I love Rhode Island.
I can feel my blood pressure drop by several points when I cross the state line.
My husband and I lived there for 5 years and it was one of the sweetest times of our lives. Our children were born in Providence and we bought our first home in the southern part of the state not far from the ocean. (We were able to see past the pink dining room with hand-painted purple wisteria on the walls, as well as more (badly) hand-painted pink and peach flamingos and palm trees that bordered the entire circumference of the kitchen. Unlike my mother, who went home and cried the first time she saw it).
It is a land of lighthouses, beautiful beaches, charming little seaside towns, fabulous restaurants, close-knit families, fine universities…and some very interesting customs and vocabulary. (Simple disclaimer: what I am about to relate is written with true affection).
For example, the first time my husband and I went to a restaurant after we moved, I ordered a milkshake without even looking at the menu. I was pregnant and having major ice cream cravings. Pretty simple request, right?
Not in Rhode Island.
The waitress smiled at me and said, “You’re not from here are you?”
When I said no, she nodded knowingly, then proceeded to educate me. “See, if you order a milkshake, I will just put milk into a glass and shake it around a little. But I’m guessing that by saying ‘milkshake’ you are talking about a blend of milk and ice cream?”
I nodded, casting a sideways glance at my husband. Had we entered an alternate universe?
“In these parts, that is called a cabinet, so that’s what you need to say when you order.”
But that’s furniture! It’s certainly not a milkshake!
She helpfully pointed to the dessert portion of the menu and sure enough, there it was. I had my choice of a chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry cabinet. Over the years, I never did get used to seeing that word on a menu.
My RI education on the fine art of milkshakes continued when we visited our local Newport Creamery. If you wish to order a milkshake, you ask for an “Awful Awful.” (that stands for “awful big and awful good!”).
Native Rhode Islanders call pasta sauce “gravy” and call gravy “sauce.”
A “Swamp Yankee” (sometimes shortened to “Swamper”…and pronounced “swampa” by the locals) is one who was born and raised in RI and has never left the state…and never intends to. Swampers are proud of their heritage, fiercely independent and self-sufficient.
A “bubbler” (pronounced “bubbla”) is the RI name for a water fountain.
Coffee milk is the official drink of the state. It is not, as I first imagined, milk added to a cup of coffee. It is coffee syrup added to a glass of milk.
I also learned that native Rhode Islanders do not like to drive more than fifteen minutes away from their homes. For anything.
Our landlord’s son was an oncologist. He once told us that when new patients called his office, they would ask where it was located. If it was further than the magic fifteen minutes, several patients would find somewhere closer to home…despite the fact that he was one of the best in his field.
My husband’s commute to his job was thirty minutes, sometimes more depending on traffic. His coworkers could simply not comprehend this. When we bought our first home and it was even a little further away from work, they were incredulous and unable to process the fact that someone would choose to spend so much time commuting.
I am not kidding when I say that I met RI natives who had never been to the beautiful town of Newport because it was more than fifteen minutes from their home.
If one must travel 45 minutes or more (for example to a wedding), reservations are made at the nearest hotel and a full meal is packed into a cooler to take along on the trip.
It is, without a doubt, the most unique place we have ever lived…and we truly loved it. We made some of our very best friends there. Living just minutes from the ocean was a joy. Block Island–about 12 miles off the coast of RI–is one of our all-time favorite places. It is only accessible by small plane or ferry and is known for its stunning beauty, historic lighthouses, lovely beaches, and easy, simple way of life.
I was able to go back to Rhode Island last week for a girls weekend. Happy memories filled my mind as I traveled those familiar roads, and I thanked God for allowing us to live in this special place. To me, it represents a simpler time in my life: a season of laughter and lightness, sweet memories, and carefree days, a time when the kids were little and everything was magical, and both of my parents were still alive.
A part of my heart will always be in the Ocean State.
If you’ve never visited, do yourself a favor and make the trip. And be sure to have a cabinet while you’re there! 🙂