Familiarity Breeds Content

Posted: July 1st, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody | No Comments »

I’ve never been one for change, and after a few days in Rhode Island I’m starting to realize why. It turns out my people seek shelter in familiarity too.

Perhaps it’s just another way for New Englanders to boast about how long their families go back (stepping off the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock has ungodly social cachet here), but these folks seem unable to enjoy the present without harkening back to the past.

One of the best examples of it is weather. In California you may have an unusually hot day in, say, February, and people take it for just that–unusual. In these parts, on a March day when there’s a 6-inch snowfall, the topic of chitchat at the grocery store is, “Last time we had this much snow on March 23rd was 1948.” People cling to these stats (be they real or constructed from creative memories) like boys and baseball trivia. And the stats also serve as a jumping off point for tale telling about whatever else (interesting or mundane) happened back then. “I remember I was working at the Pastime Theater. Movies were ten cents then, and when they went up to 11 cents I thought I’d never be able to see another movie again.” I wish I had ten cents for every time I heard that story…

So Thursday Ellen Connery came to Bristol to help her dad get ready for The Fourth. Kate and I walked over for a visit and from the second Ellen caught sight of me we were thrown in a time machine back to 1982. “Hey! Check this out,” she called from were she was crouching under their raised deck. “You ever seen an albino earwig?” Sure enough the thing was stark white. I love that Ellen didn’t need to be all precious about her first time meeting Kate. Much better that we reverted to a youthful bug-inspection mode.

Inside the house, Mr. Connery was also prepping for the festivities. I was proud to see the picture of John and I mugging for a self portrait on the fridge, along with photos and newspaper clips showing the Connery’s packed front porch on July 4th, and some heart-wrenching shots that include the late Mrs. C. There’s a smell memory that hits me when I go into that kitchen too. Everything is as it should be–with the exception of a new stove, which I’m willing to allow for–and I’m happy as a clam to be back home on the brink on my favorite holiday.

The Connerys have taken celebrating The Fourth to a stratospheric level. There’s a baseline you need to achieve as a Bristolian, and it’s much higher for folks who live on the parade route, as they do. But the Connerys bash is a party to be reckoned with. Family friends, former Bristolians in town visiting, relatives, and every friend the three Connery kids have ever had are welcomed (now with their kids, too). And I’ll tell you it’s like crack. Come to the Connerys for The Fourth once and try to go anywhere else that day. It can’t be done.

Since they were in prep mode, it made me wonder how they cook for the crowd they get. Do they have any way of knowing how many people are coming? “Nope. We never really know,” Jack (Mr. C) said. I’m terrible about assessing crowd sizes, so I guessed that they have around 80 folks. “No, no–much more than that.” He grabbed a calendar and flipped back some pages. “Last year: Temp was 87 degrees, parade lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes, and we had approximately 125 people,” he read. “Well, I think our numbers were low since it rained the year before and maybe people were afraid that was going to happen again.” I asked Mark last night how many people he thinks are there most years and his guess was 200.

But back to the topic of food. As tradition has it, Ellen does the house prep and John does the cooking. As Mr. Connery has gotten older and Mrs. C is gone, the kids have graciously jumped in to take over the work. Jack pulled out a yellowed and tattered 3×5 card–the chourico and peppers recipe (just one of the many food offerings that day). “How much do you make if you don’t know how many people are coming?” I asked. “Well, let’s see,” he said squinting down at the card. “Last year we made five pounds. Year before that, four–with the rain and all. But I see here we’ve made as much as 11 pounds some years.” I looked over his shoulder. Sure enough the card had each year and the amounts cooked neatly pencilled in on it. Amazing.

Not sure how far back it went, but now of course I want to go there and check that out. It would be kind of fun to know how many pounds they made on my first Fourth, so I can tell Kate some day how it compared to her first one.

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