When I was 27, and just beginning to build my consulting practice, I lived in an apartment carved out of an 1860’s townhouse, in a row of townhouses, on the flat of Beacon Hill in Boston. The neighborhood has an annual “tour of the flower boxes” which spurs us all to plant pretty flowers in the bay windows which face the streets.
Beacon Hill is an old neighborhood, frequented by many elderly Brahmins who have lived there all their lives. Frances, at 80, lives around the corner from my place. Every morning around 11:00, she goes about her errands, walking slowly around the Hill, using her cane for support. She passes my front bay window where I sit working, having my mid-morning English tea with milk.
Beacon Hill is not a neighborhood where one sits on one’s stoop. So neighborliness arrives as a nod of acknowledgement, or a brief hello to those folks you see frequently. So it is with Frances and me.
Just before tour day, I am out on my stoop, not sitting, mind you, but preparing my flowerbox for the front window, and making a goodly mess of it with potting soil and young little pansies everywhere. The spring day is sunny and I have the front door open onto the entry hall. Frances passes by on her daily rounds, and stops to admire the flowers, my community spirit, and the coming of Spring. We agree that the flowers, sprouting each spring, signal the return of the season and the cycle of time.
“I live just around the corner on Brimmer Street,” she comments, after we had passed the time of day about the flowers. “I remember playing in your place when I was a little girl. I used to slide down that mahogany balcony there, into the front hall. I would laugh so hard everyone would hear. My grandfather built this row of townhouses just after the Civil War, and the family gathered in it for the holidays.” She peers past me into the entryway and into her childhood.
And I peer from the newborn pansies, from my youth to her age, and we are both transported back a hundred years and more, to a time when the balcony remembers her giggling as a girl.