When the gay couple, both hairdressers, heard that the 7-year-old boy living downstairs had been stricken with cancer, they cut off a lock of his red hair and brought it to a friend, who made a wig that was a perfect match.
When the boy would fall asleep in math class because the chemotherapy had made him so weak, the nuns would instruct his classmates to keep doing problems on the board, not to point and stare.
The older boys at the playground would defend him if anyone tried to subject him to the kind of teasing that was a neighborhood rite of passage. Knock it off, they’d say. He’s had it tough.
Martin J. Walsh’s Dorchester neighborhood — filled with Irish immigrants, police officers, firefighters, and construction workers — nurtured and protected him as he hovered on the edge of death and formed his earliest and deepest sense of community. That neighborhood, Savin Hill, remains his home and a touchstone for Walsh, as he seeks to be the next mayor of Boston.
Before busing and gentrification ripped apart the neighborhood, Walsh, 46, grew up in a Dorchester where families with 12 children were not uncommon, doors were unlocked, and the streets teemed with boys and girls playing kick-the-can and hide-and-seek.
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