My husband and I just celebrated our 27th anniversary. It was on November 24 in 1982 that we eloped and were blessed by a true saint, MahaGhosananda. He was a great spiritual leader of Cambodian Buddhists who lived and taught in Rhode Island for about a decade. He generously agreed to perform our ceremony.
We asked him because he was the only clergyman we knew. My husband’s church– Guiding Star Baptist in Louisville on Mohammed Ali Blvd (formerly Walnut St.), was too far away. I was an ex-Catholic and a disillusioned Pentecostal, with Pagan leanings. I didn’t know that a Unitarian would have done just fine, so I didn’t ask. Not knowing how to find a priest, so to speak, we just went up to the Pope and he said yes.
I may someday know what sort of impression a couple of Americans requesting a wedding might have made on the good people in the temple. We were an interracial couple who were raised Christian and spoke not a word of their language. They accepted us, when so many around us were full of discouragement. Marriage is a leap, and when we joined hands and jumped we had to have faith. So we tuned out the discouraging words and got on the Cranston St. Bus and went to the temple to get married.
After our vows were made– our words in English with kind prayers in Khmer– the people gave us gifts of cash. I was thinking of what it might have meant, in hard-working minimum-wage time, to earn a dollar. It was hard to accept it. It’s so much easier to be Lady Bountiful, easier to give than to accept generosity. Perhaps it was a down-payment. Or a lesson.
After we left the temple we got on the bus and went downtown, to the Pot au Feu. The Pot was the pinnacle of elegant dining in the 80’s, and ain’t too shabby now. We went back last night to appreciate old times.
I’m grateful the place is still there. One lovely thing about Providence, and much of Rhode Island, is that the past is not totally razed. The bulldozers missed a lot of spots. The Custom House survives on its foundation of two-century-old stones. In the foyer of the Pot au Feu, St. Julia Child beams from a black-and-white photo near the door. She’s shaking hands with a youth who strongly resembled the distinguished man in formal dress who came to ask us how we were enjoying our dinner.
I’m grateful for what has not changed. I’m grateful for what has. When I eloped with my sweetheart I was working at a hip photofinishing lab downtown. I was out of my depth as a Rhode Island factory girl thrown in with so many future photogeniuses on their way to fame. AIDS passed through that workplace like the Reaper, taking a tithe of the young by stealth and ambush, the older by despair.
During those years, survivors of the Cambodian genocide arrived in Rhode Island. My own Irish family had preceded them by about a century, fleeing genocide by malignant neglect and an ethnic cleansing carried out via strategic advantage of crop failure . America in the 80’s was in a state of uncertainty. After the end of American war in Vietnam the college students went back to their studies. The draft was over. We had a decade of the Smiley Face. There was a natural and predictable reaction to the ‘nostalgia’ of the seventies.
In the 80’s we all wore black. If you went to buy a sweater or something you would see racks and racks of black. Sister Mary Curmudgeon could have chosen her whole year’s wardrobe at Ann and Hope. Punk was on the radio. Talking Heads was the local band that made the big time. Roomful of Blues and the Young Adults were playing at Lupos. I joined the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation and studied Uechi Karate with Charlie Earle downtown.
I remember November dusk with the glowing windows of the Arcade. I came to know Providence more intimately when I took up the occupation of nursing.
I am grateful to live in this beautiful city. I am grateful to the crazy idealists who named her Providence– who blessed her streets with names like Benefit, Benevolence, Hope and Peace. I’m grateful to be alive and feeling young at an age when Woman would be globally and historically in her old age. It’s an accident of birth, as far as I can tell. I’m grateful to live in the age of instant publishing. So I can throw this note in a bottle out to the world. Very Blessed. Happy Thanksgiving y’all.