Rocky Point

A summer finale at Rocky Point

As published in the Providence Sunday Journal, August 21, 2022. Shown above, the arch at Rocky Point Park, a relic from the site’s amusement-park heyday.

The first time my best friend, Chris, told me he loved Alice Cooper, I wondered if she was in his class at school.

“Alice Cooper’s a guy,” he informed me.

I soon understood why Chris was so enamored with the mascara-eyed rock star. In the spring of 1972, Cooper and his band had released a three-and-half-minute pop anthem that shot up the charts with a refrain voicing every kid’s dream: “School’s out forever!”

Talk about timing. I was in sixth grade, Chris in fifth. As my friend played “School’s Out” over and over in his bedroom in early June, we couldn’t wait for the carefree days of summer to arrive.

We were too young to work, other than my weekend “employment” as a stock boy at my grandfather’s baby clothes store on Federal Hill. So that left plenty of time for goofing around – Wiffle ball in my backyard, Nok Hockey games at the playground, and treks to Wolcott’s five-and-dime for candy, sometimes supplemented by the nefarious “five-finger discount,” if we dared.

Chris and I spent just about every day together, and on occasional nights, we’d gather with other kids in our Elmhurst neighborhood for a game we called “Chase,” which essentially was team hide-and-seek. Trespassing properties all along Rankin Avenue, we’d vanish into bushes, slink behind garages, and climb up trees to evade discovery. Once or twice, a flicked-on floodlight found me before any seeker did, accompanied by a homeowner’s bark, telling me where to go.

And then summer reached the point I dreaded each year: one morning in early August, Chris and his family departed on their annual trip to Altoona, Pennsylvania to visit his aunt. I knew the next 10 days would seem like 10 weeks.

In 1972, there was no texting, no Instagram posts or TikTok videos, nothing but a postcard from Chris that came a week after he had left. I found myself calling his house on the off chance his vacation had been cut short, letting the phone ring dozens of times before hanging up.

When Chris finally returned that year, our summer rituals resumed. And then, with the first day of school looming, we devised a last-day-of-summer plan right out of our dreams: we’d hop on a bus at Kennedy Plaza and travel 11 miles to Rocky Point, the famed amusement park overlooking Narragansett Bay. Three dollars apiece would give us unlimited access to all the rides all day. Heaven!

The day arrived, hot and sunny, and Chris and I stood agog on the Rocky Point midway. We played Skee-Ball, slammed bumper cars, survived the House of Horrors, wolfed down doughboys, and lined up again and again for the new ride everyone was talking about. We’d seen ads for the Flume in the newspaper, hawking “the largest, most spectacular ride in the East, a half-mile of thrilling fun and excitement through forest, rapids, and two splashing 45-foot-high slides into sparkling clear water.” While “forest” and “rapids” were a bit of a stretch, the ride didn’t disappoint. By the end of the day, we were drenched.

On the bus back to Providence, Chris said he wished he could ride the Flume in a never-ending loop. I suppose that’s how we felt about summer, too.

But the following day, bells summoned us to our newly separate schools, signaling the first day of classes and the end of that summer’s ride.

Even then, we somehow knew it would be one we’d long remember.

Going to church, dog wouldn’t obey my commandments

buddy

Published in the Providence Sunday Journal, February 15, 2015.

“Johhh-neee!”

My best friend, Chris, was calling from the driveway outside my house, in Providence. I went to the bedroom window, knocked on the pane, and held up an index finger to let him know I’d be right out. I wished we were heading off to shoot hoops at Nelson Street playground or to buy candy at Wolcott’s five-and-dime on Chalkstone Avenue. But it was Sunday morning. We were going to church.

Pulling a sweater on, I tiptoed past my mother’s bedroom. Attending Mass at St. Pius wasn’t a family affair in my house or in Chris’s, either. Our moms told us we had to go, and Chris and I, ages 9 and 10 respectively, obliged.

Bunking church, however tempting, was not an option. Informants loomed everywhere: grandparents up the street, family friends around the corner, aunts and uncles waving from cars. This was Elmhurst at its close-knit best, and worst. If we strayed on our five-block pilgrimage and played hooky, word would get back to our mothers fast. Penance would be severe.

Chris and I had walked two blocks when Georgie, my dog, whisked by us, nails scratching the sidewalk, tail wagging like crazy.

“I have to take her home,” I said. “Be right back.”

I grabbed Georgie’s collar and scooted her back to my house. She was a 35-pound mutt with a shaggy black coat and watchful eyes. I pushed on the back door to put her inside, but it was locked – and I didn’t have my key. I knew our front door was locked, too. It always was.

The thought of ringing the doorbell and waking my mother was as appealing to me as Brussels sprouts. She’d see I was running late.

Our small back yard was bounded by a chain link fence. I left Georgie there, latching the gate behind me. I hoped she wouldn’t escape.

I caught up with Chris and we resumed our trek. We kicked a soda can up the street and relived our epic day at Rocky Point amusement park the previous summer – until a bark cut us short. I spun around and there was Georgie, half a block away.

“Oh God,” I said. “She got out.”

I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, “Go home!” I don’t know what I was thinking. Georgie wasn’t Lassie; we were still working on the commands “Sit!” and “Stay!”

“Let’s just get to church,” I said to Chris. “It’s too late to take her back again.”

We picked up our pace. Georgie continued to follow us, keeping her strategic half-block distance. When we reached St. Pius, I convinced myself she’d just wait at the door outside. What could happen?

As Chris and I entered church, our footsteps on the marble floor announced our tardy arrival. We sheepishly made our way to one of the rear pews.

The second reading was just beginning. I caught the attention of a child two rows in front of me. As I twisted my face and crossed my eyes to his smiles, I heard a faint, familiar sound – like scratching on a door. I turned to Chris. He was already whispering: “Is that Georgie?”

I smiled nervously. Chris laughed. More scratching. I pictured Georgie pawing at the church door, just as she scraped the back door at home when she wanted to come in.

We stood for the Gospel – Luke’s account of the loaves and fishes miracle. But as I listened, something distracted my ear … the click-click-click of nails on marble. Somehow Georgie had gotten in! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her pass our pew and head for the altar, tail wagging.

The woman next to us murmured, “Good Lord!” The priest continued with the miracle story from the pulpit, unaware of his newest potential convert. I instinctively stepped toward the aisle, but Chris grabbed my arm.

“You can’t go get her!” he whispered. “You’ll look like an idiot!”

Neither of us moved. Georgie was almost at the Communion rail when an usher, in his Sunday best, scooped her up and carried her out of the church. She was good about it – didn’t even squirm.

We waited for the Gospel to end, then hurried out to look for Georgie. She greeted us with leaps and licks of joy. Chris and I took quick turns hugging her and, thankful for our deliverance, started for home. At last, we had a legitimate reason for missing Mass – even our moms would agree.

In our book, that truly was a miracle.

Pictured above: not Georgie (I didn’t have a photo handy from years ago), but kindred spirit Buddy, former fabulous woofie of the Fuller family in San Francisco.

%d bloggers like this: