According to the Old Testament God banished Adam and Eve from Eden for eating apples and their Original Sin condemned future generations to this mortal coil, however humans have defied this divine decree with repeated attempts to recreate Heaven on Earth. Most of these utopias have been short-lived, because nothing irked true believers more than people enjoying the rewards of a good life in the present and in 1965 the teenagers of Boston’s South Shore celebrated the pursuit of earthly happiness at the infamous Quincy Quarries.
The spring-fed pits offered pleasure without any parental supervision and the passage of boys to men was achieved by a leap off the craggy cliffs into the rock-bound pools. The sun never shined so bright as on the rims of Brewster’s and Josephine’s, but Brewster’s Quarry, but courage was tested at the vast abyss named the Hole of Heaven. The drop from its rim was over a hundred feet.
None of these swimming holes were natural to the glacier-carved Blue Hills.
Throughout the 19th century stone cutters had carved steep ledges to carved gigantic granite slabs from the ever-deepening pits. America’s first train transported the indestructible blocks to provide the building material for the Bunker Hill monument and countless courthouses, wharves, and lighthouses on the Eastern Seaboard, but the coming of steel and glass skyscrapers exiled the construction of granite monuments to the history books.
Stone no longer served the living, but the dead and only undertakers could feed their children from the gravestones, so in 1963 the stonecutters turned off the water pumps and the quarries were flooded by the springs running deep under the earth.
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 LOUIE hit #1 was a hit and every garage band in Boston covered the A-major standard. The drummer saying ‘fuck’ had nothing to do with its success. 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. Nantasket Park and the Mattapan Oriental Theater were declared off-limits, but no forbidden destination proved more irresistible to young boys than the Quincy Quarries south of Boston.
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. The feuds between towns and gangs were put on hold at the quarries. Teenagers came for fun, a swim, the thrills, and refuge from parents, priests, teachers, and police. These teenage oases were only accessible by foot. Boys and girls basked in the summer sun. LOUIE LOUIE played on transistor radios. The Kingsmen’s song had legs, because jumping off a cliff worked better to a dirty sax than the Beatles’ saccharine harmonies of I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND.
Unfortunately the quarries were a magnet for accidental drownings and drunken mishaps. Joyriders drove cars into The Hole Of Heaven to imitate James Dean’s chicken run in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. One or two of these daring acts ended in death.
Many of the stories about the bottomless pits became urban legends. The most famous was that 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 vigorously petitioned the Quincy mayor to shut down the quarries threats and the town employees responded with uncharacteristic vigor.
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 young legs.
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 to unleash their foul black liquid into the main pool at 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 to pray for the USA’s triumph over the USSR, but missiles had not caused the explosions.
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 were the culprits.
Three friends had saved the swimming holes.
After breakfast my best friend asked what I wanted to do.
“I want to go to the quarries.”
“My mother won’t let me go.”
“But what they don’t know will be what they don’t know.”
Chuckie and I shook hands in silence,
We were sworn to secrecy.
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.
“No one said anything about diving” Chuckie shook his head “I just want to see the burned trucks.
On the other side of the Blue Hills we scrabbled through the maze of abandoned stones to the edge of Brewster’s Quarry. We stopped at the edge of Rooftop. The sheer drop of fifty feet looked more like a hundred. Three trucks smoldered near the water. We stood with our feet glued to stone and a group of older teenagers on the ledge clucked out calls of chicken.
“Are you going or what?”
“Leave them alone.” A good-looking teenager in cut-off jeans 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 tanned 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?”
“I thought you said we weren’t diving.”
“We’re not. We’re jumping. Are you in?”
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 thirteen year-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.
We looked over the edge.
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 that 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.
We had safely survived the plunge and we repeated the jump it again and again that day and throughout that summer and the ones to follow, but by 1967 America wasn’t the same America as in 1965.
Cities were burning in the US and Asia. San Francisco hippies dropped 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 legend grew every summer. 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 divorced mother. Kyla 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 in the presence of Donnie, Lee, and, Eddie.
“Go see for yourself.” She handed me the keys to her mother’s Vespa. It was pink. “You can’t miss them.”
“Sure.” The three most popular teenagers on the South Shore should be easy to find and I pulled on a football helmet before getting on the scooter.
Wollaston Beach was a 15-minute drive from my house. The day was hot and hundreds of families crowded onto the narrow strip of sand. The water shimmered with oil, since 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. 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’ in chinos and a Sta-press shirt.
“I didn’t do anything to you.” 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 friend’s.”
“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 edge with the odds against you 5-1.
“Because I said so.” Most bullies expect obedience.
“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 I had been beaten up every day in 7th Grade. Those fights taught me that if an aggressor spoke about fighting, he was usually serious, so I blindsided the greaser with the 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. Another 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 clinging to him. 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.
“Once at the quarries.”
“Sorry, I don’t remember. Why were you looking for me?”
“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 desperately 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 clotted over the scar, but my eye must have been a good color black.
“I met Donnie. He saved me from a beating.”
“He is a hero.” Her eyes swam in a sea of adoration.
Back home 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 visited 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 him.
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 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 The Hole Of Heaven.
On the 4th of July.
For our brave men in uniform.
The Hole Of Heaven was the largest of the quarries. Its depth was unknown to us and the height from the Rail to the water had to be about 120 feet that summer. The 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 South Shore were heading to Nantasket. Its beach was blessed with long Atlantic rollers crashing on fine gray sand. Chuckie and I told my parents that we were staying home. My father shook his head.
“You’ll be missing a perfect beach day.” My father loved the surf.
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 was different.
Today I had to be at the quarries.
“Try to stay out of trouble.”
Once my family drove away, Chuckie ran over to my house. His parents were headed to their cottage near the Cape Cod Canal. His mother and father were going alone. His sisters also wanted to see Donnie Lianetti’s dive. So did their boyfriends.
No teenage on the South Shore were going anywhere other than the Rail. I picked up Kyla at her house. We jumped on her mother’s Vespa. Chuckie rode with his sisters. We arrived a half-hour before noon and were surprised by the number of cars parked underneath the Expressway. There were almost a hundred. It was 11:30 and we hurried up the path to The Hole Of Heaven.
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.
By the time we mounted the rocky rim of The Hole Of Heaven, 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 had shown up for the event. This was history in the making.
Chuckie’s sister, Addy, was with Dennis Halley. He drove a GTO. Several of her girlfriends were hanging by the bridge over the quarry. They were here to witness Donnie Lianetti demonstrate that teenagers don’t die young.
I peered over the edge of the Rail. The uneven wall slanted to the bottom. The water appeared a mile away and I gulped from fear. Kyla grabbed my hand.
“Nothing to worry about,” I said, hoping an earthquake didn’t shake me over the rim.
“So where’s the hero?” A greaser checked his Timex watch. “I got 11:57.”
“He’ll be here,” Dennis Halley answered with certainty and a minute before noon Donnie appeared 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. Her fear was for our hero. His feet were clad by sneakers and the greaser said, “He’s wearing those, because he’s jumping, the chickens hit.”
“No, it’s because climbing out of the quarries is easier in sneakers.” I remembered Donnie’s words two years earlier.
Our heads turned to the Rail.
“Thank you for coming to honor our boys overseas.” Donny raised his arms 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 and 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 the angle of his descent promised and he tried to correct for a feet-first entry. His desperate attempt ran out of space and he exploded into the water. A huge plume rose from the impact and the crowd groaned with fear. Landing on your stomach from a hundred and fifty feet was a matter of life or death.
“See, I told you he was too chicken to dive,” the greaser said with a smirk.
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 to the surface with Donnie, our hero raised his hand and we cheered, 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 his name drifted from our conversations. Some said that he had enlisted in the Marines. Others whispered 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 verify his whereabouts.
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 in my major. The Linear Algebra professor tutored me every morning. I was a friend of his daughter. School was fifteen 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 slouched against the door. They were a strange couple. The radio was playing the Kinks’ WATERLOO SUNSET and the passenger sang along with the chorus. He had a good voice.
“Where you going?” the girl asked, as if they were traveling 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’re the guy who thought I was three people.”
“Yep.” His face was twisted on one side and one shoulder was lower than the other.
“You must have seen my 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.”
“And a shitty 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 had not forgotten her.
“She got married to a friend of mine after we broke up.”
“You broke up with that angel.”
“Yes.” I couldn’t explain why other than I had been stupid.
“Too bad. You ever go to the quarries?”
“I was there last summer. The water had been as clean as ever and cliffs were unbroken by gravity.”
“Next time jump off Rooftop for me.”
“It won’t be the Rail.” I answered, as his girlfriend braked opposite the gates before my school.
“You can give that one a miss.”
“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 and that weekend I took them to Brewster’s emerald green pools surrounded by steep cliffs. 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 and 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.
I traveled the world, living in Paris, Germany, Mexico, and Bali. People said that I was a man without a country, except I knew exactly where was my home and on a summer day in 1999 my older brother’s son and daughter begged me to show them the quarries. They were 13 and 15. Each had heard the story about Donnie Lianetti and my last dive many times. 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 that a 47 year-old man would do something so foolish. I had been living in the city on and off 22 years, but 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 in his 70s he looked good and gave me a happy smile. It was all an act. He hadn’t been happy, since my mother passed in 1997.
“You want me to drive?” I asked, having heard about his recent accident.
“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.
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.
“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. My older brother and his family were already on the Cape. We breezed over the Sagamore Bridge and reached Frunk’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.”
“Ha ha.” My father pushed himself out of the car. The weight that 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 often enough.
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.
After thirty minutes my niece and nephew hit the refreshment stand and I strode to high-tide mark. 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 the cold water and I surfaced to see gulls wheeling in the peerless blue sky. Children’s laughter splashed across the air. 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?”
“48.” It sounded old to me too, if you added on the ‘mister’.
“48?” He lifted off his shades. “48 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. My teenage idol 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. What kind of car do you drive?”
“My uncle lives in New York. He doesn’t need a car and your father 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.
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 fell asleep on the couch. Frunk led us through the deepening dusk to the minor league 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 that we were only wooly mammoths by playing a CD of British Invasion hits. The teenagers grimaced upon hearing us sing LOUIE LOUIE. My brother shook his head, when I soloed on 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 who is not the president has to mow the lawn in the morning.” My older brother 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 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 wine wasn’t pulling any punches and his snores shook the room, so 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 my presence was in the room and he opened his eyes with a series of blinks at the rising sun.
“You sleep good?”
“Like I was on a bed of nails.” He could take that meaning either way.
“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 get breakfast.”
We dressed and drove to the local restaurant. It was slightly before 7am. I bought the NY Times and Boston Globe. The headlines confirmed that no news happens on holiday weekends. An article in the Globe about the construction on the Central Artery filled four columns of the 3rd page and I said, “The Globe says Quincy is using the rubble from the Big Dig for landfill.”
“Yes, the debris is filling the quarries.”
“They can’t do that.” The quarries were 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 that I wasn’t old to your granddaughter and grandson.
“A man your age shouldn’t be setting a bad example.” 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 daily Scrabble puzzle, while I scoured the article for the slightest hint of reprieve.
Twenty billions dollars were being spent to save 100,000 motorists 15 minutes on their commute. Boston’s congestion could have been better solved by giving 25,000 drivers $800,000 to commute by train or stay at home like Lotto winners.
Fewer cars equal less traffic.
More roads meant more traffic.
My math was illogical to the project planners, or motorists obsessed with a ridiculous race to the malls, the fast food chains, and over-sized suburban houses.
After breakfast my father told his oldest son that 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 by the 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 your driving off the Sagamore Bridge.”
I hugged my brother and his wife. I’d see them on Labor Day. The horn blew twice. My father 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 mph. Arriving in our hometown I could tell that he was happy to be in his house. At his age familiar places made him feel good, but I had someplace else to go and said, “We’re out of OJ.”
“I’ll buy some at the supermarket.”
“No, I’ll get some now.” I picked up the keys from his kitchen table.
“I know where you’re really going. You’ll see that the quarries are gone. About time too.” He waddled over to his Easy-Boy and clicked on the TV. “When you come back, we’ll get 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. 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 The Hole Of Heaven. The rusting iron bridge spanned the terrible emptiness spread its maw below this structure, where one summer day Donnie Lianetti had proven that ‘impossible’ is only a word for people unwilling to defy death.
No one was jumping into the The Hole Of Heaven 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 that I loved was going South for the long winter; my father, me, and the quarries.
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 Shipwreck’s cliff face like Yaz fielding liners off the Green Monster. The caddie would tell his friends about the kid who got his arm pierced by a radio antenna.
And the view from Rooftop would be the same as the first day on which 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 in Wollaston. We would 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?
“Nothing lasts forever.”
“Nothing does.” He coiled the hose and dumped it behind the bushes. With my mother gone his yard work was less than neat. “You feel like some fried clams.”
“At the Clam Box?”
“No, at Tony’s.”
We both considered them the best on the South Shore.
“Where else?” He chasing them down with a chocolate shake. He never burped after mixing shellfish and milk. The combo would have killed a lesser man.
“Can I drive?” Wollaston Beach was only six red lights away, but I didn’t trust him behind the wheel. He probably felt the same way when I was 16.
“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 never lose our way.