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CONNECTIONS | MAGAZINE

Will my California-raised, Sox-fan son choose college in Massachusetts?

Touring Bay State colleges with her 17-year-old, a California mom realizes where his heart lies.

David Huang for the boston globe

By Barbara Card Atkinson

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‘It’s actually snowing.” Charlie holds his phone up to the plane window to take a photo once we’ve landed. He sends the image of icy shards clinging to the glass porthole to his friends back in California.

The first time I saw Boston was also in the snow. Tall buildings, a world dusted with white — in 1978, it seemed the most alien place in the world compared with the rolling golden hills and wide highways of my native California. Slumped in the back seat of the family car, hurtling along I-95 on the way to a new life in Woburn, I was sure Massachusetts would never feel like home.

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Of course I quickly fell in love with all the things a West Coast kid couldn’t have imagined: the magic of ice skating on a flooded Arlington soccer field, navigating North End cobblestones in high heels, swimming out to the cold, still heart of Walden Pond. I planned to show it all to my own children, but we moved back west when they were still little.

I loved our Massachusetts life. If not for the dot-com bust, we’d likely never have left. But we’re happy where we are now, with bodies of water that never freeze over, redwood groves, and not turning on the heat for nine months of the year. We ended our Boston chapter, I thought, as I dropped our snow boots off at our beach town’s Goodwill and bought sunblock in bulk. I was a Californian again, and now so were my kids.

Still, we’re back east once more, spending my son’s spring break on a college reconnaissance mission. Charlie left Massachusetts at age 5, young enough that it easily could have faded into hazy childhood memory. But his well-worn collection of Red Sox hats shows that he’s planned to come back for the past 12 years. That we’re making this trip shouldn’t surprise me, yet somehow it still does.

Now it’s snowing. I can’t imagine how this week will unfold. Can this California kid love the city in the way that early spring in Boston — moody, prickly, changeable — demands?

“This might not be your thing,” I warn. I am afraid he’ll love it here, and I’m afraid he won’t.

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We hit the freezing ground running. I trail behind on tours — Northeastern, Tufts, BU, BC — gathering pamphlets and discreetly hyperventilating over financial aid packages. We eat touristy lobster rolls, drink lots of Dunkin’s, and walk from Charlestown to the Hynes. I point out meager spots of green as we cut through the Public Garden, attempt to show him everything from Acorn Street to the Zakim Bridge. He’s attentive but quiet.

“Is this what you expected?” I ask.

“It’s still winter,” he says with a shrug.

Near the end of our stay, we take a behind-the-scenes tour of Fenway Park. I booked it a month ago from a sunny place 3,000 miles away, and now it’s 39 degrees with driving rain; not ideal ballpark weather. But 17 years a Red Sox fan, and Fenway’s right there? Of course we go.

We’re standing atop the Green Monster with a small handful of diehards. My umbrella has flipped inside out and back again three times. We don’t have gloves, hats, or the right coats. We’re Californians.

I sneak a look at my kid. He is finally at Fenway, but surely he never imagined it like this. The piercing rain is assaulting us not only sideways but upward, driving slivers of pain into ears, under theoretically protective glasses, down collars.

Charlie, raw-faced, drenched to his socks, violently shivering, catches me watching him and shoots me a positively huge grin. It says everything he hasn’t, everything he doesn’t need to. He’s about as happy as I’ve ever seen him.

He looks like he’s home.

Barbara Card Atkinson is a writer in the Bay Area. Send comments to connections@globe.com.


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