I has in Hartford last night — at Bushnell Park— for a picnic.
My cousin has been visiting from Missouri, and as they’re leaving bright and early this morning, we wanted to get everyone together for one last hurrah. (That photo is of two cousins, playing a toddler’s version of soccer. The delighted little boy is one of my twin grandbabies. The cute girl in pink is one of my cousin’s twins. The little boy also has sisters who are triplets. We have babies in litters, I guess.)
As family matriarch, I got there early, so I parked and found a bench. Though it was mid-afternoon, the park was bustling with office dwellers who carried briefcases or file folders and walked with a purpose. There were a few families, but mostly? Bushnell was all business. While I killed time people-watching, I was reminded how much I — I’m just going to say it — love Hartford. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed our beautiful jewel of a park. I visited some trees. I watched an egret in the duck pond. I stood outside the carousel and watched the children ride. I wished for a child of my own to use as an excuse to throw my leg over one of the horses and have a ride, myself.
When the family arrived, we spread out blankets, stuffed ourselves with pizza and cupcakes, played soccer, juggled babies, and chatted. It was too late to ride the carousel (it closes at 5) but we enjoyed the vibe of a really pretty park in a city that is lousy with potential.
And I mean that. No one is paying me to say nice things about Hartford. I’m doing this on my own. Maybe it’s popular sport to say nasty things about any city. It certainly is here — and most of those nasty things are said by people who have scant little involvement with Hartford. They stand on the city’s borders and, lacking anything meaningful to do, they throw rocks. I have never understood that and often wondered what it would take to get them to picnic in the park, and see for themselves. Hartford has loads of challenges, but Hartford has loads of potential and what do you do after you throw rocks? You throw some more.
After long goodbyes, everyone left, and my husband and I hung out a little. He grew up in Hartford. For a brief moment, the park was ours, but as we leaned against our cars, here came the next wave. This group was a slower-paced bunch of families of all shades and sizes, pushing strollers, throwing footballs, and enjoying their jewel of a park. You could hear several languages, but the laughter was universal.
I remember a former city official once told me that cities like Hartford serve as jumping-off points. Immigrants come to a place like Hartford, get their bearings, get their nest eggs, and then they move up and out to surrounding towns. That was the trajectory of my husband’s family. One set of grandparents came from Ireland, the other from Italy. They lived and worked in the South End, and then their families, when they’d saved enough, moved up and out. My own family — one branch of it, anyway — came to Virginia in the 1600s, then followed the Hillbilly Trail out to Missouri [see Jim Webb’s “Born Fighting“], where they decided enough was enough, and sunk a plow in the ground, and a pickaxe in the mines. It’s hard to imagine that bunch taking time to enjoy their surroundings, but I hope they did.
This was the first time in a long time I was part of both first and second shift in the park. I don’t know. I guess I don’t have a point, other than to say how cool it was to sit and watch the city unfold petal after petal, like a flower. And after, we drove to my husband’s old neighborhood. We’d done so before, but this time, we got out of our cars and he told me about the pine trees that once stood where new houses stand now. He told me how he used to hate to mow (he still does), and how his father put those green awnings up.
We were there long enough that a young man came out of his old house, to watch us watching the house. As we pulled away, I called out that my husband once lived here 100 years ago, and the young man called back, “For real? Tell him we’re taking care of it.”
Yep. Hartford. Love it.
Susan, I could not have laid it out any better. I love Hartford too. My first visits were with my grandfather to his law office on Lewis Street, a short stroll to Bushnell Park. We would go often. Jessica and I just took some time recently to go to the Carousel, just because. Loved it. There is a magnificent memorial statue to the CT soldiers of the Spanish American War in the parl of the park that I hadn’t seen in decades. One of the biggest losses was that of the New England Fiddle Contest that was an annual rite of Spring for a while. Imagine a beautiful weekend day and Bushnell Park being filled with families and friends just kicking back and enjoying that wonderful vibe. The whole park was filled! I worked downtown for a few years and really enjoyed it. And I remember Hollywood Avenue too. Many good memories there. I love Hartford.
I remember those fiddle-fests. And the tour of Hollywood Ave. was really wonderful. Do you know I have yet to ride the carousel? I think next time I’m there, I’m just going to pay the $1 and ride, even without a kid as an excuse. Hell with it. That, or you could meet me there and we could both just look goofy.
Stood on the sideline and watched my twenty year old daughter turn into a five year old with each turn of the ride. I kicked myself for not joining her. It was funny watching her in line with the 3rd grade class on a field trip. She feigned anger that a little girl took “her” horse. Next time I’m getting “my” horse and I don’t care who sees me!i
Send a photo and I’ll run it here. And I shall do the same. There’s a carousel down here on the shoreline (over in a park in New Haven) and I keep threatening to ride it. I am too old to care about how I look.
Ride it! I went to a wedding reception there and all the cool adults were riding it!
That means you were riding it, then, right? Wahoo!
Susan, I love this. I love Hartford, too. I love it big. We have a new puppy and are currently spending more time outside at Bushnell Park than inside in our home. We like to say Bushnell Park is our backyard, but really, it’s all of our backyards. Hartford is lousy with things that are already great, and lousy with potential for greater things. Let the naysayers naysay on the Courant comment sections while they sit inside at their computers. We’ll be at the park.
Excellent idea. We’ll be at the park. Even when I was writing for the Courant, I was often dumbfounded at the ignorant comments directed specifically at Hartford. I’ve had a slower pace these days and have spent an inordinate time back in the capital city for all kinds of reasons, and invariably, I’ll see something that cracks my heart open a little bit. I keep threatening to drag my Hartford-native husband back to live in the city, but I think he has this immigrant’s grandson’s distaste for returning to where the family started, even while he loves the city. Too bad. I’ll keep hounding.
It’s the tiniest village in all of Connecticut, this ragtag, wee devoted bunch of city dwellers.
I’ll keep hounding, for real. I always wanted to just walk to work, as opposed to having a carbon footprint that’s a stomp.
Thank you, Susan, for such a wonderful and touching story about our city. Many of us feel this way, but we get drowned out by the hate that comes our way.
I trust you treat the haters as I did when I was employed at America’s Oldest Continuously Published Etc.: You take one hand, place it palm-down on your shoulder, and you brush swiftly, twice. They just don’t matter, those haters.
I had to go into Hartford yesterday around 10 in the morning. I was delighted to find a great parking spot although a little disappointed at the “emptiness” the parking implied.. I strolled to my destination down Pratt Street. I felt a little thrill! People were smiling, the sun was shining, it felt safe and happy…I too, LOVE Hartford and have wonderful memories of it. I hope that we can grow the city back into somewhere that our young people love, too, so that they stay.
It’s a beautiful world, stuffed with marvels. :)
Isn’t it? I’m sitting in that park feeling very family matriarchal, and wanting to hug strangers. I resisted, but I can’t promise I will resist next time.
I love Hartford, even though I have no familial ties to it. I love the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Stage, Black-eyed Sally’s, and the Episcopal cathedral. I love the capitol building. Some say it is too gaudy, but not me. I love that Hartford is a bus and train hub from which you can go anywhere in the country. When I was working in Windsor Locks several years ago, before my library adventures, I looked at several apartments in Hartford and West Hartford. And I may yet do that–move there, that is.
We keep circling back around to moving to Hartford (“back” to Hartford, for himself). If I could live anywhere, I’d live on Fairfield Ave. The houses there are awesome — and far too big for us, but awesome.
I think for my entry in the Hartford2020 film festival, I will probably make a 10 minute video of architectural highlights.
While a friend did art restoration for the Wadsworth, she live in the Austin House on Scarborough. We had dinner there once while she was there. The house is one room deep, all of the way across, and it has sort of a false front. They were renovating it at the time. One of these days I’d like to see what they’ve done.
I like Hartford, too. It has a lot to offer and enjoy, although I’ve only been a worker and visitor in the city. I remember the Fiddle Fest, too. We went once or twice. I’ve never lived in Hartford, but some things don’t seem to be what they should be for the people who do. A friend and her husband moved out when they could afford to in order to get her kids into a “better” neighborhood. Yet she still has the school lottery system to contend with in her town for her kids. In my town, we never had to wonder if our kids could get into a good school. I think one reason families move out is for a better chance at education for their kids and that just points to inequities. That’s not right.
“I remember the Fiddle Fest, too. ”
It now takes place in Manchester — I think it was last Saturday? Maybe the one before.
Yep. Moved to Sunday because of rain: http://fiddlefest.org/
When I first moved to Hartford there was an advertisement for Fiddle Fest painted on the side of the Elm Building. You could see it from Whitehead Highway right after the underpass under Main and before you get spit out into Pulaski Circle. It was a really cool painting of fiddles and Bushnell Park. I couldn’t wait to go. FIddle Fest had already moved, so I’m still waiting. Bah.
I bet Cynical remembers Paul LeMay, the force behind the Fiddle Fest.
“KNOW him, I DATED [him]!” No, not really, I’m not the 2000-year-old (wo)man (close though), but I did once share a pitcher of lime-aid with him and his partner at their home.
Cute photo, btw. Very cute little guy!
He was in the process of enjoying himself immensely. We’ve figured out if we hand him a soccer ball, he’s pretty happy — though he won’t turn loose of it easily.
Thank you, Susan – I heart Hartford, too! On July 9, I’ll be starting a new position in Cambridge, MA and sadly, we’ll be moving 99 miles northeast. Even though it isn’t too far away and we will be back often enough to visit family, I will really miss walking to Bushnell Park with my son to ride the carousel, playing in the playground, looking for fish in the pond, listening to live music, and generally enjoy the many beautiful faces and places in our lovely Capitol city.
Ahh…we will miss you, but you’re going to a great place, Mercedes, and rock on.
Love Hartford! While a city it’s a small community. After 30+ years of living & working here there are few places I go in the city where I don’t bump into someone I know. It’s a beautiful city with some of the most gorgeous parks & deficated folks watching over them. People don’t know what they are missing by not taking advantage of all it has to offer. Nice piece Susan. Great to hear something positive & heartfelt about the city for a change!
I love Hartford too–and I’m originally a Boston gal! Most people who complain about Hartford don’t spend much time there. It’s a great little city, and since I first arrived here in 2004 (gosh, has it been that long already?!), they have made MASSIVE improvements to the city. Glad to hear I’m not the only one! :)
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