Last night, I happened to be driving home from teaching my Wednesday night guitar class. The school that hosts the class is located on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island.

The East Side is a venerable old neighborhood that’s roots go all the way back to the time of founder Roger Williams, circa late 1600’s.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood not more than a mile from the East Side, but have lived in a different city for some time now. Until recently, it had been many years since I have had occasion to travel these streets. I have found myself rather enjoying it.

The East Side has changed dramatically over time, but still somehow magically retains its old-worldness. And I have surprised myself with how utterly familiar everything still is; the roots run very, very deep.

In 1952, my expectant mother, who had grown quite tired of trying to choose a name for me, finally decided to name me after the very next street-sign she drove past (a hopeless romantic, my mom ).  It so happened to be the one we lived on, Roger Williams Ave; thus making me into a namesake of sorts, even if in a somewhat second-hand  fashion. Better a tarnished pedigree than none at all; I accept it now in the spirit that it was offered. Street-sign royalty.

And if one drives down Roger Williams Ave to Massasoit Ave, and takes the bridge over the Seekonk River, one finds oneself on Angell St.; which will traverse the East Side until one finds oneself in view of the spire of the First Baptist Church. ( the actual very first Baptist church anywhere, hence the name; because Roger Williams was the very first Baptist- religious freedom, and all that…an extraordinarily dangerous idea in the 1600’s. And, he included the local natives under that umbrella, too- an absolutely alien idea at the time. )

In the 1600’s, Angell St. would have just been a woodland path connecting the original settlement at Providence with East Providence; Mr. Williams had recently moved to a choice spot  just across the river that he acquired from his friend Massasoit of the Wampanoags ( Half-acre plot w/ spectacular water view and fresh-water creek! Price just reduced! Financing available.)

This would have taken place well before King Philip’s War broke out, at which time a trip down that woodland path would have been precarious at best.

And last night…I found myself at the intersection of Hope and Angell, waiting for the light to change; when I was suddenly struck with the reality of how many  thousands of times I have done this same simple mundane task before, and how nothing had really changed over the likely twenty-five years since I had done this last; and how utterly comforting that was, like a favorite old flannel shirt on a cold winter day.

It just felt like home.

And as I sat there, a very sharp, vividly clear subterrannian memory suddenly snapped into focus…something I had not thought of since the day it happened, I imagine, like finding a cable channel you didn’t even know you had…

I remembered sitting at this very same light, on a bright summer morning. My father was driving his blue 1960 Chevy station wagon, the only non-Ford vehicle he ever owned. I was in the passenger’s seat.

I was about 16 at the time, and had been conscripted to spend the summer housepainting with my dad. We were on the way to work.

I was beyond miserable.

And my dad was telling me a story while waiting for the light to change. I clearly recall being thoroughly disrespectful and horribly rude… but he told me the story anyway.

When he was very young, around 8 or 9 years old ( circa 1923-24 ) he and his friends would ride their bikes over the bridge and up Angell St. to this very same traffic light…to watch the light change. They would sit for hours, and watch the light change. They couldn’t figure out how it knew when to change colors.

It was the first electric traffic signal ever used in the state of Rhode Island.

To Irish immigrant kids in the 1920’s, it was magic.

To the horrible teenager in 1968, it was an unwanted, unsolicited, extremely annoying anecdote.

To the  guitar teacher in 2013, it was a surprisingly potent and poignant uncovered memory.

Thanks for the visit, Dad…it’s good to be reminded of how things can, and should, change. Woodland paths, traffic lights…and especially the people who use them.

Sorry that it’s taken me forty years to connect those dots. And thank you for not leaving me on the side of the road that day, as I so truly deserved.

But I was, after all, named after a street sign…

Makes me wonder if Roger Williams ever had awful kids, and if he ever contemplated leaving them somewhere along the path leading to the old North Main St. settlement…



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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The East Side. Many pleasant memories. Nice. One day again.
    It may have taken 40 years but sometimes the bigger the dots the longer it takes:)

  2. And those were some pretty damned big dots. I hope I got em all.
    In retrospect, my dad was amazingly patient. I’ll bet if I was Roger Williams’ kid, he would have just shot me with a blunderbuss and kept going. LOL. I’ll bet there are four hundred years worth of bratty kids in the bushes all the way up Angell and Waterman too.
    Let’s have lunch sometime at that Greek restaurant on Thayer if it still exists, if some bratty kid didn’t turn it into a Dunkin Donuts.

  3. I’m sure you did.
    LOL. Now that sounds like material for a short story. Historical in nature of course:)
    OK. Will pencil it in. Other than the IHOP, the only restaurant I remember on Thayer, and at which I ate at regularly, was Montana’s.

    • Update: Drove down Thayer this last Wed.; Andrea’s ( Greek ) still intact. IHOP has been gone forever, but now the entire building is replaced. Montana’s is gone, now a Korean restaurant. College Hill Bookstore now an Asian-style clothing emporium. Sign out front;”This week- 50% off belly rings” What in God’s name is a belly ring? Does it go all the way around your waist? Is it a Hula Hoop?
      Surprised, no Dunkin Donuts; just one coffee shop called ” Blue State Coffee”. I was hoping they could leave politics out of my favorite beverage.
      Sad about the bookstore especially- it had that wooden-floor- musty- old-books smell.
      Avon Cinema OK, still open. Army/Navy store too.
      Ooh. That really is a good idea for a story.

      • Andreas! But of course. My memory banks are slowly kicking in:) Tell me – it’s on a corner? On the Avon side of the street? I’m sorry to hear the IHOP is no longer but Montana’s? Boohoo. No offense but yuk on the Korean food.(I think. lol) There is nothing in the universe worse than a beloved bookstore going out of business. Worse yet, turn it’s space into a clothing store!(*I have another idea for a short story) You jest about the belly rings, yes?:)
        The best news is that the Avon is still a functioning theater. After lunch, let’s catch a late matinee, OK?
        So, write it.

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