is the original introduction from the first From the Backpack
posting in July of 2003.)
second piece for “From the backpack,” this essay was also written
around the fall of 1991 for a class at Rhode Island College.
have made a few modifications to this version. Most of it was
done to simply smooth out some edges that seemed rather rough
to me in reading it today. Nothing major was added or removed
from the original.
thing I have always left intact… from the first draft to the version
turned in for the class to the one presented here… is the opening
paragraph. When I first wrote the piece, I didn’t read it over
and hadn’t noticed I had the gun pointing back at the ducks. When
I presented it out loud at a class, everyone… professor, classmates,
me… erupted in laughter. I like that memory, so I kept it.
~ ~ ~
remember a place that in the middle of a city was all alone. Once,
Slater Park was in Pawtucket, but Pawtucket was not in Slater
Park. As I drove in for a visit one day, the setting of trees
became more dominating as the traffic along the main road moved
further behind. To the right, a pond was shimmering in the glow
of the sun. The zoo had an entrance up and off to the left, just
beyond the World War II gun that pointed back toward the ducks
and geese which surrounded the gazebo at the pond’s distant end.
pulled my car off to a small paved lot on the right, about one-hundred
yards beyond the ducks. My grandfather used to bring me to this
park years ago. We would come equipped with a bag filled with
the ends from loaves of bread. The birds have noticed my approach,
and seem confused. They waddled straight toward me, then, perhaps
noticing nothing in my hands, appeared completely disinterested
as they turned and passed.
I was in high school I ran a cross country meet here. The race
began at a set of tennis courts that hadn’t existed during my
days as a wide-eyed six-year old. My grandfather came to watch
me run that day. It was the first time in several years we had
been here together, and it would also be the last.
got back in my car and drove ahead into the area near the zoo’s
doors. The city has undergone many changes recently, primarily
through corruption and politics. The mayor was forced to resign
when charged with extortion. He later pleaded guilty to the charges,
which were based on his business dealings as a representative
of the city. Recently, a friend told me of the plans to close
the zoo portion of the park by the year’s end. I needed to make
at least one more visit. I had wondered how the construction of
the past few years, coupled with the news of the closing, had
affected all that existed inside the walls before me.
place was barren. No children ran beyond the sound of their parent’s
call to return and stay close. No people wandered beside me through
an afternoon of daydreams and fantasies. Just a few apathetic
looking workers finishing up one assignment and preparing for
news of their new location a month or two in the future. For them,
like the animals, it seemed to be a change of locations though
the overall story remained the same.
roamed outside for a little while, passing the deer exhibit. It
used to be surrounded by a fence that was the only thing separating
me from their battle for position as I forced more pieces of bread
through to them. Now, a cement wall with bubble windows allowed
me to watch the deer as they walked around the enclosure. I almost
missed how wet my hand would get when I fed them.
decided to sneak in and visit with Fanny, resident elephant, for
a few minutes. The two of us were alone in the building. She didn’t
seem to recognize me. Her eyes looked in my direction, and as
I stared into them, they appeared hollow and vacant. Her pen was
too small, and here I understood how the zoo could be held in
such low standing nationally. Not filled with sunny days of bread
crusts with my grandfather, it was instead rated as one of the
worst zoos in the country. I wished for the apple I used to feed
Fanny, but perhaps it’s best I didn’t have one. Uniting that brilliant
past with this day wasn’t something I really wanted.
entire state has changed in the past year. Credit unions were
forced to close when the state insurance company for depositors
went out of business after a series of poor investments and embezzlements.
Many of the closed locations have yet to reopen, and may never
do so. Rhode Island was targeted as a major money laundering area
by the F.B.I. Even the elected mayor of Providence has a criminal
record for assault, earned when he was last in the same office.
The days of innocence in the eyes of a child were not to be found
grandfather passed away recently, and maybe I was trying to recapture
a small token of something I had lost. On this little visit, I
couldn’t help but see that all the bad this state had been through
in the past few years had somehow made its way even here. But
in the memories I hold of visiting this place, I found that I
have something that not even the park could claim.