Pumpkins on the steps

Thu, 12/02/2021 - 6:00pm
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The Thanksgiving weekend weather is always a wild card. I remember horrid trips on the Manitou going to visit relatives in the years the Manitou was new and ran in about any kind of weather; 35 years ago, now, standing on a stoop in Mansfield, smoking because no one wanted it in the house — I can’t blame them; waking to a thick, completely unexpected blanket of snow in Foxborough, trough snow I later learned, a storm that had gone offshore suddenly coming inland and slamming a cold system coming from the other direction.

Other years have been mild, perfect calm and sunny and nearly-warm days to come to Block Island to escape the crowds on the mainland. This year Thanksgiving was lovely after a snap of cold, Friday was rainy if less than forecast, Saturday cold and windy but blessedly sunny and Sunday was . . . gray and chill.
The town is lovely I saw from the boat swinging in late Monday, pinpoints of light shining from various windows, the tiers of the lobster pot tree a parfait of color. It was, though, cold and dark and windy, outside the cabin and down the stairs, off the deck and across the parking lot.
After making the not-so-long trip to a friend’s car and shelter, after being home for a bit and settling into the what was-not-so-late a night as it seemed, I thought as I do so often this time of year, what this place would be without these big, multiple boats. I grew up with a tiny winter boat that ran six days a week, we flew more often than we went on the boat, largely because we had one car, my dad’s work truck, which was not an optimal mainland ride. The train stopped in Westerly and in Providence, Mansfield, and at a stop simply known as Route 128, places we had relatives.

I’ve only bits and pieces of memory of trips to Westerly, of seeing a town “open” in winter, with one or both of my parents, to a dentist or maybe on some business. There was a narrow alley between two buildings that led to a walkway behind one of them, rising from and overlooking the little river that runs under the bridge to Pawcatuck (I have become so provincial I had “Pawtucket” written the other day and thought it looked wrong) and out to the sea.
My mother was from the mainland and when we went up to Massachusetts to visit family I think it was as much for me as for her to stop in Providence, and ride the escalator at Newberry’s, a store advertised on Romper Room which I thought on par with places I didn’t know existed, Shepherd’s and the Outlet. It had been home to the Providence Journal then sold to this national chain of “five and dime” stores and worse, was coated in the 1950s with something odd; in the wonderfully pretentious verbiage of the Providence Preservation Society “the building was misguidedly sheathed in porcelain-enamel panels,” which were removed some 30 years later. Even when I was little but peeking out at the top were castle-like dormers “exuding French classicism . . .”

The little description does not mention what the developers who restored the exterior did with the interior.

I was more fascinated by the long escalator. There must have been a lunch counter, or at least soda fountain, where my mother would lapse into her native tongue and start talking of having a frappe, which I knew as a cabinet, which I think today has morphed into a generic milkshake.
We did not often go to the city, my only Christmas memories of Providence were long ago, when the Outlet was still the anchor and we went there to record our “Living Christmas Card from Block Island.” It was quite the adventure, staying overnight in a hotel, being on television. Block Islanders of a certain age default to the traditional King James version of the Christmas story and cringe when the angels are not “sore afraid” or the “baby” is wrapped in “bands of cloth.”
But, it is nice having lights cutting the early dark, and, depending upon once’s resource, sunset will not be earlier than today, or not more than one minute earlier. Two weeks before it turns around and starts moving in the other direction and we won’t talk about sunrise until January but . . .
The pumpkins on the steps to the Nicholas Ball Park . . . they are in this photo where I thought they were Saturday but forgot to take a picture before it got dark. Then it appeared one had disappeared but, no, they’d been rearranged. So, I confess, I moved them again. From two each on either side of the top step to one on each smooth, even tread edge. It will be different next year but for now the new, black paving of the little parking lot comes almost to the stairs, a surprising distraction in shots less cropped.

They are pretty, symbols of late fall easing our way toward winter. The grass is usually green in December, but this year it seems even more so, never having turned brown in August, and pampered by what the forecasters are telling us was the fourth warmest fall on record in Rhode Island.

They are on the site of my great-grandfather’s store, where my grandfather, in whose memory the land was donated to the town, worked. He died in early 1941 and his only grandson flew down with his parents, landing, he said, in our front field. That oldest cousin, another Nicholas, was a toddler, that he remembered it at all surprised me, I think now it was the clear fields that made it seem so. There would have been little but clear pasture between the Minster’s Lot, the “Neck Airport,” and this house, nothing between him and “look over there.”

Thanks to whomever put the pumpkins on the steps.