Island residents tell their tales

Wed, 12/25/2013 - 11:15am
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Penny Riordan
Block Island Chamber of Commerce
Penny RiordanI first came to the island in 1972 with my husband and daughter for a weeklong summer vacation. We all fell in love with it — the biking, the beaches, the places for quiet reflection. From then on, we vacationed on Block Island every year, eventually buying land and building our own house. We knew we wanted to be here each summer and beyond, that it was the place we would retire to.

My husband and I moved here year round in 2002 and I started working at the Chamber of Commerce the same year. I've been working at the Chamber for 11 years now. What I like to do is create an experience that is personalized to each visitor. People pour off the ferry and come into the office not really knowing what they came for. They say, 'Okay I'm here, now what do I do?' I like to ask a few questions: How long are you here? Do you have kids with you? and so on. And then I try to give them suggestions that will make the most of the time they have to explore our island.

So many of the things on the island that my family loved when we first came out remain unchanged, even though we're now into the grandchildren generation. It's as if the island is in a time warp — you get on the ferry and just leave all the busyness of the mainland behind.

Being here recharges you, from the moment you see the classic architecture of the main street. I think it is the size of the island, its stillness and its quiet that allow you to take a deep breath — literally and figuratively.

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Jessica Wronowski
Manager, Dead Eye Dick's
Jessica WronowskiMy family’s history on Block Island begins with my grandfather, John H. Wronowski, who entered the ferry business in the forties and acquired the runs from Pt. Judith and New London to the Island. As a big, extended family, we continue what he began. Grandpa loved the sea, but he also liked a good time and the best time back then was at Dead Eye Dick’s. He would dance in the bar with my grandmother as Billy Stubbs played the piano, creating memories that led him to buy and lease out the property in the eighties.

Four years ago, I jumped at the chance to reclaim the restaurant and get the operation back in the family. It’s an old, cranky building that was sinking into the ground, so we dedicated a year to extensive renovations. That time was full of such important work: breathing life into an old place, lifting it up, shining the floors and restoring the bar that had inspired some lasting Island lore. I’m lucky to spend every day running around, attending to guests, but also listening to old stories that took place between these walls and creating some new ones along the way.

I love to experience the arc of a tourist season: the anticipation in early May when the Dead Eye Dick’s team reunites to return the restaurant to working order; the slow build of June when I still have time to enjoy the sunset from our deck or tend to my herb garden out back; the chaotic pace of July and August when we’re welcoming a stream of new faces and sending lobsters out of the kitchen by the dozen; and finally September, which is Block Island’s gift to all of us who work here. The crowds slowly wane, but the water is still warm and I have a little more time to notice and enjoy my extraordinary home. There’s a quiet to late September as the island settles back into itself after another summer season, and I find my way back to it. 

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Andrew McGarry
Student, Block Island School
Andrew McGarryI like the freedom of living on the island. I have lots of things I can do and privileges like fishing and going to the beach. In other places people drive hours to get to the beach, and I can walk there! I love that everybody on the island is friends with everybody else.  

Fishing is my favorite thing to do. Me and my best friends Reilly and Sawyer always find new spots. We might have a sleepover and then we’ll go look for  a new place to fish or by accident we’ll be walking and find a new pond. I’ve done a lot of different types of fishing.

I go to the channel near the Coast Guard Station to go surfcasting and I catch bluefish and striped bass. One night at the channel with my dad, I cast my first line out and caught a bluefish; it was a small one so I threw it back. My next line out I caught a little tiny striper and threw it back. But with my next line I caught a 25-pound, 30-inch striper and this kept happening ‘til I reached the limit of 3 stripers.

During the local fishing tournament I went out on a boat called the G. Willie Makit that I recommend because the captain and deckhand are really nice. I got first place in the bluefish division because I was the only one in my age group; the fish was only nine pounds! My brother — that I love more than anything — caught a 35-pound striper and got first place in the whole tournament.

The only thing I like as much as fishing is my family and Super Bowl Sunday. My family goes on picnics at Clay Head in the summer. We take walks through the maze and out to Mohegan Bluffs. One thing I really love is meeting up with my friends to ride bikes – that’s our transportation in the summer. And banana boating. I love banana boating.

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Logan Mott
Realtor, Sullivan Real Estate
Logan MottFor Logan Mott Chase, who grew up on Block Island, an ideal day is all about the local small town atmosphere, the surrounding ocean    and Block Island’s rural countryside. Early morning would begin with breakfast with friends at the Old Post Office Bagel Shop. There the group would ponder mouth-watering choices of berry muffins and a variety of scones, but she would settle on a pumpernickel bagel with cucumbers and cream cheese. The group would commandeer one of the outdoor tables in a sunny corner and watch visitors and locals stroll in and out of town, some already enroute to the beach.

Breakfast finished, she would convince her friends to join her for a brief ramble at the Block Island Conservancy’s Beach Avenue Trail, a chance to enjoy the awakening day — the morn- ing light, nesting egrets, views of Trims Pond.

Next, she would drive around the corner to the Solviken property near the Beachead Restaurant, an upland area between ocean and salt pond, next to where surfers like to park. Celebrating the hard work of island conservancy groups who recently purchased the property for preservation, she and husband Jim would leash up their four English Setters waiting impatiently in the back of the car, for a brisk and energetic walk along Crescent Beach.

Returning home, they would slather on sunscreen in preparation for an afternoon on the water. She and Jim would gas up the family inboard, the Logan M., a picnic boat kept in the Hog Pen at the Great Salt Pond. Weaving through the anchored boats in the pond, they would pick up speed at the end of the cut and skim across Block Island Sound in about 50 minutes. They would stop at Montauk for lunch at Westlake’s Fish Camp, before returning late in the day for a sunset drink at Mahogany Shoals on Payne’s Dock; a Dark & Stormy she thinks.

At twilight, meeting up with friends again, she and Jim would dinner at the soon to re-open Harry’s Café near the Block Island Grocery. She would choose that restaurant because she likes its eclectic menu and friendly atmosphere. Hands down she would order the Scallops Casino. Later, if the spirit moves, the group would mosey about town, taking in the sights and sounds of an Old Harbor evening — local and visiting bands, the summer scene. They would finish off the night with a hazelnut gelato from Beckett’s Authentic Gelato under the National Hotel.
After a restful night’s sleep, she would return to work at Sullivan Real Estate, where there would be no paperwork on her desk and all of the summer renters would be happy.

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Kristin Baumann
Director, Island Free Library
Kristin BaumannFitting it is that Kristin Baumann’s ideal day would begin with a good book. For the Island Free Library’s new director, a bucolic morning would be nothing without a book. The current read might be “The Invisible Bridge” by Julie Orringer, a historical fiction novel about Europe in the 1930s.

On this ideal day, the sun is shining and it would not be too hot. While contemplating morning chores, she would consider a good book for the beach, maybe “The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection,” by Alexander McCall Smith. Baumann would then tackle the chores while her son James slept in. Then she would mosey out to her garden to do some weeding.  The air would be fresh and heady with the fresh scent of privet, much like E.B. White described the salt sea air, in his autobiography of life on a Maine saltwater farm, “One Man’s Meat.”

At about midmorning James would wake and breakfast would be delivered from Ernie’s, her favorite breakfast haunt. Brought to the door would be blueberry pancakes for James and an omelet for her, along with one of Diane Mott Davidson’s mystery novels that always includes excellent and simple recipes, perhaps her latest, “Crunch Time.” (Please take note that Ernie’s does not deliver, this is a fictional day.)

Chores and breakfast completed, she and James would then pack for an afternoon at their favorite location on the island (well maybe the library is first), Scotch Beach. Into the beach bag would go lunch and drinks, the Alexander McCall Smith book and the Julie Orringer book.  

At the beach, James would boogie board, swim and meet up with friends.  Baumann’s friends would stop by to chat with her, perhaps about what they are reading. Ann Patchett’s new novel “State of Wonder” might come up, as might “A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar,” by Suzanne Joinson, or P.D. James’ crime novel “Death Comes to Pemberly.” A few might be members of the Island Free Library Book Club, the group currently reading the Orringer book. Baumann makes it clear that her Orringer book was purchased from the sale books downstairs and is not one of the library’s circulation copies. Since this is an ideal day, no other readers at the beach have any of the library’s books out in the sun and sand, so that tomorrow, when Baumann goes back to work, she won’t have to dust sand and bits of lunch from the pages of the returns.

She and James would stay at the beach until dark because they wouldn’t have to rush home and do chores. Those were all done in the morning. Finally as the sun sets over the Great Salt Pond however, they would mosey back to their house to shower and change. Then they would walk over to the Beachead for a perfect steak dinner. The restaurant would not be too crowded so she would get one of her favorite tables that look out over Crescent Beach. Her steak would arrive perfectly done, medium rare, with a side of crispy fries much like a dinner Spencer would order when dining with his long-time love Susan Silverman, in one of Robert B. Parker’s mystery novels. At the end of the meal, James would elect to skip a dessert of ice cream in town and want to head immediately home, perhaps because there’s a favorite book waiting for him. It would be “Babe and Me,” in his favorite series “Baseball Card Adventure” by Dan Gutman.

Sleepy from indulging in such an utterly perfect 14 or so hours, Bau-mann and her son would head back to their house and sit on the porch for a bit.  They might play Rose and Thorn, a game where each describes the best thing that happened that day and the thorniest. But since this is an ideal day, “It would be all roses,” she says.

Then tired and happy, the two would just go to bed. The Orringer book might come out again, but only for a few pages before she fell soundly asleep.

“Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown comes to mind here. New parents, who haven’t heard of it, take note. It will lull you happily to sleep along with your child. “Goodnight room, and goodnight moon, goodnight mittens and goodnight kittens…”

In Baumann’s house, on this perfect day, all of the cats sleep peacefully and don’t pounce on her in the middle of the night.

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