farewell paisan

The other night my mom sent me the following texts:

Mayor Menino passed away after a brave fight with cancer. Best guy we ever had. 5 terms, not bad for a Hyde Park Italian. 😦

Much loved man; one a kind. The city is in mourning for this great leader and friend.

Reading the messages stung. I knew he had been sick. His deteriorating health had been public for the past few years after he was hospitalized for a series of complications from respiratory infections and an enlarged prostate. Then last March, Mayor Menino’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek a sixth term in office hinted to some underlying, more sinister health issue that would come out in due time. A year later it was so. He was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer of an unknown origin. It had metastasized to his lymph nodes.

But the former mayor still made the rounds to check in with the city he loved so much it hurt. Like the time he pulled himself out of his wheelchair three days after having emergency surgery on a broken leg to stand at a church lectern and lead a city still in shock after the Boston Marathon bombing. At this year’s race, Menino was photographed using a cane near the finish line in Copley Square. But he was there as he always was. And he was smiling. Deep down I thought he would architect some way out of this illness.

That changed when I read reports October 23 that he was stopping treatment to spend time with his family and friends. It seemed to signal the end was nearing. I didn’t think it was a week away.

Now it’s been a decade since I lived in Massachusetts. Mayor Menino led the city of Boston since I was 12 years old. His voice graced our kitchen most nights while my mom prepared dinner listening to Channel 5. It was an unmistakable sound. As though his lips were at war with the words trying to escape his mouth. But it was a voice I’d know into my thirties, and it always signaled home.

A much-cited 2008 poll conducted by the Boston Globe showed that nearly 60 percent of Bostonians reported to have met Tom Menino at least once. I am not one of those people. For this reason he was never Tom or Tommy or Mumbles to me. Just Mayor Menino. He still is. Even though for the last year the man occupying the mayor’s desk at 1 City Hall Square is named Marty Walsh.

Before moving to the West Coast I watched news reports of Mayor Menino personally welcoming same-sex couples to wed at City Hall when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. From a distance I proudly watched as the city I left launched initiatives to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and expand its bicycle infrastructure under his watch. I read aloud to my husband a letter an angry Boston mayor penned to the owner of Chick-fil-A for making anti-gay statements: “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”

It was only after Mayor Menino’s death that I learned he was responsible for helping implement innovative food policies such as Bounty Bucks. This program allows SNAP recipients to receive matching dollars on purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmer’s markets. It launched in 1986. In Austin, Texas, where I live now, the city just started a similar program last year. Menino also had his fingers in local programs where Boston doctors prescribe patients coupons they can redeem at local grocers for fresh produce.

I didn’t intend to write a post gushing about Mayor Menino or many of his policies. (Although I have.) I sat down to write about how home always seems to be a moving target of places I have been and where I’d like to be. Perhaps it will always be this amalgamation of my past and my future. But right now it doesn’t feel deep in the heart of Texas. It feels like I should be riding the red line to Park Street tomorrow and walking a few blocks down to Faneuil Hall to pay my respects to one of my mother’s paisans.

3 thoughts on “farewell paisan

  1. I have been reading your blog for a while now and enjoy every one of them, but this one moved me beyond words! AND I am not from Boston what a wonderful tribute to an amazing man!

  2. Hi Ginger, Thank you for writing. I really appreciate it. Mayor Menino was definitely a special person. I’m glad you thought so too!

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