The words I love this week are the ones linking Senator Ted Kennedy and Mission Hill, because these words have always been linked for me.
Back in the days of the crazy housing boom in Boston, when prices went insane, jumping by hundreds of thousands in a few short years, the Mission Hill triple-decker where I rented an apartment for my daughters and myself was sold to a gonna-get-rich-condo guy who quadrupled our rent to an impossible sum.
We moved to farthest reaches of our beloved neighborhood, so far only our zip code kept us there. I was better off not looking in the corners of that scabby apartment. One closet I barely opened, terrified of the ancient unmovable dirt hosting God knows what.
Moreover, this apartment wasn't even secure; an absentee landlord bided his time waiting for the right price.
I lived on the precipice of hating the place and being terrified that that I'd lose it. Then a housing lottery rescued me. Now I could buy a home where no one could throw me out. Not rent. Buy! Affordably buy a beautiful brand-new townhouse. It was part of a mixed-income, owner-occupied, townhouse community being built in Mission Hill. The homes were engendered by the hard work of (and I know I'll forget someone precious, so forgive me) the Bricklayers Union, led by Thomas J. McIntyre, Governor Dukakis, Mayor Ray Flynn, Mission Hill activists (always the best!) the instrumental and always wonderful State Representative Kevin Fitzgerald (rest in peace, Kevin,) and Senator Ted Kennedy.
When the time came to celebrate publicly, a team of politicians and their possees came to my house for a press conference. I cleaned, put out food, and worried that my shiny new carpet would get dirty as everyone clomped through my home. Most of the politicians and their aides were friendly. Some I already knew. However, in the midst of political men who turned their faces to the camera like flowers to the sun, a few truly noticed that I was more than a single mother who'd been given a leg up and took me out of the role of stereotype. Kindness spilled from Governor Dukakis. Kevin Fitz was, as always, a supportive and loving man.
Senator Ted Kennedy behaved like an absolute favorite uncle in the world. He leaned against the windowsill, ate the fruit and cookies I'd put out, and asked about my life. Where did my children go to school? What sort of work did I do? How did I like the neighborhood? How was I doing? He spoke to me as though he had all the time in the world-not ever looking for the cameras roaming the house.
Senator Kennedy helped me get a house, a home. Another young woman and her children live there now. I hope she feels the presence of the Senator-larger than life, yes, but also life-size. Able not only to help build homes-but to become a neighbor.
Rest in peace, Senator.
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