The Block Island Times

You can't tell anyone where you got it

By Martha Ball | Jan 04, 2014

On a sunny Christmas Day my growing puppy, Autumn, trots down the road, happily carrying a rapidly degrading tennis ball. She is a child, she wants both the slimy tennis ball and a stick found along the way. Her mouth filled with one, she tries to pick up the other and is for a second or two successful before they both fall to the ground. She has no idea in her little puppy brain that I will forgive her almost anything, even the holes in the yard that are unearthing truly weird root systems — the existence of which I cannot explain — as long as she makes me laugh. And she does do that.

It is only a day later I find myself talking of her and of Mist, the sweet, gentle dog who left my keeping four years ago. He was a rescue and I always say my hand was not firm enough, but there was more; he was broken and I did not know how to heal him, he never understood the simple joy of “play” that seemed to have been drained from him — by his reactions, I would guess by someone with heavy work boots. It surprises me to know if I give in, it will still make me cry and I am not sure talking with someone who feels the same way about animals was as good an idea as it seemed at first.

Autumn, meanwhile, has killed her bedtime toy, a stuffed triangle of fabric with a red-hatted gnome printed on one side. She is lying on the floor methodically dismembering it. I should stop her, but the tear is in the cloth, not a seam, and it is beyond repair, so I simply reach over and take the scraps as she pulls them from a spot where the creature’s boot used to be.

This gnome was an early gift, one of many in a bag filled with kindnesses, and it has lasted a long time, as puppy toys go — a full season on the calendar. Primarily, it lived upstairs, and Autumn gnawed on it a bit before falling asleep. In the past, if it found its way downstairs I would retrieve it knowing better than to let her have it in the light of day but this time it seemed on the edge of its life so I let it be.

Yesterday, when I found on the floor a strip of fabric unfamiliar in color, texture and shape, I put it aside; this puppy has proven good at finding odd things I do not know are in this house. While this was truly alien, I thought its origin might yet come to me, as such things do, while I am washing dishes. I look at the fields, unaware my mind is drifting until wayward bits of memory fall into place, like tumblers on a safe, and too often it is not an answer to “what was that?!” but things I would as well keep in the unretrieved bank memory that fly out. It can be months after the fact that finally it all makes sense, and I think I should write down the date but my hands are in soapy water and I convince myself I will remember, which I never do.

The dishes are still in the sink, but there would have been no epiphany I realized today as more bits of cloth, in different colors, appeared, bleeding from the gnome’s missing foot.


It has been a strange couple of weeks with holidays and moved deadlines. Normally, I would have remembered Arthur Rose in the issue printed last week but it was not possible.

Arthur is/was one of those people I have tried in broad terms — rather ineffectively, I am sure — to thank for their generosity and shared knowledge, their support and their trust, over the past two decades.

Many, many years ago, I had not long been writing this column and was adhering to my own strict dictates, not least among them not quoting individuals. So many people have too many different memories of the same event and I wanted to stay clear of those landmines. Arthur called one day, he had something he thought I might like to use and he would bring it down. It does not take that long to drive from the West Side to the Neck, a time that day shortened by my fretting over how to explain my position without hurting his feelings. He came into my living room and held out what he had promised, telling me I could use the contents on one condition. We stood there, both holding the treasured little book he had brought as he continued in his most serious tone of voice: “you can’t tell anyone where you got it.”

I whispered a little prayer of thanksgivings and assured him that would not be a problem. In retrospect, the little book that did contain highly guarded information when it was written was, by the early 1990s, of little interest to the broad population. It came from another time with details of methods no longer used by a fleet of small fishing vessels sailing from the Old Harbor. It contained references to things no longer standing, Bill Lewis’s barn (“Now, dear, that’s old Bill’s barn, went in ‘38.”) and the Mansion Bath House, another casualty of that storm, and the main roof of Ansel Ball’s place, a name two generations and two out-of-family owners back, and others, unfamiliar.

These great secrets, I knew, would be of interest to only a narrow segment of the paper’s readership, but I was sure that handful would appreciate them, as they did.

Arthur Rose was a font of local knowledge, he was the person I asked about the mysterious — to me — stone work in the mill run behind the Town Hall. I do not think I understood the comfort of having someone who knew how the muskrats came to Block Island until finding myself in one of those “where did you get that story” situations.

Not from Arthur, of that I am certain, nor from any of the countless one-time young people who passed through his tutelage. I hope they keep his stories alive.

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