My college girlfriend used to accuse me of having a New England Mind. It was not meant as a compliment. She saw in me a certain provincialism that irritated her. Of course, she was absolutely right. At the time, I had spent almost my entire life within 50 miles of Boston. I had never been on a plane. I had no concept of Chinese food beyond pork fried rice and egg rolls. I had no license and had never driven a car. I rode subways and buses, or walked, or just stayed home.
There were some advantages to being a “townie” on campus. Since no one was allowed a car anyway, it was good to know where the subways and buses went, and what you might do when you got there. Some of my classmates also found it useful to have a connection for when they needed beer, or perhaps something stronger. Still, there was something odd about being a local.
I had unwittingly cast my lot with the overprivileged or, at least, with their children. In my 18 year-old wisdom, I had applied only to schools in Boston. I figured, why should I leave home when people come from all over to go to school here? I visited none of the colleges where I had applied. I chose the school that gave me the best package, financially. It made sense to me at the time.
It was quite the shock to be thrown in among these folks. Kids my age who had calling cards with Park Avenue addresses. Kids who willingly wore argyle and were into crewing. Kids who were already die-hard country club Republicans. I even met a prince, off to sow his wild oats in America before buckling down to some serious princing.
I had no idea such creatures really existed.
My life hadn’t exactly been sheltered, more circumscribed. My closest friends were artists and musicians. I knew a lot of ordinary folk: teachers, firemen, mechanics, a doctor, a few lawyers. On the fringe: junkies, lunatics, petty criminals. These people I could relate to. I could talk to the wine soaked semi-homeless guy in the bus terminal. He was familiar. He made some sense. By comparison, these new people might have been little green men from Mars.
To be fair, I’m sure the feeling was mutual. I’ve since flown in a plane, though I was 32 years old. I eventually learned to drive, though I never learned to enjoy it. I’ve become intimately acquainted with almost anything edible. On the other hand, I’ve still spent almost my entire life within 50 miles of Boston. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I have a New England Mind. This is home and I like it.
I like the clean white spires of the Congregationalists. Burning leaves on an October afternoon. Leaf-peeping out my window. Persian carpet lawns. Raking piles for my children to jump in. Warm apple fritters. The yellow harvest moon rising over my tiny square of city.
I like the first snowfall of the winter, most of the others too. Shoveled-out driveways and sidewalks like so many sandcastles. Clean white city streets with all the grime buried for a day. A cold nose and whiskey by the fire. A brittle December moon through ice covered branches.
I like our violent two-week spring, when everything blossoms all at once. The morning song of a chick-a-dee. Green, green, green and the sweet hay scent of fresh-cut grass. Early asparagus. The first really warm day when everyone smiles. Throwing open all the windows for a salt breeze off the harbor.
I like hot sandy beaches and freezing Atlantic water. Sea-spray and clam shacks and a faint whiff of ketchup. The first watermelon of the summer. Music box nursery rhymes and lemonade trucks. Smoky grills and butter-sugar corn. Children laughing under a sprinkler somewhere.
I like town greens and city squares. Pullman car diners and everything fried. Coffee soda, birch beer, Moxie with milk. Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Coffee ice cream and frozen pudding. Autocrat syrup. Sky Bars and Neccos. Hot buttered doughnuts.
From my little corner I can walk anywhere. To the market, the pharmacy, the package store. The library, the post-office, my children’s schools. To the park, the zoo, the playground. The lake, the river, the ocean. A bakery, a coffee shop, a good Irish pub. Why would I leave? What more could I need?
I know where my great-great-grandparent’s graves are. Where else would I go?
Call me provincial. That’s ok. It doesn’t bother me in the least. This is home and I like it. I have a New England Mind.