I’ve been back in Boston since Tuesday August 13th but it feels like I’ve been here all summer. The apartment finally looks like it’s reverted back to its normal state with the tables cleared of random papers, the dishes in their proper cupboards, and the sink free from any leftovers. I think that I succeeded in all of my initial goals for my return back to my college town: make some money to counteract the cost of self-maintenance and travel, explore a bit more of Boston, and say goodbye to old friends. The first goal was easily accomplished through the Boston University employment office where I applied for a quickie job. A quickie job through Boston University usually involves a student usually applying for few hours-long job that someone needs. This usually involves something like moving furniture or babysitting or being a translator during a meeting. I applied for three jobs, and was called back by this woman in Newton, MA who needed help moving. She lived around the mile 18 marker on the Boston Marathon route on Commonwealth Avenue. It was one of the most interesting jobs that I have ever worked. Her family was old and rich. Her still-living mother was in her 90’s, the woman was in her 60’s, her daughter in her 40’s and still living with them. The house was a corner house and beautiful. The woman in her 60’s, who was a Justice of the Peace, used to be an art dealer so the house was filled with dozens of professionally framed drawings, paintings, and canvas. The first day I biked the 7 mile route from my house to theirs, and impressed them because they suggested that I take the T instead so that I wouldn’t be too tired. I first met her husband, who used to be an accountant, and we struck up a small-talk conversation. However, as soon as his wife, the justice, stepped in he turned to go upstairs up to his cluttered office.
The justice offered some snacks to me and then told me how we needed to load her rented UHaul van with boxes and bins. I started right away and made sure to make efficient use of the available space in the UHaul. I spent about an hour carrying and packing the boxes away. She was very impressed with my work, and we drove the van over to the new apartment. You see, the family was downsizing from a full-sized family house to a much smaller one. I helped her unload all of the bins and boxes using some bellhop carts, and then unwrapping all of the individually wrapped jars, plates, and pots of porcellain ranging from Budapestian porcellain to the Meissener Pozellan. Her 90+ year old mother and her sister came to help as well. As we were unwrapping, she asked me if it would be alright with me if I worked for a few more hours that day. I agreed, and she quickly asked if I wouldn’t mind working for a few more days at the same monetary rate offered for that quickie job. I told her that I would be free for few more days and would love to work with her. I was fed dinner, paid $140 for 7 hours of work, and then driven home by her sister who was very intrigued with me.
And so I continued working for them at the rate of $20/hour. And it was one of the most fulfilling jobs that I have ever had the pleasure of doing well. I would wake up in my apartment here on Ashford Street, clean it up a bit more, and then head over to Newton to the family house where I would help the justice bubblewrap famous $10,000 oil paintings surrounded by $600 frames, carried more bins and boxes to the UHaul van, and even helped her husband the accountant clean up and organize his cluttered office. That last one was also cool, because I was called by him the night before and asked if I could help him. He said that he trusted me and that there were some documents that were so personal and important that he didn’t want the movers touching them. I was greatly honored by his request to allow me access to his personal items. And so we commenced the cleanup of his office. We moved electronics, papers and bills from the past two decades, and dozens of office supplies.
I learned a lot about that family that day. I learned that they were rich, had many things, but also had each other. The accountant and the justice struck me as hard workers. And I always impressed them with my math and science skills, because the family appeared to be more logically, administratively, and artistically inclined but not so much mathematically and scientifically inclined except for the accountant. The hardest part was parting with the things that they have had. It was hard for the justice, because it seemed that she had a long story associated with the life of the artist of a painting we were wrapping, a vignette connected to a piece of clothing that fell out of a bin we were carrying, or a tidbit about something that I said that reminded her of something. But she was also selling or giving away so much of her stuff. And she would confide in me that I was such a Godsend because she wouldn’t have known how to move her important possessions without someone else helping. The accountant was a larger man and had trouble walking, and the 40 year old daughter was still living at home and was having job problems. It almost seemed that this justice was the matriarch of the family and supporting it with her tireless will.
Literally, it almost felt like both she and I were the only ones doing work. But as annoyed as she appeared to be, and as much as they all bickered as a traditional New England family with its white-collar problems, it still struck me as one amazingly beautiful story about a family going through a tough time before it moved on and grew. Their house was definitely shrinking in size, but that only seemed to bring them closer together. It was cute to hear the justice still call her 90+ year old mother “Mommy.”
I asked the justice what she learned about moving out, and she told me that she learned about how one can accumulate so much stuff that is not needed. She learned that what she needed was just good friends and family and a few cherished things. And so I labored, cleaned, and ate with this family and shared stories. We would mainly just talk about the Peace Corps and my eventual deployment to Uganda, Africa this coming November. She would then ask me about my travels and I would tell her about my Dresden Study Abroad Semester and my summer internship in Berlin and my recent Eurotrip with my two best friends this summer. She talked about her own travels and experiences throughout mainland Europe, and her husband would talk about his travels in Eastern Europe right after the wall fell. And on the rides home, her sister would talk about her daughter’s study abroad semester in Barcelona. We shared stories about our successes and our failures, and a small part of our beliefs.
Sometimes the justice would just stop our working to tell me a 5-10 minute story about a couple whom she had just married. This justice really did not want to preside over “cookie-cutter” marriages. She would sometimes offer her own backyard and parlor room to host the legal ceremony for Massachusetts’ couples. And then she would have a small cake with some candles in order to celebrate for a while with the two. But one of the most beautiful stories was about these two women whom she had married in the Arnold Arboretum. She was with one of them at the entrance and the other woman in the marriage was running a bit late. They had chosen to be married at a specific spot near the entrance of the Arboretum, because that was the spot where they would meet since they both worked different shifts as nurses at different hospitals. But then a group of young college students plopped down at that exact spot. The justice walked over to them and inquisitively asked them why they had picked this exact spot. Naturally the students responded, “Uh, I dunno. It just seemed like a good spot.” The justice then informed them that they had every right to be on that spot, but that if they chose to stay then they would be in the middle of a wedding ceremony. The kids then stated that of course they would leave. And as they were leaving one of them shouted, “You look so beautiful,” to the bride who as already in the Arboretum.
I eventually finished up my last day of work with them, and was then invited to join the entire family, including the sister, her husband, the Barcelona daughter, and a close family cousin called Bunny in order to celebrate the 93rd birthday of the justice’s mommy. It was an emotional meal, because the sister shared a toast about how this would be the last meal in this house after almost 2 decades of family reunions, parties, marathon barbecues, and get-togethers with families and friends. It was stressed that this was a house and not a home and that the home was wherever they all were as a family and where the apartment now is. It was a beautiful toast, and the food was amazing and consisted of cucumber and sausage lasagna, Caesar salad, and keylime pie. The sister had made it all, but she professed that she wasn’t a good cook. I bid my farewells to all of them, and exchanged emails with the justice, the accountant, the sister, Bunny, and the sister’s husband. I promised to keep in touch with my endeavors and to share my Peace Corps blog when I leave. I promised to send them messages from time-to-time, and then I was driven back along the Marathon route of Commonwealth Avenue and back to the land of bohemian musicians, college students, broken glass, and a very different family in a very different home that I was more used to.