up I went to Boston, with no idea what life would be like, except that I was pretty sure it would be cold in the winter. And it was.
Cold took on a completely new meaning for me. After a heavy snow left drifts halfway up to the door handles on my car, there was a brief warm snap – just enough for the snow to get soggy – and then, of course, it refroze, locking my car in the ice for I can’t remember how long. The natives didn’t seem especially undone by this. “Well . . . it’s winter. What did you think was gonna happen?”
After I extracted my car from the glacier, I loaned it to some friends who had a garage and, for the rest of my time in Boston, I took the T or rode the commuter trains. But mostly, I walked.
What at first seemed like an inconvenience turned out to be the very thing that made my time in New England so memorable. You see so much more when you’re moving at pedestrian speed and not frittering away endless hours hunting for a parking spot. Eventually, the mere prospect of getting on the train or heading out on foot became much more interesting than my original reason for being there.
Lucky for me, I was able to spend the entire summer there. School was over by then, so I had nearly three months of relative leisure ahead of me. I spent my time either getting ready for my first teaching job (way out in New Mexico), walking around Boston, or taking the trains into the interior of the state, stopping at random for a meal or a nice long exploratory walk. Back then, there was a pretty good chance of finding an interesting independent bookstore along the way. I hope that’s still the case. And there was always someone interesting to meet.
I wish I’d kept a diary of my travels, but, alas, I did not. And we certainly didn’t have cell phones with cameras back then. So, what remains of my great adventure is what persists in my memory. As the years pass, my memories of that summer feel more impressionistic, and I’m sure my imagination is filling in details that have fallen by the wayside. Be that as it may, it still looms large as an enchanted time.