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I remember feeling very proud at age four-and-a-half. Practically ready for kindergarten, I knew my ABC’s, the days of the week, and that on Sunday nights at eight, I could see my TV pals Dan and Dick and those girls who danced with paint all over their bodies. In 1968 my parents allowed me to watch Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, a show full of sexual innuendo and political satire.
I am the youngest of five, also known as ‘the baby.’ My parents referred to me as ‘the baby’ until middle school, maybe even high school. In my family, being ‘the baby’ held significant meaning: I was not allowed to hear bad news, witness any kind of family strife, or be disappointed. This meant that I played only a minor role in the actual family dynamics. Reality and I would not meet until many years later.
For me, the best…
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Julia’s parents have told her she may ask a friend along on their annual August getaway to Prudence Island. Emma’s face immediately pops into the nine-year old’s mind, and she blurts her name out not as a question but a joyful exclamation. Julia’s parents expected this response, and are both pleased and relieved. They adore little Emma and find her and her family exceptionally kind and reasonable.
“Can I call her?” Julia almost squeaks, not yet of age to digitally contact anyone.
“Sure, in a little while,” her father says calmly, trying not to squelch his little girl’s spirit, but also trying to get her to listen. But Julia’s excitement drowns out all the sounds surrounding her. She wants vacation to start immediately. Her mind races, thinking of all the fun they will have, all the special places that her father and her grandparents have shown her, places where her family has spent countless summers, where her grandmother, her father and now she has grown to know and love. She will now get to share this with her favorite friend. Her father sees the wheels turning in his little girl’s mind and decides that the talk about sharing and having a guest stay in the same house with you for a week can wait. He and his wife grin at each other as she goes into the living room to contact Emma’s parents. He stays to listen while Julia chatters about what she thinks Emma should bring and the places they will go.
“…water shoes for Sandy Beach definitely, and change for candy at Marci’s, lots of sunscreen but of course she can use ours, not too many clothes because we can always do laundry at Nana and Papa’s, and Dad you can teach Emma how to fish for skipjacks…”
Although it’s not really far away in miles, maybe 50 or so from their home in Smithfield, counting the ferry ride, the magic of Prudence lies decades away in time. A little island situated between Bristol and Portsmouth Rhode Island settled by Indians and then colonists, and free of the touristy spots that attract summer vacationers to places like Martha’s Vineyard or Block Island. Though all these New England islands are beautiful, they provide completely different experiences. All three have breathtaking ocean views, sandy beaches and untouched woodlands, but that’s about where the comparison really ends. Prudence has a general store, a post office and little honor system fruit and vegetable stand, a tiny box of a library, and not much more. No bars, hotels, supermarkets. It’s BYOB, and while you’re at it, bring your own everything else too. Even with the arrival of wi-fi about 5 years ago it’s still a pretty much a throwback to the 70’s, or even the 50’s with lots of safe places for children to play without constant supervision and worry. Doors are never locked, and residents can leave their keys in their car ignitions without a second thought.
After weeks of waiting that seem like centuries to the girls, departure date arrives. Julia and her family drive to Emma’s house to pick her up. She is standing in the driveway with her bags next to her and a wide toothy grin that beams happiness and excitement over her first big girl journey. While the 4 parents chat, the girls hug and Julia pulls Emma and her bags into the car. Two girls so different, but it’s apparent that there is already a bond between them that can never be broken.
Julia is tall for her age, outspoken, fearless and displays a perfect balance of kindness and humor. Emma, petite, polite and soft-spoken around most people, lets inhibitions fall away with those she trusts, like Julia. The two are a silly, goofy, stand-up comedy team, playing off each other’s goof ups and missteps with the timing of Grace and Allen, and act more like two old souls who’ve known each other forever instead of two almost ten-year olds. Their differences in appearance only add to the comedy, and one wonders what the two possibly have in common. Julia with her fair skin, blonde hair, high cheekbones and almond-shaped blue eyes looks more Nordic than half Italian half Irish; Emma, with lightly freckled skin, brown wavy hair, green doe-shaped eyes and her mother’s delicate heart shaped face looks like a young princess that will grow more gorgeous with each passing year.
Emma’s little sister and brother come running out to say goodbye for what will seem like forever to their big sister. Maddie hugs her sister and cries, “I love you, don’t forget about us!” Her baby brother Joshua, only five attached himself to the two girls and squeezes them until they both say “Josh, stop!” in unison.
Emma stoically bids her parents and siblings goodbye, leaving them each with a tender kiss on the cheek and an “I love you.” She climbs into the back seat with Julia who has already picked out Hannah Montana songs for the ride to the Ferry and is waving frantically to Emma to hurry. “We don’t want to miss the boat Emma, come on!”
So begins the start of a many beautiful summers together on Prudence Island. Days of lying in the sun, jumping off of the dock at Sandy Point into the clear salt water, eating lunch outside on sunny days, reading, watching movies, playing board games on not so sunny days. Of taking long walks, and bike rides and getting lost and then eventually finding their way back, laughing all the way. Of finding sea glass and learning each other’s secrets, and forming a bond that cannot be broken. And as they grow up and away from each other over time by miles, they will always be close in each other’s hearts. They will always have Prudence.
Join me on Thursday December 17th as I read with two fellow Rhode Island authors at Lively Literati at The Elephant Room, 2170 Broad Street in Cranston. The fun starts at 6:30.
Lively Literati is a monthly event at The Elephant Room, and this month we are celebrating Memoir. I will be joined by Connie Ross Ciampanelli, author of Journey to 10K – the. Of an older Novice Runner, and Deborah Tillinghast, author of the Ferry Home, which is about one of my favorite places in the world, Prudence Island.
Stop in for a snack and a drink and take a listen. There’ll be books on sale and an open mike for anyone who wants to share poetry, essays, stories, limericks, you name it.
Hope to see you there.
Yes it is a little freaky that OUR John Grisham is an author and an attorney, and THAT John Grisham is too. That’s what makes Rhode Island awesome. And it’s own parallel universe. Check him out at the Expo. 12 days away!