The funerals of two firefighters, killed during a wind-driven inferno last week, have brought thousands of firemen and women to Boston, and shone the spotlight again on a city that has held it almost steadily since the Boston Marathon bombings almost a year ago. A constant presence, and quoted extensively in news accounts of the fire and its aftermath, has been Rich Paris, the head of the Boston Firefighters Union. Rich is the man who was tasked with telling the families of the dead the sad news about their loved ones. He spoke beautifully at yesterday’s service for Lt. Edward Walsh.
Rich lived behind me growing up. We lived in Hyde Park–pronounced by every Bostonian as High Pahk–on a quiet street of single-family Capes that backed up to the George Wright Golf Course. Rich lived in one of the few single family homes on Gordon Avenue, a busy street lined with triple deckers and two families. Seeing so much of Rich lately has made me think a lot about where I am from.
Hyde Park has never had the same kind of singular identity as Dorchester with their Dot Rats, or Rozzie, or even West Roxbury, where my grandparents lived and which will host today’s funeral for firefighter Michael Walsh. Hyde Park was known mostly for our local high school’s part in the violence that accompanied forced busing. Partly because of busing, none of my family–except my dad–went to Hyde Park High School, although my Nana worked there in the cafeteria. My brothers went either to Boston Latin or Catholic Memorial; I to Girls’ Latin. So we and our friends identified more with which parish we were from, which Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) we belonged to. Our social lives revolved around the MPB CYO, an active community which still exists today in the form of a Facebook group. I cannot remember specifically if Rich was part of the CYO or not, but we were friends, which almost certainly means he was.
Hyde Park does have a few positive claims to fame. Hockey’s Ted Donato grew up in Hyde Park. He’s now the coach at Harvard. Tom Menino, the longest serving Mayor in Boston’s history, is from Hyde Park. Well, technically Readville. St. Anne’s. (See identity, above.) Actress Maura Tierney is from Hyde Park. Her father Joe was on the City Council and her mother sold real estate. Not that anyone ever moved. And if you did it was when you got married and bought a house down the street, or next door. I committed the cardinal sin of leaving Boston altogether. And not for Milton or Quincy with the lace-curtain Irish. No, I went North. To Marblehead.
Everytime I have seen Tom Menino–Tommy as we know him–since my wedding in 1995, he has made it a point of asking “How’s Maaahblehead?”, always said with a Thurston-Howell clenched jaw and slightly upturned chin. It’s fantastic, I always answer, because it is, despite the perception that we are all a bunch of rich snobs who live here. Ok, there might be some truth to that. But I have always been proud of being from Boston. Boston-Boston. And seeing my old friend on the news every day has made me nostalgic for Hyde Park, really for the first time in more then twenty years. Not in the “I want to go back and relive my youth” kind of way, but in the “I am proud of where I am from” way. Rich Paris, with his dedicated, caring presence, has shown everything that is good about our city, and about our shared neighborhood. I am proud to say I grew up in Hyde Park, the same place he did.