Ed Cunningham

As a school boy, I learned the story of Roger Williams coming to Rhode Island. It is nicely captured on a local RI website: www.quahog.org. They note that there is a small monument at the site where Roger Williams stepped ashore in 1636.

"Williams and company had been forced to leave their original settlement at Rumford, on the east side of the Seekonk River, after being notified that the land already belonged to Plymouth Colony. .....Williams was a wanted man in the powerful Massachusetts Bay Colony (and) . .....Massachusetts's reach extended well into Plymouth. Williams had no choice but to leave immediately. So Williams and his friends packed themselves and all they could carry into a single canoe and took off, regretfully leaving their newly planted fields behind.

When they arrived on the west side of the river, they had the good fortune to be met at Slate Rock by a number of friendly Narragansett Indians, one of whom greeted them in a mixture of old English and Narragansett with the phrase `What cheer, netop?' essentially, "What's up, bud?" ..... Williams ... explained his predicament and asked the Indians if they knew of a place where he and his company could settle.

The Indians directed the group to continue down the river, around the point to the west, and up another small river to a cove. There, they were told, they would find a suitable spot to live. Williams gratefully took the advice. In the fullness of time, the little settlement he established by the cove became the city of Providence."

Over the years, several vignettes about Roger Williams occasionally recur to me. When this one has come to mind, I have whimsically addressed friends with "what cheer, netop ?" There have been several businesses which used the phrase, as did "What Cheer Laundry," and others.

At work, I recently used the phrase in an in-house e-mail, and later it occurred to me to "google" it, to see if there is anything out there that could explain it to those who might be unfamiliar with the phrase. There is. In scanning them, I was particularly gratified when I noticed that one of them translates it as "Hi neighbor." It liked it, even if it is not totally literally correct. (Translations are not an exact science if you want to capture and convey the range of meanings, subtleties, allusions, etc. from one language and time to another. I recall that in some part of the Odyssey, the Greeks were wandering, lost in the desert. As the lead men crested yet another sand dune, they excitedly began to yell "the sea !, the sea !" Now, the exact literal translation is "a large body of salt water ! A large body of salt water !" Lesson: Exact literal translation is not always the touchstone of communication).

"Hi, neighbor !" I liked it. And then it struck me: for many years, when listening to Red Sox games in those hot summers long ago, and on many other occasions, we really had more of a truly Rhode Island beer than I realized. There was a lot more awareness of, and "tribute" to, our history than I knew when Warren Walden, Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin, Ken Coleman and others said "Hi Neighbor, have a 'Gansett !"

At Sid's Scenic Gardens, & elsewhere, I have seen & admired the Buck rose `Hi Neighbor.' I looked it up, and was a little disappointed when it appeared that he came to the name independently of this episode in our history.

It's quite nice & healthy, big, and a strong, and a clear/translucent rose-red. Somehow, it struck me as a "happy" rose ! But, other roses tugged harder at my sleeve, & I never quite bought one. There are a lot of "studs" in its lineage, including Queen Elizabeth, Charlotte Armstrong, Crimson Glory, Floradora, Peace, Prairie Princess, Eva, Pinocchio, Golden Rapture and R. roxburghii.

I will now be planting `Hi Neighbor' this year, in mindful appreciation. Quahog.org reports that on his monument in Slate Rock Park it is engraved. "An exile for his devotion to freedom of conscience, and having a sense of God's merciful providence unto me in my distress called the place Providence."

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Date last edited: 01/21/10
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