I searched for a cogent answer, but I was too drunk to gather my thoughts. Sitting on top of the seventeenth-century gravestone was a translucent figure in strange clothing. ” I asked you, young sir if you agreed with me that a carved turnip lantern was more appropriate for All Hallows eve than these”pumpkins” your ilk seem to like so well.” He glared at me in a truculent fashion. Then, he waved about an enormous turnip carved into a believable skull with tiny wisps of firelight shooting out of the eyes, where the nostrils might have been and the teeth.

It took some time to gather the wits I needed to reply. I could only see the starburst comet trails of the flames as he whipped the skull about my head. It proved too much for my delicate stomach. I leaned over his grave and emptied myself of all the intrusive elements, mostly the beer I had consumed that night. I gasped out, ” I thought you Puritans didn’t go in for all that Halloween stuff.”, ” And who are you calling a nonconformist, thou Ninny! I was a godly man of the Church of England!”
I thought it best to apologize, but before my drunken tongue could frame the words, he swung his turnip at me, and then I saw stars.

I woke at dawn, wondering what I was doing in the Old Burial Ground on the other side of Beacon Hill from where I lived on Grove St. I tried to clear the awful taste from my mouth and pulled away from the mess deposited near the gravestone. Then, I recalled that carving turnip lanterns had predated carved pumpkins. And that had been the central element of my drunken nightmare last night. Then, lurching to my feet, I realized today was All Saints, and last night had been All Hallows Eve – Halloween.
I began to walk toward Charles Street and the Tarry and Taste Donut shop. Coffee and food would sort out my mind.

Then I felt a crunch and looked down at a smashed turnip lantern beneath my feet. The tiniest stub of a candle was in it, almost guttered out. My stomach lurched, and I ran out of the Burying Ground as fast as possible.


A Flashback Friday offering from May 27, 2020

Gentrified, I could barely believe it—the old haunts on Beacon Hill. 32 Grove Street – the wall to wall folkie palace- clean and freshly painted. The murals on the walls depicting less than orthodox Biblical renderings covered over. The smell of stale beer expunged from the stairwell.
Worse our bar, the Harvard Gardens was serving Fine Craft Beers to a clientele that would have shrunk away from my companions and me.
The Single Room Occupancy flophouse that I frequently had called home was now an upscale residence for college students. Lots to remember, all the buildings were there, but nowhere was there a sign of the old Beacon Hill. It had gotten sanitized.
The only familiar face I saw was the very much older Luigi at Luigi’s store on Grove. He studied my face, smiled, grabbed my hand, and said: “Hey, the five bucks you owe me. You got it?”
It’s nice to be remembered.


We all have observances of personal as well as regular holidays. So sometime each year, not too long after Easter, I drive to Boston, walk up Grove street, and remark on how quiet it now seems. The street is clean, the cars of recent vintage, and clearly, the old neighborhood is markedly upscale.

The other day I was coaching a political candidate in the art of making a video campaign statement. The individual hailed from Boston, and the inevitable topic came up about how things have changed. I mentioned that back in the day, the backside of Beacon Hill had been a sort of working-class enclave, unlike the tonier areas towards the Statehouse. The area was home to refugees from the urban renewal of the City’s West End, people who worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital, young impoverished professionals, and Folkies – like me.
The area was not quite a slum and not quite elite. It was an interesting melange of races, cultures, and classes.

Sometimes I forget that I’m no longer thirty, forty, or even sixty anymore, and the individual I was coaching was not half of my age. To him, the 1960s were paleolithic times. But, my God, I was a contemporary of his grandparents – did I need a nap before we continued? There was an inevitable questioning of my description of the area. He’d visited the place. Real estate prices there were sky-high. It was not a cheap place to live. Was I sure we were talking about the same place?
After a bit, we got back to shooting the video, and nothing more was said about Boston.

So when I do my annual visit this year to the street that once housed the flophouse “pad,” my friends and I termed the “Folkie Palace,” I’ll recall that it might be hard for people to envisage the past based on the present.

I’d seen the reaction before. I once had to deal with a skeptical girlfriend who refused to believe that the waterfronts in some of her favorite Maine harbors had once been home to canneries and, in one place, a reeking chicken processing plant. Her resistance to the truth was so strong that I admit that it lessened my ardor for her. But, things are now are not as they once were.

Seeing is deceiving.

%d bloggers like this: