A New Purpose

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 5:15pm

How long has it been since the Champlin's case began?  Sometime near the start, the end of 2003 or the start of 2004, I answered my landline, my phone of choice as I tried to keep the minutes on my town-issued cell down.

It was a friend in North Kingstown, who told me to go to the Town Hall and “stand by the fax machine.” He followed the machinations of the State Economic Development Corp (now Commerce) because of various proposals in Quonset, part of North Kingstown where he was involved in government. He had the minutes of the last EDC meeting.

That august body, unbeknownst to the Town of New Shoreham, had endorsed the proposed marina expansion in reaction to a pitch from an individual on the mainland, not Champlin's Resort, nor their lawyer, but a member of the General Assembly, one not representing our district.

It was so long ago, I need add, that I was First Warden. My call to the EDC chair was returned, much to my surprise, later that night. I talked on that landline, with its crazy long spiral cord, that gave me multiple room mobility, making risotto as I ranted, something I've not done in years — risotto, not ranting. In the end it was a kerfuffle, quickly negated, but it felt symptomatic of the Way Things Work, and the necessity of a wide network of organizations and individuals to deal with these foolish little Whack-a-Mole distractions while the lawyers worked.

That particular example of Rhode Island was all underscored a few months later when the Second Warden, Jack Savoie, who carefully tracked the doings of the Assembly, reported that that same representative had introduced legislation barring the State from imposing its will on communities absent the support of the municipality. Obviously, something was in the wind for his community.

We could only laugh.

But that is how long it has been, landlines, fax machines, going off to sub-committee hearings and staying at the since demolished Larchwood — I came to love the rambling Larchwood with rooms so hot we had to open windows in the dead of winter - in Wakefield. And risotto, when did I last have that patience?

Yes, I know, there can still be an attempt to appeal the decision. But today is a moment for the scores of  people along the way who carried this case.


Many, many years ago, long before the above court case began, my dad took the porch off the house in which I live.  There had to have been some overall plan but he died too soon, and I never did figure out what it was.

But, the door to the porch had been replaced by a window before I was born. Perhaps more to the point, the hurricanes of 1938 and 1954 had torn porches off buildings. In any event, one summer, the porch went.

It was the same time he built an entry around the front door, removing the granite step and millstone set in the earth, which even I remember being surrounded by mud in the spring time. A cement slab and walk replaced the wonderful but at the time not so practical features of the old house.

What does one do with a millstone, a granite slab and a set of cement steps that had reached a porch no longer there? Well, hitch them to the tractor and drag them down into the field, of course. They landed where there was a sort of lumber pile, nothing high and dangerous, but enough to fuel the imagination of a little girl left to make her own entertainment. I spun it into stories of the westerns that then were so popular on Saturday morning television.

While the field was hayed, the artifacts were all clearly visible, then, over time, the uncut swath around them grew wider, brambles took root and eventually they were lost to most memories. By the time the horses came that part of the field had been untouched for years, turned from grass to bayberry to ornamental olives gone wild, to just a wild mass of whatever was the latest, strongest invasive. My caution, as that part of the land began to be opened was “umm, there's a millstone down there, and a granite slab and I think some cement steps.”

And sure enough, they surfaced, all three of them, closer than I remembered, and were lugged back up closer to the road. The millstone, at least we think it is a millstone, and the slab were solid, intact. The cement steps were what cement used to be, hand mixed, poured into forms filled with whatever reinforcements were at hand, in this case stones and the requisite brick clearly visible.

The steps reminded me of the slab under the monument out where the road runs so close to the beach, the same that fell in Sandy, intact, to the rocks below. “Before there was testing” I said that next summer, “when they used whatever they had for filler and it worked.”

The stones were, and remain, wonderful bits of history, even if nothing is ever done with them. The steps just wouldn't work, one end had broken off a bit, but they weren't taking up space needed for something else and one never knows when some unexpected need may arise.

Then the wind blew last week and an anchor of sorts was needed to secure a horse accessory. There was talk of planting a big rock in the ground and I heard myself saying “The cement steps!” and immediately wondering if I really wanted them buried, out of sight, a memory again.

Then some realization kicked in that they were neither the millstone nor the slab, they had been out of sight for decades and here was an opportunity to “re-purpose” something that the day before the great wind had absolutely no potential.

Sometimes you have to hold on and sometimes you just have to let go.