I started my walk on Sunday at the Dunkin Donuts and Dark Horse Antiques at 2297 Dorchester Avenue in Lower Mills. I had decided to walk the length of Dorchester’s part of Dot Ave and take it all in by foot. About one-and-half hours later, I reached the last storefront at the other end, which is Maria’s Market at No. 779.
By the numbers, I walked by about 276 storefronts, 1 hospital, 2 MBTA stations, 3 banks, 4 senior citizen buildings, 3 parks, 1 fire house, 2 libraries, 7 gas stations, 1 cemetery, 3 funeral homes, 8 churches, 3 Catholic schools, 1 public school, 11 bars, 1 rehab facility, and 1 sheltered workshop. Not to mention, 6 Dunkin Donuts. There were 14 traffic lights. Ever feel like you hit every one of them while driving Dot Ave?
But, it’s a street of stories, too. I got a big “hello and isn’t the weather great?” from a guy passing me by as I walked across from Dorchester Park. He must have known I was on a mission. As I walked on, I saw 3 teen skateboarders had turned the little angled entrance way into Ashmont Station at Peabody Square into a skate board park.
What was the worth of this journey I wondered? A young woman dropped a coin while walking in front of me, stopped to try to find it, gave up, and went on. I found it and caught up to her and gave her quarter back.
The O’Hearn School had been renamed the Dr. William Henderson Inclusion School. The recently retired Bill Henderson was its long-time principal who pushed hard for the inclusion of kids with special needs in classrooms with other students. He was a respected educator while being legally blind. My nephew Gabriel was one of the students who received some of his education in this supportive school.
When I reached the Blarney Stone in Fields Corner, I thought of the early dates I had with my wife there in 1976 when it was a traditional Irish bar. Now it’s a much more trendy place, having had two makeovers in the past few years. It even hosted Jake Edelman’s bar mitzvah party, a first for an Irish bar.
Though there are now 11 bars along Dot Ave, I remembered 3-4 sites that are now used for something else. Soon, I went by Peggy O’Neal’s Bar, which had a reputation in the 1970’s as a “bucket of blood.” I hope things had improved. Ironically or not, two blocks from there is D Bar, a trendy place with good food that especially welcomes Dorchester’s gay community.
Two middle aged woman stood on a corner in Fields Corner talking and praying. One was waving a Bible held high above her head while seeming to speak to the cars passing by. Next to the Fields Corner MBTA station is the BGRA, which is the Boston Gun and Rifle Association, I believe. A place for legal shooting while we shudder at some of the not-so-legal shooting that happens in some nearby neighborhoods.
At the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Adams Street is the bustling Pho So Restaurant. Huge bowls of soup with noodles and fish make a good and inexpensive meal. I remember when it was Charlie’s Restaurant with a soda fountain. I knew summer was here when they put up the posters for raspberry lime rickeys on the walls.
Some old buildings have dates and names on them and you can only wonder about their history. Now, a new building housing a Vietnamese restaurant across from the Dorchester House has the name T. Le Building carved on it. Mr. Le is probably someone we can find right now. Just down from that is a paved lot where once stood 1344 Dorchester Avenue where the community organization I worked for had its office in the 1970’s. We had a chance to buy that building, but were a bit too conservative. Maybe it would still be there if we had bought it back then.
As we reach Savin Hill, I go by the Paul McLaughlin Youth Center, which is part of the wonderful Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester that was founded in the early 1970s by the Marr family. Poor Mr. McLaughlin was a young respected assistant district attorney who was assassinated in West Roxbury by a gang member he was prosecuting. The bad guys were caught afterwards and Mr. McLauglin lives on through this teen center.
Past that is the old and small B&A supermarket. I remember that back in the 1970’s they suspiciously had government surplus food for sale on their shelves, But they’ve always had bargains for those with less and those without cars to get to big supermarkets. But a few blocks farther down is the bustling Bahn Mi Bakery with a sign saying they are French Bakers along with a little Eiffel Tower symbol. Changes. Changes. Next door was once St. Williams Catholic Church, now a Seventh Day Adventist Church with this lively baguette and Vietnamese sandwich selling shop next door.
Almost at the end is Blessed Mother Teresa Church that was once St. Margaret’s and also seems to be the spot that Dennis Lehane places the office of his two Dorchester detectives, Patrick and Angie, in several of his books. President Johnson came to St. Margaret’s for the funeral of former U.S. House Speaker John McCormack’s wife. The McCormacks lived just a few houses from the church and there’s a small park nearby that is named after the speaker. There sat four people who seemed down on their luck but who were nonetheless enjoying the sun and warmth of the day.
Just before I reached the last storefront, I saw some flowers poking through the ground at 785 Dorchester Avenue and I then went back two blocks and treated myself to a ice cream cone at the Sugar Bowl. A great name, I thought, since that was the name of the ice cream shop in the Chip Hilton sports book series I read 50 years ago.
My feet are a bit tired as I trudge down to the JFK-UMass MBTA station for the ride back home. When I get there, my son asks about my trip and I remember that he has made this journey marching in the Dorchester Day Parade. “Three times” he says he’s done it and my daughter and wife once, too. So I had joined them on that long walk down that street of memories and dreams.
Lewis Finfer is a Dorchester resident.