Anniversaries and Durgin Park

 My mom and dad met, courted, and got engaged in the city of Boston. They attended college in the city and when we asked Dad when he first noticed Mom, he said “Our junior year, when I was class president and your mom was secretary. I thought she was very efficient.”

And with those romantic words, an uncommon union was born.

So on Tuesday, to celebrate their anniversary of 64 years, we took them to a restaurant they remembered from their college years. Durgin Park is a Boston institution. It has been a landmark of the area since 1827. Their tag line is “We serve history!’ If walls and red, gingham table cloths could talk, they would have tales to tell. Instead, the people who tell these tales are the wait staff. If you want no-nonsense staff who talk back to you and tell you what’s what – Durgin Park is the place for you.

We were fortunate to have Gina – the head hostess – as our server. Gina is Sicilian and has worked at the restaurant for over 40 years. Behind her quick tongue and biting retorts is a heart that loves people and it warmed our hearts to find that she was sincerely interested in who we were. As we ate Yankee Pot Roast, Boston Baked Beans, and corn bread she sat with us and told us some of the history and stories of Durgin Park.

The restaurant served sea men who got off work at 6:30 in the morning. They would come over after long shifts to eat and drink. After a few drinks, they would say all manner of things to the women who worked there. After a while, these women tired of it and decided to give it back. And give it back they did and they do. You do not mess with Durgin Park wait staff!

Don’t go to Durgin Park if you want a quiet, romantic evening. Go if you want to find out more about Boston and experience the Boston that is so much better than the arrogant academics. Go if you’re tired of business men and women who rush through the streets in their chic black uniforms. Go to Durgin Park if you want old Boston. Go if you want to talk and be talked at; go if you want to be served history.

On Tuesday, we chose to be served history as we celebrated my parents. It has been 64 years of marriage on two continents and many houses and cities. The results are obvious. Five children, seventeen grandchildren, spouses of grandchildren and soon to be ten great grands. But there is so much more. The years of prayer and stubborn commitment; the years of travel that included too many goodbyes and hellos to count. And always the years of joy that were woven through all of it.

Durgin Park was witness to one more important thing in history – the celebration of my parent’s life together.

So if you get to Boston this summer, head to Durgin Park, ask for Gina – and tell her the family who celebrated their parent’s 64th anniversary sent you. If she needs further reminders, ask her about her hair dryer.

“If This House Could Talk” – A Cambridgeport Tradition

Between MIT and Harvard University, just off the river, is Cambridgeport. For those who live here, it is a lovely neighborhood. It’s in the city, but still has the feel of a smaller place – safe and walkable, with grocery stores, coffee shops, and drug stores all within walking distance. Yearly, Cambridgeport puts on a program called “If This House Could Talk“. The program takes people on a walk through the neighborhood, where various houses, parks, restaurants, churches and a few other places are selected, a short history written on them. It is a great way to walk the neighborhood and learn more about the past, even while becoming more familiar with the present.

As we walked part of the neighborhood this weekend, we learned that the Kennedy Biscuit Factory a few blocks away was creator of the well-known American cookie – the Fig Newton. We found out that the church on the corner near our house began in 1960 as a mission to children of dock workers who worked on the Charles River and almost shut it’s doors in 1970.

Walking down Magazine toward Central Square we passed our favorite neighborhood restaurant that serves up gyros and pizza with a strong side dish of opinion. The owner, Theo, came from Thessaloniki and treats us to family recipes with a Cambridge diner twist.

An apartment building up the street has several interesting stories. One story is told of an immigrant from Colombia, Maito Auger. As a beautiful 36 year-old, she was asked by a friend one day if she would like to go to America. She laughed and said “Yes, if you bring a limousine to my house I will go!” Read the rest of the story below!

The building Maito lives in is called Woodrow Wilson Court and is a collection of nine different buildings. It is named in honor of President Woodrow Wilson, partly because during his presidency the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was passed.

Another story coming out of this set of buildings is the one below, which will still remain a mystery. Any one want a plot for a novel? This scandal may be just the inspiration that you need.

On Cottage street, one of my favorite streets in Cambridgeport, largely because of the number of cute “cottage” type houses, we passed by several houses with varying histories. The one that caught our eye was the one that informed us that Ben & Casey Affleck had grown up next door, and rumor has it that their mom still lives there.

Heading a few blocks to the right, we made our way back home down a street called Pearl. At Speridakis Terrace we stopped and heard what the street would tell us if it could talk! “A 1913 teenager sent to the Industrial Home for boys after a tea shop heist, a spirited 1929 bride who changed her mind on her wedding day” and more! This street was named for a Cambridge native who died  in combat during World War II.

We learned that Sylvia Plath’s counselor lived a couple of houses around the corner from us. We learned that Model T’s were made in a beautiful building across from the Charles River. And we only saw half of what there is to see. It was a creative way to link past to present and create an appreciation for the neighborhood and the history that precedes us. It also helped to draw us to a greater sense of belonging, a reminder that we are part of something and not on our own.

So, if your house could talk what would it say? What is the hidden history behind your street or your favorite restaurant? Whether you live in a historical or newer neighborhood, someone came before you and if our houses and streets could talk, they would tell us that life was lived with all it’s challenges, joys, complexities, scandals and tragedies.

“Remember the Ladies”

March 8th, 2011 – International Women’s Day2011

…in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.” Abigail Adams‘ letter to her husband john Adams, March 31, 1776

A fitting quote for International Women’s Day with the resounding cry “Remember the Ladies!”.  Its time to pause, take a look at history and celebrate Women. Thousands of events around the globe will be held for the sole purpose of inspiring women and celebrating women’s achievements. This year is significant as it has been 100 years since the first International Women’s Day celebration held in 1911.  Some of the world-wide events include  Cairo activists calling for a million women to march, Australia Post releasing a commemorative stamp honoring four women while Air India is running all women crew flights in honor of this day.

In the myriad of blogs, online news articles and other media stories you will find much news on the day and the issue of women – work for women, equality, fair wages, childcare, places to breastfeed without feeling like you’re committing an indecent act and more. But the story I want to relay is a story you won’t hear in mainstream media sources and as I think of the purpose of International Women’s Day, I think on this women as a picture of persistence, entrepreneurship and hope.

Day two of flood relief in Pakistan saw us at a Baloch village. Maybe it was because it was day two and the excitement was now coupled with exhaustion and recognition of how limited our skills were within our current context but everything felt a bit more difficult. As we were packing up after a busy morning of multiple cases of malaria and malnutrition a woman arrived at the village where we had set up camp. She was accompanied by two other women and after walking over a mile in one hundred degree heat approached the men in our group unafraid to voice the need at her village. “We’re just a short distance away! Why can’t you come to our village?” She was indignant as she looked around and said”We have needs there too!” And so we went. The coldest of hearts could not have refused her persuasive words and our hearts were warm.

Arriving at the village it was a whirlwind camp set up, a quick plea for triage from the doctor, and patients, accompanied by diagnosis and treatment papers, quickly seen and sent off with the right medications. In the midst of this we learned the story of our strong woman friend. She was a widow with eight children. She was a seamstress and proudly sewed for her family and others in the village. Her livelihood had been severely compromised by loss of her sewing machine during the flood. Her story was compelling and her spirit did not call for sympathy or pity, rather it called for partnership.

And we were the ones who knew the need, had the resources and could be partners in moving her back to a place of economic freedom where she could continue her work, her parenting, and her contribution to the village. Our team leader along with the Marwari men, the organizers of all our work, located the perfect sewing machine in the Shikarpur bazaar. It was not electric so could be used despite the frequent power outages and it was shiny, bright and perfect for our entrepreneur.  The sewing machine was purchased and the task was now to find the time during our schedule to return to the village.

The perfect time came as we discussed what to do during our last day in Pakistan. We knew the work of running another medical clinic and felt it was not possible. The decision was made to return to this village with a plan to do some teaching of basic public health, relay some stories of faith in the midst of tragedy and top it off with mithai (Pakistani sweets) and delivery of the sewing machine.

Dancing for joy with a new sewing machine! Photo courtesy of Carol Brown.

I’ll never forget the corporate joy expressed both visibly and verbally by the entire village. Our lovely lady could not rip open the plastic protective covering fast enough. There it was. Shiny and perfect. A symbol of restoration, hope and resourcefulness. The last memory we carried with us was the woman dancing, the machine balanced perfectly on her head with her smile radiating from her heart to her face, accompanied by men, women and children in the village.

Women worldwide don’t need pity but we all need partnerships and some could sure use a sewing machine so today “Remember the Ladies!”

Bloggers Note: Pakistan continues to struggle with floods, assassinations and turmoil. Below are recent articles on several of these events to keep them in the minds of many of us who have a deep love for the country and people. If you are just tuning in to this blog please take a look at the series on Pakistan giving you more background information and other stories.

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