There are country pleasures (and they are many; enough to keep me here a long time) and there are city pleasures. We have a number of good friends in the greater Boston area, and we occasionally venture down to visit them. Yesterday, we went on the pleasantest picnic of my life, as far as I can recall, at North Point Park in Cambridge with two dear friends from high school. Apparently, the park’s opening was delayed for two years by a seemingly endless stream of incompetence, bad luck and unforeseen obstacles. But you’d never know it now. The park runs in a green swath along the Cambridge side of the Charles River, right in the shadow of the Museum of Science. The duck boats were running back and forth on the river, and Segway tours from the museum passed in front of the mesmerized boys. Malcolm, our young Alex P. Keaton, asked how may weeks it would take him to save up for one. Then a State Police boat pulled into view, and over its P.A. system we heard, “Orange duck boat, pull over. Fireworks coming through.” The orange duck boat obliged and a huge barge came gliding past, loaded with an arsenal of explosives bound for the Harbor and the 4th. Not the kind of thing you see at our local park.
It’s not that we don’t have green space or playgrounds here in New Hampshire. Of course we do. But there are things we can’t replicate for our kids any other way than by taking them to the city. One, of course, is watching the State Police yell at a duck boat. Another is proximity to densely packed humans. Another is a cultivated, urban landscape. But as we sat watching the boys play in the water jets at the riverside playground alongside kids who aren’t white, or who can speak languages other than English, I thought of my own childhood in the northeastern reaches of Massachusetts. In our town then, even Jewish kids were a novelty, and poor Guillermo, the exchange student from Honduras, and Omar, the only black kid in school for 5 years, must, I see now, have gotten pretty tired of even our most innocent but idiotic inquiries about hair texture or accents. And God knows what else they put up with that I never saw.
Obviously, an occasional weekend picnic in Cambridge isn’t going to cut it when it comes to multicultural exposure for our kids. New Hampshire, especially our part of it, is one lily-white kind of place. But I have hope. I didn’t really meet anyone who wasn’t a lot like me until I went to prep school. I didn’t really see anyone on t.v. who wasn’t like me either. For my kids, too, days can pass where they don’t see anyone who isn’t white. Or maybe only one or two, and sometimes only on t.v. But I can still take heart since, after all, one of them is the President.