Even a baby boomer can still adjust to change … BIG change

As old as we’re all getting, can baby boomers still adjust nimbly and comfortably to change? You’re about to find out. BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien wrote roughly a year ago about her upcoming move from her lifelong home in Southern California to her husband’s native territory in the whole new culture of Rhode Island. She is there now, she has settled in, and she has confounded those who predicted she’d be back in Los Angeles in six months’ time.

Today marks eight months since this third-generation native-Californian’s cross-country move. Relocating from one of the largest states to the very smallest, from the west coast to the northeast, from the land of Starbucks and sushi to the world of clambakes, clam cakes, and Johnnycakes, the question I usually receive is an incredulous: “Why?”

The first morning I woke up in our new house in Rhode Island, which happened to be my birthday, I was without tea kettle or car, recovering from jet lag and the previous night’s red eye flight.

Erin O’Brien at home in New England.

Fresh from Los Angeles, I requested a ride with Uber. “Take me to the nearest Starbucks,” I directed my young driver. While I scanned the horizon for a Starbucks, plentiful in LA but a rarity here, my driver helpfully suggested Dunkin’ Donuts as an alternative, as we passed the fourth one in as many minutes. “I’m sorry — what did you say?” I asked, trying to conceal my disdain, as we approached our next Dunkin’ Donuts. Apparently, Rhode Island runs on Dunkin’.

Yet the tiniest state with the longest official name, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, has other drink offerings, too.

Coffee milk (pronounced cawfee) is milk with coffee syrup, and a coffee cabinet is a coffee-flavored shake.

Del’s Frozen Lemonade, a Rhode Island tradition, can be purchased at a retro roadside stand or from a little catering truck or van. This lemony frozen delicacy looks like a cup of melting snow, a welcome treat on a summer day.

And then there’s the wicked good food. The Federal Hill area of Providence, the capital, is an Italian food lover’s Mecca. Traditional Northern Italian fare and family recipes are infused with chef specials like blue crab ravioli.

There are not just Manhattan red and New England white, but Rhode Island clear (cleayah) chowder (chowdah) as well.

“Stuffies” … stuffed Quahog clams.

Stuffies are Quahog clams, emptied and refilled with the addition of onions, parsley, and breadcrumbs, sprinkled with paprika, then baked. Clam cakes are deep fried balls of dough with flecks of clam inside, often dipped in chowder (the white kind.)

Speaking of dough, Doughboys are pieces of fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. The sign for Iggy’s Doughboys and Chowder House, a Rhode Island institution, beckons with a giant doughboy wearing a chef’s hat.

Bakeries and grocery stores carry egg biscuits, similar to scones, topped with a sugary lemon glaze, as well as the pepper or red wine varieties, without glaze, of course.

Like Del’s Lemonade, some of the food is seasonal. A zeppole, a decadent Italian pastry garnished with custard and jelly, is available around St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th (not to be confused with St. Patrick’s Day, which this year was two days earlier). Even McDonald’s, a Southern California creation, advertises lobster (lobstah) rolls on the menu for the summer.

As noted above, the R in the middle and the end of a word is omitted, which is saved and randomly added to the end of another word later. For example, during the winter, as my husband shoveled the driveway to park (pahk) the car (cah) he was told it would be a good idea (idear) to buy a parka (parker.)

The Rhode Island accent is becoming more familiar to me, but every now and then something gets lost in the translation.

A New England lobster roll.

“Have you been to the Wickford yacht show?” a neighbor asked.

“That’s an awfully small marina,” I considered, before I quickly realized he was referring to the Wickford art show.

From another neighbor’s wrap-around porch, smoke rose in the distance across the bay. “Is that East Greenwich?” I wondered.

“No, it’s Father,” my neighbor explained.

Concerned, I asked, “Father Who?” which was met with her confused expression. She’d meant the smoke was farther away.

I’ve experienced my first New England spring, the trees ablaze with color, and the baseball season, too. Although I kept my Los Angeles Dodgers t-shirt and hat, I now sport Boston Red Sox regalia (including a sweatshirt in case of inclement weather.) I’m counting on my old and new teams to face off at the World Series: the two best pitchers in baseball, and my new favorite player, Mookie Betts.

My first New England summer arrived resplendent with bugs of every size, from monumental black beetles to microscopic gnats that feast on freckled arms and legs. While I’ve equipped myself with boot claws and hand warmers for the upcoming winter, I am wise not to leave the house with anything less than No. 100 SPF sunscreen and a splash of mosquito repellent instead of my usual cologne.

So, yes, the transplant has been successful: I haven’t been rejected yet! Rhode Island has begun to feel like home.

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16 Comments

  1. I’ve spent the past two weeks gathering information on CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) in California, hoping to move back to the land of my birth sometime this year – from NJ. It will be as much a change for me as for you – I left California at 7. But I long for the warmer weather year round. And a year-round pool.

      1. I kind of doubt there will be a Starbucks inside the CCRC, but my guess is that it will be dryer, and I will miss the green of NJ. Humidity (which I hate) makes for very green gardens. I have a very well established perennial garden with local and native flowers to attract bees and hummingbirds, and I don’t think the West has the same flowers.

    1. Every day there is something new. We found some white sticks, with orange tips and reflectors on top, in our garage. When it began to snow I realized what they were for!

  2. Now I want to go to Rhode Island, not to live there but to sample some of the food you described so vividly.
    I loved the hilarious stranger in a strange land language mistakes. I had a similar problem trying to understand my husband’s Delaware cousin’s accents.

    1. My blank stares, as I try to process what is being said sometimes, must be comical!
      At a sandwich shop someone asked my husband of he’d like his on a “grindah.” I quickly realized it was grinder. “Sub” I translated for him!

  3. Sold! A visit to Rhode Island is now on my bucket list. Does the RI Chamber of Commerce know about you, Erin? You could write for them … or any RI foodie or travel magazine.

  4. It’s wicked awesome to have you heeyah. Not for nuthin’ but anything Father than East Greenwich is too fah.

  5. I love this, Erin!!! A fun glimpse into the idiosyncrasies and highlights of your new life…now I really can’t wait to visit!

  6. Lovely piece, Erin. A pure California boy here from L.A. who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at age 24. As a child and tween, we’d travel to NYC and I found myself speaking like my relatives! Gawd help me! Even The Beatles produced a quirky tune called “Lovely Rita,” a perfect example of HUH? I mean the Fab Four spoke the Queen’s English. As you describe the misguided plight of the letter “R,” how about “Lovely Riter, meetah maid.” Best of luck as you embrace the charming winters of blizzards and sub-zero temperatures!

    1. You reminded me of how I enjoyed singing about “Riter” the “meetah” maid, in the language of our forebears!

      The dialect is another aspect entirely. Today someone referred to the bubbler (“bubblah”), meaning water fountain.

      I continue to tackle the pronunciation of the Native American place names–Narragansett being the easiest–without using a Spanish accent as in our California home!

  7. Just a helpful suggestion (I hope), some companies are selling spray combo sunscreen and ‘skeeter repellent… One less thing to carry…

  8. Erin, I so enjoyed your comments about living in New England. Glad to hear that you are enjoying and acclimating to your new surroundings. As you know, I spent ten years in Boston and its surroundings and I do miss it sometimes. And MacDonald’s has lobster rolls? Wow! I hope that I can make it back to New England sometime soon (to visit –I can’t give up the So Cal weather!) Keep writing. I love your stories.

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