Story By: Bridget Reed Morawski
Video By: Cassidy Hopkins
Fourteen years ago, Sammy Sameski began his job with the Public Garden, but long before that he walked amongst its benches and trees. On this day in early April, before the lagoon was filled, before the swan boats reappeared, and before the blossoms erupted on the boughs, Sameski reminisced about his childhood growing up in West Roxbury.
His memories are punctuated with with frequent visits to the garden with his family. Now every spring Sameski plants the same brightly colored tulips that he once ran through as a child, with parents and siblings in tow.
Until two years ago Sameski was regularly joined at the park by his father, Michael, or, as he was familiarly known, “Mr. Sam,.” He was an artist devoid of all pretension.
“I’d be working and he’d come in,” Sameski said, “He’d set up by the lagoon on the bench, do some sketches, take out his book.”
“He was one of those guys that kept going in and out of the house at all times,” Sameski said. Mr. Sam had retired at the age of 52 after working his way up from repairing telephone lines in the North End and Chinatown to Director of Safety of the phone company, Verizon. His early retirement would leave him with almost 30 years of leisure, as creative as it was productive.
He lived his retirement years at a whirlwind pace, filling his time with amusement after amusement; particularly golf played with his grandchildren.
“He stayed young,” said Sameski, “he was always active, always doing stuff.”
Mr. Sam would begin many of his mornings with his “breakfast club” – a group of elderly friends who would wake up early and eat at any number of the breakfast spots around downtown Boston. Mr. Sam would then journey over to the Public Garden, where he and his son would catch up over sandwiches during Sameski’s work breaks. After lunch, Sameski would go back to work while Mr. Sam often stayed in the Garden, painting iconic Boston landscapes such as the Esplanade.
Painting became the focus of Mr. Sam’s life. Once he got started it was hard for him to stop. Though painting was a post-retirement hobby, he was no amateur. Mr. Sam took lessons that helped him improve his water color technique, rapidly enabling him to paint vivid scenes of the Esplanade and the Public Garden in full bloom.
“He’d bang ‘em out though so quick,” said Sameski, “He’d come here and sketch, and I’d come home that afternoon and they’d be all done and framed. I’d be like ‘You just did that picture today!’ You’d be amazed at how quick he does it.”
Now his family is carrying on with those same creative pursuits. Sameski has taken up drawing, while the grandchildren are learning to paint.
The Sameski family still has over three hundred of Mr. Sam’s paintings. Some are hung in the house, others are safely stored away in the basement. Mr. Sam occasionally sold paintings at local coffee shops, or to friends. He’d paint churches, homes of friends, and of course, his beloved Public Garden. Over time, the family has given away a number of his paintings to close friends of Mr. Sam’s.
Sameski says that many of his friends are surprised to find that their old pal was as skilled as he was devoted to his art. He kept his talent to himself, rarely revealing his passion or his work even to his close friends.
“Some people didn’t even know that my father was an artist,” said Sameksi, “When he passed, in the funeral home we put up a bunch of his paintings, and people were like ‘Oh those paintings are beautiful, who did them?’ and we’d say it was my father, and they’d be like ‘Oh no way!’”
Before developing cancer, Mr. Sam was a social man who was well known and beloved by his community. Sameski describes his father’s final months as a “living wake.”
“He got cancer, and they said he had two weeks to live,” said Sameski, “And they sent him home, and for two weeks it was like a living wake. Every one of his friends and buddies came by, and he said his good byes. Then it was bad, but at least he got to say his goodbyes.”
After Mr. Sam’s death, both the funeral and the wake lasted hours past the intended time. A line to enter the wake was out the door. Sameski’s family barely knew some of those who had come to pay their respects. The funeral was originally scheduled to start at three p.m. and end at eight p.m. The last mourner left at ten p.m.
He was beloved, though Mr. Sam never let it be known how many people he had done favors for. Those he had helped over the years remembered, though, and showed up en masse to mourn “the best dad.”
“He really was – he was the best dad, the best husband, the best papa,” Sameski said, “I try to be the same he is, but it’s hard these days. Everything is go go go.”
“I miss my dad a lot.”
Sameski plans to have another bench dedicated to himself, a stone’s throw away from his father’s bench. This way, they’ll always be able to enjoy lunch breaks together, eating sandwiches by the pond.