THE ending of the Freedom Trail is probably more interesting than the beginning, because it was at the end that we understood why we went in the beginning.
It was there, as the wind blew across Boston Harbor and a lonely concrete playground, that we saw the rusted motorcycles in the water.
First we looked outward, seeking the echoes of Boston's nautical past, the echoes of wharves and whalers, ships in port and those out to sea. But it was the motorcycles--rusty and lurid--just below us in the choppy waters of the Harbor, which captured our gaze.
As much as anything, those motorcycles were the end.
Earlier, two schoolchildren had fought bitterly over the Red Sox as their friends, eating candy and laughing, watched the dispute.
But they had run away from the playground which abuts the Harbor, leaving only the grafitti-spattered concrete that marked the territory as Italian turf--the North End.
Turning, we walked back in the direction of a North End in the time before hastily spray--painted Italian flags adorned cement walls. In the time when there was only one ethnic group in Boston--colonists.
We trod a winding red path in our search for the old North End, the road that makes up the two-and-a-half mile Freedom Trail which wends its way through Boston and Charlestown, retracing the steps of those Great White Males who fought the American Revolution.
We learned of Robert Newman, the trusty church sexton who placed lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church to warn Paul Revere and others of the impending British invasion. We saw many Harvard presidents--and names of Harvard Houses--imbedded in the bronze plaques and on the gravestones that dot the Freedom Trail. And we saw The Gap, Ann Taylor, Filene's, Steve's Ice Cream, and the hosts of other boutiques and bargain basements which have sprung up in the midst of history in Boston.
It was an afternoon full of kitsch and history, many churches, many graves and lots of blustery October wind. The Freedom Trail gets off to an ignominous start at the Boston Visitor's Information Center, a red line that winds unsure towards the Boston Common and the historical sites to come.
Immediately we were thrust back into memories of our childhood--every step we took seemed to bring us further back, to fall days of Halloween expectation and Thanksgiving pageants. We bought candycorn, priced pumpkins and tried to remember the third line of Longfellow's famous poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."
History lessons seemed simple as we walked along the Freedom Trail. First there were the Founders, John Winthrop with his vision of Boston as a "shining city upon a hill," the Mathers--Cotton and Increase--with their harsh, unyielding Puritan zeal, Anne Hutchinson, who was banned for her enlightenment.
These first lessons were represented in the graveyards rather than in the buildings or on the streets, for it was not commerce or democracy which the early settlers taught, but persistance. And for the tourists, their tombstones, if nothing else, have endured.
BUT right from the start of the Freedom Trail, it is the legacy of the next generation--the Revolutionary generation--which dominates the carefully orchestrated history lesson. From the Old South Church where the Boston Tea Party was planned to Ben Franklin's house and Breed's Hill battleground, it is the story of the War of Independence which the Freedom Trail tells.
Marching up the Boston Common, tourists arrive--a bit out of breath--at the State House, where the city's hyper-political nature is underscored by a scraggly line of four picketers waving signs to protest Gov. Michael S. Dukakis' record on minorities.