I was reminded of a story I wrote some years ago by a recent article in the ProJo, “Transformed.” It was of the reclaiming of the Woonasquatucket River corridor. Because of the efforts of many, led by Lisa Aurecchia, Director of Projects for the River so outlined in the story, The River is pristine and available for the enjoyment of man.

Here is my story of a part of that river of years ago***

I believe we should never lose touch with our childhood friends.
Steve called to tell me how much he enjoyed my stories of growing up in a cozy neighborhood in Providence in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s. He was an inseparable childhood friend who I had not seen in 50 years. He wanted to get together to reminisce, so we arranged a lunch date. I was eager to see him and when I did, I realized that fifty years was a chronological event and not an emotional loss, because we picked up where we left off, as if the last time I saw him was a week ago.

We quickly caught up on careers and family, and then moved to the old days, the days of uncontrollable laughter and simplicity, when all we had to think of was school, girls and fun.
“Let’s drive through the old neighborhoods and visit all the great places we enjoyed.”
We did. From grade to elementary to junior high schools; from home to home, slowly driving the streets we frequented. It seemed like such a long walk then.

“That’s where Bob lived. His Mom gave us cold drinks after we played touch football on that hot street.”
“Look, the old netless hoop is still hanging.”
“And that small lot where we played football. My god, I thought those touchdown runs were so long! I hit a home run off the third floor of that house, a ‘Ballantine Blast’ as Mel Allen might have said.”
“And hardly forty feet away now.”
“Let’s go to the Box.”

The Box was a dam in the Woonasquatucket River behind the mills on Valley Street where we cooled after a summer sandlot game.
In those days, the river was less than clean. Passing us as we swam were things both animate and inanimate, and there were streams of pea green colors snaking along the middle. Did I see a dead rat?
Today, the river is different; as was everything else we passed, whether in size, appearance or loss. Sure, some of the buildings and houses were gone. But the river remained.
It now was a fish ladder for alewives and salmon, pristine, drinkable even. Nearby was a board full of pictures and explanations.

Woonasquatucket today, Olneyville section, Providence, RI

“It’s not the same.”
“Nope, but it’s good. The river is so much better.”
Steve opened his knife, and we played jackknife baseball while sitting opposite each other on a bench near the river as we did so many years ago. We talked some more of long ago friends and places.
We looked at each other often.
Things were different, but not by much.

Childhood friends are forever.

*** This I Believe Broadcast, NPR

© 2018