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.”

“Ok.”

“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:

Jenna says:

Q: How many lightbulbs can you screw in Rhode Island?

A: One! There’s only Woonsocket.

— haha, very funny, Jenna

Lex says:

Don’t go

–too late, Lex, and I’m going back. You can come with me.

Sarah says:

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.

Joanharvest says:

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.

Alf says:

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.

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