(Warning: These trip recaps will be longer than my “normal” posts, but they will have pictures if you’re into that sort of thing.)
It’s so nice to see
All the folks you love together
Sittin’ and talkin’ ’bout
All the things that’s been goin’ down
Little did I know that Monday would be the one day I’d get to sleep in on this trip. And that was with three things on the agenda: Check on the progress at the cemetery, meet uncle Jim and aunt Joann for lunch, and have dinner at aunt Donna’s and uncle Rick’s.
Also, by “sleep in”, I mean I was up by 8:30am. That’s 7:30 Texas time.
The siblings and I saw the progress being done at the cemetery (which is an historic cemetery, I might add), and the finished headstone. Everything appeared to be on track for the following day when mom’s ashes would be laid to rest with her father, her mother, and her sister. So after that quick stop, it was off to uncle Jim’s house to meet up before lunch.
My aunt and uncle live in a different house from the last time I visited the Ocean State. And that shouldn’t be a surprise because my last visit was in 1984. Whoa – 32 years since I had seen them. The house was close to the cemetery, but one might say everything in Rhode Island is close by. (It seemed while we were there that we were told everything was “10 minutes away”. We used this as a running joke for the entire trip once we noticed it was a pattern.)
After meeting Jim and Joann’s dog (named T Brady – it is New England, after all) we headed to the tavern for lunch. Much like my brother Bob, I was ready to eat some seafood. But this was a more traditional tavern much like sports bars in Texas (but with only a few TVs, mostly on news channels) so I settled on a mushroom swiss burger – which was excellent. The one thing that jumped out to me was that, instead of tortilla chips and salsa being brought to the table as a munchie, we were brought baskets of popcorn.
I’m not complaining about that. I love popcorn. And I don’t know how I’d feel about Rhode Island salsa, to boot.
As we attempted to make up for 32 years of absence, my aunt began asking each of us five kids questions. The first was “How many kids do you have?” Of course, I was the only one to reply that he was childless. The second was “How long have you been married?” My response to that was “Which time?”
Yeah, I kind of felt like I was losing any steam that my jokes were helping me gain. (Waitress: “How would you like your burger cooked?” Me: “That would be great!”)
I guess I should admit that I can’t remember if we went to the cemetery before or after lunch, but I think in the grand scheme of things that it is an unimportant detail. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was after lunch. So we’ll go with that and I am not going to edit anything above. This is my site, and I make the rules.
From the cemetery, which actually happened after lunch, we drove by Minnie’s. Or what used to be Minnie’s. That was a store right down the street from my Gramma Leeming’s house where we used to buy fireballs (not the whiskey) as a kid. I’m told Minnie remembered all of us and asked about us often, but now the store is closed and the building vacant. But just the shell of the structure brought back memories for me. I don’t have many vivid memories of my time before Texas, but fireballs from Minnie’s was definitely one of them.
From there, it was off to the cottage (that’s what we all called it) where my sister and her husband were staying. It was on the bay or inlet or whatever you call that area. In other words, the Atlantic Ocean was in the backyard. We walked around for a while, skipped a few stones into the sea, and looked at shells on the beach.
Next stop was my great grandmother’s house on Featherbed Lane. I mentioned the historic cemetery earlier, but this house is just as historic, if not more so. My great grandma Rogers lived in the Stephen Northrup House, which may date all the way back to 1660. Seriously – check this out. The house also has a tangential (that word is for you, aunt Donna) association with the movie “Twelve Years a Slave”. I heard someone – I can’t recall who – say while I was up there that there is strong evidence to support this house being the oldest existing structure in North Kingstown based on the trees used as the pilings in the basement. Crazy.
Then we headed on to the burg of Wickford. We walked around the shops and historic buildings, and we even saw the ugliest dog any of us had ever seen. That may seem harsh, but it’s true. Remember that dog that won the Ugliest Dog award or somesuch? Dead ringer. Unfortunately none of us got a photo. I think we were all too scared or startled.
For a moment, I thought I was going to get my first taste of the Rhode Island standard of clam cakes on this walkabout, but my hopes were dashed when the fish market told me they only cooked them up on Saturdays and Sundays. We had already learned that Aunt Carrie’s, the place we always got this delicious treat as kids, had closed for the season only the night before. I was starting to get concerned that I might not get any clam cakes on this trip. (Spoiler alert: I ended up with clam cakes the next day.)
We took lots of photos in Wickford. Many amazing old buildings with so much history. If walls could talk (I’d probably freak out).
Next stop was Shartner’s Farm. Yes, kids, the word “shart” is in the name. Just know that up there the name is pronounced “shot-nuhs” so it kind of defeats whatever joke you were thinking of. There we bought flowers for mom’s grave for the following day as well as some dessert for dinner with family that night.
After leaving the farm, we (Bob, Glenn, and I) drove by our grandpa’s house – the house my mom grew up in. I barely recognized anything around it, and was also amazed at how small the yard looked. It seemed so much bigger when I was a kid.
Also, I have always been told that the grass at Fenway Park in Boston comes from the sod company directly across the street from this house. I actually asked family about this and everyone said they had always heard the same thing – no one disputed it, so I’m taking it as fact. I recall standing on that grass as a kid thinking that Bernie Carbo would one day stand on the same patch. Ah, the dreams of youth.
Dinner at Donna and Rick’s was amazing. It was basically a Thanksgiving feast with turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, squash and apples, and I found myself (along with Bob, Glenn, and our second cousin Ben – 6 years old) at the kid’s table. Shenanigans ensued. It was great fun.
We had not seen our cousins Tom and Kate in 17 years, nor had we met their spouses or children. I know that is difficult for most southerners to wrap their heads around. Down south, everyone seems to know extended family with qualifiers like “third cousin once removed” (what does that even mean?) but my family, separated by about 1800 miles, likes to keep it simple. And while I learned a lot about my family history during this trip, I also got the feeling that there are more questions than answers in regards to the family dynamics. So let me just provide a post-dinner photo of the family.
There were, like, three different cameras during this shot which should explain why we all seem to be looking in different directions. But Ben, man. He nailed it. I hope we didn’t corrupt him too bad.
Next up: The funeral service and clam cakes. And even more seafood.
It’s been a long, long time
Since we had a chance to get together
Nobody knows the next time we see each other
Maybe years and years from now
-The O’Jays, “Family Reunion”