Garry was working weekends that decade, so whatever stuff happened on Sunday was part of his beat. This particular Sunday, the old catholic cathedral near our condo in Roxbury, was going to host Cardinal Bishop Bernard Law. It was a big deal for the neighborhood’s shrinking Catholic population.


For a Prince of the Church to say Mass anywhere is an event, even if you aren’t Catholic. We lived one block from that lovely old cathedral. The neighborhood was buzzing.

It was a grand dame amongst local churches.You could see her former grandeur, though she was currently in desperate need of restoration and repairs to just about everything.

Roxbury was an almost entirely Black neighborhood. It had previously been a Jewish neighborhood which was red-lined by greedy real estate brigands. We had been among the first two or three middle class mixed-race couples to move back to Roxbury. We hoped we’d be the start of positive move for the neighborhood, including how it would be reported by media and perceived by Bostonians. We had chosen it less out of altruism and more because it was a great location. Convenient to everything with lots of green space, lovely neighbors, and compared to almost any other place in Boston, affordable.

It was not crime central. You could leave your car unlocked on the street and no one would touch it. I know because my neighbor tried desperately to have his cars stolen, going so far as to leave the keys in the ignition for weeks. Not a chance. People watched out for each other in Roxbury. I never had better neighbors, or felt safer.


The morning on which Cardinal Law was due to visit, Garry called.

“I was telling Bernie (Cardinal Law) that you used to live in Israel and are really interested in religion and stuff.”

“Uh huh.”

“So he’ll be dropping by for a visit.”


“I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run. Love you. Have a great day.”

BING BONG said the doorbell.

I looked at me. At least I was dressed. The house was almost acceptable. Thanks for all the warning, Gar, I thought. Showtime!

And in swept His Grace, His Eminence, wearing his red skull-cap and clothed in a long, black wool cloak. Impressive.

Big Guy stretched. Our Somali cat — the best cat in the world and certainly the smartest, sweetest and gentlest — was our meeter and greeter.

Big Guy

Big Guy

I offered the Cardinal the best seat in the house, the blue velvet wing chair by the bay window. Big Guy promptly joined him. We chatted for almost an hour. Israel, the church, whether there was any hope St. Mary’s would get funds to repair and upgrade before it was too late.

The neighborhood. A bit of church politics. Although Bernard Cardinal Law was ultimately blamed for the long-standing and terribly wrong policy of the Church in hiding the misdeeds of child-molesting clerics, this was years before that story came to light.

The man I met was wonderfully intelligent, friendly, witty, and a pleasure to spend time around. Which was probably why Garry was so fond of him and considered him a friend.

When it was time for the Cardinal to depart, he stood up. Big Guy left his cozy spot on the warm lap of the region’s reigning Catholic cleric. And that was when I saw the Cardinal was coated in cat hair.

Oh! Exactly what does one say in this odd circumstance?

“Wait a minute, your Eminence. Let me get the pet hair sticky roller and see if I can get some of that hair off your long black cape?” I was pretty sure the cloak needed more oomph than a lint roller. It was going to need some cleaning power beyond my limited resources.

So I shut up. Wincing with foreknowledge, we parted company. As he and his retinue swept out my door, I pondered how life’s journey takes strange side roads, unexpected twists, and turns. This was one.

“Meow?” questioned Big Guy. Clearly he liked the Cardinal and it had been mutual. I believe Big Guy came away from the experience with some special, secret understanding of Truth. I, on the other hand, felt obliged to call my husband and warn him that Cardinal Law was dressed in more than he realized.

“Oops,” said Garry, master of understatement.

“Yup,” said I, equally downplaying the difficulties that would arise from the incident. I had wrangled with Big Guy’s fur. I knew how bad it would be.

Some weeks later, when Garry, in the course of work, again encountered the good Cardinal, he called my husband to the side for a private word. The other reporters were stunned! What scoop was Garry Armstrong getting? Rumors ran rampant. Armstrong was getting the goods and they were out in the cold. Mumble, mumble, grouse, complain, grr.

“Armstrong,” murmured the Cardinal.

“Yes sir?”

“You owe me. That was one gigantic dry cleaning bill!”

“Yes sir, Your Eminence,” Garry agreed. “Been there myself.”

“I bet you have!” said Bernard Cardinal Law. And the two men shook hands.

When the other reporters gathered round and wanted to know what private, inside information Garry had, he just smiled.

“I’ll never tell,” he said. “Never.”

But now … YOU know. The truth has finally come out.


Long ago, when Garry and I were first married, before we owned a home, we rented a tiny, adorable and over-priced apartment on Beacon Hill. I had bought curtains and drapes — nice ones — for all the windows in the apartment. It was a building dating back to the early 1800s. The ceilings were high, the windows tall. That was the best part of the apartment … that and the fireplace in the living room and what was probably the nicest marble bathroom we’ve ever had. I could have lived without the other residents of the flat — the cockroaches who had apparently been there since Paul Revere made his ride. Quaintness comes at a price.

Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash.

Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash. We lived up the street on the left, ground floor.

I put all the new curtains in a black trash bag and warned Garry — or thought I warned Garry — this wasn’t trash. It was our new drapes. I either hadn’t actually warned him or he hadn’t heard me. We had just moved in and there was a lot of trash to go out, all in black trash bags. I’m sure you already know the punchline.

By the time I realized the drapes had been taken to the curb, the scavengers of Beacon Hill had snagged them. Everybody on Beacon Hill, rich and poor alike, scavenges. While we were still in the process of moving in, people kept coming by trying to take our stuff. I’m not talking about poor homeless people. I mean The Neighbors. Several times I had to remove lamps and other items of furniture from their clenched fists.

So, to no one’s surprise, the drapes were out there a nanosecond and then gone. Since they were all still in their original unopened wrappings with the price tags attached, whoever took them had to know they were not trash. In Roxbury, where we later lived — a poor, mostly black neighborhood — I’m sure they would have returned the drapes. They would have gone door to door until they found the right house. But that was Roxbury. Beacon Hillers have a different way of looking at things that reminds me of an old childhood chant “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” Just saying.

I had to buy new drapes and the second set wasn’t as nice — or expensive — as the first. I’d used up the money and couldn’t spend it twice.

We lived on Grove Street. This looks a lot like it.

We lived on Grove Street. This looks a lot like it.

Over the years, my penchant for storing stuff in black trash bags has cost us dearly. Christmas presents, out of season clothing, household items intended for the attic — have all vanished. Who done it? Me? Garry? One of the kids? It could be anyone. I’m inclined to blame the terriers. They are always sneaking around, up to no good.

As a family, we have a knee-jerk reflexive response to black trash bags. We throw them out. It could have been anyone. (I still suspect Bonnie, the Scottie.)

Last night, I realized that our down comforter (yes, stored in a black trash bag), had vanished. This is not an item that you can easily overlook. A queen-sized down comforter is big and fluffy, even in a trash bag. It had considerable size, if not heft. This is not like looking for a piece of missing paper. This was something that would be easy to spot. It should have been in the bedroom — but wasn’t.

I checked the closets and the attic. Nothing. No black trash bags.

When finally the dust settled (I really liked that comforter) and I had ordered a replacement from Kohl’s, hopefully to be delivered before the cold weather closes in, I apologized to Garry for accusing him of perfidiously disposing of our bedding and said: “I have to stop storing things in black trash bags. This isn’t working out.”

He enthusiastically agreed.

Do they make big bags like that in clear plastic? Just wondering.

Phoneography Challenge: My Neighborhood — Roxbury in Boston

I carry a small point and shoot with me all the time and most of my pictures end up being taken with this camera — the Canon PowerShot S100 — rather than my larger, more complicated and expensive system camera. I guess it’s ironic. My little Canon cost less than a single lens in the larger system. It weighs almost nothing and takes up no more room than a cell phone.

We lived in Roxbury for more than a decade, only leaving when the construction of The Big Dig made living there untenable. I still think of it as home, along with the entire city of Boston. Between Roxbury, Beacon Hill, and Charles River Park, we lived in Boston neighborhoods for a very long time and I always enjoy going back again whenever we have an excuse. These were all taken a few weeks ago when we returned to the old neighborhood for a memorial  event for an old friend who recently passed away. The neighborhood is looking better than it did when we lived there. It’s one of those neighborhoods that is improving. I would stop short of calling it gentrifying. I don’t think the folks who live there want it gentrified. They don’t consider themselves gentry and neither do we.

This is a bit of Roxbury. It was, once upon a time, a city in its own right, but years ago it was absorbed and became a neighborhood within greater Boston. It is almost entirely Black and when I lived there, I was often the only white face in the crowd. Despite that, it was by far the friendliest neighborhood in which I’ve ever lived. We had great neighbors, wonderful block parties, and a sense of community we have never had anywhere else. People in general don’t understand how wonderful these ethnic neighborhoods  can be, how warm and supportive the community is when they consider you one of their own. I still miss it, though I love the country. Each place has its own charms, but Roxbury was a wonderful — and eye-opening — experience.

I do not shoot with my cell phone.  I cannot afford the data package that it would make it practical to use mobile apps for anything other than emergencies and our cell phones are for emergency use. Life is not always a matter of preference. More often than not, you don’t get to decide how you will live. Life hands itself to you and it’s your job to figure out how to make it work.

Back in the city again …

Before we became country mice, we were city rats. Garry lived in Boston, downtown in Government Center, for 20 years, then another 10 in Roxbury. I lived in Jerusalem for 9 years, Boston for 3, then Roxbury (which is really part of Boston) for 10 … and then we took our show on the road and moved out here.

It is a bigger different than mere geography. It’s a completely different ambiance, a different texture. Ironically, although the air is cleaner, almost completely free of industrial pollutants, it is thick with pollen and dust. My asthma is far worse out here in the country among the trees and grasses than it ever was in town with the car fumes and chimney soot and all. That, and of course all the dog hair we have in the air and everywhere.

It’s pretty out here. We’ve got the river and the canal, waterfalls everywhere you look. Autumn, when we don’t get rained out, is glorious and you can stop at farm stands and get fresh organic veggies and fruits any time they are in season. We’ve got cows and horses, goats and a dizzying array of wildlife.

Deer, raccoon, the cheekiest chipmunks you’ve ever met … and then there are bats, rats, an infinite number of field mice. A bobcat with glow-in-the-dark eyes and coyotes that look like big friendly dogs. Nasty fishers with coats like mink and when the bobcat hasn’t eaten them all, rabbits. Squirrels, but fewer than there used to be before the bobcats. They are small but mighty hunters.

Irony again: the biggest, nastiest raccoon I ever met was on Beacon Hill, in our back walled garden. He was big, fat, and he wasn’t taking any crap from me. He informed me that the back patio belonged to him and I was disinclined to argue the point.

I never went back there again. At least the raccoons around here stay in their own part of town, or woods.