Saturday, June 25, 2011

There's No Place Like Home!

My favorite place in the world!
Harmony Hill
Mill Pond
Admiring Providence
Galilee at Sunset

"Oh, my God! You have to read this book."

Music to any author's ears; kind words uttered, coming from within a line forming at Brown & Hopkins Country Store in Chepachet, Rhode Island. I heard the words more than once in my travels around New England as I signed one volume after another and spoke with my readers about their various reactions to "House of Darkness House of Light." Many who came to the multiple events scheduled arrived holding their half-read copy of the book. They chatted happily with the others waiting patiently for me to greet the person in front at any given moment. Felicia stood out in the crowd; she hadn't changed a bit. My trip home lasted only seven days and yet, during such a brief visit, I re-established connections which will now endure for the rest of my life.

     "I remember when you told me about the ninth grade...we were just kids." Paula recalls exactly when I divulged our closely-guarded secret. She and Cyndie attended every single public event then hosted me at Paula's place in the country, serving homemade chocolate pound cake and coffee with hazelnut creamer. The chatter was incessant; the laughter was contagious. My two self-appointed groupies did not want to let me go; a sentiment I shared in kind.
     Mary Googled me then found me on facebook. I asked everyone I met in Burrillville if they knew where she was but it wasn't until I returned to Georgia that I received her message; how odd a request to "friend" someone I knew quite well thirty-five years ago. It feels like living in a dream, floating through my past life with ease and a new found clarity; finding myself again in the eyes of those who knew me when has been a blessing. Humbled by all the attention, I have quickly come to realize that, even as a child, my life was rich beyond measure. Stepping back into my own personal history has been enlightening in its own respect. These characters who have graced the stage of my passion play of an existence are too numerous to count but I recognized and embraced all of them as long lost friends.

     "I should have brought my scythe...this would have been cleared by now!" Evan worked his heart out beside me while my father scaled the fence on the other side of the graveyard. It was pitifully overgrown; sad to see so many tombstones toppled, a holy place in shambles. By the time we exposed the stones we were drenched in perspiration, not to mention the persistent rainfall, yet we salvaged a forgotten spot in history then photographed each headstone for posterity.

     "Do you remember me?" The Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library in Harrisville, R.I. has been transformed. The architecture of the new building (adjacent to the Stillwater Mill) is stately and elegant and its former home across the street has been lovingly preserved, restored and enhanced, now serving as the Town Hall Annex. It is the same old Harrisville I recall, only better. The conference room was filling before my arrival and Beth, the librarian, could not have been more gracious, welcoming me home. The man standing before me seemed so ardent. "Yes, Squeaky...of course I remember you!" It took more than an hour to sign all the books but they kept the doors open without complaint, thus allowing me the freedom to spend a few moments with each of my readers; the warmest possible welcome.
     A half Portuguese / half Irish (only in Rhode Island) little girl chatted with me on the beach in Galilee as I watched her making a rather halfhearted attempt at a sand castle. Her parents recognized me, though they could not remember from where. I introduced myself. Mystery solved. As I drank the sunset in like nectar, committing it to memory, I paused to reflect on my own gratitude for the perfect day bestowed. We had been from the farm in Harrisville to the pristine coastline; the port of Galilee, my favorite place on Earth. Some time earlier in the day, I had leaned against the grand statue of Roger Williams, surveying the landscape with him. Having already thoroughly toured the East Side, photographing every exceptional view along the way, there I was in Prospect Park, a sentimental spot for me, capturing Providence from high above its busy city streets. The white marble of our State House sparkled, yet somehow seemed more appealing than usual. Perhaps it was due to the new occupant. Now this magnificent building is graced by the presence of The Independent Man on the crest of its dome as well as the one who serves beneath its stunning facade. Congratulations, Governor Lincoln Chaffee.

     Then we were off again...Narragansett was gorgeous and the Coast Guard House never looked more inviting. My ocean beckoned...was it really the same Atlantic Ocean I had frolicked in only weeks before in Florida? More of an ice bath than a stroll in the surf, but like any decent homegrown Yankee worth her salt, I adjusted quickly, telling myself it wasn't so painful after all...mind over matter-of-fact!

     Essentially, my visit "home" to Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut was one big Meet & Greet. The hours spent at Harmony Hill School could not have been more satisfying, yet there were people I did not get to see; people I'd worked closely with over the years I spent there as a counselor. Some had moved on...some were not due in until second shift. Others were in meetings of their own. The time I spent on campus, the many hugs and warm wishes I received were enough to provide the buoyancy necessary to sustain me for the rest of my week and I simply could not wipe the smile off my face. Wonderful people. My and all.
     Harrisville was the focal point of my trip but I found kindred spirits in many of the town's other villages, too, including a visit to The Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society. To enjoy the privilege of placing my book into the hands of the artist who created its cover more than thirty years ago made a special evening absolutely perfect. My thanks to Betty Mencucci for arranging such a meaningful reunion. All my love to John & Rose.

A walk along the Mill Pond at the Assembly Theater refreshed my soul and revived my senses. I have been performing on its stage since the age of fourteen and I adore this building as if it were my second home. So many memories rekindled...a stroll across the waterfall washed me clean of regrets.

     We gathered as family at the Riverside Cemetery in Harrisville, there to acknowledge Bathsheba Sherman. We gathered as family at Swan Point Cemetery, there to visit with Sam Olevson. We gathered as family at the Arnold Cemetery, there to reclaim its place in history. Then we gathered as family at the Chase Cemetery, there to honor Mr. & Mrs. Kenyon. We gathered in small groups and large clusters of like-minded souls, there to share a moment in time and make yet another memory. When Sam's daughter Nancy saw her little dog cock his leg, relieving himself on the marker of her father's grave, she laughed out loud and instantly exclaimed that her dad was doing the same thing; laughing hysterically...somewhere in the cosmos. We feel our family. Then we gathered later for scallops, clam cakes and chowder at Champlin's, there to watch as the Block Island Ferry arrived, filled to brimming with returning celebrants who'd spent their perfect day visiting its rocky shores in acknowledgment of its 350th Anniversary. The rich history of Rhode Island...something worthy of celebration! 

     When I returned to Georgia, what memories arrived with me? The intoxicating aroma of Brown & Hopkins. The taste of salt lingering on my lips, carried by the breeze from Salty Brine State Beach in Galilee, R. I. The sensation of sand between my toes and water so cold I could feel it in my jawbone. The vision of Jerusalem village at sunset, across the waterway. The sound of cackling seagulls scavenging for dinner. The sights & sounds of traffic and laughter in Providence during Gay Pride weekend. An enthusiastic announcement on the public address system at Borders Bookstore in Providence Place Mall, Jane Flowers announcing my arrival as a local author. Specks of holy Light dancing on the surface of the Nipmuc River, precisely as it had done during our first visit to the farm forty years ago. Practicing the presence, I long to return home to the land of my birth. I long to feel the first bitter wind of October penetrate my clothing and stop me in my tracks, there to breathe in the acrid scent of rotting leaves beneath my feet. I crave hearing the colloquial accent I worked so diligently to avoid using, except in jest. Dorothy was right. There's no place like home.

     "Do you remember me?"

      Oh, yes little Rhody...I remember you well.

Andrea Perron
June 24, 2011