The Other Side of the River

Sitting in the back of the classroom right now, half paying attention (I’m trying to win the competition to be the worst TA of the 3 of us) as the Chair of our Dept. gives a presentation on public housing in Boston.  Discussing the “D Street” projects in Southie, their redevelopment in the 1980s and 90s.  Right when my Aunt Phyllis and a gaggle of cousins were living there.  Kind of bizarre to have your family captured in someone’s research (unless of course it’s my own.)  I have this sense that I should be contributing to the class but I’m not sure what I’d add.  Perhaps parading the relatives around the room? Or I talk about my memories of these particular projects (v. the McCormick developments where my grandmother lived for decades), especially the Christmas when my cousin Clare got the Betty Crocker oven and we baked a cake.  Good times.

What I always remember about McCormick (and all projects of this design) is the metallic smell in the hallways, from the metal doors and railings and concrete steps, and how the trash room was referred to as the “incinerator” by my grandmother (e.g., “take the rubbish to the incinerator.”) I always imagined at some point before safety or environmental standards were what they are today, at some point tenants were dropping their trash into a bonfire in the basement.

The real thrills in visiting my grandmother were a) getting to eat off tv trays in my grandmother’s living room, whether the traditional boiled dinner (corned beef and cabbage) or another similarly bland (but no less delicious on my then, conservative, sheltered Irish tastebuds) meat and potatoes dinner; and b) crossing over Columbia Road by using the pedestrian bridge above it. As a kid, I thought this was the coolest thing, climbing the stairs to walk above the cars driving below, reaching the other side safely and without having to wait. This future planner’s urban catwalk.  Pretty sure Jack (dad) was dressed for such a runway, rocking the leather jacket during these mid-80s visits.

Ah, we’ve moved on to my mother’s childhood stomping grounds, Franklin Hill and Franklin Field. M.A.S. is familiar now too, given one of our favorite pastimes is driving through these predominantly now black, Carribean and Latin@ neighborhoods, particularly by the old projects where the Grahams/Taylors/McElaney’s used to live.

How wild, watching folks take notes on your lived experience.


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