Moss Hill Memoir

On a lovely May afternoon in 1950 an impulse to see our old house (now 32 Woodland Rd.) took me to the very door to ask permission to wander around the place. A friendly couple with two children were at home and asked me to come in. They had just bought the house with its now small piece of land and some of the trees that I had known as a girl, and they seemed overjoyed with their new ownership. Going indoors was hard. No wallpaper nor any piece of furniture remained of the old days, and for a moment it seemed that I couldn't go through with the visit.

But if a friend were old and ill, it would be unthinkable to turn one's back, and an overwhelming sense of home won the battle. I went in and suddenly felt and saw something far beyond the changed surface of it all. There was a fire in the library - a cozy late afternoon welcome. I could see and touch the familiar woodwork with its fine carving around the mantelpiece and bookcase mouldings. I fed my eyes on the familiar views from the windows and seized as many memories as possible, clutching greedily at each.

One rapturous moment came from finding the old silver safe with its odd embossed white metal doorknob and the curious thin key, which I had loved as a child. There was the lacy metalwork around the keyholes and handles of the dining room cupboard, the smooth white painted chimney breast in the parlor, the thin wooden discs and diamond shapes above the parlor and library doors. I saw through all the present shabbiness and reconstructed the world of childhood. Above all, I knew that the house still held its place among all houses, for it was still giving shelter and happiness to children, and for this I was grateful.

I went out-of-doors and down the bank to the present Bowditch Street, where only a few flagstones remained to mark the path to Mamma's garden. It was blocked and overgrown, but over the tops of bushes I spied the little wooden platform, where the sundial had been. It was the only landmark. I walked away like a lonely ghost. I had made the most of the illusion while it lasted, and the visit was an experience never to be repeated. It was stolen time, a moment relived in a dead past, and only imagination made it real. They were dream moments, calling back our family life with its peace and safety.

Then I said good-bye and turned up the driveway toward Grandpa Bowditch's. All Moss Hill is now girdled by new roads and small developments. Grandpapa's and Uncle Charles' houses have been torn down. The bowling alley, pig sty, tilt, swing and woodpile are all gone, and our old playground is a wilderness. The well-kept lawns and the gardens had grown up to be almost unrecognizable, but the new buildings were not yet in sight from the hilltop. The spring was there, and, though uncared for, it is still the most beautiful place in the world.

I retraced the familiar path to Grandpapa's garden. It was like a maze growing about the sleeping beauty and symbolic of the life of past generations - the paths overgrown and the unpruned shrubs flowering wildly, careless of neglect. I wanted to pick armfuls of the lovely white blossoms, which no one but me would ever see again, but something stopped me. I picked only a tiny bunch, which not even the tree itself could miss. There was an unseen guardian. It was still and will be forever Grandpapa's garden.

By Mary Orne Bowditch

In the Victorian era Jamaica Plains’ 200 acre Moss Hill was also known as Bowditch Hill, named for one branch of the Bowditch family of Salem fame, who lived there. Grandfather Jonathan Bowditch brought his family to Moss Hill in the mid-19th century. In 1885 his son Alfred built a house, still standing, for his family on the hill’s northern side. In 1950 Rosamond Bowditch Loring wrote a brief memoir of Moss Hill, which has been republished by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. A few years ago her older sister wrote a lengthy memoir, complete with photographs. Both texts are now at the Massachusetts Historical Society. From the latter text is reprinted Miss Mary Orne Bowditch’s postscript to her memoir.
— - Walter H. Marx