St. Anthony’s Feast

If someone forced me to give up my comfortable suburban life and move to a city, I hope they would force me to move to Boston (also, in this scenario, the person with the power to force me to move also had the power to force Boston to move- preferably someplace more tropical).

The city is far enough away that visiting it is a special event, but not so far that a day trip is outweighed by the commute.  It’s big enough and visually striking enough to register in your brain as “city”, but not so big to make a trip with six children something only a lunatic would attempt (I’m looking at you, NYC).  There’s enough free attractions to keep your whole day filled (the Freedom Trail alone would take multiple visits before you exhausted its potential), but the museums, particularly the science museum, are definitely worth the price of admission.

So when I saw that St. Anthony’s Feast was this weekend, I thought I’d lay in on really thick to get Ken to agree to go.  What could be better?  A Saturday of perfect weather, street food, religious celebration, and a road trip to Boston.

Ken was not immediately on board with the suggestion.  Where I said, “exciting opportunity to expand our children’s cultural horizons”, he heard, “six small kids lost in the throngs of people filling the North End to bursting”.  I know where he’s coming  from.  When he takes outings as the solo parent, he’s got one kid with him.  Occasionally two, but never more than three.  Never in his entire history of fatherhood has he taken all the kids out in public by himself, so his sense of child-filled adventure is understandably modest (wimp).

But me…shoot.  Not only have I taken solo-parent trips to Boston with all the kids in tow, I’ve taken them all to the grocery store by myself.  Which, as any parent knows, is always, always more horrifying than any road trip could possibly be.

Finally, he relented, with the normal provisions in place.  The “normal provisions” meaning that I come up with an itinerary so foolproof that no surprises could possibly launch themselves into our day.  Where were we going?  Where were we going in case those places were unexpectedly closed, or held no interest for the kids?  Where were we parking?  Did they have open air parking, and if not, did I call to check the garage clearance (this one has been a standard demand ever since our first trip to NYC resulted in scraping the roof of our van in a too-short garage.  Never again), could we walk everywhere?  If not, what subway line did we need?  Where were the stations?  Did we have to transfer lines at any point?  Where were public bathrooms?  Where were drinking fountains?  Wouldn’t I rather stay home and not go?

Etcetera etcetera etcetera.

Luckily, I am a field trip organizer at heart, and I dutifully compiled all the necessary (and unnecessary) information and made the necessary (and unnecessary) plans, because that’s the only way Ken was going to be able to relax and enjoy any of the day.

Once we got there, we visited the USS Constitution as a way to sort of ease Ken into the crowds.  I figured it would be a chance for the kids to run around a bit before having all freedom of mobility yanked from them once we crossed the river and went to the festival.  They were ecstatic about going on a “pirate ship” (hey, I know, I know.  We’ll cover the differences in school later) and were wound up tighter than two dollar watches.

This, of course, did nothing to set Ken at ease, particularly once he realized that due to heightened security concerns we’d be passing through a metal detector.  And that he had his pocket knife on him.

We spent a frantic few moments trying to figure out what to do about this turn of events.  I helpfully suggested casually walking over to a nearby line of cement barriers and stashing the knife under there.  Ken thought that was a spectacularly bad idea, and figured he’d just go through and hope for the best.  We both agreed, however, that the precocious 10 year old, who had been listening attentively to our conversation should mind her own business and not make any more comments about the possibility of Ken going to jail for sneaking a weapon onto the ship.

He made it through, pocket knife and all, and onto the not-a-pirate-ship we went.

The ship itself, while beautiful, actually held limited appeal to children who very quickly get tired of hearing, “No, don’t touch that.  No, you can’t climb on the cannons.  No, you can’t ring the bell.  No, that man in military uniform is not going to let you try on his hat.”  Also, John-Luke, who was in a hiking backpack on Ken’s back, kept trying his hardest to escape its confines, Errol Flynn-style, by climbing up the riggings.

Next on the itinerary was a walk across the river and on into the North End for some serious religious festival goodness.

The place was packed.  Packed.  This made me happy, since I love people watching.  This made Ken frantic, since he doesn’t like being in crowded situations with six small children.  He was a trooper, though, and stifled a good 20% of his sighs and moans as we sloooowly made our way up and down the streets.

This was a church festival!  Forget about the bouncy house and cake walk of a regular parish picnic- this thing had closed an entire section of the city to make room for food vendors, carnival games, singers, marching bands, religious processions, merchants, cooking demonstartions, and not one but two semi-permanent buildings to house the religious statues.

It was fantastic.  We spent time eating calzones on someone’s front stoop, visited the Infant of Prague, St. Lucia, and the Immaculate Conception (didn’t make it to St. Anthony, though. The line was crazy, and even at 3:30, it was starting to attract quite a few people who were finding it difficult to stand still without weaving a little) before heading into the center of the neighborhood for the open air Mass.

I’d never been to an outdoor Mass before.  We got there with a good 20 minutes to spare, and found the area in front of the bandstand quickly filling up with old Italian couples in folding chairs.  We staked out a spot right there on the corner of Via de San Antonio and North Margin Street and waited.

And waited.

And waited while John-Luke started doing that move where he bends so far backwards in your arms that he’s either going to snap his spine in half or force you to drop him right on his head.  And Gabriel and Jude started throwing grit at each other.  And Lotus tripped over the wires from the sound equipment.  Repeatedly.  And Ken’s jaw went on permalock from it being clenched so tightly.

But then Mass started, and it all went away.  As the lector read the Old Testament passage, his voice amplified by his microphone and carrying easily over the din of the crowd surrounding us, I was overcome with the sense of wonder at this.

Here we were, some 300+ people at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which was being said in the middle of a crowded street!

As we knelt down for the Consecration, I couldn’t stop thinking about how revolutionary this act was.  In a culture that seems to be hellbent on eliminating all religion from the public scare, here was a Catholic priest confecting the Eucharist out in the open without making modifications for the god of tolerance.  I felt a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, all the voices we hear from the media, screaming at us to abandon our religious principles in favor of the secular flavor du jour were not as representative of the culture as it seemed.  Certainly the people there at that intersection we’re buying into it.  Certainly the other festival goers weren’t outraged and offended by the religious activities going on right in front of them.  Certainly the city of Boston and the local businesses and the national corporate sponsors could have done a great deal to silence the religious aspects of the festival if they’d been so inclined.  But none of that happened.

Kneeling there in that street, the hope that we still were a country that valued religious expression sort of fluttered around in my heart.  On its heels was the faith that no matter what, God was in control, and ultimately it is His will that will prevail.

Now, in case you’re reading this and getting the idea that I experienced some rapturous state of ecstasy during these revelations, and emerged a perfect saint, forever united to the will of God, let me remind you that my children were sitting in a gutter (they refused to sit sensibly on the curb), picking apart cigarette butts and throwing wads of chewed up gum at each other.

I may have emerged from that Mass with a renewed sense of hope for our country, but any aspirations I had for my children ever being civilized were crushed.

We stopped for dinner at the best pizza joint not only in Boston, but in all of New England (barring, of course, any ‘za made in the Donaldson kitchen), then made our way back across the bridge, back to Charlestown, and back to our van (which was safely parked in the wiiiiiide open air, with no pesky clearance limits to worry about).

The kids fell asleep before we even got on the highway, Ken’s jaw finally relaxed, and I started making plans for us to go back next year.  365 days should be enough time for Ken to recover.

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Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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