East of Elmgrove

East Side Staycation

How one family found a home in another’s house

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Every summer, we have some kind of adventure. Sometimes it’s the far away kind, like the month we spent in Prague. Sometimes it’s the creative kind, like the summer we visited as many lighthouses in New England as we could, even sleeping in one in Saugerties. This year, our summer adventure was the stay-close to-home kind.

Hidden amongst some of the most prestigious addresses in College Hill is Creighton Street, and this year it was our “summer home.” Only one block long, it feels like a micro neighborhood; most of its residents have lived there more than 30 years.

Friends were leaving their house empty to spend the summer swimming the Bavarian Forest lakes of Switzerland. Delighted as they were with their travel plans, they had to leave behind their arthritic 13-year-old golden retriever, Annabelle. We loved the idea of a summer dog – all the benefits of exposing our son to a loving relationship with a dog without the commitment. Plus, their trip abroad and vacant house coincided with our planned kitchen renovation. So, I packed up the three of us – myself, my husband, and our six-year-old son Valentino – and moved us two miles away.

There is a Ripley-esque allure to staying in someone else’s home. You get to try someone else’s life for a short time: sip from their coffee mugs, peruse their bookshelves, play with their toys. It can be disconcerting. All of the familiar ingredients are present, just in different cupboards. Waking up, the first thing I saw every morning was a drawing by the artist whose house we were living in. It was a bird, colored mint green, yellow, and carnation-pink, a delicate creature stopped mid-air, its wings flapping wildly as its body stood still. Most definitely a metaphor for how I feel some days. My son discovered a drum set on our third day. He spent a lot of time in the far corner of the playroom wailing on the drums and cymbals. Meanwhile, my husband’s muscle memory had to get used to an entirely different kitchen work triangle. Motivated by “one of the best knives I’ve ever used,” he cooked every night.

Between the cooking and the playing we walked (literally) in the footsteps of our hosts. As easygoing and laid-back as Annabelle the retriever is, she’s also a creature of habit. Her walk was Prospect to Jenkes to Pratt to Hidden and then back to Brown. Annabelle refused our attempts at anything different. She sat, right there in the middle of the street.

But these walks proved to be the best part of our summer. Almost every day we saw neighbors Walter and Klaus, always rewarding because Walter is a great storyteller with an especially good eye for architecture. And then there was Olle and his tiny dog Olfi; the man was delighted that his very own Sweden was getting attention in this year’s World Cup. And most evenings we met any one of the Moores walking their older retriever Dolly.

I had also forgotten how varied the crowds can be. On that particular summer night, toddlers were running around covered with ice cream, RISD summer students lounged with their sketchbooks, a few hopelessly-in-love teenagers smooched on the grass, and ubiquitous tourists took selfies. I was feeling nostalgic. Many, many years ago, my friends and I would walk up from Benefit Street, certain this incredible view of Providence existed just for our pleasure. The night’s view was one of those deep, beetroot Providence sunsets, just as grand as I remembered it. I was feeling grateful all over again, to our friends for going away, but also for the chance to have an adventure so close to home in my own city.