When I was a kid, I had cousins who lived in Massachusetts. They used to come down to the Eastern Shore for a good chunk of every summer.
There were two older boys, their sister – a couple years older than me, and the redheaded baby brother with a 100 mph bouncing-off-the-walls enthusiasm for vacation and a taste for biting people. Their parents, my aunt and uncle, really my mom’s first cousin and his wife, were always very kind to me. Our immediate and extended Maryland branch of the family tree lived close to one another. For a decade or so of my formative years, the visits from the cousins from Massachusetts were a count-on-it annual tradition.
Our family used to be more like that. I remember seeing on the regular, our relatives from Massachusetts, my aunt, uncle, and cousin from Delaware, old Dave & Eleanor from Philly, and Aunt Reba and Uncle Bud. Reba was the head of the Bristol Flare Corp. and a pioneer female corporate executive. Bud, the janitor. Or so they always told me.
But, you know, time goes by and times change. The old folks die and break the connections they had with this world, the young ones stray from the rituals of the past and then they themselves become the old folks.
The planet shrinks, and grows insurmountably bigger and more complex as it does so.
We lose touch.
When I was a kid, my girl cousin from Massachusetts was my pen pal.
When the Massachusetts cousins came down in the summer, between three day Monopoly games and group hikes down to Bill’s Bargain Center for root beer popsicles, Batman flavored (what flavor is Batman? who cares it’s Batman.) blue snow-cones, and full-size Reese’s cups for a nickel, my girl cousin from Massachusetts and I would hang out a lot. My girl cousin from Massachusetts helped me understand the Beatles. We wrote books together sometimes.
I visited Massachusetts when I was about ten, maybe twelve. My aunt and I walked Boston’s Freedom Trail, but I was almost more interested in the fact that I could walk (walk!) to a department store that had plastic figures of the Groovy Ghoulies for sale. My aunt gave me money to buy them. She took me to a comic book store, a drive-in movie, and past the real House of the Seven Gables. There are parts of that trip that have stuck with me for four decades and parts that popped into my head – the white Cape Cod next door, my aunt’s sister Ann and her husband Cookie – as my wife and I planned our visit to Massachusetts over Memorial Day 2013.
Our trip couldn’t have been nicer.
We saw stuff, we did things.
On our overnight to Boston, my wife and I rode amphibious duck trucks for a quick survey of the city http://www.bostonducktours.com/, hit Faneuil Hall for some shopping and tasting http://www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com/, and the bars around the Haymarket district, including an Irish pub with a bartender full of brogue and attitude, the Bell in Hand (the oldest pub in the country – est.1795), and the bar at Cheers (not the real, fake Cheers but the fake, real Cheers). We rode the T all over town. Our visit into the city was capped by a night at Fenway Park courtesy of my girl cousin from Massachusetts. The game went to the Indians, but we did see a David Ortiz three run homer. We had hotdogs and crackerjacks and we drank lemonade. Just attending the game felt like being some small part of athletic and cultural history. http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark/index.jsp
Side note#1: The people of Boston proper were, in general, not very friendly.
Side note#2: In all things, there is rivalry between Boston and New York. On our first trip to New York, my wife and I were walking to an off-Broadway show in a sketch section of pre-Giuliani NYC when out of nowhere a man stepped to my side and said, “Do you want to buy some crack?” I was so thrown, I replied, “No thanks, we’re going to a show.” He said: “Which one?” I told him. He said, “Cool. Have a good time.”
A Boston subway employee grunted directions at me last weekend
Now, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in New England’s largest city (population: 617,594), and no one was ever aggressively unpleasant, but if the contest between the Big Apple and Beantown is who’s the surliest?
The Cradle of Liberty wins hands down.
We spent the weekend and Memorial Day at the home of my girl cousin from Massachusetts.
My girl cousin from Massachusetts and her BFF took great and generous care of us. They fed us lobster. We drank a lot of booze. The two of them were giddy with the excitement of watching Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas with us for our first time.
We had two great restaurant meals. I ate Myers rum blackened swordfish with a pineapple salsa at the Bonefish Grill and at the Tuscan Kitchen, meatballs, mussels, lobster ravioli, and a gelato taster that included a killer basil strawberry.
My girl cousin from Massachusetts invited my aunt and other cousins over for a rainy day cook-in and a few hysterical hours of a dice game called Left Center Right. Partying with my cousins, they remembered Eastern Shore names and places and times that don’t exist anymore. Maybe it’s because their memories are sharper than those of us who watch the daily changes of life without always noting the passage of time.
But mostly we just enjoyed each others company.
Family ties are important.
I hope you call or drop a line to a long distance relative today.
You both will be better for it.
And it will be a heck of a way to kickstart summer.