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Two Hills, One Rhode Island Moment

Finding common ground through a chance encounter


The Hill and Harbor District is fourteen miles away from Federal Hill by car, and a world away by any other measure. But the two came together for me early one morning this week.

As I was leaving for work, a man walking up Peirce Street waved and asked about my neighbor, Dick Parenteau. I told him Dick had died in February. "That's too bad," he said. "I always saw him walking. He was like the mayor around here." I smiled. Dick's legend lives on.

"I've been here since 1959," the man said. "There were only 3,000 people in town. Then they all came for the schools." He laughed. "Been here since '59, but I'm still considered an outsider."

A yellow bus churned by. "How long you been here?" the man asked. I thought of my daughter, Juliana, who was born five months after we moved to East Greenwich. "Sixteen years," I told him. "I'm an outsider, too." We laughed and I said I was from Providence. The man's face brightened.

"You Italian?"

"Pantalone," I said. "On my mother's side." I told him my grandfather had a baby clothes store on Federal Hill for more than 70 years. We were no longer strangers. 

"Still have go to Cranston for pastry," he said with a knowing nod. "Zaccagnini's."

Bread, too, I added. It was like talking to an uncle at a family wedding.

"Your wife a good cook?" he asked.

"Outstanding. But I make the gravy on Sundays."

"With the pork?"

"Yes."

"What's your name?"

"John."

"That was my father's name."

We spoke for a few minutes. About his heart transplant and doctor. About my copywriting career. About Atwells Avenue legends. When I asked his name, I didn't catch his reply. I wish I had. We had a lot in common: the Hill and the Hill, Dick and pastry and Zaccagnini's, bread and Sunday gravy. And now, this morning on Peirce Street.

I'll find out his name the next time we meet. I bet the conversation continues.

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Martha Reynolds April 22, 2012 at 11:14 AM
This one warmed my heart, John. I hope you see your friend again soon.
John Walsh April 22, 2012 at 11:23 AM
Thanks for reading, Martha. Small world in a small state…
Jill Stange April 22, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Hi John, I really enjoyed this piece. I'm an Italian girl from NJ, and I really miss the bread! I take care of a women in her 90s who grew up on the other hill. I'm going to read your article to her today. I think I know your mystery man. He walks by my house and we always have a nice chat. He lives on Spring Street, up by Kenyon, and he walks to OLM for 7:30 Mass every day. I think his name is Bill. I thought you were referring of him when you wrote of the man who passed away and I got sad. I'm glad he is still walking and talking.
John Walsh April 22, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Thanks for reading, Jill, and thanks for identifying Bill – now I can call him by name the next time he walks by. My grandfather's baby clothes store was called Vincent's – the woman that you care for may remember it. I'm glad that you are going to read the article to her.
Mark Thompson April 23, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Wunnerful...
John Walsh April 23, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Thanks, Mark.
PM JONES April 26, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Vincent's! THE place for baptismal and first communion apparel. Wearing their dresses made you feel like a princess!
John Walsh April 26, 2012 at 10:40 PM
So glad to hear you remember Vincent's and the communion dresses – from a different era on Federal Hill. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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