Leaning over the kitchen counter, I watch as Alice Nardone, my grandmother, shows me photographs of her life in Westerly over the years. I catch glints of fondness in her eyes as she recalls some of her early childhood memories. The attachment she shares with this growing town and community is clear as she tells me all about the challenges that she overcame here.
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Born in 1926, my grandmother lived in Westerly through one of its toughest periods. Following the Great Depression, many of her male friends ended up going to war during high school, and often never returned home. She also discussed her father’s passing when she was eleven, and that she was not able to attend college due to the cost. In spite of all of this, my grandma is still happy about the life that she was able to lead.
“I decided to go to New York when I was eighteen, and ended up working for a department store,” she begins, “but I would come home on vacation. I lived on Cross Street, and the entire hill would be closed off whenever it snowed. Well, this one time in particular, my friend and I were sledding, and when we crashed, her head knocked almost an entire row of my teeth out!” My grandma laughs loudly.
“There is something romantic in this town. You have to believe me on that!”
With teary eyes, she depicts the story of how she met my late grandfather, who was a dentist, while getting her teeth fixed. Eventually, after seeing each other for some time, my grandmother moved back here to live with my grandfather. They first lived on High Street before settling down and starting a family in Shelter Harbor.
“What was Westerly like back in the day?” I ask.
“Well,” she starts, “it was certainly much different than it is now. Back then, there were no restaurants downtown. In fact, I remember this one market where I would buy a loaf of bread for nine cents! Westerly was much quieter back then. There was less excitement. But I always found things to do.”
“Is there anything that stayed the same?”
My grandma warmly smiles as she proclaims, “Ah, yes, the park! This is one of my favorite places in town. It has scarcely changed.”
After talking a bit more about the park, she also declares her love of the library and the theater. She loves the overall architecture of downtown, and says that it has not changed too much over the years, aside from restaurant and store additions.
“Granite Street used to be filled with homes, but now there are a lot of businesses. When I was younger, having a fast food restaurant here would be unheard of,” my grandmother says.
“The entire aura of Westerly has changed. It used to be a quiet little town, suffering from the Great Depression, but look at it now. It’s like a city. There are much more people, and many tourists love to come here during the summer because there is no place quite like it,” she adds. She enjoys the success of the town.
I shift my gaze back towards the photographs that my grandmother had just shown me, noticing a slightly faded photo of she and my grandfather embracing at the seafront. There is something romantic in this town, after all. It seems that while she lived through its evolution, her rose-tinted perspective of Westerly has never changed.