My husband surprised me this past weekend with a weekend getaway. He had planned to leave Friday night, but the weather was not really pleasant. So he decided that we would leave Saturday morning and stay overnight one night instead of two.
Our first stop Saturday was at the Christmas Tree Shop in Warwick, RI. This is not a store that does Christmas merchandise year round. This is a small, general merchandise store that is based in New England. They have great prices and interesting items. One time I found Dearfoam slippers for $5/pair. I was hoping to buy some new food dishes for our cat. I didn’t find any cat dishes on this trip, but I did find several other things that I’ve been wanting. You know, the kind of thing that you say, “I should get one of those,” when you realize you need it and don’t have it.
We stopped for dinner at Applebee’s. Fortunately our timing was good – between lunch and dinner rushes – so it wasn’t too busy. The food was okay.
Our final destination was the new Hampton Inn in S. Kingstown, RI. It was very nice. After we checked in, we set off to see if we could find a pet store in the 2 nearby small outdoor malls. The second mall had a small store called the Critter Hut. They offered small pets like birds, fish, mice and gerbils. They had supplies for dogs and cats – food and toys. Dogs were welcome in the store. They did have some cat dishes I liked – stainless steel with a rubber rim so they won’t slide across the floor – for very reasonable prices.
We took an evening drive to Point Judith, RI to check the ferry schedule. My husband was taking me to Block Island, RI on Sunday. He knows this is one of my favorite places on earth. We stopped for a while along the roadside to watch folks digging clams in the salt flats while the tide was down. We enjoyed the breeze and sun. After we picked up a ferry schedule, we drove over to Narragansett State Beach. Since it was after hours, we were able to park for free. We pulled into the parking lot to the right as you enter, then drove to a spot near the road and parked with our backs to the beach. We were facing the Bird Sanctuary and this spot gave us a perfect for watching the osprey nest that sat atop a pole not far away. With the binoculars, we watched 2 adult and 1 young osprey as they soaked in the last sun of the day. It was quite a sight! For part of the time, they took turns eating something that was in the nest – very likely a fish caught by one of the adults.
As darkness fell, we went back to the Hampton Inn for the night. The mattress was good (as it ought to be since the hotel just opened this year) and we slept well.
The next day we were up bright and early. After breakfast, we packed what little we had brought for one night, checked out and headed to the ferry. I was so happy to be going to Block Island!
Block Island holds a very special place in my heart. Not for the beaches or fishing . . . I don’t really do those. But the scenery is so beautiful and, at approximately 4 mi by 7 mi, it is walkable. I first went there for a night when I was a kid, but I don’t remember much of that trip.
The first time I went as an adult, I was with my first husband. We stayed at the Old Town Inn, which is “up the road a piece” from Old Harbor. With no car, we had to walk or bike everywhere – good thing I was young! But we enjoyed the trip.
We went back when my daughter (now 29) was 6 weeks old. We rented a very small cottage that had once been a garage. It was wonderful. We were closer to the town, I could save money by cooking our meals and my daughter was obviously enjoying it – she slept through the night for the first time on that vacation! Contrary to popular belief, babies are very portable and easy to please – especially when you are breast feeding and don’t need to worry about bottles and such. We went back the following year – same cottage – and my daughter, who was now about 14 months, learned many new words. (She started talking at about 9 months and her first word, aside from mama and papa, was “pine cone,” so by 14 months words were coming like crazy!)
We had a break after that – vacations in different places to amuse the kids (we now had 2). When my kids were 4 & 7, their dad and I divorced. I was now a single parent with not much income and irregular child support payments (irregular initially, non-existent after a while). I took the kids to Pennsylvania the first summer after the divorce, but found it was difficult to do all the driving for a long vacation, even with my daughter as my navigator to read the directions. It was not the most fun any of us had ever had.
Two years later, I was in a quandary. I really needed a vacation – I had a new stressful job which paid better but not great by any stretch of the imagination. Single parenting was also definitely stressful and my fibromyalgia, which finally had a name, was wildly out of control. I was really stressed about finding a place we could afford to go on vacation that wasn’t too far away and would let me relax, too. Out of the blue, I thought of Block Island. But could I afford that?
That’s where the Surf Hotel came in. I can’t remember how I found it – perhaps from the BI Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t a chic resort but the location was perfect and the prices were right. I took a chance. I found a little piece of heaven.
The Surf Hotel is a Victorian-era building. Most of the rooms have shared baths and showers, which might turn off some people, but was no big deal for us. There are three floors and no elevators – difficult but not impossible for me. The hotel is located in Old Harbor. The road parallels the harbor, then turns almost 90 degrees left. The Surf is on that right angle. The front doors open to the business district; the rear doors open to the ocean! The front and one side of the hotel has a large, old-fashioned porch that is lined with rocking chairs. There was also an old-fashioned popcorn cart where popcorn was sold. The back has a porch also, with wicker furniture. There is a deck with tables/umbrellas.
The Surf was family owned and operated. They knew everyone who was staying there. They also knew who wasn’t – and didn’t allow strangers to dally on the porch or in the parlor. That was especially reassuring to me, with 2 kids. Many of the guests were families that returned the same week(s) every year, as we did for some time. That meant my children could make friends and when we returned the next summer, their friends would be there, too. My daughter, in particular, has made friends that she is still in contact with to this day.
When you entered the lobby/parlor, it was like traveling back in time. That was partly due to the many antiques that furnished the area (and indeed the whole hotel). But it was also because of the activity – chess/checker tables occupied, card games going in the evening and the TV in the corner (the only one in the hotel) playing cartoons or the Olympics, depending on the year. It was a comfortable area to relax and have fun. The rooms were furnished with period furniture and had no TV. There were ceiling fans but no A/C. You hardly ever needed A/C because there was always a breeze. There was a pantry with a counter, refrigerator, food storage space and some cooking utensils and a microwave.
Adjoining the parlor was a dining room. Although they had served 3 meals a day back a ways, when I took my children there, it was only breakfast, which was included with your room. But what a breakfast! Forget the continental carb fests set up by some chains. This was made from scratch pancakes, eggs, oatmeal – better than home!
My children loved the Surf. Because they both knew how to follow rules, they were allowed a lot of freedom they might not have had elsewhere. They could go wherever they wanted on the property, as long as I knew where to find them. They had other kids to play with – I did not have to entertain them every minute. They could make their own plans with their friends. As they got older, the boundaries expanded. My children loved this place so much that we always made our reservations for the following year before we left.
I loved the peace I found there. With contented children, I could spend my time on the porches – front porch for people watching, side porch for afternoon breezes, back porch for watching the ocean and reading.
The first vacation my current husband and I took with our blended family was at the Surf Hotel. I am so glad my husband got to see and experience the place. Now, when I talk about things that happened in the past or what I really enjoyed about the place, he knows what I’m talking about.
When we got to the BI on Sunday, you could see the Surf Hotel from the ferry. But I decided to save a visit to say hello for last. It was a wise decision, as you’ll see. The first thing my husband did was rent a convertible for a couple of hours from a rental outlet near the dock. I hadn’t been in a convertible since I was a kid! It was a wonderful way for us to tour the island. With age and fibromyalgia, I can’t do the walking I did 30 years ago – without the car I could not have seen the lighthouses, the bluffs, the island’s interior. And it was a fabulous day, weather-wise – dry, moderate temps, sunny, so the convertible was inspired. Two hours of sunshine, fresh sea air and beautiful scenery!
After turning the car in, we ate nearby at Finn’s Restaurant. The fried whole clams weren’t on my diet plan, but I didn’t care. They were really good! Then we walked along the main road, stopping in a few shops. That’s when it happened. I saw signs on the building from a distance, but it wasn’t until we got closer to the Surf Hotel that I realized they were real estate signs. There were ropes across the steps to the porch with signing attached, telling you to stay off the porch. The sign on the lobby door said “Closed for the season.” My husband and I took a look around the building – it looked like it hadn’t been maintained this season. It wasn’t just that it needed paint and repairs. The outsides of the windows were coated with dirt.
Even with a dish of Ben & Jerry’s, my heart wouldn’t be comforted. It was so sad. This wasn’t just the end of a business – it was the end of part of my history and my children’s history. It was a slice of a slower time of life that will never be available again.
The local BI paper had the real estate ad. The asking price for the Surf Hotel: $7.5 million. So I’m playing Powerball. If God decides that the numbers should fall in my favor, I’ll make an offer. After all, I have an adult daughter with a degree in hotel administration who jumped at the idea of running the place if I had the money to buy it.
I’ll say my prayers!