Historians note, 2015: after I wrote my first full-length piece about the Foxboro senior center in early 1996, this piece was my very first “regular” op Ed for the Foxboro reporter. The editor at the time suggested I submit three pieces and we would see how it goes. Nearly 20 years later, I am still a regular contributor for the reporter.
For my very first op-ed, I wanted to talk about Foxboro and how much I love the town. But in rereading it 20 years later, I see not so much a different style of writing, but a great deal of naïveté – Foxboro has often been called “Mayberry” over the years, but it is not. I get a kick out of the line I wrote late in this column, “People in this town don’t even litter.” I have to smile at that – Foxboro is an amazing town, a great place to live, still relatively safe in 2015, but not without its problems (and like Dorchester, we certainly have a drug problem).
And I think, to be very honest, I do a disservice to my old hometown of Dorchester in this piece – my formative years – 25 of them to be exact, in Dorchester, the good and the bad, helped shape who I am today. Dorchester has come along way even since this piece was written in 1996 with vast improvements in infrastructure, new construction, and like all cities and towns, doing its best for its people. I’d like to state for the record that in no way do I mean to disrespect Dorchester in this piece – the Dorchester of 1989 that we left had become something very different than what my parents and grandmother remembered – as I said in this op-ed and I will say again now, it wasn’t about race, it was about crime, neighborhood safety (or lack thereof) and the reality that you could not walk many streets nighttime. That has thankfully changed in some areas of Dorchester, and in my return visits over the years, I have seen so much improvement – in many ways, Dorchester looks far better than it did when I was a kid. I am still OFD – originally from Dorchester – and I am proud of that fact.
I think I was trying a little too hard in this, my first op Ed, to ingratiate myself to the new readers. Foxboro is still a great place to live – even better than when I moved here 20 something years ago.
So with all that said, warts and all, here is my first op-ed for the Foxboro reporter is a regular contributor:
Despite problems, Foxboro’s got a lot to offer
By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro reporter, April 25, 1996
The other night, minutes before 10 PM, I was on Byrd Street, rushing to return a movie before the video store closed, and trying hard not to incur late charges yet again. Walking toward me was a woman around 50 or 60 years old, whistling happily. She smiled pleasantly as I passed then continued her evening constitutional.
Driving home, I thought about that woman, and realize that in the five years I’ve lived in town, I’ve already taken something for granted: you can walk around in Foxboro at night and no one bothers you. That might not seem like a good deal but I grew up in Dorchester, and never felt safe.
My grandmother used to talk about Dorchester when she first arrived in the 1930s. There was no fence surrounding her house. Fruit trees lined her yard and everyone knew everyone. The Iceman stopped at the house to deliver a block of ice for the icebox, and the hood milkman delivered the milk and butter. The majestic strand theater offered top quality shows and movies. They got dressed up for the first Friday novena’s and Sunday mass, or walked around the neighborhood to visit. No one needed, or bothered to lock the door. It would be easy to dismiss this as pure nostalgia. But everyone I have spoken with from Nana’s generation insist this was exactly how things were. Yes, there was a depression, people went hungry and there was crime. People had problems. But there was a great sense of community and family, as well as respect for life.
Decades past. It happens slowly, but the neighborhood got dangerous.
Drugs were everywhere, as were shootings and other violent crimes. Over the years, six houses on Nana’s street had been destroyed by suspicious fires. Businesses started moving away. Daily, you could open the newspaper and read about something bad happening in Dorchester.
The violence attacked my family personally. Twice, mom’s pocketbook had been stolen from her. Two men accosted us outside our church. For men with sticks and clubs tried to break into our car while my sister and mother were sitting in it. Our house had been robbed, and an enthusiastic young man chased me with a baseball bat trying to steal my car.
None of these incidents seem to be race related; some of the criminals were white, some were black.
Having witnessed so much of this firsthand, I’ve often tried to make sense of it all. While many problems could be attributed to drug dealers, I believe that things went bad because people stopped caring.
My family and I left Dorchester in 1989. But there was no joy in leaving. Many parts of Dorchester are still very nice, and Dorchester has a lot of history – after all it was one of the first areas settled by the pilgrims. I still have family in Dorchester, but I worry about them, as their neighborhood is now dangerous.
Like any town, Foxboro has its problems (the recent fight between members of Foxboro and the state police departments, home robberies, thefts from town buildings, domestic violence, and acts of vandalism) and dilemmas (school block scheduling, budget cuts, what to do about the pace donation to the Boyden library).
But I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a Foxboro police officer during one of last year’s summer concerts on the common – we spoke of his job and how much he liked it. He told me the only thing he didn’t like was that Foxboro was too quiet at times, and he got a little bored at nighttime. He added that while working in a more crime ridden city would be more exciting, he liked Foxboro just fine.
Having lived and grown up in Dorchester, and having lived in Foxboro for five years, I realize that I must never take for granted all Foxboro has to offer. Foxboro today reminds me of the way Dorchester was back in the 1930s. Which begs the question, could what happened in Dorchester happen here? Could this be a community where one might be afraid to walk the streets at night?
Foxboro will not tolerate drug infestation in our schools and streets. We pride ourselves on the value of education and strive to keep our schools as some of the best in the nation.
This town is still driven by a desire to keep improving our community and keep it a better place to live, as evidenced by the refurbished Orpheum, an incredible “first night,” the plan senior center and plans to renovate downtown Foxboro.
People in this town don’t even letter.
Here, people still care about each other. Our sense of community is strong. We have many enjoyable community events, such as the pancake breakfast, as well as many dinners and dances. It’s easy to stay involved.
The people of Foxboro are also a generous bunch. We also have many local organizations devoted to making this a better community.
Despite all the heat and occasional discord, Foxboro is still a great place to live. As long as we continue to care about our town and each other, it will stay that way.