By : Karine Van
3-4 min read
My Uncle Jim is a townie in every sense of the word: a bachelor carpenter in his mid-sixties who loves the Patriots, his Ducati, Revolutionary War history, hoarding, and growing his own weed. Anywhere else, Jim is eccentric. But here in Mass, he is quite at home, and privy to some of New England’s best kept secrets.
Every year around the holidays, Jim gifts everyone he knows a gallon of pure, Vermont maple syrup that he gets from a friend who has been honing this craft for close to 80 years. Once you’ve tried this syrup, no other will do. It is the sweet nectar of the Gods. “Old Eastie,” as Jim calls him, is a veteran sugarer who inherited the trade from his father. Family tools dating back to when syrup was hauled from the tree by horse hang from the walls of his production facility, like a museum.
This insular little supply chain, where my uncle knows a guy who’s been doing this one thing really well for decades, isn't uncommon up here. Anyone who’s lived here long enough knows what I’m talking about. For transplants, the insularity is what can make New England feel so infuriatingly difficult to penetrate. Cities like New York or LA, whose goings on and hot spots are more plentiful and made more accessible to newcomers, are more amenable to these types. But for those who put in the effort, the reward is Grade A sweet. For the last year, for example, I have had fresh milk brought to my door in reusable glass containers each week from an actual milkman. How many people can say that? His name was AJ.
Eastie is retiring this year. When my uncle told me, I wondered how many people would feel his absence. I started this column as a way of reconnecting with the more human side of our existence, lamenting what feels like its decline in favor of a more mass produced, corporate, transactional one, appreciating the characters I encounter (of which there are no shortage here in Boston), and trying to articulate that when we opt for a consumer economy that fetishizes convenience above all other virtues, we squeeze out producers like Eastie. But it’s time for me, too, to retire this column.
The end of Letters To My Corporate Overlords is a far softer blow to the world than the retirement of Vermont’s greatest maple sugarer. But the good news is that Eastie had children, who as far as I know, plan on continuing his great legacy! He deserves a break. And I will soon trade in my keyboard for a pitchfork at a small farm outside Napa. And it just feels right.
This column has not been perfect. I’ve perhaps found much to lament and not enough to celebrate. It’s easy, as you’ll find, for writers to laser focus on the negative, harping on the failures of society and modernity. But for the last installment of LTMCO, I want to focus uncharacteristically on the positive: All the things I will genuinely miss about living here (... and a few things I won’t).
I feel lucky to have worked so many types of jobs while living in the Boston area, and truly gotten to know the people and the land in my own way: as the editor of a local Armenian newspaper, as a freelance journalist, as a farmer, as a clerk at a spice shop, as a columnist of the Boston Compass, and most recently, as a mother. The pandemic has cast a very dark cloud over my experience living here the last couple of years, but there are still things I will miss, and I hold out hope that Boston will bounce back one day.
I will miss the little things, like the Saturday farmers’ market at the Somerville Armory, and the three old men who play jazz at the café. The Memories Station, an alternative radio station run by some guy in Portland, who broadcasts everything from obscure oldies, instrumental versions of the national anthem, weird 90’s era PSAs, the occasional WWII propaganda, and pretty much anything I think he can afford the rights to. I will miss the shocking number of people you talk to who claim to be a descendant of someone who came here on the Mayflower, as well as Boston accents and the mocking sarcasm they often deliver. (I will not miss Dunkin Donuts.)
I will miss the big things, like the longstanding Armenian community that has thrived here, and walking into my local pizza shop or bank or cobbler’s shop and knowing the chances are actually pretty decent that the person behind the counter is fluent in my mother tongue. I’ll miss the spirit of activism that defines the Armenian community, its events, rallies, and activism. That spirit is actually a prominent feature of the Boston area broadly. Residents are civic-minded and eager to organize—on everything from (helicopter) parenting to sustainability. (I will not miss citizen-to-citizen policing, or the incredibly neurotic local NPR stations.)
I will miss the New England town, which is not only unique architecturally and in terms of its urban planning, but is actually its own governmental structure according to law. I will miss the walk and bike-ability of Boston and its surroundings. I will miss the local food economy here, and the bounty of small farms that have not been able to persist anywhere else in the country. I will miss multi-family housing. (I will not miss the rent.)
I will miss fall in New England: the turning of the leaves, the smell of pine, the brisk autumn air. I will miss snowfall. (I will not miss my winter gas bill.)
It has been three decades that I have thanklessly gobbled down the highest quality maple syrup the state of Vermont has to offer. I may never again live so close to the guy that makes my syrup. But don’t feel too bad for me. Napa’s got some pretty sweet local nectars to fill the void.
* Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper March #144 2022
Check out all the art and columns of March's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass