Bird song fills the small guest room at my sister’s house in Warwick, R.I.. It is early. Six a.m. I am sleeping in a very comfortable twin bed with not one but two pillows. A cool summer breeze drifts in from the open window helped along by a ceiling fan that rotates the air through the small room, as small as the dorm room I spent the past twelve days in but much more comfortable. Three blocks from the house I grew up in, I remember the magic of the word Summer.
The place hasn’t changed much since I lived here. A middle class neighborhood set on a plateau above the Narragansett Bay just outside of downtown Providence. We always prefaced the city with Downtown. “We’re going back-to-school shopping in Downtown Providence.”
Half awake, I remember summer days when my plans included walking down to the bay to sit on the breakwater and play underneath one of the wooden bridges in our private club house until the rising tide drove us out.
“Can we walk out on that breakwater?” he asked.They carefully navigated the crumbling rock and concrete seawall, the brisk breeze off the bay stinging their cheeks. “There’s an old carousel over there in Riverside,” she said, pointing across the bay towards Barrington. “It’s a pretty round building, I think it’s called a hippodrome. It was part of an amusement park at one time, with a shore dinner hall and a ballroom, but the merry-go-round is all that’s left. The horses are beautiful and there are four dragon chariots, but only Grandmas sit in those. I remember when the ticket man opened the gate, I’d run to get the prettiest horse, one that went up and down on the outside so I could reach for the brass ring.” “Of course you did,” he said, his warm lips on her cold cheek.
Summer days were filled with daydreams and boredom. As an adult I still daydream but I’m not bored. Not this summer. Like the do-nothing Congress, I am on hiatus. Working as a temp has very few benefits-no health insurance or paid holidays and vacations. The only benefit is time. I am having a childhood summer. I walk every morning down to the Bay or through the neighborhoods where I spent summers playing with friends and riding my bike.
Lots of people still have milk boxes on the front stoop and my brother-in-law informed me the Munroe milkman still delivers milk in recyclable glass bottles.
Yesterday I took a three mile walk, making a perfect square. I headed down Harrison Avenue, the road I walked to both junior and senior high school then took a right onto Warwick Avenue, which has seen better days. Passing Little John’s Pizza and the New Canton I remembered how my mother never liked to cook and how fish on Fridays during Lent really threw her for a loop. So we ordered takeout. One week fish and chips, the next cheese pizza, then vegetable lo-mein. The New Canton is looking a little down at the heels these days, but it is now serving breakfast. Waffles and pancakes at a Chinese restaurant throws me for a loop.
Taking another right onto Post Road, I passed a nursing home, an industrial park, and a few condominium complexes then re-entered the historic Pawtuxet Village/Gaspee Plateau area. The neighborhood I grew up in.
Back on the Narragansett Parkway, I took another right, completing my three mile square. I walked along the Bay then climbed the slight hill to the plateau that gives this neighborhood its name. I passed the house where the famous actor James Woods grew up. His mother ran a pre-school in the backyard and I was a friend of his brother Michael. My memory returns to a co-ed swim party one summer when I was in junior high school. He had an in-ground pool and I recall being very excited about the event.
After attending the Southampton Writers Conference I have made several changes to my third novel, but I am well on my way to finishing it. In one scene, the main character, Samuel Ryder, returns to the town he grew up in and writes this in his journal:
You leave a place and then you return. It’s changed, and so have you, but the essence is still there. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you find yourself again. The dreams you lost, the man you wanted to be, and in that way Thomas Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again.