We may be a city, but we’re really a small town

Posted 8/10/23

We’re a city, but we’re also a town, a small town.

There are those who would say otherwise. With more than 80,000 residents Warwick is probably the state’s second largest city, …

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We may be a city, but we’re really a small town


We’re a city, but we’re also a town, a small town.

There are those who would say otherwise. With more than 80,000 residents Warwick is probably the state’s second largest city, although there are those who argue Cranston now holds that distinction. In small towns, everybody knows everybody and their business, and, of course, we’re a small state. How often have you heard there’s only a couple of degrees of separation between us? That seems to be the case when you travel out of state or the country and meet a complete stranger who not only knows your neighborhood, but is friends with your auto mechanic.

It makes you wonder how that can be possible. Out of a million people, how is it that someone who hasn’t lived in Rhode Island for years turns out knowing the garage where you get your oil changed and the guy who does it?

Yet, Warwick is a constantly changing city with an average of 100 single-family homes selling monthly. That’s more homes than any other municipality.  The reasons offered are that on average homes cost less in Warwick, that we’re centrally located, that stores and services are never too far away and that municipal services are good. One wonders if Warwick, or that matter the state, can keep its small town feel with so many housing projects on the drawing boards. In Warwick alone between new home and condo construction, much of it on the sites of former schools, and City Centre apartment complexes, the city can expect to see more than 1,600 additional housing units within the next three years.

Nonetheless, I don’t see Warwick losing its small town feel.

Last week I wrote about the strength of neighborhoods. The story focused on Massasoit Terrace and how residents rally to preserve what is important to them and care for one another to the point of stepping up to perform CPR and reviving a man whose heart had stopped and technically was dead.

It’s not just neighborhoods that come forward to help their own.

I hadn’t caught up with the details of the Governor Francis fire, that occurred last Monday afternoon, until the following morning.  I found Honeysuckle Drive soon enough although at first glance it was hard to pick out the house where the fire had occurred. A collection of cars, friends of the family who had come to help and the lingering odor of burned material identified the single story house. The roof told the story. It was virtually gone.

I missed the owner  by seconds. He was pulling out in his truck when I drove up. It wasn’t until I meet one of those who helping recover items from the charred home that I realized I knew the owner, Jack Silberman. We have sailed together and have mutual friends.

I connected by phone with Jack that afternoon.

He said he was in the neighborhood Monday and stopped home. Megan Eddy and their daughter Edith were out. Willie Nelson, so named because he’s a mix lab rescue from Tennessee, was there to greet him. Jack worked on the computer a bit and then lay down. He didn’t get any rest.

He heard a crackling that he couldn’t identify. Other than that everything seemed in place. There was no smell of smoke. Alarms weren’t sounding, but a fire was burning in the attic. Jack looked out the window to see “flames going up.” He rushed outside. A neighbor saw the flames, too. They sought to fight the growing blaze, but the hose Jack had turned to nothing more than a dribble. The pipping in the attic at the opposite end of the house had been severed by the heat and water was flooding the room below. “It was a waterfall.”

“The response of the Fire Department was unreal,” Jack said describing how they worked in shifts to tear open the roof, which ended up collapsing, to get to the fire.

What was also unreal to Jack was the immediate community response.

 “Spooked” by the commotion, the dog attempted to run back into the burning house.  A neighbor took Willie. It was just the beginning. Offers to help poured in. Friends, and for that matter strangers, stopped by. Collections, both online and at local stores, were mounted.  Meanwhile, Jack was working to sort through it all between addressing the immediate issues of organizing their lives and the longer range of rebuilding.

Throughout our conversation he returned to the community support.  In a follow-up email, Jack wrote, “This past week we feel a bit like that guy at the carnival spinning plates... between finding a place to live, making sure we have clothes on our backs, keeping up with our work responsibilities, managing the insurance process, finding a place to walk our dog, making sure our daughter is processing things in the right manner, simply managing our own emotions.”

He continued, “Folks we have never spoken with before have stopped by to check in and we've been a little shell shocked or dazed.   Neighbors have offered us spare rooms to get our bearings, storage space for our rubble, gift cards for food or clothes....  We've received many bags of donations of clothes for our 4 year old daughter.  It's overwhelming when folks ask you what you need, we respond saying that we don't know or we aren't sure.   Then later you have a moment and realize that you need everything.” The family was given gift cards by friends and family and complete strangers. They received more than 250 donations totaling $25,000.

“The community response has saved us,” said Jack.

It’s a large city yet a small town with a big heart.

Post Script: On Monday, a week after the fire, and thanks to a tip from a bar tender at the East Greenwich Yacht Club, the family moved into a rental in the hill section of East Greenwich.

city, small town, Side Up


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