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Goodbye, Boston

by Ramona Flightner

@ramonaflightner

As I stole a few moments to rest before the movers arrived, I catalogued the sounds of my neighborhood. The realization that this would be the last time I’d be in my home in Boston slowly permeated my drowsy consciousness. I smiled as the mockingbird sang, as though gifting me with a goodbye serenade. I listened to the soft “whir” of the jet engines in nearby Logan airport and imagined the travelers excited for their upcoming travels. I heard my neighbor’s footsteps on the stairs as she descended to retrieve her newspaper. I grimaced as a car passed with the bass blaring “boom-boom-boom”, my china no longer rattling as it was packed away in boxes. I knew that in a not too distant day in the future, these would be memories I’d retrieve and recall, some with more fondness than they merited.

Soon, I was too busy talking with the movers, laughing, battling nerves, and bustling around to ensure that the correct items were packed, to notice anything but the chaos occurring in my condo. The sounds of my neighborhood faded into the background.

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Within a few hours, my house was packed up, cleaned, and I was ready to leave and never return. The word surreal doesn’t even suffice for how I was feeling. As I drove out of Boston, I kept staring at the familiar buildings, and I failed to have the understanding that I wouldn’t be back in a few days or weeks. I continue with the sense I’m on vacation rather than starting a new chapter in my life.

Our first stop was Tanglewood, and we heard a wonderful concert with Joshua Bell performing. I had thought I was too tired to attend, but thankfully I found the energy to attend.

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After a drive to Buffalo, we had a “day of rest” where we traveled around the Lake Chautauqua area, and then down to Limestone, NY where my great-grandmother was from and where she is buried. It was a gorgeous day, and I didn’t have to drive, so it was restful.

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The beautiful hotel at the Chautauqua Institute.

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A view from the porch (they had great rocking chairs), toward Lake Chautauqua.

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A poster advertising their book club. Should I join?

Thus, as you can see, my move to Montana is going well, and we are enjoying the journey so far. (I’m traveling with my aunt). If you’d like to follow along with my journey west, I’m posting pictures daily on Instagram. It’s the first time I’ve really used it and I find I really love it! http://www.instagram.com/rflightner/

I’ll try to blog again soon about the journey.

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A view from my work window. As you can imagine, it wasn’t a very busy day that day…

 

by Ramona Flightner/@ramonaflightner

Now that March has finally arrived, and it has begun to warm up this week, I am hopeful that Boston’s near-record snowfall will finally melt away. There are some diehard Bostonians hoping for a little more snow to finally break the all time snow record for a single season, but I could do without. Living through the snowiest February on record (which beat the old record by over 20 inches) sufficed. I have to admit, living in a major city that received over 100 inches of snow in a month was not on my bucket list and one I hope to never live through again. And yet, it was a fascinating experience because as it continued to snow, all I could do was shake my head, give thanks I had a house with heat, and try to smile.

While shoveling, I saw neighbors I don’t see frequently in the winter and had fun catching up. I met new neighbors who had just moved in across the street a few months ago. Men with snowblowers became my new best friends. During the first storm in January (which feels like years ago!), I relished the absolute quite. No plows, no cars, no planes. It was extraordinarily peaceful as the world turned white. However, I’m now ready for spring to burst forth!

For those of you who live in the area, you will have lived through similar experiences. For those of you who’ve had milder winters (here’s looking at you, Montana!), I thought I’d share some photos.

 

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After the first storm in January, on my walk to work, I found a Mt. Everest of snow impeding the sidewalk. I soon took to walking the streets as they were the only places that were consistently clear and now, 6 weeks later, I’m still in the streets some.

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After storm number 2, (I think), this is my car. Yes, that bell-shaped curve thing is my car. My goal is to drive it again in April….

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Receiving and sending mail became a challenge. Some good- hearted samaritan dug this mail box out, but it was still a challenge to get to it. There were many weeks I got mail only two or three times.

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After the major snow storm on President Day’s weekend, I spent quite a bit of time digging out with my neighbor. We had a great time chatting and it’s when we met the roofers (see below). We went out during the “warmest” part of the day, when it was 12 degrees…

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While my aunt in Arizona sent me this t-shirt! I laughed so hard when I got it and wished I could have jumped on the next plane and joined her there.

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The words “ice dams” didn’t form a large part of my lexicon before this winter. I knew they were bad and I knew they caused damage, but I’d never seen any like I saw this winter. I had the beginning of an ice damn on my building, and my neighbor and I were fortunate enough to find roofers digging out their truck right by our house. After chatting with them a bit, they took a look at it and came to clear it for us the next day. It was a  real relief for us. I’m thankful we didn’t have to cope with an ice dam like this one I saw near Beacon Hill last week.

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As of the end of last week, the Mt. Everest of snow was finally cleared away, over a month later.

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And here is an updated photo of my car. I’m still shooting for April, but there needs to be some warmer weather!

As my aunt said, I’ll never be so happy to see crocuses as this year!

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Boston Fire Museum

The Boston Fire Museum

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

While I was writing the prequel for the Banished Saga, Love’s First Flames, I needed to research how fires were fought in Boston. Thus, I visited the Boston Fire Museum one Saturday morning and learned about fire fighting through the years. I had learned some information about the system and firefighters in the wonderful book A City So Grand: The Rise of An American Metropolis: Boston 1850-1900 by Stephen Puleo, but I needed more specific information about how a fire would have been fought in the 1880’s.

 When I arrived, I was met by a guide eager to walk me through fire fighting since the colonial period. While I was conducting research, most people at the museum that day were there with their children, hoping to get on one of the trucks to ring the bell on a fire truck and take photos.

Buckets used in Colonial Boston to fight fires.

Buckets used in Colonial Boston to fight fires.

 In the colonial period, all houses were required to keep two buckets by the front door. When the fire bell sounded, they had to rush out to the well where a line would form a bucket brigade. In 1782, Thayer (a student of Paul Revere) made a hand pump that was hand carried to fires. The buckets were still needed as that was how the pump was filled with water. This was considered the first fire engine.

This Thayer pump is from 1792. It was filled with buckets of water and was a hand pumped fire engine.

This Thayer pump is from 1792. It was filled with buckets of water and was a hand pumped fire engine. It was one of the first fire engines in Boston.

 Up until 1859, Boston had what I would term a “pay for service” model for fire fighting. Men from the different fire fighting groups in the neighborhoods would visit the residents in the neighborhood once a year and sell a policy for their fire fighting service in the unlikely event their services were needed. If you purchased their aid, you’d put a marker in your doorway showing who was responsible to fight the fire. If a fire were to break out in your house, all of the different fire fighting groups would arrive, but the only ones who would fight the fire would be the ones whose emblem was over your doorway. The others would call out disparaging comments as the fire raged, never helping to fight the fire. If you’d not purchased any coverage for the year, you’d be able to buy it at that moment, but at a much greater price. If you couldn’t or wouldn’t buy coverage, they would stand and watch your home burn.

Fire emblems you'd hang over your door to indicate who was protecting you in case of a fire

Fire emblems you’d hang over your door to indicate who was protecting you in case of a fire

 

Thus, in 1859, Boston re-organized the Boston Fire Department and did away with the neighborhood fire fighting groups and standardized the fire fighting efforts throughout the city. The necessity of purchasing an emblem or seal was no longer needed. My guide told me that it was a wild time to be a fire fighter as the men who had been part of the volunteer groups were disgruntled that they’d been disbanded and actively vandalized the equipment.

In the mid 1800’s another hand pump was used that required a vast number of men to man it. 20 to 25 men at a time were required to propel the water through the hoses. Firemen grabbed onto metal bars on either side of the pump and rocked the bar up and down to propel the water through the hose. It was exhausting work and men would only be able to do it for 3-5 minutes before needing a break. It required a group of 80-100 men, taking turns, to man it during a fire. Bystanders often joined in to help power the pump.

Hand pump requiring 20 or more men to make it work.

Hand pump requiring 20 or more men working in tandem to make it work.

 

In the 1860’s, steam powered pumps were introduced to the fire department. These were larger pumps and were pulled by horses to the fire. Eight to ten firefighters would hang off the side of the pump, waiting to reach the fire and jump down to battle the blaze. A fire fighter in the fire station was required to ensure that the correct steam pressure was maintained throughout the day, every day. He kept an hourly log of the steam pressure. If the pressure was incorrect, he would lose his position as they had to be prepared at any moment for a fire.

This is the type of steam powered fire pump that would have been used in the 1880's, the time of Love's First Flames.

This is the type of steam powered fire pump that would have been used in the 1880’s, the time of Love’s First Flames.

 

Another view of the steam fire engine

Another view of the steam fire engine

This is the type of fire engine that would have been used in Love’s First Flames.

Steam powered fire pump pulled by horses

Steam powered fire pump pulled by horses

 

 

I greatly enjoyed my visit to the Boston Fire Museum and would recommend a visit if you are in Boston and have the opportunity to visit.

 

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The prequel to the Banished Saga is now available at all e-book major retailers for free! I hope you enjoy it and please consider leaving a review as reviews help others decide to take a chance on a new author.

Beautiful Fenway Park- no better place to watch a ballgame!

Beautiful Fenway Park- no better place to watch a ballgame!

I am a life-long Boston Red Sox Fan. You may wonder what the Red Sox have to do with writing, but before 2004, when they reversed the curse and won the World Series for the first time in 86 years, they taught me plenty. I learned patience, perseverance, how to hold my chin up after a crushing defeat, and an unflagging optimism that the next game/ series/ season would be different. Finally, it was.

The 2013 Pennant- hopefully this will be a red World Series banner soon!

The 2013 Pennant- hopefully this will be a red World Series banner soon!

My greatest joy about the 2004 World Series win was that my grandfather lived to see it. He had gone to almost weekly games in a  nearly deserted Fenway Park in the 50’s, watching “his” Ted Williams play. He and my aunt were at the World Series Game 6 in 1975 where Carlton Fisk waved the ball fair. He lamented with me when I was a girl after the devastating game 6 loss in 1986. Through it all, he never lost his faith in the Sox or his love of the game. He was the first person I called after the Sox won in 2004 and he was so moved, he was unable to speak.

Even Ted Williams has a beard!

Even Ted Williams has a beard!

This year, the Sox are back in the World Series. I never thought to go to a World Series game, and yet I found myself in beautiful Fenway Park on Thursday night. My aunt and I arrived early. Along Yawkey way, it had the feel of a carnival. A man walked around on stilts and a jazz band played. The new blue pennant blew in the breeze, one that I hope will soon be changed into a red World Series flag. Another new addition to the outside of Fenway was a board with all of the beards of the players. I hadn’t realized all the beards had names.

A Wall of Red Sox Beards!

A Wall of Red Sox Beards!

 

A close up of the beards

A close up of the beards

Close up of the beards

Close up of the beards

Our seats were fantastic, and I enjoyed watching  as the fans trickled in, their excitement and anticipation of the game adding an electric energy. I loved seeing Mariano Rivera, and cheering him as his storied career was honored and celebrated. Then, Red Sox greats from the 2004 World Series emerged from the dugout to throw the first pitch. Jason Varitek, Keith Foulke, Trot Nixon, Kevin Millar, Derek Lowe, Mike Timlin, and Pedro Martinez threw out the first pitches with David Ortiz giving them the balls.

Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera

 

The great Frank Robinson

The great Frank Robinson

 

The players from 2004-preparing for the first pitch

The players from 2004-preparing for the first pitch

James Taylor sang the National Anthem. I loved hearing James Taylor sing and his simple, beautiful version of the Anthem. I remember as a child that everyone used to always sing along with the anthem, but that seems a rare occurrence now. When James Taylor sang in his soft, lyrical voice, everyone joined in.

James Taylor preparing to sing the National Anthem

James Taylor preparing to sing the National Anthem

The World Series Logo

  Each Red Sox player has a clip of music that  plays as they come up for their at-bats. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a bit of country played for him. I think David Ortiz’s is reggaeton. The best is Shane Victorino’s choice. He chose music from Bob Marley’s song, “Three Little Birds,” and he won’t step into the batter’s box until the crowd sings to him, “Every little thing’s gonna be all right.” What a great way to start each at bat!

Even Wally has a beard!

Even Wally has a beard!

Game Two was filled with highs and lows. The typical ecstasy and then agony that comes with Red Sox Fandom. When Big Papi, David Ortiz, hit his homer in the 6th inning, I leapt to my feet along with everyone else and screamed until I was nearly hoarse. I’ve never been in the park when there was so much energy. Then the agony came with the problematic, error filled seventh inning. The edge of my seat hope that the Sox would again have a come from behind win was dashed and the series was tied at 1-1.

A view of the scoreboard when we were winning

A view of the scoreboard when we were winning

Although the Sox didn’t win game two, I remain optimistic that they will bounce back and I will be able to attend a Red Sox World Series Parade. I know attending a World Series game was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I will always treasure the memory of being at Fenway with my aunt to see my Red Sox play in the Fall Classic.

Koji Uehara- so great to see him pitch!

Koji Uehara- so great to see him pitch!

 

The new statue of Yaz- bearded!

The new statue of Yaz- bearded!

 

Homes on Beacon Hill

At heart, I know I am a conservationist. I am happiest when I am in a forest with no one else nearby. At the same time, I love old neighborhoods where I can envision what life was like a hundred years ago. I close my eyes and I hear the clip-clop of horse’s hooves, the clicking of women’s shoes and the rustle of their long skirts as they stroll by me. I think my love of wild spaces and old places are two sides of the same coin.

Louisberg Square, Beacon Hill

Building on Charles Street, Boston

On Sunday, I decided to go on a short ramble through parts of Boston. I walked around Beacon Hill, strolled through Louisburg Square and then down to Charles Street. As I walked along Charles Street, I envisioned Clarissa, the main character in my novels, taking the same walk. I studied the architecture, noting buildings and architectural details that would have been present in 1900. I tried to imagine what it looked like then with carriages and delivery carts vying for the right of way.

I turned onto Cambridge Street (across from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Liberty Hotel), again wishing that what I was seeing was not truly across the street from me. To my right were the old brick buildings on the edge of Beacon Hill. To my left were the recently constructed, concrete monoliths standing on what had been the vibrant West End. Instead of an interesting, ethnic neighborhood, I saw a sterile area devoid of any charm.

When I look at old pictures of Boston, Beacon Hill seems to flow seamlessly into the West End. There is no easy demarcation of one neighborhood from the other.

Today, it is easy to see where one ends and the other begins. The charming streets with gaslights, brick buildings, and old wrought iron gates of Beacon Hill end abruptly on the southern side of Cambridge Street.

One of the remaining buildings on Blossom Street that Clarissa would have walked past

In my attempt to understand what the West End was like, I have to find “old-timers” who remember the neighborhood before it was destroyed in the late 1950’s. I speak with my neighbors and enjoy listening to their stories about the West End and what a wonderful place it was. I have visited the West End Museum. And yet, nothing will ever be able to recapture what was lost.

As I continued my amble, I turned left onto Blossom Street because Clarissa taught at a school that no longer stands on that street. There are two brick buildings, now part of MGH, that appear to be from the time Clarissa would have taught. One was hidden behind scaffolding so I took a picture of the other one. I continued to wander through the neighborhood at noon on a Sunday. The streets were eerily quiet, although I realized that there were no stoops for neighbors to sit on. No easy way to form a cohesive sense of community. Only high-rise apartment buildings interspersed amongst the hospital buildings.

Beautiful preserved building near the Bulfinch Triangle from 1887

Soon I was near North Station and the Boston Garden. I glanced toward the buildings around the Garden, and I did not have to close my eyes to envision what it had been. The new building formed a bland palette that allowed itself to be easily ignored and superimposed by my memory of a photograph of the glorious North Union Station.

The Custom’s House

The Ames Building

I know that many will argue that cities must change with the times, that older buildings are impractical and would cost too much to bring up to modern standards.

However, when I look around the Boston skyline, it’s not the new, soulless glass monoliths rising into the sky that draw my attention.

It’s buildings like the Customs House or the Ames Building. It’s neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, the North End, the Back Bay and the South End that draw the tourists and give Boston its charm. Each neighborhood has its own distinct, rich history.

I hope we have learned that once a building, or neighborhood, has been torn down, there is no way to replace what we have lost. And what we have lost might be more precious than we could ever have imagined.

Which would you prefer to walk past today?

Boston’s North Union Station, 1897, via Boston Architectural Club Catalog courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Looking at the same place as above, as seen today.

The Boston Gardens/ North Station area today

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