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.