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I’ve gotten a powerful response to my previous blog about Woonsocket, so I decided to make it a two-fer. Mostly because I’ve been there now! Yay!! Despite all of you doubting Thomasinas, I ventured to this Woonsocket– and found it lovely.
Two friends from the prairie came to visit recently: Heidi and her husband Zac Echola (who wants his name out on the internet as much as possible). I had to pick them up in Shirley, MA and on the drive back to Providence, Zac Echola asked if there was anything we could stop and do along the way. I thought for a bit, then remembered The Museum of Work and Culture in Historic Woonsocket.
“What is that?” Zac Echola asked.
“I believe it’s a museum dedicated to the Québécois who moved here and worked in the mills.”
“Let’s go!” Zac Echola cheered, and his wife rolled her eyes.
So we found the museum, went in, and waited at the desk for approximately three minutes before an old, old man shuffled out of the office and realized we were there.
“It’s only $5 today because there’s a bridal shower going on in the Union Hall.”
“Are any of you students?”
“Yes,” we told him, “We all are.”
“Student rate is $5,” he paused, “but that doesn’t matter to you cause that’s what you’re paying anyway.” He pulled out a map and a fine point crayola marker– purple. “You’ll start here at the farm house, and if you push this button here,” he drew a dot on the map, “you can hear Jessie and Simone’s conversation about leaving Canada and coming to the New World. Then you go here and push this button here,” another dot, “to watch the movie. After that you go here, and then you can go upstairs. Now usually you’d watch the TV in the Union Hall, but there’s a bridal shower in there today, so I moved the TV upstairs and put out four chairs,” he drew four little marks and a box to represent the television, “here. Then you go here, and there are devices to listen here, here, here, don’t use this one, the sound is so low you just can’t hear anything, and here.” He handed us the newly marked map, “Good luck to you.”
So we went into the farmhouse and listen to Simone and Jessie’s good cop/bad cop routine about coming to America:
Simone: “America is a magical land full of opportunity.”
Jessie: “But we’ll lose out culture and our religion.”
Simone: “In America we can work in the mills and make life better for our parents.”
Jessie: “I don’t want to leave our homeland.” etc.
The exchange lasted a good three minutes, and I couldn’t help thinking: Girls, you are going to go with your parents regardless of your personal feelings about it, so quit wasting my time. Thankfully, it wasn’t translated into Québécois as well, though that may have been more interesting. After Simone had pretty much sold everyone on how glamorous life in America is, we watched a brief documentary about how much it sucks to work in a mill. Nuts to you, Simone.
In the children’s portion of the museum, we had a bobbin sorting contest (Heidi won), I punched in on an old-fashioned time clock (Heidi tried to convince me that it was an antique and I wasn’t supposed to touch it– why would they have sample punchcards there then, hmmm??), and the movable displays sprang to life without our having to push buttons (which after Simone kept us all standing in the farm house for way too long, we decided we were just going to skip from now on), and scared the crap out of us.
On the second floor, I flipped through old yearbooks in the schoolhouse, played the piano in the parlor of the triple-decker (we skipped watching the TV that the old man had lugged upstairs for us, but cheered when we saw the four chairs, just like he had told us), and found the listening device that just doesn’t work (although, someone did attempt to fix it with duct tape– my kind of people).
Then it started to snow on Magical Woonsocket. So we watched it come down, and noticed an outdoor skating rink just across the square, which we didn’t go to, but instead, had a conversation about how outdoor skating rinks are pretty awesome.
We rounded out the day with a walk (in the snow) down the sidewalks in Downtown Historic Woonsocket. Zac Echola marveled at the sheer number of signs advertising “hot weiners”, and bargained poorly for a used CD. Here is a reenactment of the bargaining:
Zac Echola: “I want to buy this CD. This is awesome, Heidi, give me money.
Heidi: “I don’t have any cash.”
Zac Echola: “Andria, do you have any cash I can borrow.” I didn’t put a question mark at the end of this question because Zac Echola doesn’t use question marks.
Me: “I have some cash, but I’m not contributing more than $2 for that stupid thing.”
Zac Echola: “I wouldn’t pay more than $2 for this anyway– I’m going to bargain.” Zac Echola walked determinedly over to the purveyor of the pawn shop, “How much for this CD, my good man.”
Good man: “$2.”
Zac Echola: (brief pause) “Sold.”
Zac Echola then walked back to where his wife and I were openly mocking him and said, “I think he heard us.”
Now to give credit to all of the glorious comments I got on Fascinated by this Woonsocket:
Q: How many lightbulbs can you screw in Rhode Island?
A: One! There’s only Woonsocket.
— haha, very funny, Jenna
–too late, Lex, and I’m going back. You can come with me.
Just blog surfing here…I live in Woonsocket. There really is nothing spectacular about it. We don’t even have a bookstore. The Starbucks just recently closed. If you like bargains I’d suggest going to the CVS Warehouse Store Mark Stevens (hours are 10-6 now). If you knit I’d suggest checking out Yarnia.
— I did check out Yarnia. It was a bit out of my price range, but I laughed at the name for the rest of the day. Actually, I’m chuckling about it right now. I will check out the CVS warehouse, because I love bargains, and any town that can close a Starbucks is a-ok in my book.
I was born in Woonsocket, R.I. 58 years ago. My mom and dad owned a grocery store on Manville Road.I went to Mt. St Francis which is now a nursing home.I am half French Canadian. The last time I visited there just to see what things were like was about 15 years ago. My mom had 12 brothers and sisters so I am sure I still have relatives there though we are not in contact. Her maiden name was LeMay. When I lived there it was a textile mill town. I would like to visit again someday.
— Very interesting family history Joan. From my limited time in Woonsocket, I can tell you that it still looks like a mill town, but has adapted with the times. I recommend that you do visit again someday, as it is lovely.
I am bummed that the Starbucks closed. I used to stop on my way to work in Cumberland.
On a positive note, I just discovered a really great restaurant in Woonsocket called Vintage.
–sorry about the Starbucks, Alf, I too appreciate a road coffee on my way to work. Also, thanks for the restaurant recommendation.
There you have it, I have my next trip to Woonsocket all planned: Shopping for bargains, maybe going back to Yarnia, driving down Manville road to see if Joan’s parent’s grocery store is still there, and dinner at Vintage. Maybe I’ll go early enough that I can have lunch as well, since I’ve heard that fish ‘n” chips place across from the Museum of Work and Culture is pretty renowned.
I am a Woonsocketeer.
Every house in my neighborhood has a fence. Most are of the lovely chain-link variety that say to me either: beware of dangerous dog, or I want to keep my children off of the street, and this is the only way. My house has a chain-link fence that I believe the purpose of is to slow the momentum of cars that drunkenly, or maybe just recklessly misjudge where the turn is and keep them from plowing into the house. It’s just a theory, but that must be the purpose because it certainly doesn’t keep anyone out.
The house that I share a driveway with has been abandoned for a few months, and was recently repossessed by the bank. This isn’t really a story about the horrible housing market and families losing their homes, but more one of an absentee landlord who moved somewhere tropical and stopped being a landlord who did anything for his tenants, but rather one who just collected rent checks. The family that lived there moved into a new place, and a very nice realtor stopped by a while later to give me her card and say that workers would be coming by periodically.
Wednesday morning, I woke up around 7:30, stumbled into the kitchen to make my coffee and saw that there were two men in a beat-up old car filled with fast-food wrappers parked on the lawn right next to my kitchen window. Then I was that there was a gigantic blue dumpster partially blocking the driveway that my car was still parked in. I started my coffee and got in the shower.
By the time I got out, these guys were flinging items out of second story windows into the dumpster (or not sometimes), and yelling back and forth. It was an unpleasant way for me to start the day, but they looked like they were having a lot of fun. Finally, I was almost ready to leave for work when I realized that the driveway was littered with large, broken objects that I did not want to drive my car over, and a giant child’s rocking-horse. I popped my head out the door and yelled at the workman nearest me, “hey guy!”
“I’m leaving in about three minutes, can you clear a path for me?”
He did, and I carefully negotiated the very narrow space between the dumpster catching the contents of the abandoned house and the abandoned car that has been parked in the yard since these people left. Seriously.
When I came home that night, the dumpster was still there, but when I woke up, it was gone. Instead of giant dumpster in my driveway, I now had: dirty mattress propped up against house, child’s pink, and adult’s blue bicycles laying forlornly on the ground, and four rusty barrels that must have previously been inside the house– though I can’t imagine why.
This was not an improvement in my mind, though all this new garbage outside kind of created a “white trash” theme along with the abandoned car. I decided my best recourse was to just go inside, close the curtains, and try to forget about the blue mattress interrupting the view from my kitchen window.
Today, I went to the gym and came home to find a truck and corpulent man with a red beard in my parking space. The mattress may not be something I can do anything about (short of moving it somewhere else myself– not going to happen), but corpulent man in my parking spot is. I parked on the street and strode up to him with the angry but polite demeanor of a girl who has just spent an hour on the treadmill and really, really wants a shower.
“Are you about done here?”
“Just got to tighten this up here, gotta keep it tight… lose things on the road.”
Then I realized that this man was taking the offensive mattress and rusted barrels out of my immediate world, and I became a bit more forgiving of his parking-space taking. Then he started blathering on to my about how sad it is that there are all these abandoned houses, but how good it is for him because he’s making a killing picking up this stuff and reselling it. “Two, three houses a day.” he kept insisting as I nodded politely wondering how many more times he could say that. Then I looked at the filthy blue mattress that had been sitting outside for 36 or so hours, through a heavy snowfall, and was now nestled snugly between three rusty barrels waiting to be sold to someone, and I got a little depressed.
Finally he got into his car, started it, then pulled it up further into my parking spot and cut the engine again.
By this point, I decided to just move my car into a different spot that was now accessible since he’d pulled up. So I did, and when I got out of the car, he asked “oh you live here?”
I said yes, and walked toward my house.
“By the way,” he said “you’re cute.”
Normally, I get by without looking like I’ve been beaten with the ugly stick one too many times, but at this moment, with greasy, sweaty hair scraped into a lackluster ponytail, red-flushed face, and the slightly crazy eyes that come with strenuous exercise– I was the opposite of cute. But when a red-bearded, corpulent man calls you cute, what can you really do about it, but shake your head and go inside.
Yesterday, I was assigned to go to another library branch at job #2. No problem, however, one of the women apparently just didn’t feel like dealing with me, so I was relegated to shelving for two hours the way a brand- new person who doesn’t know anything would be. Not being a brand-new person, and certainly someone who could have taken on a more interesting and involved task– this annoyed me.
I am a trooper, and I know not to ruffle feathers on my first day somewhere, so I shelved, and shelved, and shelved, pausing briefly to flip through One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish in Spanish, and a book about dinosaurs–dinosaurs rule. I also stumbled across a juvenile biography of Oprah Winfrey, which caught my eye since a little girl had asked me for one just the other day.
I glanced at the table of contents and first page, then shelved and forgot it… or so I thought.
I mentioned a while ago that I’ve been having nightmares lately. Thankfully the nightmares have slacked off, and now it’s more vivid dreams. The reason that I’m aware of dreaming more than usual is because loveable Watson (kitty) has taken to waking me up between 4 and 5am, by alternating between knocking around the items on my bedside table, batting at the lamp on my bedside table, and yowling. I then have to get up out of my warm, comfortable bed and follow him into the kitchen where the floor is cold and it is dark. I put food in his bowl regardless of whether or not it already has food in it, and then he looks up at me and waits for me to tell him to eat. If I don’t tell him to eat, he will continue to stare up my nose from his position at my ankles, and eventually he will yowl again in a way that can only be translated to: “Don’t you know I’m hungry? Why can’t I have my breakfast?”
It’s like I’m the food taster for some early-rising royal.
So, I gave Watson permission to eat, and crawled back under the covers. I drifted off into that waking half-sleep where the dreams start coming. I was shopping in some kind of fancy department store, but I had a blue plastic shopping cart from Bed, Bath & Beyond. I knew that I must be in Williams Sonoma, not because I’ve been there, but because they showed the inside of the store once on an episode of Sex and the City. I was coherent enough to know that I was bored with the shopping, the prices were too high, and I would rather spend my last few sleeping hours dreaming about something interesting, so I conciously told me dream-self “leave the cart and go do something else.”
Then Oprah’s face popped into the air above my dream-self and said “No, you can’t leave, I told you to go to Williams Sonoma and shop and that’s what you’re going to do.” Shaken, I continued to push the cart around while her head hovered and followed me telling me which dishware she liked and disliked. It was one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had, in real life or in dreams, but it made it easier to get out of bed.
At job #1, I spend most of my time with a man who I wouldn’t quite describe as elderly, but who did once bring up colonoscopy without a hint of chagrin or TMIness. Anyway, we get along famously, he brings me things, and we have a very healthy working relationship that mostly consists of me asking questions, and him lecturing in a “retired professor” manner. It’s kind of like my dream of going to college for free, except I’m majoring in old books, Rhode Island history, and economics.
Today though, the tables turned. We were wrapping up our working day a little early as he had business to attend to at his “gentleman’s club”. This is not the kind of gentleman’s club with the dancing semi-nude ladies, but rather, the gentleman’s club of yore, when men get together, sip scotch, and talk about leisure activities. I finished entering the information for our last book of the day, and he said, “So, you haven’t found a local boyfriend yet, huh?”
This was unexpected, but I rolled with it by replying, “There aren’t many normal boys in library school.”
He nodded and grinned knowingly, “and you’re not really into that club scene, are you?”
“No. I am not.”
There was a pause, that may or may not have been awkward, but I couldn’t really gauge it, because I was so baffled as to how we went from discussing the state of the economy, Adam Smith etc., to my love life. I inserted, “besides, even if I had been looking and found someone, he would just be another person for me to ignore as, you know, I’m quite busy these days.”
“Well, see you Monday.” he grabbed his bag and exited the room.
This is the kind of situation that I’ve read about for years. This is the kind of situation I’m actually writing a screenplay about, but have never had happen to me, presumably because I haven’t really been noticeably single in quite a while. I guess I should feel grateful (?), because having experienced it firsthand I can better use it in my writing (?) Mostly I’m indignant because I just used the phrase “my writing”, which I’ve avoided– always, and hate– completely. It’s right up there with “my depression” or “my beliefs about how food should be grown/harvested” as things maybe it’s healthy to own, but sound so completely pretentious… blech. So, what, my expiration date is looming and it’s showing on my face? Or is he just being grandfatherly/from a different generation, and wants to see me settled down already!
I’m terrified that he and the wife have been discussing me at home. I’m terrified that he’s going to produce some myopic nephew with whom I just have to have coffee. I just don’t get how we came to this place when less than an hour earlier, we had been talking about a summer internship opportunity I am excited about. We frequently talk about my future, and my career, my previous schooling, my opinions on literature, and my cat– maybe I’m just talking about my cat too much, is what it all boils down to. Still, this turn of events is alarming. I hope it stops here.