May 20, 2018

LITTLE DETAILS: My fair city

Boston was awash in red this past Saturday morning—Red Sox Red. Who would have expected the Beantown baseball team to rise from the cavernous depths of the American League—last place—to win the 2013 World Series? Bostonians, of course! We’re used to it.

My presence in Boston during the Red Sox Victory Parade was purely coincidental. Plans were laid in summer to meet my favorite professor from undergrad for lunch to celebrate his recent retirement. Fate would alter our planned meeting time and place.

I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t understand football. I associate hockey with fights on the ice. Basketball never thrilled me.

Baseball is something else. Baseball is the one sport my immigrant father followed. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table listening to play-by-play coverage on his little, black transistor radio. My inaugural column for this newspaper recounted attending a Red Sox game with my dad when I was ten. We rode the train into the city and walked to Fenway Park. I remember eating my first Fenway Frank and a tri-flavor ice cream sandwich offered up by heavily accented vendors, or, evoking Boston parlance, “vendahs.”

As one of four daughters with a dad whose limited education required him to work two jobs, one-on-one “daddy-daughter time” was extremely rare. A customer at the restaurant where my father moonlighted occasionally gave him tickets to Red Sox games. If it was three tickets, Dad took my two older sisters to see the Sox. This very special day, there were only two tickets—one for my father and one for me. As a Polish-American family, we were particularly proud to see Carl Yastrzemski up at bat.

Growing up twenty miles north of Boston, I hold a special affinity for this sometimes gritty cradle of the American Revolution where people drive too fast and pedestrians appear objects of vehicular target practice. The accents are “like no wherh else.”

As a teen, I gravitated to the city, which provided a jolt of excitement and diversity hard to find in the suburbs. If my hometown was vanilla, Boston was Rocky Road studded with marshmallows, chocolate chips, nuts and a generous sprinkling of “Jimmies”—what folks in Vermont call “sprinkles.” I accepted free food samples from Hare Krishnas drumming and dancing on Boston Common and relished trying to decipher the myriad, interesting languages I’d hear while riding the subway. My Boston Public Library card affirmed my very real and special connection to the city.

So, it was with great sadness that I learned of the bombing near the finish line of the April 15 Boston Marathon. Boylston Street, just west of Copley Square, an area I’ve traversed many times, transformed from a street party to a scene of carnage. In the end, three spectators were killed and nearly three hundred individuals were injured. Pressure cookers were transformed into improvised explosive devises. Placement of the bombs in backpacks left on the ground resulted in devastating lower limb trauma. Psychological scars, less obvious, dug deeply into the Boston psyche that day.

Brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (26) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (19), immigrants from the former Soviet Union of Chechen descent, allegedly masterminded the attack. Tamerlan died in a shoot-out with police. Dzhokhar, injured and bleeding, was discovered hiding in a boat in a Watertown residential neighborhood. Raised as Muslims and seemingly radicalized, it’s speculated that their attack was triggered by anger over the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As I sit in a North End Café on “Hano-vah” (Hanover) Street in Boston’s Little Italy, I’m deciding whether or not to join the sea of red-shirted fans heading towards the parade. It’s nice and cozy here, but then, I wore a red shirt—by coincidence—or was it FATE?  It’s time to sign off and join the throng in my fair city.


Editors note:

The Observer would like to congratulate Katherine Beilawa Stamper for her recent selection as one of the ten finalists for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism, a new award that honors writing that reflects the values and spirit of America’s thirtieth president, Calvin Coolidge. More than 80 writers were considered.

“We found your writing submissions to be of exceptionally high quality,” Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation Chair Amity Shlaes wrote in an email to Stamper.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or


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