Monday, August 31, 2009

Dorchester, Mass. through the ages

Plucky tykes full of vim and vigor gambol along Dorchester's sidewalks and through its playgrounds under their mothers' watchful eyes. As they grow up, they still see the Dot without judgement or rancor. Dorchester is a good place in which to savor your first bites out of life. Innocence begets joy and Dorchester provides plenty of joy for the imps who play in its environs. It is a family-friendly neighborhood, a fecund cornucopia of newborns and just-borns and toddlers and pre-schoolers who find pleasure and adventure in each others' supervised company. Adventure and new discovery await around every corner.

Around age nine or ten, Dorchester's children become a bit more hard-edged. They have seen their share of hard feelings shared in the harshest manner. They have learned to be rude when the occasion calls for it. The can cuss. They can insult in the time-tested manner of street urchins the world over. They aren't jaded yet, they aren't flinty. They just have a taste of the slow corrosion that a city breeds when people are packed tightly together and a knuckle sandwich or a few well-greased greenbacks smooth the way more easily than proper, meritorious civility. It may take a village to raise a child, but a burly city raises adults schooled in hard knocks.

Teenagers in Dorchester think they've got it all figured out and in some ways they do. Sometimes nice people finish last....at least it seems that way. No matter how many priests staff the parishes and how many evangelists take to the street corners; no matter how many social workers intervene and no matter how many politicians bemoan the lack of law and order and do their best to hire more policemen, Dorchester defies good intentions. So many people packed so tightly together invites a contagion of vice and the young, who haven't much immunity, are susceptible to the lures of the easy buck, the cheap sensation, the feeling of being that comes at no apparent cost until the the effects of snowballing actions catch up.

Young families set up house in Dorchester every day. Some are offshoots of more established families that have existed in the neighborhood for two, three, or more generations. Some couples move here cold and inexperienced, warm to the idea of living close to neighbors and sharing a block of three-deckers. Children are born. Children are always born and life begins anew whenever two people love each other and decide to live together. Diplomacy begins on a mattress and hopefully those good intentions and that goodwill will spill out the bedroom window, over the streets and into the schools and courtrooms and convenience stores. Maybe money will grow on trees or maybe wishes will be fishes and all anyone will have to do to eat is think good thoughts and click their heels. Maybe a smile really can serve as an umbrella.

Middle-aged couples spend their excess pocket change dining out and shopping while squirreling away whatever they can salvage for their offspring's college tuition. Few people think of sending their children to Dorchester colleges. There is UMASS Boston at the tip of Harbor Point and there is LaBoure Nursing College, but beyond those options, there aren't any institutions of higher learning. Not officially. Anyone can get a job in Dorchester and learn as much and more working day-to-day in this hustle-and-bustle community. They won't get book smarts, but street smarts. They won't be philosophers unless they choose to think too much but they will know how to navigate the business world and make right by giving good service. What is life, after all, but providing needed services to our fellow human beings?

There are worse places in which to spend a life from cradle to grave than Dorchester, Mass. Generations have travelled from womb to tomb without venturing farther north than Andrew Square or farther south than Lower Mills. The shores of Dorchester Bay was the limits of their eastward horizon and they turned back after venturing too far into Franklin Park's convoluted, wooded pathways.

A spinster has given up hope for a groom and she sleeps contentedly on the second floor flat she's rented for three decades on Pearl Street. Her dry cleaner's wage pays all the bills and she feels entitled to die at this address. An old man, his back bent and aching from laying bricks all his adult life, sits on his front porch on Bowdoin Street, suspended two stories above the traffic on the road and he smiles as he watches the sun set over the buildings as the shrieks of children and the easily tossed, profane curses of adolescents drift up to his rocking chair. He once squealed as a babe on these very streets. He once swore a blue streak for no reason but his anger. He isn't angry now. He is content living in Dorchester where many things begin and many things end.

3 comments:

Fibro Witch said...

Pure poetry I love this place.

Whalehead King said...

It's an easy place to love. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story you got here. I'd like to read a bit more about this theme. The only thing it would also be great to see here is a few pics of some gadgets.
Jeff Watcerson
Cell phone jammers

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