Osage

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 7:45am
Category: 

One week ago, the charger for my computer died. It was not sudden. I first noticed that the cord was starting to fray last summer, but in one of my habits that defies all logic, I did not order a new one as the delivery time seemed too many days away.It was a good three months before the little amber light went off for the last time and the weakened battery in my laptop was draining at the pace of a rocket ship launch countdown. 

Soon after posting on the local Bulletin Board I had several loan offers; the guaranteed rush delivery date of my order held true despite the holiday.

“It's a miracle,” I think then remember my father coming home from work in time to pick up the phone, dial “O,” ask for a number starting with “Enterprise,” and order building materials from Wakefield Branch that would be on the noon boat, the only boat most of the year, the next day.

It is “only” 45 outside, there is a trace of a breeze from the northeast, but the sun is pouring in, providing enough warmth that the fact of my west-facing front door being open wide is not impacting the thermostat, causing the furnace to click on.

This time of year the weather can bring warmth which makes everyone forget all the other Novembers when the sun shone and the chilling but not-yet-cold-water beckoned the brave; five years ago I was writing of the weather, and my ever-escalating umbrage over the way it is reported.

November, 2012: “Winter Storm Athena!?! Hurricane season is not over, we have the possibility of overlapping named storms, all because the Weather Channel decided it would be... fun to come up with names.”

It still annoys me, this devaluing of named storms by making them almost year-round events. It was an honor, a distinction, reserved for hurricanes, the fearsome systems that brewed far to the south late every summer, rarely making an appearance beyond high seas that bring the surfers who follow the big waves up and down the coasts, some across the country. The threat, though, was never out of mind until the cold settled and we turned to other weather watches. 

Then, the cool wound its way to my desk, two rooms away from the door I had to go close against the fall. Absently, I noted that Autumn was not in her usual place, on the walk, snuggled against the step of the entry, one of her several you-can-not-go-anywhere-without-my-knowing-it spots. 

There is little, if any, foot traffic on the Mansion Road in November and I do not worry that she will follow a distraction, which has happened only twice — or two times of which I am aware, I remind myself, thinking of my first golden dog, who would be at home when I left in the morning and when I returned in the afternoon, the dog I learned a year later went jogging with a summer neighbor, was in family photos of returning vacationers, and, my favorite, awakened napping grandparents who said  “we heard that familiar noise of a dog drinking from the toilet, then remembered we didn't have a dog with us!”

So, it is a relief that my sweet, silly girl, who barks at the passing boat but does not stir when a package is delivered to the door, generally stays close to home. 

Even closer than I thought, I later discovered, when I went upstairs to find her sprawled across my bed, a great golden cat stretched out in the full sunlight. 

And while her attention span has been lengthened to the chasing of three and maybe even four tennis ball tosses, they are not a focus of her world, I am reminded, again, on the rise of Ocean Avenue between the power company and the Negus Park.

A dog more enamored of the game would become unreasonably excited passing this same spot, at the time of year when Osage oranges fell from gnarly trees and spilled down the embankment, onto the sidewalk, over the curb onto the edge of the road. They do appear at first glance to be just so many tennis balls. 

The crazy trees that are their hosts are a unique reminder of the grand Hygeia Hotel that rose from the site now occupied by the public safety buildings, the police and fire and rescue complex. It was a building to capture the imagination of a child; the Searles Mansion and the Ocean View still stood when I was small, aging relics of another era, but the Hygeia existed only in photographs, and never in the faded, gone-by glory that was Block Island in the 1950s.

The Osage orange trees were ornamental, a step beyond the privet hedges that bounded the lawns of the hotels, those heavy lines of dark green that drew boundaries between properties or, as was true of the Hygeia, provided a buffer between the busy street and the front façade of the hotel.

The National, in Old Harbor, burned to the ground in 1902 and was rebuilt in a winter; the Hygeia burned in 1916 and the land, a prime corner above the New Harbor, remained vacant until the Fire Barn was built. The name, Hygeia, floated across the street and settled on the overflow building where Dr. Champlin lived, a room therein still known as The Morgue. 

Times had changed; modes of transportation were evolving, and a war was brewing. Perhaps there had been hopes of rebuilding “in a few years” but, if there were, nothing came of them. The trees remain, producing this odd fruit that city-dwellers used to collect to pin with cloves, all to ward off cockroaches. They blend in with the summer green; it is not until the oddly textured not-at-all orange-colored oranges appear in bursts that we are reminded of the fleeting grandeur that was the Hygeia Hotel.