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The cradle of liberty. One if by land, two if by sea. Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes. The Pilgrims. The Salem witch trials and the lessons they taught. Havlicek stole the ball. Parquet floor. Fenway Park, home to Carlton Fisk's ending of the greatest baseball game ever played, and setting for one of the greatest lines ever written (John Updike on Ted Williams' refusal to acknowledge the cheers following his home run in his final at bat: "Gods don't answer letters.").
Yes, I was primed for this vacation, and all the LESSONS that I could bore, URRR, I mean teach, my kids.
Of course, anyone with spawn of their own would know that my children were prepared for this trip in their own way:
1. "Are there McDonalds' in Boston?"
2. "Can we go on the duck boats?"
The answers to these questions are of course:
1. "Yeahyeahyeah. Now as John Updike wrote..."
2. "What the heck is a duck boat?"
I guess I'd better explain about the duck boats (or do your own investigating at http://www.bostonducktours.com). They're amphibious boats driven by wacky tour guides, and they give you a land and water view of the city. Just the kind of thing that, say, the Pope or Winston Churchill would think of doing first upon landing in Beantown. This was the one activity that my children, God bless 'em, wanted to do more than any other. And no, we were unable to "score" duck boat tickets. And yes, there was a price to be paid. More on that later.
What we DID do was spend a day in Plymouth, located about halfway between Boston and Cape Cod. There we saw Plimouth Plantation, a recreation of the Pilgrims' settlement, with actors portraying real pilgrims. Naturally, this brought out the "best" in tourists. My favorite was a fat guy wearing a t-shirt and velcro sneakers who was trying to debate an actor playing Myles Standish about the best techniques to fight Indians (or "savages" as "Standish" called them). After the Plantation, we saw the Mayflower II and took a cruise of Plymouth Harbor, before heading to the cleverly-named Mayflower Restaurant for dinner. Sitting on a deck over the harbor, downing a few cold "Hahpoon's" while eating seafood, listening to REM's Monster, and gazing at the Mayflower II silhouetted in the setting sun, it's easy to think "It doesn't get much better."
Our actual Boston sightseeing was limited by the fact that two of our three children have short attention spans and shorter legs.
We saw the New England Aquarium, had lunch in Quincy Market, and rode the swan boats in the Public Garden, made famous by the book "Make Way for Ducklings."
It was while walking to the Public Garden that I realized that although perhaps some of my life's trespasses have been forgiven, not all of them have. Here's the scene:
My four-year-old daughter Emily was wearing a two-foot-high balloon hat made for her by a clown when we were having lunch (anyone who's ever met Emily will have no problem picturing this, but if you're curious, check our photos out). All the walking finally pushed her mind over the edge, so she started saying again and again "Me go on ducky boats!" (this is NOT how she normally talks!!!!). My son was on my shoulders and started jackknifing his body so his head was upside down in my face, and HE started saying it too.
So the sight of a man with one child upside down in his face, and another one wearing a two-foot-high balloon hat, both of them chanting "Me go on ducky boats!" probably inspired an interesting combination of pity and contempt in passers by. It certainly inspired an undesirable combination of backache and headache in me.
Then a low branch in the Public Garden popped one of the balloons in Emily's hat, setting off a chain reaction that sounded like fire crackers, and leaving her with a bunch of drooping rubber hanging from her head. All of which only made her want to go on the ducky boats that much more.
Only other point about our Boston sightseeing is that on our walk back to our car, we asked our kids what they'd enjoyed most, and after their parents spent hundreds of dollars and tons of energy to show them some compelling peeks at history, they unanimously reported that their favorite part was the chocolate covered pretzels we'd bought at a candy shop while strolling.
We spent the remainder of our time in Massachusetts staying with Mike Myers and his wife in their beautiful 18th century house in the country. Mike and Catherine took us to a petting zoo farm with Mark Leonard and his family, and hired a baby sitter so my wife and I could enjoy a night with them in Boston's South End. The subjects of balloon hats or ducky boats somehow never came up.
Updike wrote that Ted Williams "knew how to do the hardest thing: quit." So I'll take his advice at this point and end this tale of the George family's summer vacation.