Oh! The Places I’ve Been – “E” is for EAST GREENWICH

photo by Rebecca Moniz
photo by Rebecca Moniz

I didn’t grow up in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, but we lived close enough that I could walk down Division Street (up the hill, down the hill) to Main Street. Or, at the fork in the road, veer right down First Avenue and arrive at the other end of Main Street.

When we moved to Cowesett in 1968, one of the first things I did was accompany my father to the Almac’s Supermarket in East Greenwich. He bought enough food to fill four brown paper bags (and one of those smaller bags with silver inside for ice cream). Then the paper bags were set into a big gray box and the box was placed on a wheeled conveyor belt at the front of the store. My dad and I walked back to the Ford Fairlane station wagon, and by the time he’d driven to the market’s entrance, that gray box full of our grocery bags had traveled on the conveyor belt to the outside of the store, where a young man wearing a white shirt put the bags in the car. My dad gave the boy a tip, probably a quarter.

Next to the Almac’s was the Newport Creamery, where my grandmother took me for lunch one day. I had a cheeseburger on toast and a chocolate cabinet (that’s a milkshake with ice cream.). Next to the Newport Creamery was Thorpe’s, where my mother bought cough medicine and Q-tips and bright red lipstick. And finally, at the other end, was Woolworth’s, one of the best stores in the world for a ten-year-old.

My first job was at the Kent Cinema. Chinese food meant Cathay Garden for sweet and sour pork or egg fu yung. No one had heard of nime chow or banh hoi. Pizza was at Two Guys from Italy, now known as Frank and John‘s from Italy (two different guys, I assume). The pizza is still great, even if there are no more tableside jukeboxes.

In tracing my late mother’s ancestry, I discovered many ties to old East Greenwich, and she and I had a great time traipsing through historical cemeteries, finding Stones and Wightmans and Arnolds. I’m reminded of a passage from Wally Lamb’s book The Hour I First Believed

“I was just thinking that that’s what your ancestry’s like. Anyone’s ancestry, really— not just yours, but yours is what’s on my mind because of Lydia’s diaries.”

I told her I wasn’t following her.

“Think about it,” she said. “What do we do when our elders die?”

“Call the undertaker and start fighting over the will,” I quipped.

“No, really. We put them in the ground, right? But we also carry them forward because our blood is their blood, our DNA is their DNA. So we’re intimately connected to these people whose lives— whose histories— have gone underground and become invisible to us.”

“Like that river,” I said.

“Right. Except in your case, a spring has bubbled up.”

Lamb, Wally (2008-10-28). The Hour I First Believed (pp. 375-376). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.

Main Street Memories

About a mile and a half.  Thirty minutes.  From Varnum Drive to Main Street in East Greenwich, I’d make the trip in the early 70’s.  Sometimes via First Avenue, sometimes via Division Street.  Division Street meant walking up, then down the hill.

Anne Marie and I walked to Woolworth’s.  We stood gazing at a Rolling Stones album.  It cost $5.99 and the cover was a pair of jeans, but pretty much only the zipper.  And the zipper worked but there wasn’t anything behind it.  My mother never would have allowed that album in the house.  Besides, we only had money for singles.  She picked “Joy to the World” and I chose “If.”  Three Dog Night and Bread.

Sometimes I’d meet up with Kathy.  She lived off Love Lane and would be waiting for me on Division as I trudged up the hill.  Then we would saunter down to Main Street, for pizza at Two Guys from Italy, or the sweet and sour combination plate at Cathay Garden (egg roll, chow mein, sweet and sour pork – $2.50). Maybe stop at Earnshaw’s afterward.

My favorite place to spend allowance money was the Buz Terry Music store.  I could browse sheet music to all the latest songs.  If I bought one, I’d bring it to Mrs. Bowser on Hall Street when I had my piano lesson on Wednesday afternoon.  I bought the sheet music to “Half-Breed,” and it had a great photo of Cher on the cover, all dressed up in animal skins and feathers. One dollar.

One day, I was walking alone and had just passed the fork at Division and First.  I was continuing up Division when a guy on a motorcycle stopped and asked me if a wanted a ride.  He had long hair and a beard, and was wearing faded bell-bottoms.  I was probably fourteen.  I knew I wasn’t supposed to take rides from strangers, but I accepted.  I’d never been on a motorcycle before.  So I climbed on the back and he sped up the hill, then coasted downhill to the post office on the corner.  When he stopped, I climbed off.  He asked me if I wanted to do something with him, and I told him I was going shopping.  He peered at me and might have figured out I wasn’t even close to eighteen.  He shook his head and peeled away.