Hometown Memories

As I’m wrapping up my posts for 2014, I’ve looked through my saved drafts for inspiration. A lot of these posts are one or two sentences along, waiting for a time when news is slow and I can really devote some time to their topic. And while I haven’t had a slow week, I think it’s time to tell this story.

My grandfather grew up in Bristol, Rhode Island, a small but historically significant city in the smallest state of the US. In the many times I spent with him, he would recount the stories of his childhood, exploring what he considered the greatest place in the world. He talked about something magical in small towns, something wondrous and exciting in the endless opportunities they presented.

One Saturday afternoon earlier this year, he and I drove around his former stomping grounds. As he sat in the navigator’s seat, he reminisced about childhood homes and hangout spots, sharing all of his memories with me. It wasn’t rare for my grandfather to share stories about his life – as a former teacher, he was a great storyteller – but it was really something special to see the town through his eyes.

But we had a purpose for being in Bristol that day. You see, Bristol was home to the DeWolff-Colts, the blended family of the wealthy slave-trading DeWolff family of Bristol and the Colt family, known for the invention of the rifle. (In actuality it was Samuel Colt’s nephew who came to Bristol.) The blended family had an enormous impact on Bristol’s economy and government, and owned an enormous estate on the edge of town. In Samuel P. Colt’s will, the family estate was ordered to be open to the public.

The family estate became what is known today as Colt State Park. My grandfather had spent many an afternoon there, noting one area of the park in particular. Along the bridge that once led to the Colt Mansion, many statues lined the path. But one statue had caught my grandfather’s attention – that of a dog. My grandfather’s memory of the story is that the statue was placed in honor of a real dog who had been so loyal that he would sit on the bay’s shore waiting for his owner to return from the sea. When the man died en route, the dog never wavered, starving and dying in waiting for its owner. This story of loyalty had left quite an impression on my grandfather as a young man. Unfortunately, the loyal dog statue also met a tragic end – in the late 50s, it was stolen, never to be seen again.

He wanted to show me where the statue once was, and to do a little investigation of our own to see if we could find any more information about its origins and disappearance. Our efforts came up short that day on both accounts – but my grandfather made me promise to use my research skills to continue looking into the story.

I’m still working on finding more about that dog statue, though it’s been at the back of my to-do list. But there really was something exciting about investigating the story that day. To be able to see the town through his descriptions and imagine what his life was like – that was amazing. To try and figure out the story with him and for him has been an important task – one I have to continue, if only to recreate afternoons like this one.

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