At age sixty-six, I had lived my whole life in California, most of it on the coast, where the difference between summer and winter is about ten degrees. Some might consider such a climate ideal, and I suppose it is, but I yearned to experience the four seasons. I decided, if not now, when?
I sold my house and sold, gave away or stored most of my possessions, including my car. I rented an apartment in the Back Bay of Boston, sight unseen, and shipped my remaining possessions before I got on a plane, and feeling the rush of freedom, said goodbye to California.
On the plane, a redeye, I knew before the wheels left the ground that I wouldn’t sleep. My mind and body were overflowing with that combination of excitement and fear that took me to the precipice of dysfunction. I labored through those feelings with a firsthand understanding of the workings of human emotion I had recently read about––that fear and excitement result in the same activity within the brain. I feared the cold weather that this California boy had never experienced, the loneliness of knowing only one person in a strange city and a culture that I knew was far different from California.
Upon stepping out of the taxi in front of my apartment building, I slipped on the ice and fell on my ass. Welcome to Boston.
A few days later I awoke at first light, sat up and looked out the window. The world was white. Sheets of snow blew diagonally by my window. My first Nor’ Easter in all its fierceness had been blowing its ice and snow through the night. No sidewalk or street showed through. I could barely make out the top of the yellow fireplug two stories below. Some undeciphered perversity in me wanted to get out there. I dressed while coffee was brewing. After savoring the aroma and taste of the warm coffee sweetened with lots of Stevia, I was even more antsy to get out. This was the real east coast, never before experienced by this California boy, genuine Boston. On top of my regular clothes I donned my Red Sox sweatshirt, jeans–already had on long underwear––and wool socks, then the orange wool scarf my daughter Marsha knitted me last year, my North Face winter coat and heavy, water resistant shoes. I grabbed my ski gloves and keys, locked the door and pulled on the gloves.
Stepping out of the front door of the building, I pulled up the hood of my coat, covering my head and face except my eyes, mouth and nose. I discerned right away that it wouldn’t be wise to try to walk in the deep snow of the unplowed sidewalk.
I felt nothing cold at first, as I trudged down the middle of Haviland Street. The air was thick white. Even the black letters forming “Berklee College of Music” down the street were white. When I got to Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave” to Bostonians), the snowplows were out, their huge blades pushing mountains of snow against the curb. A few cars followed the plow. My feet sank three or four inches into the snow. Warm in all my paraphernalia, I felt nothing much but a numb nose and the flexing of the muscles in my legs as I pushed and pulled my feet in and out of the snow. Paying no attention to the signal lights, but watching the plows and the cars, I crossed Mass Ave and then Boylston and headed for Newbury, fashion alley. The cold air infused me with energy like Southern California weather never had. I could see through the snow for about a block.
On Newbury dozens of men pushed portable snowplows, clearing the sidewalks for the shoppers who would flood the area in a few hours. I had to walk in the street because most of the sidewalks were still deep in snow or occupied by the portable plows. An occasional dog walker appeared like an apparition out of the white. A jogger glided slowly down the middle of the street. Snow hung from the trees like bleached cotton candy. No green showed through on the pines. Bushes looked like a fancy dessert. Everywhere silence pervaded. All sound and even the smells of the city seemed to be absorbed by the snow. A neighborhood that was usually loud with traffic, sirens, horns and people was as quiet as a cemetery. The motorized plows had not yet come to Newbury. I was hungry, but most of the restaurants didn’t open for brunch for another hour, and I didn’t feel like usual breakfast fare. I turned up Dartmouth to go over to Boylston, where Legal Seafood might be open for brunch.
Thoughts of a hot bowl of clam chowder made me trudge a little faster, probably too fast for safety on the slick street. My face started to sting, like tiny electric shocks on my skin. The snow had turned to raining ice, but the prickly feeling on my skin brightened my spirits more. I really am perverted, I thought, as a young man lumbered by me, uttering to nobody in particular, “This really sucks.” I thought it was glorious.
Boom—a huge block of snow slid off the roof of the nineteenth century Public Library just behind me. Boylston had been plowed, and traffic crept down the street, so I had to walk on the sidewalks that had not yet been shoveled or plowed. My legs were tired and weakened from pushing and pulling through the snow. Nothing was open except Trinity Church and Starbucks.
As I lifted one leg and then the other out of the snow, the Prudential Center and Legal Seafood loomed ahead. It continued to rain ice. My whole face was numb. Time to go in, I thought, and I pushed the revolving door. A blast of warm air hit me in the face. I must admit it felt good to remove all my outer paraphernalia and sit down at the bar at Legal Seafood.
“What would you like to drink?” asked Lacy, the server.
“A glass of Champagne,” I said, grinning.
After three years in Boston I moved to Paris, having learned that if I really want to partake in what life has to offer, I mustn’t fear change.
BOYD LEMON: After a stellar 40-year career as a nationally recognized attorney, Boyd Lemon discovered his passion, writing, and pursued it in the idyllic coastal town of Ventura, California; the literary, art and music scenes of Boston; a Bohemian year on the Left Bank in Paris; and finally by the bucolic rivers and forests of St. Marys, Georgia, where he currently lives. Boyd’s newest book is Retirement: A Memoir and Guide. He has published six other books and is now working on his first novel. He has four adult children and four grandchildren. His second passion is travel, and he has visited six of the seven continents.
Here is Boyd’s latest book:
Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany
SONIA MARSH SAYS: What a “Gutsy” adventure, to uproot at age sixty-six, after spending your whole life in California. I am intrigued to learn more about what prompted your move to Paris, after three years in Boston.
Do you have a “My Gutsy Story®” you’d like to share?
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