Friday, August 07, 2009

walking to leverett

i was always proud that my name, leverett, was somewhat rare, and also important in the history of the US, though somewhat obscure. some people remembered leverett saltonstall, a genteel senator from massachusetts, and others would mention that the leveretts and saltonstalls were old families whose names carried enough history that one would use them both, rather than casting one off for a name like "joseph" or "peter." when i arrived in boston, i looked around; i found that leverett hall, a harvard dorm,was the most common use of the name, but people often referred to leverett circle also, a traffic nightmare, but an important junction of storrow drive, beacon hill, the interstate, and the charles street jail. when i was there, usually in a car or quickly navigating one of north america's rare roundabouts, i'd look up at the "leverett circle" sign and wonder: how did this happen? is this good, that such a place carries our name?

but i found out that a town in western massachusetts carried the name also, and so resolved to go there by hook or crook and see the place. i calculated that i could get there in a day, hitchhiking, because it was about three or four hours driving; this could be five or six hitchhiking, but who cared about time? this was a weekend. to complicate matters, though, my roommate, p.h., wanted to go also. he was an admirer or my wanderlust and just wanted to see how it happened. it was january, but not too cold (i have other memories that have it as frigid; i think we were frozen sometimes, but not so bad, when we were walking). i told him that it could get colder, or snowier, and we being in a pair could make life difficult; it didn't faze him. he was up for it, and come saturday morning, we set out together.

The boston area was quite crowded, but that's actually what we needed, because people were hesitant to pick up a pair of guys. We didn't get out to western mass. until the afternoon, and then a strange thing happened. On the road to leverett, there was a complete lack of traffic; nobody. we were still about five miles out, but it seemed like we could be there forever. a sprinkling of snow was on the ground and the trees in their soft brownness spread out in all directions; it was hilly and wooded, and quite beautiful. we started walking. this was hard on p.h., a smoker in bad shape, but he turned his collar up and did the best he could, asking to rest every once in a while. my own step was light as I had no baggage, for the first time in a long time, and that made me feel as if I could run. nevertheless it was strange that there was not a single car; the road was silent.

eventually we found out why; we came to a clearing, a church, a few buildings, and finally an old school; we were in town. the parking lot of the school was totally full, with overflow parking in all the surrounding places. everyone in the valley was at that school.

so, we walked in. It was an annual meeting, and it was being conducted by town elders, the people of leverett. most of the people of the town were attentive; they were doing business, and people cared, by and large, how things turned out. A few people milled around out in the lobby of the school. a few posters caught my eye; they were posters bearing the leverett crest; this held three rabbits (or hares, leverets) which irecognized from my youth. they were apparently planning the bicentennial, which was to be held the following year, at the meeting.

i quickly thought of a passionate, inspirational speech about the name, which i could give to the crowd, and inspire them to hold a better bicentennial. most likely, though, i wouldn't even be around the following year, so it would be of little use to me; this would probably be inappropriate, and everyone would think I was some kind of nut. but I looked at the posters with the crest, and i thought, this is odd. it's a kind of welcome home, maybe.

p.h. was ready to go home; it was clear we would be lucky to be able to use the last of the daylight to actually make it back. the afternoon was in fact quickly receding over the wooded hills, so we did. before we left, I told some old farmer who I was, and how happy i was to see the posters. it warmed my heart. he got a chuckle out of that; i'm not sure he believed me. but it didn't matter. Aafew minutes later, we were walking back the way we came; it was easier going back, as now there was some traffic; also, going into boston, for whatever reason, was easier than leaving it. we got back to town late at night, of course, and were starving, but that was to be expected. it was more fresh air than p.h. had experienced in a while, but for me, the excitement of the trip, actually making it somewhere, and making it back, was only compounded by the success of making it somewhere that was important to me personally.


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