A Thin Red Line of Freedom
Subject: On the Trail of Freedom and a Big Red Dog
An unassuming red line
“What we meant in going for those red-coats was this: We had always governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.” – Levi Preston – member of Boston’s Danvers Militia.
An unassuming red line lay ahead of us on the sidewalk. The Boston Freedom trail; a winding line following the path of independence through the city’s crooked and narrow streets.
For a while Matthew and Cameron skipped along the trail as it coiled past historic buildings and burial grounds, to sites where patriots had gathered, and resistance to British rule had grown and flourished. Then the red line continued through ports and posts, tourist areas and business centres. But our boys didn’t want to follow the red line for long. They wanted to go see the big red dog. Clifford.
The trail of the Big Red Dog
The boys had started their worship of the all-hallowed Clifford as soon as we entered the terminus at Boston station. The dozy looking dog was plastered all over leaflets for the city’s Children’s Museum. There, apparently, a special display room carried a giant plastic effigy of the TV cartoon character. As Cameron had assumed the identity of Clifford the dog for much of the trip, he was understandably excited about meeting his alter ego.
“Woof woof,” he said, clutching a huge pile of leaflets he’d swiped. “Want to go see Clifford.”
“Me too, We love Clifford, we love Clifford” shouted Matthew, “and there’s an M Place next door to the Clifford Museum. We love the M place.”
“How can he possibly know that?” I asked Stuart.
“The M place, the M place, where everyone gets a toy,” the kids chanted their favourite song, and once again we gave thanks that we had never revealed to them that the real name of the ‘M’ Place. Their public chanting of the McDonalds jingle would have been too embarrassing for words.
I blame the Puritans
It was all the fault of the Puritans. Revolution that is, not McDonalds. Arriving on American shores in 1630, they sought religious liberty in Boston. Richer and better educated than colonists elsewhere, they set themselves up in self government, and owing no debt to anyone, ran their own affairs. Of course, we Brits didn’t like that much, and after a war with the French (yes, British hatred of the French goes back much further than the World Cup) the royal treasury was a bit low in dosh.
“Raise the money from the peasants in the colonies,” the advisers advised.
“Taxation without representation,” said the peasants in the colonies, who failed to show the crown the respect it seemingly deserved.
So they had a riot, and eventually calm was restored. That is until the fight broke out about tea. Well everyone knows the importance of tea in the hearts and minds of us British.
OK, let’s role play. You boys are Puritans..
“Right Matthew. You’re a Puritan.” Stuart said, striding along the red line holding his copy of The Complete Guide To Boston’s Freedom Trail.
“Am I? Really?” Matthew seemed quite excited by his new role.
“I’m Clifford, woof woof,” said Cameron.
“Can we go see Clifford now?”
“No Cameron, not until we get to the end of the red line.”
“Dad, I want to start being a Puritan now,” Matthew said happily. “I love being a Puritan. What’s a Puritan?”
“Er, well in this case, it was a group of people who left England because they didn’t like the church.”
“I know, church is boring. You can’t fight or play with toys or climb on the seats.”
“And you have to sing, yuk.” agreed Cameron.
“Anyway, they escaped from England and set up new lives here. Imagine that you and Cameron are the Puritans and you came all the way to Boston on a boat.”
“Ok Dad, that sounds fun. Cameron, you are a Puritan too.”
“Right then, so there you are you two Puritans, having a good time, hanging out in Boston, enjoying the Clifford Museum and the M place.”
Dad and I are the King and Queen
“And now imagine that me and Mummy are the King and Queen of England. We still live in England but we want your money. We want money every time you visit the M Place. And we want to tax you every time you go to see Clifford.”
“But I haven’t got any money.” said Matthew.
“Right, no more Clifford or M place for you,” said Stuart royally, clearly getting into his kingly role.
“Want to go see Clifford now,” Cameron wailed, seeing his chances of meeting with his idol slowly slipping away.
“Here’s where many of your friends are buried,” Stuart told the kids in the Granary Burial Ground.
The beer guy and Mother Goose?
“Samuel Adams…” he read from the book.
“The beer guy?” I perked up.
“No the revolutionary.”
“The Mum and Dad of Benjamin Franklin…and….Mother Goose!”
“What a strange collection of friends you Puritans have,” I said to Matthew and Cameron, who were running off to try and find Mother Goose, to see if she’d laid an egg on the grave.
“Woof, woof. Like geese,” said Cameron, running over the graves of his fellow patriots.
Tea in the sea?
“This is the site of the Boston Tea Party, where you Puritans get so angry about the taxes that you dump all the tea into the water. Imagine all that tea floating about in there,” Stuart briefed the kids, who looked gravely down into the sea.
“I see it. I see it,” Cameron squealed.
“I can’t see any. There’s no tea bags in there.” Matthew said firmly after studying the sea for while.
As the Boston Tea Party formed the turning point of the protest that led up to revolution, the Boston Freedom Trail people are of course quite proud of this notoriety and include the site in the tour. But the original ship was off limits until 2006 due to a fire. And the other replica ship was too far for the kids to walk to, so to avoid spoiling their interest in the story, we took a diversion and led them onto a nearby Dutch clipper that had sailed into Boston for a week or two.
“No tax no tea. NO tax no tea,” Stuart suddenly shouted at the kids.
“That’s what all you Puritans say.”
“No tax, no tea, no M Place,” shouted Matthew.
“No tax, no tea, no Clifford, woof.” shouted Cameron in his angriest voice.
A group of Dutch sailors looked on in bemusement.
“So you dress up as Indians….”
“Why Indians Dad?”
“To scare the crew I guess, and maybe to disguise yourselves. Then you jump on to the boat and throw the tea into the water.”
Stuart helped the kids throw chests of imaginary tea into the sea. They completed the task with glee.
“Forty six tons of tea leaves,” shouted Stuart. “That’s enough for 18,523,000 cups of char.”
What have you done to my tea?
“What have you done? What’s happened to my tea” I asked in my best Queen Of England voice.
“It’s Ok Mummy,” said Cameron, coming over to stroke my face. “You love coffee. Shall we go to the M place and get you one?”
“The M place, the M place where everyone gets a toy. Don’t want to be a Puritan any more,” said Matthew, suddenly fed up of this tea party.
We gave up on the Boston Freedom Trail. We’d done only a small part, but enough for us to get some of a sense of the history of the city, and enough for two small boys to tire of it. We had laid down our laws, and the Puritans had given it a fair go before their quiet revolution brought them escape from the tyranny of the red line; to visit the museum, meet the red dog, and have a cuppa in the M Place. A brief taste of freedom for two small people who hate tea, love M places and occasionally think they’re Clifford the dog.