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Caryl Rivers Headshot

How Boston Won My Heart

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It took the Marathon bombing and its aftermath to seal the deal. I now know in my gut I am a Bostonian. I got really angry and my first thought was, "How can they do this to MY town!"

And my town is a different place than when I moved here three decades ago.

On Marathon day, I was in my Boston University office, a couple of blocks from the finish line, when my phone rang. "Where are you?" my son Steve (calling from Houston) asked me. When I told him, he said, "Don't go out," he said. "They're blowing up the Marathon."

Like everyone else, I followed the week's events with both horror and admiration for the cops, the EMTs and the other public officials. I felt it more and more in my gut; MY town.

In some way, I had regarded Boston as my second city for years. I grew up in D.C., third generation, and I loved the dazzling marble, the cherry blossoms, and even the noisy politics and the muggy summer heat. I came to Boston with my husband, the late Boston Globe columnist Alan Lupo, to his home town. I was pregnant with my first child -- Steve, the son who called me.

It was an alien place to me then. In D.C., all that mattered was whether you were black or white. In Boston, caucasian tribes glared out at each other, a reflection of what was once called Boston's "savage geography." There were conclaves of Irish, Jews, Italians, Armenians and others, who often had unkind words about each other. (They sure didn't like black folks much either).

In Boston, the ocean water was freezing, even in summer. It snowed in April. People talked funny.

My kids grew up talking funny too. Steve, now a federal agent, was for a time a cop in Texas. He was careful to talk to his radio dispatcher without the peculiar Boston r's.

But once his dad was riding with him in his cruiser, and Steve lapsed back into Boston speech. The dispatcher squawked over the radio in her Texas drawl, which sounded like, "Officer Loophole, where are you-all at? And Steve radioed, "I'm at the corner of Pahk and MacAthah." The radio squawked back, "Where the hell are you, Officer Loophole?"

My daughter Alyssa, in her years of theater training, managed to perfect an unaccented Shakespearian voice. But once, playing a lead role at the La Jolla Playhouse, she lapsed into an imitation of Revere-Dorchester speech to amuse her fellow actors. The director heard her and said. "I love it. Use it for the whole play!" Alyssa groaned. "It took me years to get of that accent."

When I arrived, I threw myself into the life of Boston. Alan and I sometimes covered the same stories -- like the busing controversy that tore the city apart. Angry whites threw stones at black kids getting off the buses in front of a school in South Boston (Southie.) I was once chairing a rally for the Equal Rights amendment in Faneuil Hall when I was shouted down by a large contingent of ROAR members -- the Southie anti-busing activists.

For a long time, race was our bête noir. For years, the city's iconic image was the Pulitzer prize-winning photograph of a Southie tough trying to spear a black city official with an American flag.

But slowly, surely we have moved on. Boston is no longer the angry place it was in the days of busing. Today it is an international city, less provincial, far more tolerant, more sophisticated than it was when I first arrived. We have an African-American governor, a thriving Haitian community, and a large Brazilian contingent. Latinos now predominate in once-Italian East Boston, and the two groups find they have much in common. Students from all over the world give the city's complexion a myriad of shades.

And all the while, also slowly but surely, I was adapting to beantown. I became a Boston driver. In my car, I try to beat other drivers to the intersection. I swear like a trooper when somebody cuts me off without bothering to turn on a signal. I only gave up rude hand gestures recently because of the fear that other drivers were armed and prone to road rage.

I became a cold water creature. Reared in the warm waters of the Chesapeake Bay, I now swim in the frigid waters of Boston harbor in June and find it bracing.

Over the years, I came to love this quirky little city almost as much as Alan did. I've seen it grow and change. Yes, Boston can be tough and gritty -- read Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) for a look at the city's dark side. ) But we all came together on that awful day. Look at the faces of the runners and the first responders; a whole globe in a tiny space.

This city has woven itself around my heartstrings over the years and for a long time, I was not even aware of the process. So much of my life has happened here, and now, those ties are way to tough to break

They are Boston Strong.

Caryl Rivers' e-novel, "Girls No More" was recently published by Diversion press.