In Providence: Providence Station

“The last time she was here, it felt forced. It felt like we were trying too hard. I know I felt that way, but I still wanted to try. This year, her kid’s in — I think he’s in Italy or something. He’s traveling. She was just going to sit at home. I said, ‘Why don’t you come to Providence? We’ll do Christmas together.’ She teaches at a school up in Vermont. I said, ‘Once they’re out for the year, come visit again. Let’s give this another shot.’ She said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ The last time she was here was two years ago. We’re taking a chance doing this. Two years with just a few conversations and now she’s going to be here for — until New Year’s. That’s if she doesn’t get sick of me and tries driving back in a rental car. I’m not going to lie to you — I’m nervous. I’m really nervous.”

I decided to hang around Providence Station and see if I could get some of the people waiting there to talk to me. I love watching family members and friends pick up loved ones for the holidays, but since most of my family lives here, I don’t get the opportunity very often except when I’m in an airport or a train station, like this one.

For me, Providence always feels like a city people love to leave but avoid coming home to, so it felt good to surround myself with people who have decided that this is where they want to be for the holidays.

One woman told me to get in her van (yes, a van) if I wanted to talk to her, and because she looked like my mom, I typed “9-1-1” in my phone just in case and then got in.

“My husband always picks up my daughter when she comes home from school. Now we have two girls in school and I go, ‘I’m picking up _____.’ He goes ‘They’re coming in at the same time.’ I go, ‘You always pick up _____, I’m picking up _____.’ His car is right over there. _____ is coming to my car and _____’s going to his. I’m not kidding. That’s how we’re doing it. We were laughing about it, and the girls think we’re crazy, but we’re just so glad to have them home. Neither one of us could wait to see them.”

I saw an older man with a gray beard and a sign that read “Welcome Home, Corduroy!” standing near the entrance.

“That’s my grandson. We call him Corduroy. That’s his nickname. Like the bear with the overalls. He always wore overalls as a kid and he loved that book. He had the doll until he was 9 or 10. He might still have it. You can ask him when he gets here. Now, he’s in school studying to be a doctor. He’s the first one in the family to go to college and we’re all very proud of him. He’s not going to like this sign though. He keeps telling us ‘I’m going to be a doctor. You can’t call me Corduroy.’ I tell him, ‘Fine, I’ll call you Dr. Corduroy.’ My wife doesn’t know he’s coming. We’re going to surprise her. She hates surprises. She’s going to kill me. I’m going to open the door to the house and say ‘I got Dr. Corduroy with me.’ That’ll really bowl her over.”

When the soon-to-be Dr. Corduroy showed up, he seemed only mildly annoyed at the sign, and gave his grandfather a big hug.

“I do hate that he calls me that, but he sent me a photo of the sign before I got here, so I knew what I was walking into.”

My favorite group of the day was a family of 16 (yes, 16) people all waiting for the same person to show up. When the young woman, who looked to be about 19, strode out of the station, she started screaming, and the group of 16 started screaming, and everybody was hugging, and because I had asked them if I could speak with them for this article, somehow I got tangled up in the hugging, and if you’ve never hugged a stranger outside of a train station who is genuinely happy to hug you because they’re just so excited to see someone that they want to hug the world, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a truly wonderful feeling.

Once the hugging was done, I asked how long it had been since they saw whoever this person was who had just returned home.

“That’s our cousin,” one of the young men in the group said, “She hasn’t been home since Thanksgiving.”

This Thanksgiving?  This past Thanksgiving that was less than a month ago?

“What can I say, we’re Italian. It’s all about family. We’re glad she’s home.”

Then I got another hug.

One woman was picking up her fiance, and she squealed as she showed me her ring.

“It’s a family heirloom. He gave it to me this spring, and we’re getting married next November. Right now he’s working in New York and I’m here finishing up school, but while he’s here, we’re going to talk about what we want to do, you know, when it comes to putting both our lives together. I really want to stay in Providence. I love it here, and he doesn’t like New York that much, and I’m not living there. I tried it. Too loud for me. Too much going on. I need a little peace and quiet. It works for me here, but we’ll figure something out. As long as I’m with him and he’s with me, we’ll be alright. I don’t even care about the wedding, to be honest with you. I just want to be married. I want to say, ‘This is my husband.’ That’s what I’m looking forward to the most. Every other guy I dated felt like they were trying to keep me behind them. He’s always putting me up front and saying ‘Go ahead. You got this.’ That’s how I know he’s it for me.”

When her fiance arrived, he shook my hand and then the two walked off together in search of a nice meal to celebrate their reunion.

I can be a little bit of a sap, but I tried to steady myself so that I wouldn’t be a puddle by the end of the three hours I spent observing everyone.

The only time I failed was when a man in his 40s left the station and immediately came running toward a car parked on the street with its engine still running. I couldn’t see who was in the car at first, but then the window opened and a little dog was held out to the man, who scooped it up in his arms and hugged it for about three minutes before getting in the car — still holding the dog — and disappearing off toward the East Side.

I didn’t know the man, the dog, the driver, the story, or where they were headed, but I wished them well all the same.

After all–

Tis the season.