The Memory of Sense


A scent can be so evocative as to bring back memories of a time long past. Your mother’s perfume, freshly-mowed grass, roasted turkey.

Revlon

When I was in college, I used a certain shampoo (whatever was cheap at the time). Revlon’s Aquamarine was in my plastic bucket during my sophomore year at Providence College, and the scent of it will take me back. Back to December of 1977, back to a snowy night when students eager to unwind from the rigors of studying for finals let loose in the quad with an impromptu snowball fight.

I’ve written about that evening here and also here. There was a fire that night in one of the women’s dorms, and ten girls died. Those of us who were students at PC remember, because how could we ever forget? I write this post annually, to remember Laura Ryan, Cathy Repucci, Barbara Feeney, Gretchen Ludwig, Jackie Botelho, Sallyann Garvey, Donna Galligan, Dotty Widman, Debbie Smith, and, of course, Katie Andresakes. I write it also to honor the survivors, young women and men who lived with pain and remembrance and even guilt.

In the weeks following the fire, I consoled myself with music. And so the memory is not only scent, but sound.

What December 13th Means to Us


War Memorial Grotto - Providence College
War Memorial Grotto – Providence College

For the past few years, I’ve posted here and again last year about a fire. A dormitory fire at Providence College on December 13, 1977 that claimed the lives of ten young women. If, like me, you were a student at PC, or the parent of a student, a sibling, close friend, or alumnus, this event most likely has stayed with you, even 37 years later.

We remember December 13 every year, with memories as fresh and painful as they were decades earlier. December 13 is the date. Not December 12. We don’t commemorate the terrorist attacks on September 10, or remember Pearl Harbor Day on December 6.

Robin Craig Piebes (PC ’80) recalls: “When I talk to people about Providence College and what sets it apart, it’s that community. It was being taken in by girls I didn’t know that night. It was being given their clothes to wear, watching boys move cars and carry girls who had no shoes. It was the comfort a college president gave by living in the dorm with us afterwards and sending flowers every holiday. All of these things are what I have always thought of Providence to be.”

When we were students, there were so many daily Masses, you could attend a quick service between classes at this Catholic college. Today, there are Masses on Sunday and on weekdays, but no scheduled Mass on Saturday. The college chose not to hold a special service on December 13 (Saturday) this year, and that’s too bad. Because December 13 is the day we remember.

 

The comfort of having a friend may be taken away, but not that of having had one.
Seneca

Note: The college decided to hold a memorial Mass on December 13 at 8:00am, after pleas from alumni.

Ten Young Women


Written last year and re-posted in memory of the ten young women who died as a result of a tragic fire at Providence College, 35 years ago.

We had our Christmas party that night, and there was wine.  Plenty of wine and nowhere to go except down the hall, around the corner, and back to the room I shared with Wilma.  We did a Secret Santa that year.  I can’t remember who I picked, or who picked me, or what gift I gave, or what I received.  Our floor, McVinney 4th, didn’t participate in the decorating contest; no one volunteered to organize it.  Besides, the girls in Aquinas usually won anyway.

It snowed that night, and some of the girls walked to the quad, to join in throwing snow at boys they liked.  Wilma and I stayed inside, talking about musical theatre with Eileen and Rosemary.

I was sleeping soundly.  Wilma woke up first to the pounding on the door.

“Is there anyone else in this room besides you two?”  It was our Resident Assistant, a senior named Kathy.

“No,” Wilma mumbled, thinking that Kathy was asking if we had boys in the room.  We weren’t supposed to let boys stay over.  Parietals, they called it.  No boys allowed.  But Kathy wasn’t looking for boys.  She was looking for the girls.

The telephone rang.  It was my sister Ann, a senior living in Meagher Hall.  There were only three girls’ dorms: Aquinas, McVinney and Meagher.  I lived in Aquinas freshman year.  Aquinas 228, with Judy and Brenda.  Aquinas 2nd South.

The 4th floor North of Aquinas did a magnificent job with decorations.  Even a manger scene illuminated by a gooseneck desk lamp.  Paper over everything.

Ann called Mom and Dad to let them know. To tell them we were okay.  That there would be news on television.

Wilma and I dressed quickly.  No time to think, just pull clothes on.  We filed out of McVinney with the other girls and walked to the cafeteria in Raymond Hall.  Wilma said “Don’t look,” but I looked.

We tried to remember which of our friends lived up there. Debbie.  Katy, Ellen, Mary Alice.  Kim, Terry, Robin.  Girls we’d see in class, in the Rathskellar, girls we’d drink beers with.  I saw Kim and Terry; they were looking for someone. “We think Katy’s at the hospital.” Katy’s boyfriend Jeff had a look in his eyes I’d never seen before.

Dad drove up from Warwick and brought Ann and me home.  I learned the names, and didn’t think I’d ever forget them.  Ever.  But except for Katy and Debbie, I had to look them up when I was writing this piece, and for that, I’m sorry.

The Aquinas fire claimed the lives of ten women living on the north end of Aquinas Hall’s fourth floor on Dec. 13, 1977. Katy Andresakes ’80, Jackie Botelho ’81, Barbara Feeney ’81, Donna Galligan ’81, Sallyann Garvey ’81, Gretchen Ludwig ’81, Cathy Repucci ’81, Laura Ryan ’81, Debbie Smith ’78, and Dotty Widman ’81.