Sunday 04 Dec 2016

A Common Christmas
AJ Robinson

The Boston Common has existed since before Massachusetts was a state. My Dad told me that there was a time when farmers could graze their sheep there. Of course, nowadays it is the Boston public park. Every year, the place gets decked out for Christmas: lights, decorations, the works!

As a kid, I'd rode passed the Commons many times, but never stopped to see it; every once in a while, I'd go to Beacon Hill to help my Dad. I guess I should give some background here. After the war, the "Big One", "W-W Two", as my Dad called it, he was a veteran and newly married. Well, he knew that other vets were going to need housing; what with all the new kids that were going to start arriving! So, he saw that as a way to earn a living.

He started out with a little four-unit apartment building in Cambridge, and he always rented to vets with kids. He figured that way everyone could trade on baby-sitting. By the time I came along, in the early 60's, he'd worked his way up to owning an apartment building on Beacon Hill. Many a weekends I spent helping him scrape, paint, and repair those places. As we worked, he'd tell me stories about the area. He mentioned a place - I'm not sure if it was on Beacon Hill, but it was still interesting. It was a place called "Allen Street", and it was where all the funeral homes for the area had once been. He even recited a poem he knew called "Discharge to Allen Street". It was all about how doctors at a local hospital, when they knew a patient was terminal, would write on their chart: "Discharge to Allen Street". I don't remember if my Dad wrote the poem, or just knew it. Now, today, I'm sorry I never asked.

Then, one Christmas, I must have been about seven or eight, he took me to the Boston Common for Christmas Eve. At first, I wasn't all that hot on the idea (and my lack of enthusiasm had nothing to do with the climate!). I would have much rather stayed home and watched TV, but he would hear none of it.

Walking around, I was so struck by the lights and decorations. They had this wonderful display that showed a full-sized living room - with Santa standing there - in a big glass display case. I could have stared at that for hours. I kept wondering: how'd they get someone's living room all the way out here?

And then came the best part of all. We hiked up Beacon Hill and stood with some people under a lamppost. From somewhere, Christmas carol songbooks appeared, and they were passed out. I couldn't sing worth a lick, but that didn't seem to bother the others. We stayed there, even after it started snowing, and sang carols well passed my bedtime. Somehow, that didn't seem important that night.

I fell asleep on the drive home. It was, without a doubt, the most memorable Christmas Eve I ever shared with my Dad. And, it made me see Boston Common and Beacon Hill in a whole new light. It also made me appreciate family time a whole lot more. Those other Christmases - the ones where I did stay home and watch TV, I don't really remember any of those.

Click here for more by AJ Robinson.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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