Adam and Eve were banished from Eden for eating apples. This Original Sin condemned future generations to the purgatory of this mortal coil, however from time to time humans have defied this divine decree with repeated attempts to recreate Heaven on Earth. Most of these utopias have been short-lived for nothing irked the true believers of the after-life more than people enjoying the rewards of a good life in this life and in 1965 nothing symbolized life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness more to the teenagers of Boston's South Shore than the Quincy Quarries. They swam in the spring-fed water without any parental supervision. The passage from boys to men came with a leap off the craggy cliffs into the rock-bound pools. The sun never shined so bright as on the rims of Million Gallons and Josephine's, but Brewster's Quarry was the favorite for the thousands of teenagers devoting their youth to the life of a fallen angel. It was called the Hole of Heaven, however these summer swimming holes were not natural to the glacier-carved Blue Hills. Stone cutters had carved granite from steep ledges to build the Bunker Hill monument and hauled these gigantic slabs from the ever-deepening pits by the first train in America. The year was 1826. These indestructible blocks provided the building material for courthouses, wharves, and lighthouses, but in coming of steel and glass skyscrapers exiled the construction of granite monuments to the history books. Stone was no longer for the living, but the dead, and only undertakers can feed their children from the dead, so in 1963 the stonecutters turned off the water pumps and the quarries were flooded by the springs running deep under the earth. The aquifer held generations of pure water. Its color was emerald green and every April teenagers from South Boston, Dorchester, Quincy, and my hometown flocked to the quarries like Celtics fans to the Boston Garden.
In December of 1963 Arnie Ginsburg declared that the Kingsmen's song was the worst record he had ever spun on his NIGHT TRAIN show. The WMEX DJ was no teenager. Louie went to #1 in the winter of 1964 and every garage band in Boston covered it at least once during their sets. The drummer saying 'fuck' had nothing to do with it. America was leaving the 1950s for good. Boys and girls made out at the Mattapan Oriental Theater during Saturday matinees. Hair crept over ears and shirt collars like uncut lawns. Our parents battled this rebellion with edicts against kissing, drinking beer, rock music, long hair, dancing too close, and certain friendships. Whole towns were declared off-limits and no forbidden destination proved more irresistible than the Quincy Quarries south of Boston.
Parents, priests, teachers, and police were strangers to these teenage oases. The quarries were only accessible by foot. They were a refuge from adult domination and LOUIE LOUIE played on transistor radios, while boys and girls basked in the summer sun. THe Kingsmen’s song was more popular than any Beatles song. Jumping off a cliff worked better to a dirty sax than the saccharine harmonies of I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND. The feuds between towns and gangs were put on hold at the quarries. Teenagers came to fun, a swim, the thrills, and refuge from adults. The authorities tried their best to shut down this paradise. Freedom was a responsibility not a gift of nature.
Unfortunately the quarries were a magnet for accidental drownings and drunken mishaps. Joyriders drove cars into Million Gallons to imitate James Dean's chicken run in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. One or two ended up bad. Many of the stories about the bottomless pits were urban legends. The most famous was of a kid jumping off Shipwreck’s craggy prow and landing on a submerged car. An antenna pierced his arm. This gruesome tale was retold each summer, as if the accident had occurred recently, although its origins were lost in the haze of myths.
Parents believed the worse and vigorously petitioned the mayor to shut down these threats to the well-being of their children. His police and town workers tried their best.The Quincy garbage men dumped old telephone poles into the water. Teenagers used them for logrolling contests or wired them together for sunning rafts. Police raided the quarries. They were too out of shape to catch anyone. The town was accused of ignoring its civic duty and in August 1965 a selectman from the shipyard suggested pouring refuse oil from ships into the quarries. Three tankers were parked overnight by the edge of Brewster’s. The selectman had promised to unleash their foul black liquid into the main pool with the dawn. That evening I sat on a lawn chair to observe a meteor shower. Bats flapped their wings through the soft summer air and a light wind hushed through the trees. This suburban calm was shattered by a whooshing boom.
My eyes widened as a flaming mushroom cloud roiled over the woods. Seconds later two more fireballs scorched the night sky. I jumped to my feet, thinking that the Russians had nuked Boston and crouched under the picnic table in anticipation of the shock wave. Several minutes later my mother came out of the house and ordered me inside. As a 13 year-old boy I obeyed her 99% of the time.
The morning’s newspapers reported vandals had torched the trucks at the quarry. The police had no suspects, although the teenage grapevine introduced a trio of heroes to the South Shore. Donnie, Lee, and Eddie. I had never been to the quarries. Neither had my next-door neighbor. Chuckie was my best friend. We wanted to see the ruined trucks and told our parents that we were going to the town pool. Three of our friends joined us and we tramped out of our suburban neighborhood into the Blue Hills. The trek took a good hour. We talked about the divers off the Acapulco cliffs. None of us planned on diving off Rooftop, Brewster's most famous leap.
"We'll jump feet first." Chuckie was a good diver. His family had a swimming pool.
Feet-first sounded safe, until we scrabbled through the maze of abandoned stones to the edge of Brewster's Quarry. Rooftop was a slanted slab of granite fifty feet above the water. The sheer drop looked more like a hundred. The older teenagers on the ledge clucked out calls of chicken,
“Are you going or what?”
“Leave them alone.” A good-looking teenager came over to us. He was about 17, which was a golden age for teenagers. We listened to his every word. “The best way to jump is feet-first. You put your feet together and hold out your arms to keep your balance. It looks high, but there aren’t any ledges under Rooftop, so you’ll live no matter what.”
The teenager went back to his friends.
Keep on your sneakers. It’s easier climbing out of the quarry with them on.
“Thanks.” Chuckie rubbed his hands together. “There are five of us, right?”
We nodded meekly and he pointed to me. “I’ll go first, you’re second, then you, you, and you. We yell out ‘Geronimo’. Are you with me?”
“Yes,” We shouted in unison. Our parents had forbidden the act, our teachers had warned of the danger, and the police would arrest us for trespassing on private property. Their collective disapproval was all the encouragement 13-old boys needed to set ourselves free. We stripped off our shirts and stashed them under a bush.
Without warning Chuckie threw himself off the cliff. His cry of ‘Geronimo’ died with a splash into the water. His head bobbed to the surface and he shouted my name. I ran until air was under my feet and plummeted off-balance to smack into the water on my side. I surfaced with a whoop. I was ready to jump off Rooftop again and the gleam on Chuckie’s face confirmed he was with me 100%.
With a shriek our friends appeared high overhead suspended in mid-air before falling in arcing trajectories. Jimmy also landed on his side, Sam on his belly, and ralph cannonballed into the water. They broke surface and we howled for joy.
We had done it and we did it again and again throughout the following summers, but by 1967 America wasn’t the same America as in 1965.
Cities were burning in the US and Asia. San Francisco hippies were dropping acid and longhairs in Cambridge demonstrated against LBJ. Boys from the South Shore were fighting against the commies in Viet-Nam, but the effect from the battles in the Orient had yet to ripple across the surface of the Quincy Quarries. We had our own heroes in the legend about three boys acting as one.
Donnie, Lee, and Eddie.
Their attack on the oil trucks had not been a solitary act. Their names were on every teenager’s lips. How they had stopped a fight at the River Club in Mattapan. How they were the best dancers at the Surf Nantasket. That nobody dressed sharper and no one kissed better. These stories were too good to be true and I suspected they were a myth. I was wrong.
"I saw Donnie, Lee, and Eddie at the Clam Box." My girlfriend had gone to the teen hangout on Wollaston Beach with her sister. Kyla Rolla loved their fried clams.
"I don't believe you." I was a little jealous. Kyla was too pretty to be on a beach without me, especially with Donnie, Lee, and, Eddie around.
"Go see for yourself." She handed me the keys to her sister's Vespa. It was pink. "You can't miss them."
"Sure." The three most popular teenagers on the South Shore should be very obvious and I pulled on a football helmet before getting on the scooter. It was tight. I was on my high school track team and saved my physical contact for dates with Kyla.
Wollaston Beach was a 15-minute drive from my house. The sun was hot and hundreds of families crowded onto the narrow strip of sand. The water shimmered with oil. The town sewage lines dumped untreated effluvia into the bay. No one who swam at the Quarries went in the water at Wollaston. Most teenagers came to see other teenagers and eat fried clams at the Clam Box. They were the best on the South Shore and I almost pulled into the parking lot upon smelling the greasy aroma billowing from the extraction fans. Instead I parked across the street close to a large clump of teenager.
A blonde girl sat on the seawall alone. She was wearing a bikini. I figured her for 15. My age, but I pretended to be 16 and walked up to her.
“Have you seen Donnie, Lee, and Eddie?”
"Yeah, he's over there." She lifted her hand to point. I never saw where. A fist smacked into my head. The punch didn’t hurt my head thanks to the helmet and I wheeled around to face several older teenagers in leather jackets and pointy-toed boots.
“Who invited you to this beach? I’ll tell you. No one. Your type is unwelcome in Wollaston. Now you’re going get what you deserve.” They were ‘Rats’ and hated anyone dressing ‘Mod’ like me. Chinos, a Sta-press shirt, hair over your ears were stupid reasons to fight. “I didn’t do anything to you.” My eyes darted from left to right. I had never seen any of them before. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school. Rats attended vocational schools or were sentenced to a reformatory.“You’re driving a pink scooter.” The biggest Rat had an anchor tattooed on his forearm. “It’s my sister’s.” Kyla’s sister to be exact.“More like your sissy’s. Take off the helmet.” He raised his fists like we were scheduled for a three-rounder.
“Why?” Football helmets were good protection with the odds against you 5-1.
“Because I said so.” He was used to people doing what he said. Most bullies are.
“That's not good enough.” A crowd was gathering around us. Everyone loved a fight and even more so a beating.
"Really and what are you going to do about it?" I took off the helmet, holding it by the facemask.
"Kick your ass." He turned his head with a smile. To him I was easy meat, but he was wrong.
I had been beaten up every day in 7th Grade. These fights taught me that if an aggressor spoke about fighting, he was usually serious, so I blindsided the greaser with my helmet. The impact produced an unhealthy thock and he collapsed onto the sidewalk like a jellyfish. His friends stared at him for several seconds and then rat-packed me in revenge. Something clocked me hard in the head. Stars floated in my eyeballs, as I ducked, bobbed, and weaved through a medley of punches and kicks. One blow caught me in the temple. I stumbled to the ground and a boot to the ribs knocked the wind out of my lungs. This was as bad as any of the beatings I had received in 7th Grade and it could have gotten worse, except someone said, "Stop it."
The deluge of blows ended with me on my knees. Blood was dripping from my nose. My tongue tested my teeth. A molar was loose.
"Are you okay?" The teenage boy lifted me to my feet. It was the same boy who had instructed Chuckie and me how to jump off Rooftop. He wore a jeans and a denim jacket like Levis might have made them special for him.
"I think so." My right eye was swollen shut, but I could see two of my attackers lifting the fallen greaser from the pavement. The helmet had opened a gash above his eye. His other friends stuffed their hands into their pockets, as if they had been innocent onlookers. "Thanks for helping me."
"I didn't like the odds." The tall tanned Italian teen stood with the blonde girl under his arm. His face belonged to a god and his muscled body was that of a high school quarterback. He shrugged with utter cool. “My name is Donny Lianetti.”
“D-d-Donny Lianetti?” I was stunned by the miracle of three people melting into one body.
“Have we met before?” He squinted with suspicion.
“No, no, I thought you were three people. Donnie, Lee, and Eddie.” I lifted a finger with each name.
“That’s funny. Donny, Lee, and Eddie.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “Maybe we’ll see you around.”
"I go to the quarries." I wanted to be his friend.
"Then we'll definitely see you." He strolled away with the blonde. His friends followed Donnie. I got back on the Vespa and drove back to my neighborhood.
"And?" Kyla shook her head after I took off the helmet. The bleeding had stopped, but my eye must have been a good color black. I explained about the fight and how Donnie saved me. His fame rubbed off and my friends wanted to hear the story over and over again. Even my father thought maybe that some good had come of the beating.
"Teach you not to go places you shouldn't go."
That was a lesson for someone else. I went to the quarries almost every day. Donnie was there a couple of times. He waved from his clutch of friends. I waved back. Chuckie and I dove off Rooftop to get his attention. He yelled out his approval, but never called us over to speak with us. From another teenager this benign neglect might have been an insult, however I was happy with the smallest sliver of his attention, especially as his fame grew with a series of swam dives from the quarries’ most famous cliffs; the Wall, rooftop, and the Peak of Shipwreck. Each successful plunge reinforced his aura of divinity and we figured he would stop at Everest, the highest dive in Brewster's, but then Donnie announced a dive from the rail bridge of Million Gallons.
On the 4th of July.
For our brave men in uniform.
Million Gallons was the largest of the quarries. The depth was unknown and the height from the Rail to the water had to be about 120 feet. Tobin Bridge in Boston was the same height. People leapt from that span to kill themselves. A jump from the Rail could be equally fatal, but if anyone could survive such a dive, it was Donnie Lianetti.
That 4th was a warm day.
Families across the Soth Shore were heading to Nantasket Beach. It was the best beach on the South shore with long Atlantic rollers crashing on fine gray sand. Chuckie and I said that we were staying home. My father shook his head.“You’ll be missing a perfect beach day.”“That’s okay.”He was right and on any other day of the summer I would have gladly piled into our station wagon for the drive down route 3 to Hull, but today whatever I wanted to do had nothing to do with the beach. “Try to stay out of trouble.”“Yes, sir.”Once my family drove away, Chuckie ran over to my house. His parents were headed for the Cape. They had a cottage near the Canal. His mother and father were going alone. His sisters also wanted to see Donnie Lianetti's dive. So did their boyfriends. None of us were going anywhere other than the Rail. I picked up Kyla at her house. Her sisters were riding the Vespa. Kyla came with Chuckie's sisters. We were in a Valiant. All six of us. Kyla had to sit on my lap. The drive through the Blue Hills wasn't far, but we were surprised by the number of cars parked underneath the Expressway. Almost a hundred. It was 11:30 and we hurried up the path to Million Gallons.
Today no one was speaking about Vietnam, the Red Sox, or summer vacations. We told stories about our hero. Some stories might have been lies. I proudly retained yellowing bruises to prove mine was true. By the time we mounted the rocky rim of Million Gallons, the crowd of teenagers had to number in the hundreds. Kids had come from every town on the South Shore and all the neighborhoods of Boston. Even black kids from Roxbury. Mostly boys and young men, but also a lot of girls.
Chuck’s sister, Addy, was with Dennis Halley. He drove a GTO. Several of her girlfriends were hanging by the bridge over the quarry. That was called the Rail. They had come to see Donnie Lianetti demonstrate that teenagers don’t die young.
I peered over the edge. The uneven wall slanted to the bottom. The water appeared a mile away and I gulped from fear. Kyla grabbed my hand. “Stay back.”
"Nothing to worry about," I said, hoping there wasn't an earthquake.
"So where's the hero?" A greaser checked his watch. It was a Timex. "I got 11:57."
"He'll be here," Dennis Halley answered with certainty and a minute before noon Donnie appeared on the bridge in cutoff shorts. Kyla’s eyes worshipped him, as if he was a religion, and she clapped her hands together, when he took off his shirt. His skin was tanned golden. Several girls sighed, expecting him to strip down to his underwear.
“You think he’s really going to dive?” Kyla’s fingernails dug into my arm.
His feet were covered by sneakers and the greaser asked, "Why's he wearing those, if he's going to dive."
"Because it's easier to climb in sneakers." I remembered him saying the same words two years earlier.
“Thank you for coming to honor our boys overseas.” Donny raised his arms to quiet us and spoke with a clear voice. “They're fighting for us our right to swim here and listen to rock and roll and drink beer. Fuck killing the commies. It ain’t about that."
No one had expected politics. We looked at each other without saying a word.
"But you didn’t come here to hear about the war, so if you don’t mind, give me a little quiet."
Within seconds the only noise was the hum of cars on Route 3.
"You guys ready?”
His words were directed far below to the three figures floating on the water. They were his safety crew. One of them shouted something and Donnie spread his arms like Christ on the cross.
“He isn’t gonna dive, is he?” Chuckie whispered from behind me.
“No way,” the greaser said through an exhale of cigarette smoke. “No one’s that crazy.”
Donnie pushed off from the steel beam, his featherless arms guiding his headfirst plunge. We held our breaths, as his body accelerated to become an incoming ICBM. Halfway down he must have realized the danger in diving and tried to correct for a feet-first entry. This desperate attempt ran out of space and he exploded into the water at an odd angle. A huge plume rose from the impact the crowd groaned with the collective memory of a painful belly flop, although landing on your stomach from a hundred and fifty feet was a matter of life or death, instead of a pink belly.
“See, I told you he was chicken to dive,” the greaser said with a smirk. Nothing was sacred to them.
We ignored his insult. Our eyes were riveted on the surface. Donnie had yet to re-appear. His safety crew frantically swam to their friend’s entry point and dove under the water. When they bobbed up with Donnie, our hero raised his hand in triumph and we cheered him, as if he had landed on the Moon. Chuckie’s sisters suggested that we go back to their house. Her parents weren’t home. Neither were mine.
Back at their swimming pool, everyone talked about the dive. Donnie had achieved the impossible, however in the following weeks and months no one mentioned his name. Some rumors said that he had enlisted in the Marines. Others that he had been arrested by the police for his dive. Whenever I went to the quarries, I asked about him, but no one could say anything for sure.
In fall of 1971 I moved into a collegiate commune in Allston. My fellow hippies and I protested against the war, smoked pot, and listened to the Jefferson Airplane. None of this helped my grades. My major was in Math. The professor tutored me every morning. I was a friend of his daughter. School was 15 minutes away by trolley. It was even closer by hitchhiking. One morning a Cadillac stopped on Commonwealth Avenue.
The brunette behind the wheel was beautiful. Her longhaired passenger huddled against the door in a slouch. They were a strange couple. The radio was playing the kinks’ WATERLOO SUNSET. The passenger sang along with the chorus. He had a good voice.
"Where you going?" the girl asked as if they were heading cross-country.
The passenger turned around in his seat and stared at me with familiar eyes.
"I know you." He pushed the hair out of his face.
“You do.” I didn’t recognize him.
“You’re the guy who thought I was three people.”
"Yep." His face was twisted on one side and he was losing his hair.
“You must have seen my great dive. This is the reward I’ve been living with since then. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not angry. My father sued Quincy and with the settlement I’m set for life. I can walk and Sheila loves me. We have two kids. So don’t say, “Sorry.” I heard enough of them to last a lifetime.”
"It was a great dive."
"Except for the landing." Donnie Lianetti settled into his seat with a pained sigh. “Hey, tell Sheila how handsome I was.”
“He was a God.” It was the truth.
“He still is in his own small way.” She rubbed his head like she worshipped Donnie for same reasons than we had back in 1966.
“Whatever happened to your girlfriend?”
“Kyla?” I was surprised that he remembered her, then again I certainly had not forgotten her
“She got married.” To a friend of mine after we broke up. I couldn’t explain why other than I had been stupid. “She’s living in my hometown.”
“Too bad. You ever go to the quarries?”
“I was there last summer. It hasn’t changed at all.” The water was as clean as ever. The cliffs were unbroken by gravity. A jump off Rooftop thrilled my soul.
“Next time jump off Rooftop for me.”
“Sure,” I answered, as his girlfriend braked opposite the gates before my school.
"It was good seeing you." I got out of the car.
“Thanks, we’ll be seeing you around.” He didn't say where and after that day Donnie Lianetti vanished forever.
I told my friends at the commune about this encounter. They were enthralled by the legend of the quarries. In the spring I took them there. The water was the same. The cliffs were just as high. I dove from Rooftop to show off to a co-ed from BU. I landed funny and tweaked my back. It was only 40 feet. I limped around Boston for the rest of the summer. I didn't go back to the quarries for a long time.
After finishing college, I moved to New York. I thought about the quarries a lot. Donnie too. I traveled the world, living in Paris, Germany, Mexico, and Bali. People said I was a man without a country.
They were wrong. I knew exactly where was my home and on a summer day in 1999 I went to the quarries with my older brother's son and daughter. They were 13 and 15. Each had heard the story about Donnie Lianetti and my last dive many times. This visit they begged me to show them the quarries and I borrowed my father’s car to drive them there. It was a beautiful day and I climbed to Rooftop. This time I jumped feet-first. My back survived the leap and my niece and nephew worshipped me for at least a week.
Back in New York no one believed I would do something so foolish. I was 47. I had been living in the city on and off 22 years. I was still a New Englander and on the morning of July 4, 2000 I deserted my East Village apartment for Boston.
The taxi drive to Penn Station was quick. The national holiday had emptied the streets. The northbound Amtrak train sped along the Connecticut shore and arrived at the route 128 Station on time. My father was waiting by his car. For a man nearing 80 he looked good.
“You want me to drive?” I asked, having heard about his recent accident.
While driving through the town cemetery to visit the grave of my mother and youngest brother, a squirrel had jumped onto the path and my father had swerved into the scenery. The car showed no sign of damage.
“I’m fine. Get in the car.”
“Police said it was a miracle you didn’t hit a gravestone.” I sat in the passenger side and strapped the seat belt over my chest.
“Oh, that.” He started the car and drove out of the station. “I still have good reaction skills for a man my age.”
He proved this statement by swerving around a slow-moving SUV and cursing the driver as a fool.
Luckily the traffic was light. Everyone was already on the Cape. We breezed over the Sagamore Bridge and reached my older brother’s cottage in Cotuit within seventy minutes. As we pulled into the driveway, my brother checked his watch. “Good time, Speed Racer.”
“Only because there are no squirrels.” My father pushed himself out of the car. The weight he gained after my mother’s death was a permanent addition to his tall frame. “Any white wine on ice?”
“Just opened a bottle especially for you.” My brother hugged him and then me. We didn't see each other.
Halfway through his glass of Chardonnay, my father fell asleep on the sofa. My sister-in-law and brother resumed preparations for a pre-fireworks BBQ. “Take the kids to the beach. And drive slowly, the cops love giving tickets for speeding.”
The town beach was less than five minutes away. Finding a parking space took ten. About two hundred families were spread across the narrow strand of sand. My niece and nephew insisted on planting our umbrella in the center of them. They were almost teenagers and this was more about meeting kids their own age than swimming.
My niece and nephew hit the refreshment stand and I strode to high-tide mark. The water was cold. I picked my way through the stones deposited by the waves. The sandy bottom was a relief. Most swimmers stayed within twenty feet of shore. The drop-off to deeper water was sharp.
I dove under a small wave. My underwater voyage took me out over my head and I surfaced to see gulls wheeling in the peerless blue sky. Children’s laughter splashed across the water. Adults languished on floats. 90% of them would be lobster red by sunset. It was fun, but not the type of swimming about which I dreamed and I returned to shore.
Back at the blanket, my niece and nephew were munching on potato chips with their friends. One with sunglasses asked, “How old are you, mister?”
“50.” It sounded old to me too, if you added on the ‘mister’.
“50?” He lifted off his shades. “50 is old.”
“My uncle isn’t old. Only last year he jumped off Rooftop at the Quincy Quarries.” My nephew defended my aging with his rendition of Donnie Lianetti’s dive. He lived as a myth and at the end of the story, my nephew’s friend said, “My old man is fifty and he drives a Mercedes.”
“Good for him. He never jumped off the quarries.” “That’s telling him.” I was proud of my nephew, but I didn’t have a car or a wife or kids. My only family was the one into which I had been born in 1952 and I loved them. We were Red Sox fans after all.
For dinner Frank barbecued burgers and dogs. I drank wine with my father. We played cribbage and he won every game. After Wheel of Fortune he went to sleep. Frank led us through the deepening dusk to the baseball field. We sat on the wooden stands, watching fireworks explode over the harbor. The finale had the crowd oohing and aahing like babies after a whiskey toddy.
Several high school friends accepted my brother’s invitation to come back to his house. Our rapid-fire conversation revisited 1960s. We told stories about GTOs, the Surf Nantasket, and the quarries. Everyone wanted to hear about Donnie’s dive. I didn’t include our meeting on Commonwealth Avenue. The story played better with a happy ending. At the end their kids joked that we were dinosaurs. I proved we were only wooly mammoths by playing a CD of British Invasion hits. The teenagers grimaced upon hearing us sing WILD THING. My brother shook his head, when I did an air guitar. Everyone went home slightly before midnight.
“Time for bed.” Frank took the wineglasses out of his wife’s and my hand.
“Party-pooper.” His wife and I were discussing his likeness to George Bush. The father not the son.
“Someone has to mow the lawn in the morning.” He was shorter than the 41st President. I kissed his wife on the cheek and walked down the hallway to the guestroom. My father was lying on his back in the bed nearest the door. His snoring was louder than normal and Frank asked, “You can sleep through that?”
“No problem,” I answered and stuck two wads of wax in my ears.
“See you in the morning.”
The night air was thick with humidity. Mosquitoes formed different attack patterns to suck my blood. Few got through the strong breeze of the fan set on 3. A stupor should have been my next destination, however my father’s rumbling snorts served as a trumpet call to anyone on this side of the dead. The balls of wax were useless. I kicked at his bed and he cleared his throat with a phlegmatic rumble.
“I wasn’t snoring, was I?”
“Like a truck stuck on ice.”
“Sorry.” He rolled over and regained unconsciousness within seconds.
The snores shook the room and I went to sleep on the living room couch. Without a fan the mosquitoes had better luck with their strategies. I wrapped the thin sheet around my body, so that only my nose was unprotected. The mosquitoes showed no mercy.
Slightly before dawn I returned to the guest room. My father’s breathing was even-paced. It took him a couple of minutes to sense I was in the room. He opened his eyes with a series of blinks at the rising sun.
“You sleep good?”
“Like I was on a bed of nails.”
“Probably all the wine you drank.” He squinted at the rising sun.
“Anyone else awake?”
“Just you and me, Pop,” I replied and helped him out of bed.
“Then let’s have breakfast.”
We got dressed and drove to the local restaurant. It was slightly before 7am. I bought the NY Times and Boston Globe. The headlines confirmed no news happens on holiday weekends. An article about the construction on the Central Artery filled four columns and I said, “Says Quincy is using the rubble from the Big Dig for landfill.”
“Yes, the town’s filling the quarries.”
“They can’t do that.” The quarries were reputed to be bottomless.
“If you have as much money as the Big Dig, the impossible is possible. Besides what do you care?” He was no stranger to my concern.
“The quarries are national treasures.” This was a sacrilege to the eternal emerald waters. They were on the national heritage trail. It couldn’t be true.
“The town should have closed those death traps long ago.” My father jabbed a finger at the newspaper. “Sixteen people died in the quarries since 1960.”
“Thousands die on the highways and no one’s closing them.”
“People use the highways.”
“And I swim at the quarries.” Only last year I had leapt off Rooftop to prove I wasn’t old to my nieces and nephews.
“A man your age shouldn’t be doing that.” My father slammed the table. The salt-and-pepper shakers bounced in the air. The other diners turned their heads. They were vacationers with little interest in a heated debate about the Quarries.
“You’re right, but I still can’t believe this.” I raised my hands in surrender.
“Read it again and weep.” My father returned to the Scrabble puzzle, while I scoured the article for the slightest hint of reprieve.
Twenty billions dollars were being spent to save 100,000 commuters 15 minutes. Boston’s congestion could have been more easily solved by giving 25,000 drivers $800,000 to commute by train or stay at home like Lotto winners. Fewer cars. Less traffic. More roads. More traffic. No such luck. My math was illogical to the project planners, or motorists obsessed with a ridiculous need to race to the malls, the fast food chains, and their houses. I read further that the town of Quincy was burying my favorite swimming hole with the excavated dirt from the nation’s largest highway project.
After breakfast my father told Frank he wanted to go home. My brother begged us to stay. We had been best friends most of our life and now our hours together each year could be counted on fingers instead of stars. I asked my father, “What’s the rush?”
“I like sleeping in my own bed. No one’s saying you can’t stay.”
My brother smiled at my father.
“No, if he goes, I won’t worry about his driving off the Sagamore Bridge.”
I kissed my brother and hugged his wife. I’d see them on Labor Day. My father was already in the car. He blew the horn. Almost 80 and he had places to go. The road to Boston was clear. Everyone was making the Fourth a long weekend. My father and I listened to NPR. He rarely dropped below 75. Arriving in our hometown I could tell he was happy. At his age familiar places made him feel good, but I had someplace else to go and said we were out of OJ.
"I’ll buy some at the supermarket.”
“I know where you’re really going. You’ll see that the quarries are gone. About time too.” He waddled into the house. “When you come back, we’ll have fried clams at Wollaston. That will make you feel better.”
I loved him most of the time, but hated hearing him say what I suspected was the truth, but I had to find out for myself and drove his car to the other side of the Blue Hills. At the entrance to the quarries water gushed over a granite block.
QUARRY HILLS GOLF COURSE had been carved in Gothic letters.
Only pumping the pits dry could have created this fake waterfall. A Mack truck groaned uphill on a national holiday. Praying the over-laden truck was heading to another destination, I headed to the old footpath leading into Granite Rail.
A chain link fence bannered with NO TRESPASSING zigzagged through the woods. No sign was keeping me out. I scrambled through the underbrush and slipped through a hole cut in the wire. I climbed through the tumble of Stonehenge-sized granite slabs to Rooftop. Even after reading the Globe I wasn't ready for what I saw or didn't see. Dirt filled the fearsome abyss to the brim. Gone were the ‘lungiefish’, the echoing shouts of naked boys, shooting guns at the cliff faces, and drinking beer underage. Staggered by this wanton destruction I shuffled to Million Gallons. The rusting iron bridge still spanned the terrible emptiness spread its maw below this structure, where one summer day Donnie Lianetti had proved that ‘impossible’ is only a word for people unwilling to defy death.
No one was jumping into the Million Gallons today. A truck was parked by its edge. Rubble cascaded into the sluggish water. My heart fell over the cliff and tears dropped from my eyes. Everything I loved was getting old and going south for the winter. My father, me, and the quarries. I shut my eyes. South was only a foot away. It was a distance too far for me and I opened my eyes.
Next summer imported grass would cover a par-3 fairway leading to a treacherous green. Some caddie would learn to play the carom off the cliff face like Yaz fielding liners off the Green Monster. The caddie would tell his friends about the kid who jumped off Shipwreck and got his arm pierced by a radio antenna.
And the view from Rooftop would be the same as the first day Chuckie and I had stood on the stone ledge looking over into the chasm. Chuckie lived in Weymouth. I’d call him to join us at the Clam Box. We’d order a large box of bellied clams and root beers. We would talk about the quarries and the Surf Nantasket. The Hole of Heaven wasn’t gone. It was below me. Only the water was missing and if a vandal firebombed the pumps, it will return to the beauty of its past to become the present, which will always be the future.
When I got back to my father’s house, he was watering on the lawn. He switched off the hose and asked, “Was I right?”
“I wish you weren’t.” The destruction of the Quincy Quarries was written in ink and seared into my eyes.
“Nothing lasts forever.” He coiled the hose and dumped it behind the bushes. “You feel like some fried clams.”
“At the Clam Box?”
“Can I drive?”
“No.” He wasn’t letting anyone take the keys out of his hands and we drove down to Wollaston following the fading memories of something good gone forever, because those are the only roads on which we will never lose our way.