Kevin Cullen

Finding good news in South Boston

Kathleen Duffy, center, in white sweater, reacts with surprise after her longtime boyfriend Mark Flaherty Jr. proposes to her in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston on Sunday.
Photo by Elizabeth Joyce
Kathleen Duffy, center, in white sweater, reacts with surprise after her longtime boyfriend Mark Flaherty Jr. proposes to her in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston on Sunday.

I am walking through ­Concourse D at the airport in Fort Myers. The locals recoil in horror, regarding my pasty complexion as one might a leper.

I ignore them. I am on a quest, looking for good news. Anything remotely encouraging. It’s been a long winter. There’s another snowstorm coming, so I have come to Florida, where it’s always spring.

I am walking through JetBlue Park with the great Martin Nicholson. Martin is a Roscommon man and was for decades the greatest bartender in Boston, patrolling the bar at the Eire Pub in Dorchester the way Carl Yastrzemki played balls off the left field wall in Fenway: with unquestionable authority. Now he runs the clubhouse at the spring training home of the Red Sox. “Follow me,” Martin says. “It’s down here somewhere.”


After we wander around aimlessly for a while, it occurs to me that if Lewis and Clark had hired Irish guys as guides, we’d all be speaking French. Finally, Martin delivers me to the inimitable Dr. Charles Steinberg, Red Sox impresario. Humor me, Dr. Charles. Give me some good news. Convince me this Sox team is going to be better than the shower of underachievers last year. “Not only will they be better,” he says, “they will be fun to watch.”

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Steinberg left the Sox for a few years, and it was his previous employer, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took all the killjoys and their outlandish salaries off our hands. Adios, ­Adrian Gonzalez. See ya, Josh Beckett. Wouldn’t want to be ya, Carl Crawford.

I am staring at the two World Series rings on Dr. Charles’s fingers, commemorating the Red Sox championships in 2004 and 2007. The Sox being better than last year is welcome news. But is that really good news? I walk on.

I am standing in the snaking security line at the airport so I can go home, and I see ­Jackie Hart in line. Jackie’s mother and my mother go way back, to when a cheap night’s entertainment was walking the Sugar Bowl in South Boston.

Jackie has just left the Massachusetts ­Legislature after 17 years. He’s got kids to put through school, and the siren call of the private sector was too loud. He’s working for a law firm now, and that’s why he’s in Florida. Two months ago, we would have said Jackie Hart was on a junket. Now he’s on business. Jackie looks great. Healthier and younger than I remember. I ask him how he’s doing.


“Great,” he says. “Never been better.”

That’s good news for Jackie, but not me. Still, seeing Jackie reminds me I’ve got to go visit the cousins in Southie, and so on Sunday I’m standing on the porch of my Uncle Bozo’s house with my cousins Kevin and Jackie and Mark Flaherty, watching the parade. And who comes walking up East Broadway in his battle fatigues but my cousin’s kid, Mark Flaherty Jr., an Army combat veteran of Afghanistan, now a firefighter in one of the best houses in the city, Engine 14, Ladder 4, on Dudley Street in Roxbury.

Mark suddenly leaves the line of march and heads straight to his longtime girlfriend, Kathleen Duffy, who is standing on the sidewalk surrounded by all her friends, who had been tipped off the night before. He had wanted to ask before he deployed, but had waited. Now he is ready.

“Will you marry me?” Mark asks.

Kathleen stares at the ring with her mouth open and nods vigorously, and the newly ­engaged couple embrace and the rest of us go crazy while the bands play.


And my quest is over. Because it’s not good news. It’s great news.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.