Commentary: The Hope Diner, where today is just like it was yesterday

Posted 7/29/21

Of late, I am weekly dismayed to read about what some consider the inhospitable treatment in our once neighborly, bucolic town. By all appearances it remains the very charming place in which I was …

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Commentary: The Hope Diner, where today is just like it was yesterday

Posted

Of late, I am weekly dismayed to read about what some consider the inhospitable treatment in our once neighborly, bucolic town. By all appearances it remains the very charming place in which I was born, bred, raised a family, and thrived. It is truly disheartening to see conflict, animosity, and ill will in a place which for me has always exuded tranquility, serenity, safety, and scenic beauty.

Some of my favorite locations growing up were the grassy knoll at the foot of Walley Street, another at the foot of Union Street, the Town Beach before it became Colt State Park, Bristol Ferry before it became Roger Williams University, and downtown where we visited the original Rogers Free Library, a Five-and-Dime next to the post office, Duffy’s newspaper and magazine store run by Ed and Lenora Costa, next to Caron’s Jewelers. As kids, we were enticed by a record store on lower Bradford Street near The Phoenix office where my first purchase was “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?”

Of course, all those of a certain age remember the Pastime Theater, where for the purchase of a 20-cent ticket from Ms. Osterberg, one could gain entrance to the Saturday matinee following a 15-minute Western serial featuring our favorite gunslingers. Headed south from the eastern corner of Hope and State streets, we could get an ice cream float at Buffington’s Pharmacy, where locals also paid their electric and water bills in cash. Next door was Alger’s newsstand, run by Mr. Celone, offering an assortment of comic books, candy, magazines, cigarettes, and toys; then Connery’s Jeweler, next to the YMCA. Downtown was the place to be, and we traveled there on foot or by bicycle.

It was a truly delightful town in which to reside, where shopkeepers welcomed you by name with a smile and friendly chit-chat. Shoplifting was unheard of since you considered the likeable owners friends. It was a genuine slice of Americana; Mayberry had nothing on us.

What ever happened? I yearn for the Bristol of yesteryear where everyone seemed to know and like each other. We looked forward to the weekly Phoenix, and I don’t recall that editor Bosworth ever saw the likes of the acrid letters and antagonistic commentaries that appear today. The most outspoken critic at the time was a woman named Vasta Ruggiero, who had plenty to say but was highly respected by many for whom she spoke. People who disagreed maintained respect for each other and were much more tolerant and polite in their expression of their views. Civility prevailed.

There will be those who will dismiss my nostalgia as naïve, or my vision of Bristol as viewed through “rose-colored glasses.” Nevertheless, I will provide an example of one place where Bristol still maintains the atmosphere that I remember.

This week and last week I stopped for lunch at the Hope Diner, as casual a place as it gets. As I was waiting to be served, Frank at the next table began telling me about his heart issues, his children, their relocations and successful current jobs.  A local lawyer sitting at the counter turned as I recommended a documentary on Netflix to comment on how much he enjoyed it, then came over to tell me about the status of his adopted daughter. We both fondly recalled my late uncle and aunt who doted on her when she first arrived in the U.S.

I forgot to mention that upon my entrance, I had been greeted warmly and embraced by Donna, a childhood friend whose mother had worked for mine as a housekeeper many years ago. She fondly recalled that the relationship between our moms was not that of employer and employee, but rather good friends; my mother stopping to make lunch for both of them at noon. Bristol was not then a divided town of resentments between the “haves and the have-nots,” rather Bristolians cooperated and worked together for the benefit of both.

The week before, a gentleman named Richard approached my table, having read my letter published that week in the Providence Journal in support of Trump’s policies. “I don’t like Trump,” he declared. I reminded him that one did not have to champion the man to still favor his policies that made our country stronger and safer. He retorted that he did not like his policies either. Obviously, we were on very different waves of the political spectrum, but we did not allow it to divide us. He took a seat, and we proceeded to talk about our childhood in Bristol, the fun and good times we had, our families who lived in the same neighborhood.

In these exchanges, I find the Bristol I remember. Here at the Hope, patrons chat amiably across tables. Noisy when there is a full house, although the volume may be loud, the tone is always friendly, with much good-natured joking and laughter. All are welcome and accepted. Though certainly not fine dining by any measure, it provides local color as well as entertainment with the owner Laureen on the grill shouting orders back and forth to the cook in the kitchen. There are real people here, getting their daily sustenance as well as a few laughs, in addition to a slap or two on the back or shoulder. There is no hostility, no recriminations, no rivalry.

In this most unlikely of places, Bristolian camaraderie is on full view.

Donna Bruno
Bruno

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