This Past Week

What day is it? Ah, Sunday night, eight minutes until Monday. Yes, I stay up late – writing, editing, playing my turns in Lexulous and Words With Friends.

So Thursday was Thanksgiving, and our small family was missing one this year. My 80-year-old father-in-law opted out; he hadn’t been feeling good all week anyway, but I believe the hour-long trip to Westerly (wait, you say, we live in Rhode Island – but anything over ten minutes is a long trip to us) was daunting to an old man tethered to a portable oxygen tank (by the way, if you’re still smoking, please stop).  We were six in total, but what a lovely day. I hope every hungry child had a full belly on Thursday.

The weekend brought Small Business Saturday – did you participate? American Express had a terrific incentive for cardholders. I registered my card and found a listing of participating retailers in my area. And as much as Sweet Twist in East Greenwich is a favorite, I chose to do business in my town, West Warwick. The businesses in town could really use a boost, so I visited the Matos Bakery and stocked up on all kinds of wonderful Portuguese food, mostly for Jim. Sardines, hot red finger peppers, and pickled herring. Quince jam and honey. And the best Portuguese sweet bread. Spend at least twenty-five dollars and Amex credits back twenty-five bucks to you. Seriously, unless you absolutely have to go to the big-box stores (and I know, sometimes you have to), consider patronizing the small businesses in your area.

Finally, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) winds down this week. I’m at over 61,000 words (still plenty of editing to do), so I’ll “win” the challenge this year. It’s been a blast, mostly because I planned and plotted my story ahead of time.

November is mostly browns and grays around here, which suits me just fine. Advent begins next week, adding the light of one candle in the midst of darkness.

Where Hope Walks

I have a few options for getting home. I can drive over the Natick bridge, the one that was closed after the big flood in 2010. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, though, you’re forced to look at the big empty house, boarded up, gaping holes where windows once were, pieces of glass clinging to the frames. The house is ugly and should be razed. Everyone has moved out. But the house still stands, decrepit, faded, and gray.

Or I can go home the back way and drive up the hill from the fire station, past the golf course that straddles the road, mindful of golfers crossing the street to get to the next hole, careful to keep my speed down because there’s usually a police car hidden behind the trees near the elementary school. Yesterday there was a bad accident on the road, farther down. People drive too fast.

And now that part of Natick Road, washed out after the flood, has been repaired, I can get home that way, past the farm, the horses, the houses up in the hills, hidden behind so much green now, until I reach the little bridge. It took a long time to repair.  There’s just not much money anymore. Hope told me she likes to walk there because it’s quiet, but the road is narrow and people drive too fast. I know she’s careful, especially now, but still I worry about her. Her time is precious, and she won’t give up her walks.

These days I usually find a reason to take that winding back road. Maybe I’ll see Hope. It’s a good thing to see her out walking. She never accepts a ride home. “I’m fine!” she says, waving her hand and smiling under a wide-brimmed straw hat.  I wave too, and drive over the bridge, where small tributaries of the Pawtuxet River flow under the road, downhill, to the source. And in my rear-view mirror I see Hope, walking.

Meeting Ann Hood

In 1989, I read a book called “Three Legged Horse.” I was 31, single, living in Pawtucket, RI, and wanting more from what I believed was an unfulfilled, unhappy life.  Like so many books before it, “Three Legged Horse” helped me to escape my boredom and burdens for a while. The book’s author was from Rhode Island, like I was.  She was from West Warwick, I was from Warwick.  She wrote about places close to home. Her book was fiction, but I knew the real band called Three-Legged Horse.  She and I were similar in age.  And she was doing what I had always wanted to do: write.

My mother used to tell everyone how I had started reading and writing at an early age (four? five?), and in school, I was the first one to finish a reading assignment.  I would beg my mother to drive me to the public library on Sandy Lane, so I could take out three or four books at a time.  I finished those books so quickly that Mom would drive back in a week so I could borrow more.  I was reading ahead of my age; in fact, my parents were concerned that, at age 12, I was reading “Manchild in the Promised Land,” but I wanted to devour every book I could.  And when they read my written assignments, my mom and dad told me I should be a writer, that I had a gift.

But, as they say on television, “life comes at you fast.” My father died suddenly, in 1979, while I was spending my junior year of college abroad.  My mother was a widow at 50, with three daughters, one still in college and one yet to go.  Circumstances changed everything, including my dream of becoming a writer.  No longer did my mother smile and look into the distance and tell me I should be a writer. Our house was filled with sadness and worry.

After graduation, it was imperative that I work, so I accepted jobs I didn’t really want, and spent the next thirty years in fields unsuited to my creative spirit. Six months ago, I left my full-time job, with my husband’s support and encouragement. And I started to write again. So many stories in my head! Something made me pick up “Three Legged Horse” for a second time. Perhaps it was because Ann Hood had returned to Rhode Island, and I still felt a connection, even though I’d never met her.

My first book, a novel, is taking shape. I know there are many revisions ahead, and I’ve struggled with expressing some of the character emotions. One particular passage has proved difficult, and I’ve avoided writing anything about it – it’s like it didn’t want to be written.

Last evening I finally met Ann Hood. She spoke to us, a group of men and women, about her love of reading and writing, and her career path. She shared funny stories about her family, and related grippingly painful heartbreak. She signed two of her books that have meant the most to me. I left with a heart full of gratitude and inspiration.  Back home, it was late. But I couldn’t sleep. I needed to write. And somehow, that passage that has been so hard for me to write, was written.

The Other Way Home

Today I met my friend Lori at a restaurant called Luigi’s – actually, we ate in the deli area, where you order at the counter.  Luigi’s is just one of many, many  Italian restaurants in Rhode Island, and Johnston certainly has its share.  The restaurant is situated on Atwood Avenue (State Route 5), where Hartford Avenue (US Route 6) intersects, and is next to the Johnston Town Hall – a busy, very congested area that exemplifies urban sprawl.

So when Lori and I finished lunch and said our goodbyes, the easiest way for me to get home would have been to take either Hartford or Atwood to the Route 295 onramp and get on the highway (about a 15-20 minute drive home).  But I hate driving on the highway! Maybe it reminds me too much of going to my former job, or maybe I just hate to have to “keep up” with the RI drivers who think a 55 MPH speed limit sign really means 75 MPH.  Instead, I took the long way home – the other way.  Heading out of Johnston and into western Cranston, I drove on Scituate Avenue, past Confreda’s. The Confreda family has farmed in Rhode Island since 1922, and holds its traditions dearly, trying to preserve the “family farm feeling” and give their customers quality, locally-grown produce.  There are still farms on Scituate Avenue, although the McMansions seem to encroach more and more each time I come back.

From Scituate Avenue, I turned left onto scenic Seven Mile Road, with the big meadow and row upon row of day lilies on the right, the lovingly-restored White Rail Farm, past Henry’s Tree Farm, where families will begin arriving in early October to tag this year’s Christmas tree, into the village of Fiskeville, with the little cemetery next to the Tabernacle Baptist Church (“Bell ringing for worship at 9:25”).  This part of town is old and somewhat run-down, with some yards well-kept and others gone to seed. 

From Fiskeville, I drove parallel to the Pawtuxet River, past the old Harris Mill and into the village of Phenix. At Phenix Square, I stopped at the red light and looked at the tiny brown house on the corner – what is now William’s Barber Stylist used to be the Earl R. Handy Insurance Agency, the business my grandfather built after he left the Centreville Bank.  This area, just a couple of miles from our home, was the place where my mother grew up, and I think of her often when I travel these roads.  This way home provided me with more comforting memories than any highway ever could.