THINKING BACK IN TIME WATCHING CHARLESTOWN CHANGE OR MAYBE NOT SO
Recently thinking about memories of Charlestown back in the late ’60s through mid ’80s. I was there on the ground working as a writer for the old Patriot and taking on one fight after another. I didn›t come from the community but it had and still remains a big part of my DNA. My mother was always proud of her Townie roots and the family always seemed to be there visiting relatives and my ma’s old friends too. The Bunker Hill Day Parade was a mandate for us.
I think most of my community activism came from the Harrington side of the family. I had plenty of uncles who were always true to their Townie roots no matter where they lived. Quincy Winchester, Dorchester, Malden and Rio Piedras, P.R. too.
However, back starting when I was 20-something I could see that Charlestown was starting to change which never scared me. I remember entering my thirties knowing that things were changing face which did make many feel overtaken.
Among those who I befriended at various community meetings and organizations were Bobby Wallace, Billy McClellan, Dennis McLaughlin just to name a few. I looked at them as mentors and from them my community activism cyrstalized. It was difficult to live in Charlestown and not be a part of it. I went through forced busing with Powderkeg. I was part of the Peoples Firehouse group that saved Engine 50 and I was a voice at the Kennedy Center too. Seemed there were plenty of causes needing my attention. I was young and full of endless energy.
I recently found an old copy of a Boston Sunday Herald’s magazine ( February 1989 ) which highlighted the gentrification of the Town by reporter Ric Kahn. Mostly, it was an interview with my BFF Bobby Wallace who loved to talk almost as much as me. He was the self-proclaimed defender of all things Charlestown. Ric used to like talking to me too always good for a good quote too.
He would rail against the invasion of the gentrified invaded his community but always seemed delighted by its new blood and energy. I saw him as a bridge between old and new and unlike many in the Town, he loved getting interviewed by reporters when he wasn’t criticizing them too.
I found the article humorous in a way because Bobby was talking about the high prices for homes going at a quarter-million. That would be a bargain price today. If only real estate were still that inexpensive.
Back in that era, newcomers were looked upon with suspicion. They were going to take over the Town and force all the Bobby Wallaces out and they were liberals too. Bobby and I were part of a crew that met down under the Tobin Bridge one night and over a few beers at came up with the term “Toonies.” as a way to refer to all the newbees here among us as if they were space aliens or something. By the way the term “Toonie” had two definitions. Either these folks were out of towners or they were just cartoonish. Hard to remember which to believe after drinking a few brewskies, huh?
Fast -forward to today, many of Bobby’s fears never came to pass. Both sides got together to share one community quite well. Just like that old barroom disappeared, so too did that derogatory term «Tooinie.”
Charlestown continues onward and strong. People with deep Townie roots and people from Chicago or elsewhere. People walk their dogs, push baby carriages, shop at the Bunker Hill Mall, eat breakfast at the Grasshopper and await the annual parade come June.
Finally, strong passionate voices defending this community still exist against all enemies foreign and domestic. Today the fights are over what is to become of the old project and fighting those who love bikes and hate tunnels or underpasses. I would be remiss if not to mention another old friend John Dillon who has become today’s Bobby Wallace. Someone not afraid to speak up or buck the tide and do it with an Irish grin knowing that gets to those who oppose him. As long as he lives and I live, Bobby Wallace lives too. Someone’s gotta say what’s got to be said, Right?
Feedback: Anyone out there want to respond to my thoughts here. Am I right or am I (deleted) of (deleted)? Email [email protected]