Back when I lived in the western suburbs of Boston, there was a certain Chinese restaurant in the town of Framingham that was well-known, well-located, fairly popular, and almost aggressively mediocre.
This restaurant was a five-minute drive from the newspaper office where I worked, and it was a common spot for after-work going-away parties.
I am of the belief that lousy Chinese food is a particular sin against all that is right and good. So I never looked forward to my trips there, because no matter what I ordered, it was never anything but forgettable. (When my wife and I had our own send-off party, we subtly but firmly steered it toward a nearby Irish bar/restaurant, rather than this Chinese place.)
I might have been somewhat more charitable toward the place had I known that my grandparents had passed through the same room 30 years before.
This is a particularly interesting calendar entry for me, since it brings my grandparents to an area that is close to my heart.
I lived in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for seven years after college. I spent a fair amount of that time in traffic on Route 9 (a.k.a. the Ted Williams Highway), the major east-west commercial road that serves as the western suburbs’ malled-up Mammon.
Framingham is the heart of MetroWest, and I remember it fondly. My first child was born there. I saw my brother run past me there, running the Boston Marathon on a brutally hot day. I rifled the Framingham Library’s excellent CD collection, bought obscure imported hot sauces at a funky bodega on the Southside, and ran a Thanksgiving turkey-trot race that ended right by the Memorial Building. I can’t say what my grandparents thought of the town, but I had some good times there.
The Red Coach Grill was long gone by the time I got to town, so I had to do some Googling. Turns out the Red Coach was a chain, owned by Howard Johnson’s, sharing the same low-slung architecture as HoJo’s but with somewhat of a ritzier presentation. A safe place for folks like my grandparents to stop and eat, in any event.
(And yes, to tie my threads firmly together, the former site of the Framingham Red Coach later became home to the Chinese place I recall so acridly.)
My grandparents’ road trip also took them to the north-central Massachusetts town of Leominster, pronounced “LEMON-stir.”
Never been there as a grown-up, though I did have an interesting interview in my senior year of college with a newspaper editor in nearby Fitchburg. I asked him what he thought of the Internet — still a developing technology — and he nudged a nearby trash can with his foot and said dismissively, “There’s a lot of garbage in that trash can.” (In retrospect, that was my earliest lesson in the news industry’s reluctance to adapt. There would be others.)
This entry also introduces a previously unmet character into our narrative — one whose role in the family I didn’t understand. Several of my relatives had to put their heads together to figure it out.
Bea Townsend was an old friend of the family who worked in various textile mills in central Massachusetts. At one of those mills, she met Sarah Mabel “Maizie” Burt, who (if I understand correctly) was a cousin of mine who was raised by my great-great-grandmother after her parents died young.
Bea and Maizie did the same job — they were repairwomen, fixing holes made in fabric or clothing during the production process. And they ended up not only working together, but living together as well — first in Keene, N.H., and later in a small apartment in Leominster.
(In the 1920 census, Bea is listed as “head of household” and Maizie as “partner.” As you might imagine, that term did not mean in 1920 what it does today. Some Googling suggests that the term “partner” was used by the census to reflect a shared business relationship by people living together. I’m told Bea and Maizie took in people’s tailoring on the side, in addition to their factory work. That home-based business would explain why they were “partners” in the 1920 sense.)
The online family tree I turn to for reference doesn’t have a date of death for Maizie Burt. It seems that she died well before Bea Townsend. Even though Bea was not directly related to the family, she had built a relationship with my grandparents and remained close with them after Maizie’s death.
Bea had a New England accent as thick as a Brigham’s frappe and was known to my dad, and thus to me, as “Nana Bea.” Pictures exist of a family visit to her apartment in Leominster when I was about three years old, but I have no memory of it.
Bea was a regular Christmastime visitor to my grandparents’ house, generally arriving by Trailways bus from Leominster, as she did not drive. Apparently she visited out of season in 1970, and my grandparents must have volunteered to bring her home.
And that’s it. No great mysteries, just a day in the car and a decent meal out. Not sure what they ordered … but it had to have been better than the chow mein I used to get.
A note in closing: I intentionally have not named the offending Chinese restaurant for two reasons. One, anyone who wants to know can figure it out in 90 seconds of Googling. And two, the place appears to still be there, almost a decade after I moved away. Really mediocre restaurants don’t last that long. So I’m willing to concede that they must be doing something right — just not on the nights I was there.