I was born and raised in Providence. In the early 1980s, I headed north to Boston for college. When I left, Providence was in disarray. Broken-down. Sad. Though I could easily travel to Rhode Island in a shade over an hour, I rarely spent time in the tiny U.S. jewel. When I did visit family and friends, I always encouraged them to drive north to experience all the art, culture and excitement that Boston had to offer. Every summer I received at least one invitation to WaterFire. “Downtown Providence is transformed. You’ll love it.” I heard repeatedly.
Inevitably, summer would cool into autumn and snow was falling before I gave the invitation a second thought. Then, toward the end of the summer of 2010, a friend who lives on the South Coast of Massachusetts said to me, “It’s a beautiful night for WaterFire. Let’s go”
. . . As I drove off I-95 into the city center, I flashed back to taking the bus downtown with my older sister to shop at W. T. Grant and have lunch at the Shepard’s Tea Room. I remembered the plays at Trinity Repertory Theatre. Going out to dinner on Federal Hill.
Once we parked the car and began walking towards the waterway, I felt energy in the crowd of families, lovers, teens – an electric pulse of community. Camaraderie. On several corners, opera singers triggered spine chills. Gritty rockers and solo musicians flanked other corners. In a central location: ballroom dancing. Italian aromas of acidic tomatoes and sweet basil permeated the air. Pastries almost too pretty to eat sat at colorful attention behind glass cases. Freshly popped corn beckoned for children’s attention. Then I saw the boats, gliding down the river, filled with the wood that fed the fires.
The volunteers dressed all in black on the boats were barely visible in the cloth of darkness, like burglars stealing the last of dusk. One by one, as the braziers swallowed wood, flames licked up into the clear August sky. We sat on the edge of the canal, leaning against a stone bench. The murmuring sounds of the crowds snaked along the cobblestone walkway like the city’s lifeblood. Storybook magic.
“I love just sitting here,” my friend said, breaking our silence. “I take my kids here every season to remind them how important it is to connect as citizens. I worry that most of their communication is through an electronic device.”
“I was born and raised in this city,” I said. “After I left, I forgot all about her.”
“Doesn’t Providence mean divine guidance?” she asked. I smiled. She handed me the recognizable green and white Del’s cup with the last of the slushy lemonade as she said, “Welcome home.”
– Cheryl Caruolo