As a writer who has traveled around South County meeting people who love the area as much as I do. I was lucky enough to meet them and over the past year they have shared with me the way they love and live this area.
Everyone reminded me how special it is to just “be” in South County. They’re not people you’d find on TV news programs at 6am and 11am, or in the frequent flyers on the front pages of the newspapers.
They are the humble people who just live their lives and are grateful for such a wonderful piece of Rhode Island to call home.
Some enjoy the special sport in our coastal region, others have shaped their careers with extraordinary things and still others have helped make South County a better place to live – as if it really was necessary.
Here is an example of some of those stories, telling of the people, projects, and causes that envy South County so that the tri-state area is envied.
Enjoy the beauties of South County
In Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, published nearly 300 years ago, in a now famous nursery rhyme, Miss Mary was asked, “How does your garden grow?”
Centuries later, the fascination and interest in gardens still lingers. Narragansett’s local Indian Run Garden Club is testament to its 100th anniversary this year.
“There’s just something special about the human interest in gathering with others in a particular area of interest,” Artie Ramaker, 93, and a member for over 50 years, told me about the club’s longevity and commitment.
Then there are Peter Panagiotis, 71, and David Levy, 70, Tony Sciolto, 73, and Kristen Fraza, 52, who are fulfilling their dream of surfing – older surfers who are often pushed aside by a much younger group, who go up and down rocks her boards next to the older crowd.
Like the two Young Turks chasing the Holy Grail of a perfect wave in the “Endless Summer” strip, these older surfers live in hopes of returning to an offshore lineup for more paddle pushes to fulfill their quest.
“I love the beach and the ocean,” said Sciolto, also known as “Tombstone Tony” because he owns a memorial and tombstone shop in Cranston and has lived in South County for decades.
The reason they keep surfing is pretty simple, Fraza, Sciolto, Levy, and Pan said. They like the hectic pace of the ride, the fun of “touching” – in the wave and under the foaming white comb – and the community of surfers with whom they have grown older.
I never thought it would be so much fun and still not sure if I’ll ever do it with her enthusiasm!
Help the poor
There is also the tireless Joe “Tiger” Patrick, commander of VFW Post 916 in South Kingstown.
One day in early March last year he took me on a hunt through the woods to find veterans and others living in tents across South County in the freezing cold. We found several in South Kingstown and Narragansett alone.
I was amazed to see them living there in the forest, wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, makeshift stoves for cooking.
“If these people need anything, I’d love to help,” said Patrick, whose VFW Post at 155 High Street has a pantry for the people on the side of the road.
South Kingstown, for example, has a small off-the-grid community within the community. You could call it a “tent community” in which the homeless live alone or in small groups in the forest all year round.
Those who have spoken to these wandering tent residents say most refuse to help. They prefer living on the South County border to the general idea that the homeless are in need of help. The tents are actually the houses of these squatters, even though they are on borrowed land.
“I do it at my own discretion. I am not forced to. If I really, really wanted to, I could rent a room somewhere. I just don’t want to, ”said John, who preferred to hide his last name and place of residence from the public.
“I wouldn’t mind my name in the newspaper or in the picture, but it’s just the fact that I’ve lived here in town all my life. My family plays a big role in this area, ”he told me.
The Patrick’s VFW Post has a “Mickey Box”, as the roadside food box is called, on the high street is for the homeless, like a man I met and told me it was his grocery store because every day is a day Need is.
The man, who also asked not to be identified in a recent interview, said, “I appreciate that you have it and it’s good for me. It also makes me feel good that other people have it too. ”
He burst into sobs when he talked about others and said he also saw a reflection of himself in their plight.
Others struggling in South County who touched my heart were the ones who needed Santa Claus to help out for their children this Christmas.
For Erika Castaneda, a local preschool teacher, life has not been easy over the years, especially when she wanted to give her only child for Christmas.
Finances have been tight, something a single mother like her is familiar with. Nevertheless, she is excited to give her son the same joy in giving presents that other children – from wealthy families – get.
For Sherry Hawkins, who is homeless and who lives on campsites in summer and in a rented motorhome in winter, the challenge of giving her children presents for Christmas is great.
There are other families who experience the same turbulence on vacation. Parents whose self-esteem suffers because what they want to give their children and what they can give is so different.
“Christmas is so much tougher for low-income people because the pressure is so much greater at this time of year when their kids are expecting to get what they want for Christmas,” said Kate Brewster, director of Jonnycake Center for Hope in Peace Dale told me.
Despite the struggles that dragged on from year to year, many light-hearted stories came to me, inspiring and even unique.
A victorious ride in a vagrant bottle drifting aimlessly in waves for thousands of kilometers – almost 3,000 in all. The voyage began in Narragansett and ended two and a half years later near the coast of a mid-Atlantic archipelago.
The idea came from a daring idea over a Thanksgiving dinner in 2018 when the bottle hit the market.
Sean Smith, then 13 years old, wrote the note he found.
“It’s Thanksgiving. I’m 13 and visiting family in Rhode Island. I’m from Vermont. ”It was a simple note in orange marker on an index card. But 3,000 miles across the watery ocean, no stains, no smearing or thinning have ruined this inscription in its floating plastic time capsule.
A Facebook post from Molly Santos, who lives thousands of miles away in this mid-Atlantic archipelago, reads, “Hey guys !!! So my son dived here in the Azores and found a floating bottle, he grabbed it and there was a note in it !!! ”
Another look at life and how perseverance can make a difference was provided by the story of retired RI Supreme Court Justice Gilbert V. Indeglia.
In an interview full of grace, humility and ardent insight, he told me how his legal practice as a country attorney brought him into the lives of people with difficult challenges and carried that understanding over to his years at the Supreme Court.
South Kingstown, 79-year-old Indeglia, recently recognized for his compassion, legal demeanor, and poise, said simply that the 31-year-old judiciary had a dream and a life work to be fulfilled.
“For many lawyers, judging is the ultimate career,” he told me. Going to the state’s highest court is an extraordinary privilege, he added.
The conversation about cases, people, events and the law revealed the commitment of a lawyer who has set himself the goal of bringing meaning and understanding into the laws of the state on a case-by-case basis.
That conversation alone convinced me of the reasons why he earned the respect of attorneys and others who appeared before him for trials, and why he received the RI Bar Association’s prestigious Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger Judicial Excellence Award this year.
And a few words of thanks
I would be very remiss if I didn’t thank my editor-in-chief Seth Bromley, my editor Paul Spetrini, and photographer Mike Derr for their work in making stories shine.
Mention also goes to the South County Writers Group, a collection of us writing lovers who reveal our souls – and talents – in criticism of criticism of each other’s unpublished works.
Each person has a unique voice and insightful perspective that reveals colorful threads in the tapestry of South County and life in general to others.
I had a career that started in journalism and then worked in government for three decades. Now at 65, I’ve been fortunate enough to be returning to journalism and writing “home” – always my first love.
I came across this group through a magazine story I self-published in March and the Ebook Bakery runs my Michael Grossman from South Kingstown and a member of the group.
The group became an oasis. It nourished me, nourished my need for collaborative criticism, and supported me in new approaches to writing. Through each of her experiences recounted in her scriptures, I have lived a different life that has made mine richer.
Thank you everyone – Yvette Baeu, Enid Flaherty, Michael Grossman, Camilla Lee, Gene McKee, Jane McCarthy, Terry Schimmel, Eugene Kincaid – for a gift that I never expected and that I will cherish for the rest of my life.