Valley Breeze

The North Providence Breeze 01-13-2021

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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10 THE VALLEY JANUARY 13-19, 2021 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH PROVIDENCE EDITION Back in the 1950s in the time before meaningful zoning regula- tions and long before tiny houses were chic, there were shacks and cellar holes. Smithfield and North Providence had their share of them. It also had the men who lived in them. Yes, they were almost exclu- sively occupied by men. Some were veterans. Most were divorced or had never married. The after-effects of the Great Depression and World War II lin- gered, and for a variety of reasons, some sociological, some personal, these were people who felt more comfortable subsisting in isolation. Back then they were commonly referred to as "shack-dwellers." Not exactly recluses, they could more aptly be described as "loners," individuals who sought out social contact on their own terms and only in their own good time. Typically, the places they went were the local taverns and bars and the occasional diner when they sought out the blue plate special. They made their livings, such as they were, picking apples, digging graves, hauling trash, mowing lawns, milking cows, gathering eggs, serv- ing as carpenters' helpers, and the like. Some, though, were "hired men," regular employees at local business- es, and some were itinerant hands working as day laborers. At this time of year their living conditions were especially trying. Winter challenged their ingenuity when it came to staying warm and keeping clean. One among them had the luxury of a two-room shack, a small stor- age area having been added to his former chicken coop. It proved a fine place to store his groceries and libations and to hang a very large, cured ham. From it he sliced din- ner portions as needed. He kept the ham dangling by a rope for several months during the cold season, scraping mold off it as it aged, until he eventually finished it. This was the same fellow who made a ritual every year of don- ning long johns on the day after Thanksgiving, vowing to wear them without changing them until April 1 of the coming year. As far as anyone knew he was not joking. The cuffs of his union suit, which crept from under his shirt sleeves and pants cuffs, seemed to validate his assertion as they grew ragged and grimier with each pass- ing day. He was descended from a fam- ily that came to Rhode Island with Roger Williams and was a gifted stone mason, but he preferred farm work and solitary living. Rumor had it that he had been married and had a son who worked in one of the large department stores in Providence, but no-one pried into his business. His good friend and drinking buddy also lived in a chicken house not far away. This man's go-to meal was hot dogs and canned beans, which he sometimes referred to as "Boston beaked banes." Neither man drove. Many years before, the bean-eater had walked from Brooklyn, Conn., to Smithfield, a trip of some 30 miles, looking for seasonal work during harvest time. He found jobs on the local apple farms and never went back to Connecticut. His first home in Greenville was a shell of a cabin on a peninsula that extended into Slack's Pond. It was mostly submerged, giving the impression that it was floating. After a rainstorm he couldn't get from his door to dry land without taking off his shoes. Both men heated their makeshift dwellings with wood stoves on which they also cooked. Hence, they were adept at cutting and splitting firewood, a task they performed in small installments each day in the good weather. Neatly stacked in cords, the fruits of their labor were displayed against the side walls of their homes. It was impossible to know just how much wood they would need, but they based their estimates on the previous year's consumption. If they came up short, they knew which trees they could cut in a pinch. White birch was the first choice because it could be burned green without creating too much smoke. Sometimes they would stash split white birch logs in the oven and dry them out as they burned the last of their seasoned wood in the stove's firebox. They knew any number of prac- tical tricks, today we would call them life hacks, to solve everyday problems, such as submerging their canned malt beverages in a deep brook or spring to keep them cold in the summertime. They knew how to pickle hard-boiled eggs to extend their shelf life. They also cut their own hair, shaved with straight razors, and used horse liniment if they strained themselves lifting heavy logs or boxes of apples. The mason demonstrated how to get the most out of a large chicken leg at a dinner shared with a local family. He chewed on the bones until they cracked, stuffed them in his cheeks, like a chipmunk with a large nut, and proceeded to suck the marrow out, smiling in oblivious self-contentment while conversation at the table swirled around him. A third cohort of theirs who enjoyed a convivial glass or two with the others from time to time lived in the workshop of an under- taker whose funeral home was in the village. He clearly thought himself a rung above the country fellows, as he assisted in the solemn tasks associated with the funeral business. He wore a derby hat and well-shined, high-top shoes at times, however, he rarely, if ever, trimmed his fingernails. And then there was the other friend and tippling companion who lived in an abandoned cellar out beyond the orchard country. He had covered the three-sided stone rectan- gle with a tarpaulin to make a roof, installed a kerosene heater, and built a wall along the open side with plywood. There were bets about whether he could make it through a winter there. Like the other two, he picked apples, but he had no overalls, showing up to work in frayed suit pants, a graying white shirt, and worn patent leather dress shoes instead. He also sported a battered homburg hat. Because he had an old heap of a car, it was thought he had a small army pension or some other steady income. Whatever the source, it made him good for rides to town. They were all old enough to have lived through the Spanish flu pan- demic of 1918. Clearly, keeping a social distance came naturally to them and being isolated was their preferred circumstance. If they could survive the way they did in 1955, wearing the same under- wear for four months, COVID-19 wouldn't phase them one whit. (Contact me at smithpublarry@gmail. com) Life on the margins in the long ago One More Thing LAURENCE J. SASSO, JR. thank you for supporting our North Providence Breeze advertisers. They make this free newspaper possible! S STANLEY TREE Since 1986 • Professional High Quality Service At Reasonable Rates • Licensed Arborists • Serving RI & Nearby Mass. • Our Team Of Professionals Is Fully Equipped To Handle Your Job In A Safe Efficient Manner N. Smithfield, Office Hours: Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Affordable Solutions for Your Tree Problems Fully Insured Free Estimates www.StanleyTree.com Tree Removal Pruning Cabling Brush Mowing Stump Grinding Crane Service TREE REMOVAL EXPERTS Plant Health Care Spraying/Fertilization 401-765-4677 DENTAL HYGIENE AND INFERTILITY It may seem like there are a million different areas of your health to think about when trying to get pregnant, including diet, exercise, and family medical history. Dental health is often not considered, however, even though an increasing amount of research shows that healthy dental hygiene can improve fertility in both men and women, while poor oral care can have a negative impact on in vitro fertilization treatment. Gum disease can increase the time it takes a couple to conceive and can cause several dangerous conditions including pre-eclampsia and premature birth. In men, issues such as erectile dysfunction and low sperm count can be caused by the bacterial infections of gum disease and tooth decay. One serious threat to dental health as well as to overall health is gum disease. And the best way to deal with gum disease is to prevent it, with daily brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist on a regular basis. At DENTAL ARTS GROUP, we are diligent in our approach to making sure periodontal disease doesn't destroy your smile. It is our mission at 1136 Hartford Ave., Johnston, to deliver the highest level of care, using the latest materials and always keeping our patients' comfort and well-being in mind. You can reach us at 401-521-3661. Office hours are Monday-Thursday 8a.m. to 4p.m.; Friday 8a.m. to 12p.m. P.S. Gingivitis, although not as serious a dental condition as periodontal disease (gum disease), still carries the bacteria that causes infertility problems. www.valleybreeze.com/learning/ ONLINE LEARNING Find out more, call 401-334-9555 x134 • Career Building • Excel • Communication • PowerPoint • Digital Marketing • Women in Business • Entrepreneurship • Security Awareness Online Professional Development

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