Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fig Ends and Ten Cent Lights

Today in Mattapan, I led the last class of writing prompts for the seniors and then collected their notebooks. Next week the teachers will meet with the coaching staff to assign one senior to each writing coach and we'll begin working with them individually to flesh out their stories and ready them for publication in the next anthology.

In class, I emphasize sharing of stories and today they really talked. One man, Earl, wrote a long essay about being the oldest of fifteen children, and his essay was about how the family got along on his father's pay as a cab driver. His father often pulled what they called "iron" shifts in his cab, meaning he worked 24 hours straight. Earl wrote about one uncle who pawned his watch each Monday morning to get bus fare to work for the week. And then bought it back with his wages on Friday afternoon. He wrote about buying what he called "fig ends" from the bakery. He said that the bakers used to make fig bars, a kind of fig brownie, and then cut off the overcooked edges and then the bakers sold those uneven and burnt edges for five cents a bag. Many people in the class nodded at this, and they debated which place had the best fig ends.

In Earl's essay, he named several of the old bars and nightclubs in Mattapan and Roxbury, and detailed which ones had a dress code and in which ones you could get cut with a razor if you weren't careful. "Nobody had guns," he said. People nodded at that, and one woman in response said, "Oh, do you remember those ten cent lights?" Total silence. She looked around and clapped both hands over her heart. "Oh, I'm dating myself now," she said and laughed. We encouraged her to continue. She explained that at one time, you could buy a glass of beer in most of those establishments for ten cents and they were called Ten Cent Lights. Everybody called them that, she said.  

They detailed many of the usual things that we've heard in all the neighborhoods. They talked about butter and sugar sandwiches. They talked about taking the trolley out to the end and back as a form of entertainment. "It took most of an hour, and only cost five cents," said one woman. She also said that her mother would feed the children before they went to a neighbor's house for dinner, "So that we wouldn't shame her by seeming too hungry." They talked about scooping up new fallen snow and pouring Zarex syrup on it to make a dessert.

Then they surprised me. Someone talked about holding a political rally back in the 70s at which they served the best curried goat. I must have let the shock show on my face, because one of the women scolded me. "Look at your face. Look at the look on your face. You haven't even tried it." That stopped me short. I asked where can you get it? They answered all at once, "Anywhere," they all said. "All up and down Blue Hill Ave." 

Curried goat it is, then. And to serve with it? Carrot juice and rum

Welcome to Boston

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