Rhode Islandiana


There is a little curiosity shop just down the street from our apartment.  It is called “What Cheer Antiques.”



Okay, I’ll explain. 



Back in 1636, when Roger Williams first rowboated over from Plymouth Colony to set up his own little homestead hereabouts, he’d taken the trouble to learn some of the local Native American language, and he knew the Narragansett word for friend was “netop.”  So he greeted the local inhabitants, upon arrival, with: “What cheer, netop?”  (“What cheer?” was a perfectly okay seventeenth-century English way to say “How ya doin’?”, by the way.)



It resonated, somehow, through the years.  The motto of Providence is still “What cheer?” (I love the charmingly primitive version of the city’s seal given above.)



And one of the things What Cheer Antiques sells, according to their own advertisements, is Rhode Islandiana.



No, this is not a cross between Rhode Island and Indiana. 



It is Rhode Island memorabilia.



It is West Cranston High t-shirts.  It is promotional material for the Rhode Island Reds hockey team, long defunct.  (My friend Apollonia was hit in the head by a puck at a Reds game.  Beat that!)  It is Rocky Point amusement-park merchandise.  It is cookbooks and city guides printed by the Providence Journal in the 1940s.  It is old postcards showing Providence’s downtown area looking, in 1920, not so different from today.  It is costume jewelry with the word “Coro” traced in fine script on the back.



This is why we love Rhode Island.  It is dowdy and loveable, like a fat shaggy dog. 



We were founded by pretty much the only colonial-era personage I ever heard of who bothered to learn the local Native American language.  (He even wrote a book about it.)



We Rhode Islanders are cranky, and wary, and proud of our history, every little scrap and crumb of it. 



And it brings us great cheer, netop.



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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