Joe met Sidewalk Dennis, a Boston Common chalk artist, on a sunny April afternoon as we were walking along The Freedom Trail. Dennis had just started a new drawing. Late in the day as we strolled back through the park, we noticed Sidewalk Dennis standing in front of his latest finished piece – a sunset scene rimmed with daffodils in honor of the upcoming Boston Marathon and the city’s “Boston Strong” slogan.
He called Joe over with, "Hey! Would you like a picture?”
A smiling Dennis posed in front of his artwork, then told us about his mission. “I’m all about positivity. All the transit cops know me, all the police know me, even the meanest undercover cops know me.” Tapping himself on the shoulder for emphasis, Dennis added, “They all come up and pat me on the back and say, “Keep doing what you’re doing.””
People continued to stream through the park even though the wind was picking up and the sun was now hidden behind a cloudy sky. A few stopped to admire and snap photos of Dennis’ chalk drawing. Pointing to the subway station behind him, Dennis added, “I’m the only artist allowed to draw on this building. It was built in 1914 and it’s the oldest train station in America.”
Dennis’ story was interrupted by a twenty-something young man, who pointed at the chalk pieces on the cement and asked, “Can I write something?”
“Keep it to one square, please, so everyone can have a turn,” said Dennis, before adding, “I’ve met people from all fifty states and lots of countries – even Istanbul.”
We paused to watch the young man write his message out in script. With his practiced eye Dennis read the note that was upside down from our perspective, “With all my love. @dearlonelyhearts.”
Looking the young man over, Dennis pointed to his inked forearms and said, “The tattooed ones with the piercings are like me. We have sensitive hearts.”
The young man replaced the chalk, dusted off his hands, said a hurried “Thanks!” and was on his way. Dennis walked us over to another one of his drawings and pointing to a cherry tree in full bloom said, “I did this two days ago. It’s holding up pretty well.”
After giving us a moment to admire the tree, Dennis added, “I’ve never taken an art class in my life.” Holding his hand at knee level, Dennis said, “I started drawing with Sidewalk Sam when I was this high. Sam drew on the streets for about 40 years. He came to me and asked me to keep his tradition going. He went to artist heaven a few years ago.” Laughing, Dennis added, “I might be the only one crazy enough to do it.”
As we pulled into the farm driveway we were greeted with a chorus of barks from three dogs. It was a ‘welcoming’ that temporarily trapped us in our Jeep as we wondered if it was safe to exit the vehicle. Mollie, our niece and reason for visiting Gemstone Farms, came charging out of the barn. Her presence calmed down Sadie the German Shepherd; Maddie, a sleek brown mutt from the pound that almost matched Sadie in size; and Erma, the yapping little Pomerania Chow mix. We stepped down from the Jeep and followed Mollie into the barn.
Mollie was in the middle of prepping her lesson horse, Bleeker, for a morning ride. Bleeker is a beautiful Chestnut in her early 20s. We entered the spotless barn and watched Mollie brush the animal, first with a soft brush and then a hard brush, before ending the session with a hair brush used only on the mane and tail. Alison Hankin, one of Mollie’s best friends, was in the barn for her very first riding lesson. Alison’s mount, Hanniggan, is in his late teens and is a dirty Chestnut. With a photographer in the barn, both horses were brushed until they shined.
Quietly and calmly the owner and instructor guided both girls through the saddle placement process, directing the young ladies as they placed the girth, riser pad, saddle pad and saddle on their horses’ backs. When it came to the reins, she showed them how to use their fingers to open the horse’s mouth. Not a job I could ever do. While we watched the lesson, we were entertained by the dogs as they tussled and wrestled with each other. They were regulars in the barn, and their antics did not spook or disturb the horses.
The girls led the horses out of the barn, then mounted them. Without much prodding, the horses walked the well worn path to the fenced riding ring. The girls practiced walking, trotting and cantering with the horses. Mollie also worked on jumping skills. To our untutored eyes, it looked like she was encouraging Bleeker to step over a log.
Both Alison’s grandmother and her father were on hand to oversee the first lesson. The morning was memorialized with an album of photos showcasing Mollie’s riding abilities. Of course, Joe printed a series of pictures for Alison too.