I spend the summer months in a magical realm I call “Middlebridge” – it sounds like a mythical place resembling the title of an English novel of long ago, but it is a plain and ordinary street I knew before it got macadam on its riverside pathway, with a bit of a cliffside wilderness rising upward toward a major highway.
Well, anyway, I have a few nice adventures to report, so here goes:
Hurricane Henri hit us hard enough to knock down our privacy fence. My next-door neighbor fixed it, and another fellow who lives on Middlebridge repaired the fallen arch that brought hummingbirds to its tempting vine with scarlet blossoms.
These days, I get a sticker that lets me park at the nearby ocean beach.
I love to swim – if the surf isn’t overly threatening, as it was in the wake of Henri. I like to get beyond the depth where my feet can feel the sand. If it ain’t over my head, it doesn’t count as a proper swim by my standards.
Well, the shoreline after Henri was cluttered with pebbles, hard little rocks that hurt my city soles, so I had put on sandals to protect my toes. A lifeguard (but not one of those youthful tanned lads who turn ladies’ heads and run in a team to show off) went above and beyond in being just a nice fellow. He watched my hesitancy and called out and came down to be helpful.
“You walk in those sandals into the waves and then take’em off, and I will grab and save’em for when you return,” he said.
After a delightful dip, I looked back and saw him triumphantly displaying my open rubber shoes. I made my way back to his high-tower chair to thank him wholeheartedly and ask for his name. His answer? A modest, but heroic, “R.J.” As simple as that.
As I was driving down my lane, a greybeard white-haired citizen in a delivery truck stopped to say, “I remember your friendly father from when I was a boy – about 1957! Just wanted to tell you that I know you have been a citizen of our Middlebridge like a pioneer!”
Finally, yet another friendly Middlebridge neighbor is a retired firefighter named Frank. His son grew up with my son, and now they both have little babies. This Frank has a boat, and he took me and my son Reuben for a farewell cruise on the Middlebridge river, a gracious goodbye to the summer of 2021.
We had a “philosophical” conversation as we toured the twists and turns of the tide.
“There are so many kinds of intelligence,” Frank said. “I used to freeze up if I had to write a paper, and yet I could figure out anything and solve any problem with my hands.”
Which is why I am composing this expression of gratitude to the gestures of rescue and responsibility among the residents of the kindly kith and kin of “Middlebridge.”
P.S., I have a ceramic bowl with the inscription “Middlebridge, Rhode Island” that I purchased in a South County gift shop. I also have a bowl inscribed “Jerusalem” and a cap, purchased in Israel, proclaiming “Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is both an actual, factual, physical place, and also a mythological realm, a dreamland, a “lamp unto the nations.” Which is why I can be both a loyal and patriotic citizen of Irving Berlin’s blessed land that he loved ... and yet also a traveler as often as possible to the Jerusalem beyond our borders, which I hope to visit again ....
MIKE FINK (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.