Sunday, July 14, 2024

Grace Toner outside Cambridge – in Kennebunkport, Maine – in 2023. (Photo: Grace Toner)

Not many people I have bumped into in Cambridge can say they actually grew up down the street. Grace Toner, a 25-year-old North Cambridge native, is one the the few younger people I have met who remembers when Kendall was less high-tech, Alewife was just a bunch of empty parking garages and the Cambridgeside Galleria wasn’t as nice. It is true that people have lived in Cambridge for generations across all neighborhoods, but Grace explained to me that there always seems to be more people coming and going, making it hard for some to visualize that people live here long term. When you meet someone in Cambridge and ask them where they are from, you expect them to say another town, state or even country – living your whole life in one city, as Grace’s grandmother Ethel Toner did, is becoming more and more rare.

Grace’s unique perspective on the area poses a question a lot of us might not know the answer to: What was it really like to grow up here? What did that look like for a girl whose family had been living in the same house for four generations? Grace’s younger days were filled with running in the streets to her friend’s house to play, as well as hockey practice, City Sports, Deborah Mason’s School of Dance, 99 Restaurant dinners or the hot commodity of the Urban Outfitters photo booth. Her highlights were winning the U-10 and U-12 hockey division state championships (playing goalie), birthday parties at the French Club and Tim’s ice cream truck in front of the Peabody after school. At-home activities would include watching movies with her family, especially Scooby-Doo, which was the favorite of Jack, Grace’s younger brother. For a high schooler, the cool hangout spots were Angelo’s Pizza, across from the city’s only public high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin, and getting cheese fries in a bag with barbecue sauce. Weekends might have included football games and the occasional party at Harvard or MIT.

Grace thinks growing up in the age of technology had a big impact on the kids of Cambridge – some friends of Grace’s even had Facebook at the ripe age of 11 – but her parents didn’t let her have social media until she arrived at high school. During those high school days, Snapchat and were all the rage. (On users created a profile and asked each other anonymous questions, which you could choose to answer or not. “All these people would come out of the woodwork” and ask personal questions such as “Who do you have a crush on?”) “It was certainly a formative experience with early social media,” she says.

Grace Toner on St. Patrick’s Day in North Cambridge sometime in the mid-2000s. (Photo: Grace Toner)

Social media took over the dating scene across the globe, with Cambridge being no different. I asked Grace if there was a place where one could go to meet other people, and she said that when she goes out with friends she doesn’t really think of going out to meet someone long term. There seem to be limited fish in the sea when it comes to the Boston-Cambridge dating pool and less of a trend to go out socially dancing to meet a future partner.

While this seems to be the case on finding a hot date, there are still many great places to go for a hot dinner.

As a new local I couldn’t help but ask Grace what she thought were some of the best spots for going out to eat. Grace recommends La Fabrica in Central Square, Olé in Inman Square – for the type of Mexican restaurant that makes the guac next to the table – or The Druid in Inman Square for an authentic Irish shepherd’s pie. Andala Coffee House in Central Square is a great place to relax with a cup of joe, and another of Grace’s favorites. If you’re looking for a good place to plan a picnic for your next date, try picking up a sandwich, snacks and lemonade at Pemberton Farms Marketplace in North Cambridge, a cute specialty supermarket that’s been family owned and operated since 1930. It can provide wine, a Christmas tree and lasagna all in one place. Some great green spots include Joan Lorentz Park (the front lawn of the Cambridge Main Library), by the Harvard Boathouse or at Danehy Park in North Cambridge. Some fun local events include Paddy’s Road Race annually in September, and watching the Fourth of July fireworks from Memorial Drive as far down as East Cambridge.

Grace Toner, center, at her Cambridge Rindge and Latin graduation in 2017. (Photo: Grace Toner)

Grace felt proud from a young age that her family were “Cambridge people.” Often her teachers would know who she was in class because of her father’s work over time leading the Cambridge Education Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association and on Cambridge’s City Council. Grace was able to connect with people around the city, giving Cambridge the feel of a small town. Like many who have lived in one place for a long time, Grace can be wary of newcomers and big changes, a hesitancy grown out of love for the community she grew up in. While Boston is just across the bridge, Cambridge often feels apart, with a reputation as a snobbish, hip, uptight place compared with others in and around Boston. Grace’s friends in Boston rarely come this way – she mostly goes to them.

The future for a Cambridge native such as Grace is uncertain. She is at a point in her life when she could explore living in another city, or she could continue to build roots here. Her parents had a similar dilemma at her age: It’s not always easy to make Cambridge or Boston your home, and it can feel daunting at times to make your own path (especially with wicked high rent prices). Moving on to the next chapter in life for Grace might mean fewer nights with the family at the local pub Joe Sent Me or grabbing some of the best Chinese food in Boston at QingDao Garden. Nevertheless, Grace says Cambridge will always be her home.


About History Cambridge

History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name and a new mission. We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We recognize that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We listen to our community and we live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone. Throughout 2023, we are focusing on the history of Cambridgeport. Make history with us at

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Emily Harris is a volunteer for History Cambridge and a resident of North Cambridge.

This post was updated March 12 to correct that Ethel Toner did not remarry.