Seward’s Folly Bookstore

sewards folly

Back in the 1970s / 1980s, there was a little bookstore on the corner of Transit Street and Brook Street in Providence, called “Seward’s Folly.” It was run by an older couple, Schuyler Seward and his wife Peterkin.



It was a small musty wonderland of a bookstore, and the Sewards were always very kind to me. I went there whenever I could. I wanted a book by Will Cuppy the 1940s humorist, and they managed to find it for me, and after that they knew me as “Cuppy,” because who in the 1980s remembered Will Cuppy?



Schuyler had a beard and mustache as I do now, and was very wry and very smart, and one online source claims that he was a speechwriter for the Truman Administration. Peterkin was small and walked with difficulty, but had a wonderful smile. They had two dogs when I knew them: a huge poodle and a huge bulldog – both elderly and tired – who had to be taken upstairs (where the Sewards lived) and showered with cool water from time to time in the summertime, so that they wouldn’t overheat.



The Sewards were lovable people, and very memorable.



I wonder how many people remember them now?



And who will remember me when I’m gone?



This is the very last bit of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”:



“But soon we shall die . . . and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” 



Do you get that? We don’t last forever, but we will leave something behind.



The Sewards left me a wonderful legacy – a memory of two intelligent kind friendly people. I hope, when my time comes, that I will leave behind some tiny fraction of the kindly legacy the Sewards bequeathed me.



(Postscript: while researching this blog, I discovered that Peterkin died only a few months  ago – on July 30, 2013 – not far away, in Rumford, Rhode Island. Schuyler evidently predeceased her, though I couldn’t find his obituary. They are survived by their daughter Abbi.)



Vermont versus New Hampshire

vermont vs nh

New England is made up of six smallish states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

The territory is small, but the terrain varies greatly, and the weather varies from state to state: Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine get snow in October and November sometimes.

There are other subtle differences too.  I swear, when Partner and I drive over the border from Rhode Island into Connecticut, I can see a difference: Connecticut is more rural, and woodsier, and wetter. What happened? Did Rhode Island farmers do something that Connecticut farmers didn’t do? Or is it just my colorful imagination?

Maine is different from the rest of the New England states too. Portland aspires to be a hipster / cosmopolitan destination, but the state itself is – as Parter said recently – “Tennessee North.” It’s visibly poor and rural. No wonder it elects Republican senators to Congress.

And then there are Vermont and New Hampshire.

Vermont feels liberal and free. I love it there. I love the breeziness of Burlington, and the wind off Lake Champlain. I loved the time we spent in Bennington. I loved Rutland.

New Hampshire? Meh. It’s dull and conservative.

When you drive north into Vermont, it feels as if you’ve entered a different country. (It was a different country, for a couple of years there.) When you pass from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, it feels like – hmm – like you’re still in Massachusetts. You really haven’t gone anywhere.

Vermont is different. Vermont is independent. It’s strange, and funny, and determined to be so.

New Hampshire is dull and New Englandish. It’s got all the things you expect it to have.

Vermont is independent and hippyish. It wants to be different. It has all the things that New Hampshire has – mountains and lakes and forests – but they’re more interesting, somehow.

Kids: if you have a choice between New Hampshire and Vermont, visit Vermont. Eat some ice cream. Have some cheese.

And tell the Vermonters that I sent you.

Becoming a Rhode Islander

becoming a rhode

I came to Rhode Island from Washington state thirty-five years ago, in August 1978. There were some obvious differences. Rhode Island is a tiny provincial state with a long history; Washington is a large diverse state with a much briefer history.



It took me a long time – almost until the present day – to figure out the subtler differences between the two.



I was puzzled (at first) by people who kept asking me if I was “one of the Rhode Island Williamses.” I had no idea what this meant. I finally realized they were asking if I was descended from Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island colony in 1636. I am not one of his descendants, so far as I know. But I wasn’t here more than a year or so before I became acquainted with someone who was. See? The Roger Williams family is still here. Everyone’s still here. People here stick around.



They seem to like it here.



They like it so much, in fact, that a lot of people never cross the state line. I saw a cute bumper sticker in Frog & Toad the other day: THIS CAR NEVER LEAVES RHODE ISLAND.  (That’s not a joke, for a lot of people.) The Rhode Island border is a little permeable here and there – into Attleboro, Mass. in the northeast, and into Seekonk, Mass. in the east, and maybe just a little into Stonington, Conn. in the southwest – but it is generally a very watertight little enclosure, in which everyone bounces around, but which no one ever really leaves.



Which leads to the next thing: everyone knows everyone here. 



In Washington, you know the people in your community, or at least a few of them. In Rhode Island, you know everyone. Of course you do. You keep running into the same people over and over again. How can you not know everyone?


But Rhode Island is a very private club. It takes a while before you’ve really been accepted.



Now I’ve been here for more than thirty-five glorious years. People smile and wave at me in the street. I say hello to everyone, and they say hello back, because they know: deliverymen, cashiers, business owners. Even one of the homeless people downtown greeted me the other day with casual familiarity.



I’m a local, at last. A real Rhode Islander.



And it only took thirty-five years!



H. P. Lovecraft


As soon as I moved to Rhode Island, I discovered Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He was a local author, who died back in 1937; he wrote fantasy and horror stories and novels, often with Rhode Island / New England settings. Sometimes he used real locations (there are a couple of stories set in Providence); in other stories, he used New England settings, but gave them assumed names. (If you’re a follower of the Batman saga, and the “Arkham Sanitarium” means anything to you, you should know that Arkham was Lovecraft’s alias for Salem, Massachusetts – “witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham.”

In Lovecraft’s story “The Haunter of the Dark,” a man on the East Side of Providence (where I live) sees an oddly-shaped building on Federal Hill in the distance. He walks over to see it – and awful things ensue.

In “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” a New Englander takes a bus to a little Massachusetts coastal town and finds that its inhabitants are not quite human.

In “The Dunwich Horror,” some professors from Miskatonic University (whose campus is, of course, in witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham) seek out a horrible invisible presence somewhere in central/western Massachusetts.

Lovecraft believed in something he called “cosmicism.” In brief: the universe is utterly incomprehensible to human beings, and is in fact mostly inimical to them. Almost all of his stories show human beings as foolish pawns, always on the verge of total destruction.

My favorite Lovecraft stories involve the Great Old Ones. They’re kind of hard to explain, because they’re supposed to be mysterious, but anyway: the Great Old Ones are extra-dimensional beings lingering right off to one side of our reality. They are very powerful, and they are just waiting to get back into our world. One is Cthulhu, a gigantic horrible octopoid god-monster; another is Yog-Sothoth, a mass of glowing lights. There are many others, like Hastur and Nyarlathotep and Azathoth (who “blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity”). It’s only a matter of time before they reassert themselves here, and once they do – that’s all, folks.

So, kids, repeat after me, before it’s too late:

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!



(It probably won’t help, but it couldn’t hurt.)


Salty Brine

salty brine

I came to Rhode Island in 1978, so I missed the early career of Salty Brine. He was a radio / TV personality with a deep jolly voice, who hosted a children’s show called “Salty’s Shack.” (He portrayed a sea captain, naturally.) By the time I got to Rhode Island, he was best known for reading the school closures on the radio when it snowed. There’s a small region in northwestern Rhode Island, the Foster/Glocester area (pronounced “Fosta Glosta”), very underpopulated, a bit more elevated than the rest of the state, which gets more snow than the rest of the state; they close school when no one else does.

And Salty would boom: “NO SCHOOL FOSTA GLOSTA!”

And children throughout Rhode Island (even those who didn’t live in the Foster / Glocester school districts) would cheer.

Salty Brine, the children’s host, the radio personality, was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1979.

Does that tell you something?

They even named a beach after him: “Salty Brine State Beach,” in Galilee.

We had local celebrities when and where I was growing up. I remember Rusty Nails the clown, who was on Portland television in the 1960s; if you watch “The Simpsons,” you’ll see a version of him as Krusty the Clown (Matt Groening, the creator of the show, grew up in the area at the same time as me).

But I do believe that nowhere are those local celebrities as beloved as Salty Brine is beloved here.


Rhode Island is small. We treasure our own. And if they’re successful (and known beyond the borders of this small state), we treasure them even more.

And I am told by people of my age from Massachusetts that they used to love Salty Brine, beamed in from Providence, back in the 1960s and 1970s.

So Salty Brine is a legend, in Rhode Island, and even outside its borders.

You see? You don’t need to reach far in life. You just need to be well-known in your little neighborhood. If you manage that, all kinds of things can happen.

Geese gone wild

geese gone wild

When it rains, the geese take over the greenspace near the Providence River. There are usually at least a couple dozen of them – big fat waddlers, with beautiful light-and-dark markings. I took this photo yesterday morning:






Lots of good eatin’ there! But wild geese are tough. My sister and brother-in-law had some wild geese fly over their farm back in the 1970s, and shot a few, and Susan prepared one for Thanksgiving, and – well, we couldn’t even chew it. Wild geese get a lot of exercise.



And geese are rumored to be foul-tempered. I’m always a little timid when they’re standing in front of me on the sidewalk; I never know when I’m gonna get stampeded and squawked at. They’re smaller than me, individually, but they outnumber me. They could swarm me.



And then there are the poops. Kids, there is nothing in the world quite so vile-looking as a goose poop. It’s a big green slimy-looking thing about the size of a small cigar. And geese poop a lot. (My mother always used the expression “go like a goose.” Evidently she knew what she was talking about.)



But I like to watch them. The other day, I saw two of them pecking at one another, running around aimlessly in a circle and honking.



Get it? Wild goose chase.



Ha ha.


The wildflowers of downtown Providence, Rhode Island

wildflowers of downtown providence jpg

A local photographer has taken some lovely photos of plants and flowers that occupy the property formerly occupied by I-195 in Providence (which, for the past two years or so, has been a vast green space in the very middle of the city).

I walk through that green space every day. I rejoice in it. I love my friend Oma’s comment recently: “Here in England it’s not so important to drive as over there [in the USA]. In your neighbourhood it looks similar. As long as you can get to the shops, you can walk along the sidewalks and look at the flowers or the weeds.”

Notice what she said: “the flowers or the weeds.”

She and I feel the same way: weeds are lovely too. She sent me a lovely book about weeds a while back, and it was after my own heart.

Here are some of my own photos of weeds / wildflowers in the neighborhood. They’re not as good as they might be, but oh well, I’m a terrible photographer, who cares?:


CHICORY (Cichorium intybus). Beautiful blue/purple flowers. This is a picture of a lovely stand of them very near the Point Street Bridge. The roots are roasted and ground and mixed with coffee; I’ve had coffee with chicory, and it’s delicious.

butter and eggs

BUTTER AND EGGS (Linaria vulgaris). A beautiful roadside wildflower. Not useful for anything else that I know of. Also called “toadflax.” I like the name “butter and eggs” better.


MILKWEED (Asclepias sp.). I mistakenly told a coworker recently that this was “Joe Pye Weed,” which is horribly wrong. The flowers are very fragrant, and the plants are attractive, and the seeds are big cloudy masses of fluff.

rabbits foot clover

RABBIT’S FOOT CLOVER (Trifolium arvense). I only identified this one a few weeks ago. It’s obviously a clover, but fuzzier, and very cute. This one was huge until it was cut down by the city, but it began to come back within days. You can’t kill clover.

birdsfoot trefoil

BIRDSFOOT TREFOIL (Lotus corniculatus). Obviously a legume, with beautiful yellow pea-like blossoms. The whole field was golden with these, until they were cut down. They too came back within days.

japanese knotweed

JAPANESE KNOTWEED (Fallopia japonica). A terrible invasive species from Asia. But it has lovely foliage and nice flowers.

nightshadenightshade berries

DEADLY NIGHTSHADE (Atropa belladonna). A relative of the tomato. Look at this pretty little lady, with pretty purple blossoms! But she’s terribly poisonous. Notice the cute little green mini-tomato berries; they’ll be a delicious-looking red later in the season. Just don’t eat them, okay?

queen annes lace

QUEEN ANNE’S LACE (Daucus carota). The wild carrot. This is a sweet little flower that also grew very healthily where I was born, back in southwest Washington. This is a very small specimen, but nice; I’m always glad to see it.

These are all just as beautiful as any garden flowers. More so, really, because they don’t rely on gardeners to take care of them.

They take care of themselves.

%d bloggers like this: