The Block Island Times

Patriots' Day Legacy, 2013

By Martha Ball | Nov 08, 2013

It is a beautiful morning, all sunshine and still air. Autumn, my growing puppy, races across the barnyard in pursuit of a toy thrown, a golden streak of focused determination moving so fast when she reaches her destination that instead of coming to a halt she tumbles onto the grass. She is slightly more self-aware than a week ago and quickly rolls onto her tummy as if that was what she intended in the first place.

Incredibly, impossibly, we have still not had significant, lasting rain since she came to live with me back on the day of the Equinox a month and a half ago. The twisted rope toys she favors, the ones she carries outside when I leave the door open to the mild, gather grime. Absently, I think of throwing them in with the old socks and jeans but remember that intention only as I hear the washing machine click, signaling the end of its cycle.

The afternoons are so short I wonder if it is worth hanging even quick drying fabric on the line, but it is so sunny and there is just the right amount of breeze in the air that I go out into the blessed November warmth.

This past week most of New England has reveled in another World Series win — “another” we blithely toss off wondering how many among those of us who lived through decades replete with almosts, and promises of next year, ever imagined such a qualifier would be apt.

The newscasters in this region — and it appears well beyond us, it is a great story — recall events in Boston last April. It was Patriots’ Day when a bombing shook a city in celebration of history, springtime, and — a tradition too deep to be erased by a mere two championships and buoyed by last season’s dismal showing — the grand hope that this year will be different.

As happens when these terrible events take place there was plenty of “don’t mess with Boston” talk, which might seem grandiose to someone afar with preordained notions of what a town known for its colleges and sports and history would have at its core. One of the late-night commentators put it in an interesting context, that this small city, founded by settlers so tough they had to buckle on their hats (which makes absolutely no sense but makes a great visual), had withstood an 86-year losing streak and a 16-year mid-town highway construction project; it would not long be shaken by an act of terrorism.

The bombing also came when the year was new, when it was “next year” for last year’s last place baseball team. The first home game after the bombing the sole player left from the 2004 dream, now a US citizen, stood before a full stadium and in his still heavily accented English proclaimed “this is our ****ing city.” In any other context it would have been unpardonable but these were extraordinary circumstance and no fines were levied.

On Patriots’ Day, while Boston was still in chaos, my radio was tuned to an afternoon talk show out of Providence. The host went to school and has remained friends with someone with long Block Island connections, who goes to that early season at-home Red Sox game. He had him on the phone, on the air, talking of having left Fenway, and being on his way back to the train to Rhode Island. They heard a loud noise, he said, and didn’t really think anything of it, which I could easily imagine happening. In a city of celebration, one expects clamor.

It was only a few days later I had to ask a colleague not yet that familiar with the island if he remembered my mentioning hearing this man on the radio; it was his son whose tragic death had rocked our little town. It is how I will always know when 21-year old Gregor Smith died: a few days after home made bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon; the year of both tragedies the one the Sox won their third World Series in the twenty-first century.

Not so long before Opening Day in 2000 a columnist in a national magazine — it may have been Johnathan Alter in Newsweek — proclaimed baseball was dying, attributing its demise in part to finances, a hard point to argue. He continued, though, to talk of New York and Boston being in an elite league of their own.

At the time, my query was whence hailed this guy who could put forth an assertion so manifestly absurd, one which might have lead a casual observer to think the Red Sox a powerhouse that had won a World Series less than [at the time] eighty-two years ago.

This year I think there may have been a validity in his contention I did not then understand. The inane reaching of the sports writers aside, there was something about this year, this team that transcended the fact they are highly paid professionals. Their climb from last place to Series champions in the wake of the Patriots’ Day tragedy, culminating last week when a parade stopped en route and a coveted trophy was set on the Marathon finish line, is the stuff of legend.

They flipped the calendar, and helped carry a season begun in darkness to a close in the light.

Here, I wonder if we have made even a start or if the extraordinary gift Gregor’s parents and siblings gave this community, the truth about the young man’s death, was left behind as spring gave way to the frenetic pace of summer. We all knew that would happen, the question was — and remains — would it be put aside for a few months or truly put away, however tenderly folded and carefully packed, comfortably and safely out of sight. I hope as we approach the dark season one of his older brothers reminded us is a part of the reality of life in this place, it has not become the ultimate inconvenient truth.

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