This Side Up

Eclectic summer throb of Pawtuxet

Warwick Beacon ·

Many stories make up a village, as I discovered in Pawtuxet on Sunday.

For Gary Jarvis, Pawtuxet is home base. It’s the place where he grew up and remembers at the age of six asking his father what was going on when the Pawtuxet Rangers came marching down the middle of Narragansett with the mayor riding a convertible and waving to a few spectators. His father informed him it was a parade to commemorate the burning of the Gaspee, which then took some additional explaining.

A lot has changed since then, but then again a lot has stayed the same.

It’s the Gaspee Days parade – Gary’s wife corrected him that it is really the arts and crafts festival two weeks earlier – that defines the beginning of summer in Pawtuxet. Like his father, Gary is a member of the Pawtuxet Athletic Club. Gary and his wife make a point of coming when there is live music, and on Sunday afternoon The Silks, with roots in Providence although they play across the country, were playing. You could hear them clearly at Aspray Boathouse, across the cove in Pawtuxet Park.

There was another form of party going on there – a surprise 80th birthday party for Nereida Serrano. The boathouse was decorated with balloons and family members were bringing in food for the big occasion. As kids waited for the “celebrity” to arrive, they spread out to catch a football tossed by one of the adults.

But to think everyone was focused on Nereida would be a mistake. Stretched out in their fold-up chairs taking in the sun, the music and sipping an iced coffee were Alfred F. Sionni, who just became a grandfather, and Joyce Harris. They are summer regulars at the boathouse terrace with its breezes and views down the cove to Conimicut and beyond.

“Do you think we should move?” Joyce inquired when she learned of the surprise birthday party.

That’s the way many people think while visiting the village. They don’t want to intrude on somebody else’s space, yet, as I also discovered, they’ll entertain questions from a complete stranger.

At the boat ramp side to the boathouse, the Steinmetz family, from Edgewood, were loading up their kayaks and Abby’s paddleboard after an afternoon on the bay. They frequently launch from Pawtuxet Park, marveling at the proximity to home.

Proximity was also key for Amy Elsbecker and Dave Counts. The pair was catching up on some work and reading from the shade. He was on a laptop. She was reading a book – a real book, with a cover and pages. Amy’s arm was in a sling, which she said partially explained why she had a book and was not reading from a laptop or tablet. There’s hope for the printed word, although I’ll confess upon closer examination Amy’s book turned out to be a Japanese cartoon series popular in the ’90s.

At the park gazebo, Sue Micielli-Voutsinas was loading her children, Morgan and Paisley, into a double stroller. The family moved to Edgewood from Canada within the month.

“I saw the playground and came back to check it out,” explained Sue.

Paisley, who informed me she is five and a half, was pleased with the discovery. They later made another discovery – Dear Hearts Ice Cream – on their trip home. Sue said the family has gotten a friendly Rhode Island reception, making the point they had made the Pawtuxet visit on foot, implying that may not have been such a wise choice in other urban parts of the country.

Had they discovered Rhode Island beaches?

“We were told to go to Narragansett, but it’s pretty far,” she said.

“Half an hour, maybe 45 minutes,” I said. She was surprised.

“Well, that’s not far,” she answered. She appeared to be even more surprised as I listed Warwick beaches and, naturally, Rocky Point that are all within 15 minutes of the village.

At Dear Hearts I found regulars Cynthia MacCausland and Maddie Oyster. Oyster is Maddie’s middle name. I didn’t ask how a chocolate lab ends up with Oyster as a middle name. Maddie Oyster is as friendly as they come, tail wagging and ready to befriend me. Her love, for sure, would have been even more ardent had I been holding an ice cream cone. Cynthia frequently makes the village walk. Maddie Oyster doesn’t do bad for herself when it comes to getting the village scoop either.

Further on I stopped in at Revolution, figuring I’d get the village gossip from Dean Scanlon. He wasn’t to be found, but associate Brian filled me in that he was catering a wedding at the Rhode Island Yacht Club. Indeed, this village is humming, even on a perfect August summer day when one might think after a wet and comparatively cool Saturday people would be headed for the beach.

The summer throb of Pawtuxet is friendly, often musical and relaxed. I can’t imagine learning about popular Japanese cartoon books of the ’90s, meeting a dog named Maddie Oyster or hearing of a nearby wedding and 80th birthday party while strolling the streets of Newport.

I understand why Gary Jarvis has never moved away and why he and his wife would find a table in front of The Silks and a view of the cove. What I don’t understand, and Gary couldn’t explain, is why it is called the Pawtuxet Athletic Club when there’s nothing athletic about it. But that’s also the appeal of Pawtuxet. Not everything is explainable.