I grew up in a house where watching the news was not a requirement, it was a given. Decades later I remarked to a friend that among my earlier memories of television was my father watching “Meet the Press” on Sundays. The response was a reflection of the huge shift in our lives from that time, from the demographic of this island, that another family always had that on and “I thought it was a Democratic television.”
Regardless of affiliation, people went to Financial Town Meeting in May. The first I attended was in the 60’s, I was in high school, and a classmate from that other “Meet the Press” and I sat in the far back of the basement cafeteria, on white boxes, stage set pieces, stacked in dead space.
Someone objected to building the proposed fire barn of wood, from the ground up, the core piece of the existing building, when a permanent structure from U.S. Steel would serve the same purpose.
I heard stories of moving the meeting from afternoon to evening, over the objections of the Old Guard, of trying to make it more accessible to the younger people who were working, trying to make lives in this then very depressed place. There wasn’t even a bank, just a little Credit Union open on Saturdays, there was one boat a day six days a week all winter.
Always, I went to Financial Town Meeting, as it moved from room to room in the school bouncing over the Fire Barn and back. It was in the old gym, running over the course of up to four nights, the year I did not have to go and decided to pass. The day after the first night I ran into the lady of the “Meet the Press” house in the old Seaside Market and asked how the meeting had gone, still somewhat elated at the freedom of not being there.
I had known her since the family moved here in 1958, first as the mother of classmates. I’d watched her late husband and my late father pore over voting lists at our dining room table, projecting local results with an accuracy that would make a modern day pollster envious.
That I had not attended the meeting did not sit well and she leveled me with “Your mother would be ashamed!”
Part way into the second evening I shrugged off the fact I was still wearing yard work clothes and went up to the school. It wasn’t that Mary Donnelly had scolded me, evoking the ghost of my mother, more she reminded me of a privilege not to be taken for granted.
So, I will put aside my initial reaction to the fact that even before the final tally is available on yesterday’s referenda it is possible to say with certainty that more people voted to add to our Town Charter “it shall be considered the responsibility of every elector... to attend the financial town meeting” than actually show up at the regular May FTM and hope it bodes well for the future.
Full disclosure: I did not support the change, not because I disagree with the sentiment, only that I do not think it proper in the governance document of the town. But if it sparks more participation, that’s good.
It is nice to think of May, after the roar of the March lion. It is winter cold today, the sun is shining on the big pond behind the house. Geese paddle about on open blue water, even with temperatures still below freezing at dawn. At noon, we are approaching forty degrees and already, the edges of the pond, earlier a ring of bright white ice where the water touches the woody decodon, are broken.
The wind through Monday night and all day Tuesday, abating with nightfall, after this seemingly worst, of the rounds of battering weather we have experienced this winter. It swung around between north and west, cold and dry, but, in the way of the worst Block Island wind, it seemed to come from all directions, whistling in the east, rattling old windows on the north, causing all manner of what-was-that sounds that in the light of day are not so disconcerting. Gusts well over seventy seem to be the hallmark of this winter.
Tuesday looked beautiful and photos on social media made people far away, who think they are experiencing wind on a breezy summer day, question why the boat wasn’t running while others on mainland Rhode Island where the wind was real were imagining this place with trepidation.
There is something about the landing on these days, the gates closed, the STOP signs there lest anyone not notice the gates, some orange safety cones standing while others sit on the pavement, as though they just gave up and let the wind flatten them, and the purple flag flying over it all.
These are the days we are an island.