Sunday, July 10, 2011


More of what has become a random series of recollections about a recent trip to New York City, Boston, MA and the wilds of the Maine’s “Down East” coast.

WHEN JOHN WAYNE was dying of cancer, President Ronald Reagan asked all Americans to hold in their hearts and pray for “a real American hero.” I recalled this State-of-the-Union comment several times as I walked through the oldest sections of Boston on the brick lined “Freedom Trail.”

Early on, we come across the first of several “burial grounds” around which the old city of Boston grew. Out west, we call ‘em cemeteries, although Dad called them “Marble Gardens” to the undying chagrin of Mom. No marble in these however. In the late seventeenth century, markers were carved into slabs of slate, the most readily available resource.

Some three hundred years later, layers of these markers have dissolved or exfoliated to dust. Letters and symbols are mere shadows of the remembrances carved so few centuries ago.

There’s a monument marking Paul Revere’s eternal plot in this first burial ground. John Adams, too. Hancock rested in the next yard. These were men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to something bigger than themselves. Make that “people:” Some say Hester Prynne’s real-life personage is interred locally.

THE CITY OF BOSTON, in conjunction with the National Park Service has marked the 2.6 mile walk though the United States embryonic beginnings by laying a double course of bricks into and out of the oldest buildings in the city. Streets are narrow and crooked – perhaps only enough room for a citizen on a horse to pass another. An old European urban geography invites exploration down alleys and through passages that ultimately open onto one of many widened thoroughfares.

America’s oldest tavern is close by.

There’s a church where Charles Wesley preached.

As is the south meeting hall where locals devised plans to protest that the tax on tea did not come with a representative voice for the citizenry. There, too, plans to alarm the hinterlands regarding British movements were hatched.

Down the path apiece, because things advanced the way these things do, thirteen colonists were shot dead by redcoats who received no return fire.

Up a few blocks north, another church: one from which, one April evening, lanterns hung.

We passed by another burial ground. I can’t remember who, if anyone, famous reposed there. But the dates suggested that the souls interred interacted with those whose words and actions are heralded by history. In some way, each of these early citizens had a role to play in the early days of the protest, revolution, conflict and ultimate birth.

Walking along the Freedom Trail, I considered the heroes of our early history and those we revere now. I nodded at a City of Boston firefighter, sitting on the bumper of his engine, just inside an open garage door, then took liberties in shaking his hand. A bit later, a cop blew a shrill whistle, pointed directly at me, admonishing me not to cross against the light. I thought of the serviceman, still in his fatigues I’d seen over at Logan International, and the teacher walking beside me.

REAGAN’S “REAL AMERICAN HERO,” the late Marion Morrison – the “Duke” – John Wayne was a movie actor. Early in career, the roles were simple: read the lines slow, ride a horse and hit someone in a bar room brawl. Later, he received a bit more compelling roles. I’ll always like the way he pulled off Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.” But, as far as reality goes, the Duke was only a man delivering someone else’s lines. Unfortunately, just like Mr. Reagan and many of the political leaders of our day.

I wondered if this doesn’t, somehow, happen to all of us. Stepping aboard the USS Constitution, I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in an ancient, bubbled piece of glass and couldn’t help musing that I, myself, may have slipped into a life where what I did was as insignificant as the delivery someone else’s lines.

AMONG THE REASONS we restore, protect and maintain sites such as Paul Revere’s house or the Old North Church is so that passers-by can pause for a moment, and, perhaps, catch a reflection of some larger image.

This I did. “The Freedom Trail,” I said, to the teacher walking beside me, “is not a mere 2.6 miles in long. The Freedom Trail is a path of undetermined length – one that spans the nation over which we had so recently flown, and one that continues to expand.” I gesticulated with a finger swirling in the air. “It expands as long as we respect and revere those who spend their lives in services to causes greater than themselves!”

The teacher walking beside me, not aware of my inner machinations, looked at me curiously, took my hand and patted it gently.  She suggested I might be taking things a bit too seriously.

Stopped in my esoteric tracks, I nodded and laughed out loud. Together, we wished we could remember how to get back to that old tavern.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

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