We’ve had a great year. Having written those words I just realized that, nearing late December, it might indicate that my intention is to write some kind of “Year in Review”, but that is not at all my intention; it’s only that it feels as though we have found ourselves at a particularly calm moment in a cycle in which, looking back, it feels as though we have a better understanding of ourselves and our circumstances.
I had one of those not-so-snowy snow days this week which gave Elizabeth and me the chance to have our traditional snow day lunch at the downtown eatery of our choice. While we were dating, almost 10 years ago now, we had a day to ourselves when a tremendous amount of snow fell cancelling school while Luna was with her father in New York. We trudged through the snow drifts and made our way to what is now our favorite restaurant: Panjabi Tadka. On this day the actual snowfall and the potential for freezing didn’t cause Springfield to as much as delay the opening of school and so Liz and I had the full day together again.
I walked down to Luna’s bus stop with her just to get a feel for her morning routine as most days I’m out the door before she wakes up. I had already shoveled the insignificant accumulation of frozen precipitation which had granted me a reprieve from school, at least until that day in June when we would make up for this lost time. I started a fire in the wood stove and waited for the time when it would be convenient for Liz to take our constitutional. When she was ready we stopped at the drugstore and bought some wrapping paper for some gifts about to find their way to South Korea. From there we went to the bank and did some up close and personal banking, and then we decided to eat at a new place which is only open Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch, making it particularly difficult for me to visit except for during school vacations.
It was great. Springfield’s “bicycle beignet guy” has joined forces with a soup and sandwich lady to create “Granny’s Baking Table“. The food was fantastic and, as usual with Springfield, really cheap. Something else really interesting happened. In the article in the paper introducing the new eatery one of the owners had mentioned that the intent of having just the one long table in the dining area was to foster interaction among patrons, and that is exactly what happened! A friend of ours was having lunch with a friend of his, someone we had seen now and again at various events. We sat down next to them and our conversation far outlasted our meal.
From there we wandered through Union Station and I took a few snapshots of the main concourse:
As it turned out we wouldn’t have the whole day to ourselves, Luna was getting out of school just a little bit early and was going to her first orthodontist’s appointment. The office was just on the other side of the station. But on the issue of Luna and school things have been going quite well; her middle school is well suited to her and she is thriving socially in ways she hadn’t in elementary school. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t share that, in terms of her academic progress as assessed by the MCAS, she is quite literally, almost off the charts:
I point this out not to brag or to claim any vicarious respect for my intellect, after all, she is not my biological child and with the added caveat that, as a teacher I realize that there is much more to learning than any test can show. But it must be said that the “good school/bad school” issue I have so frequently addressed on this site certainly isn’t contradicted by these results: It’s hard to imagine a claim that her skills in mathematics or in language have been stifled by her time in “struggling urban public schools”. I stand by my assertion that any real “good school/bad school” understanding necessitates a thorough analysis of outcomes relative to what we know about demographic predictors.
In any case, after our idyllic day in the snow it was back to school for me. The very next day at school two colleagues happened to mention that they had been in Springfield very recently. One, a close friend, had told me that in seeing their son off to Montreal to continue his university career they had dropped off at Union Station just a few hours after Liz and I had wandered through in the direction of Luna’s orthodontist. He remarked that the station was worthy of a real city. Having previously experienced the old Peter Pan Bus Station, a horror show of 1960’s non-architecture, he was glad to see the change. Another colleague, a person who has lived in the region her whole life and makes a point of dining out as often as possible had, for the first time, visited Springfield’s famous Student Prince restaurant. She remarked on the beauty of the buildings and the lighting of the downtown, on the uniqueness of the venue, and the quality of the food, and then made the point of adding that the skating rink and the plazas at MGM were also very beautiful.
There we have it, Springfield’s two most recent “mega-projects” bringing people to the downtown, creating economic activity in the city, and most importantly, leaving people with a changed view of what Springfield represents.
Obviously, there is so much more to any given place than a generalization can communicate, but the theme of last week’s essay has stayed with me throughout my contemplation of the amazing week I’ve had. Springfield is a great place; but it’s not an easy place and there are so many wonderful places in this region which are much less demanding in terms of what we euphemistically describe as “diversity”.
The automobile has so distorted things for so long that the idea that there is an intrinsic value to living in a community, as opposed to just accessing its resources, doesn’t really exist. For me it mirrors what Michael Pollan has to say about food: In the 20th century we were successful, we thought, at disaggregating the necessary nutrients from the foods from which they were obtained and so began to ignore the nutritional context of food. We live our lives this way as well, not seeing that shopping, dining, learning, working, and playing in the same community where we actually reside can add to the whole of our lives in ways we may not be able to quantify or even completely understand.