By Lisa Smith Molinari
George Washington once said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent may we be led, like sheep to slaughter.” It was with this same logic that our kids mouthed off at us recently.
“History?! What do you mean we’re going to experience ‘history’?!” Lilly whined from the back of the minivan. Anna’s groggy eyes peered incredulously from under a mop of bed head. Hayden, still half asleep, grimaced in solidarity with his sisters.
It was 9 a.m., which on weekends, is essentially the middle of the night to our three teenagers, and we were driving from our base house on Naval Station Newport, R.I., to Boston to spend the day walking “The Freedom Trail.”
“This is our last chance to do something as a family before Hayden goes back to college, so zip it,” my husband Francis dictated like King George. Too sleepy to battle, the kids surrendered and went immediately back to sleep.
With the uprising squelched, I settled into my seat to study the tour book while Francis drove us north on Route 24. As long as we didn’t freeze to death, we would walk the 2.5-mile trail through downtown Boston, past 16 sites that played a pivotal role in the dramatic struggle for the ideals of freedom of speech, religion, government and self-determination.
Although our kids would have rather gone to school wearing headgear, we wanted them to experience the events that sparked the American Revolution over two centuries ago. Glancing in the visor mirror at our teenagers sprawled open-mouthed in the back seats, I repeated the thought that had passed through my mind countless times: “Hopefully they’ll appreciate this one day.”
Somehow, it was my fault when Francis missed the hairpin turn the GPS ordered him to take in Boston’s Financial District – my husband is Irish-Italian after all – but we eventually arrived at the parking garage recommended by our tour book.
Our hike began at the Old State House, dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers, where in 1761 patriot James Otis rendered a five-hour speech that ignited the colonists’ original rebellion. Only 15 years later, the newly signed Declaration of Independence was read aloud to the people of Boston from the building’s balcony.
If only we were holding muskets, our family of five would have passed for bedraggled revolutionary militia, as we fought the bitter winds to march over the site of the Boston Massacre north toward the Charles River. We thought we saw the “two if by sea” lanterns hanging on the Old North Church steeple, Paul Revere’s signals that British “regulars” were coming to invade. But thankfully, it was only the neon lights of the restaurants and bakeries on the North End, Boston’s version of Little Italy.
“C’mon, let’s go there, puhleeeese!?” the troops protested, pointing wearily to red-awninged Pizzeria Regina. In order to quell their cries of Starvation Without Representation, we allowed the majority to rule and stopped for lunch.
The meal was of historic proportions, and our patriots were properly refueled to survive the rest of the march, even while lugging plastic doggie bags of leftover slices. We passed three more sites – Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s house – before the kids asserted their inalienable right to dessert.
Sucking pistachio-laced ricotta from a cannoli the size of my boot, I tasted the benefits of freedom as we trudged on toward the Old South Meeting House, the Massachusetts State House and Boston Common – stopping at the graves of John Hancock, Sam Adams and Paul Revere along the way.
In the end, we completed the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail before dusk, and were safely splayed out on our family room couch, channel surfing by 8 p.m.
“Hey Dad,” Hayden interrupted Francis’s game of smartphone solitaire, “Check this out.” Ironically, CNN was covering breaking news of the discovery of a time capsule buried by Paul Revere and Sam Adams 225 years ago in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House. The latex-gloved scientists displayed the copper box of artifacts for the cameras, as our son gazed at the television, his face expressing newfound respect for the brave determination of our founding fathers.
As debate over freedom of speech rages on in Paris, in the media and in our family of five, America stands as a shining beacon to the rest of the world of what can be accomplished when, at all costs, people demand to be heard.