Ask most 9-year-olds where in the world they would most like to visit as a reward for a good school year, and the answer might sound like a trip to Disney World. But Meera Chand wanted her magical kingdom to be the city of Providence.
“I love it here. Everyone is so friendly,” Meera said.
Meera, who lives near McLean, Virginia, wrote the Providence Journal in March, a neatly typed note slipped into a stamped business envelope, asking us to publish a letter to the editor asking our readers to help her learn more about Rhode Island. It was part of a project for her class at Langley School to learn about each of the nation’s 50 states.
The outpouring of affection from Providence Journal readers proved worthy of a Hallmark movie.
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In total, about 170 Rhode Islanders wrote letters, some with personal family stories, wrapped books, photographs, t-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps, boxes of clam chowder, bottles of coffee syrup and lemonade mix from Del, and had their contributions given to Meera in Langley.
Of her roughly 50 classmates, Meera received by far the most contributions to the class project, despite being assigned the smallest state in the union.
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Last footnote: A trip to RI
There was one last mission needed for one last footnote: a visit to Rhode Island to learn what drives Rhode Islanders, and why they would be so friendly and generous with their time and words for a young girl. whom they had never met.
Meera and her mother, Monisha Kapila, flew into Rhode Island TF Green International Airport last Sunday for a whirlwind three-day visit to Newport and Providence, which of course included a visit to the Providence Journal.
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Journal photographer Kris Craig and I met Meera and her mother in the lobby of the Omni Providence Hotel just behind The Journal. With an M&M-melting smile, a choir voice and chocolate eyes, she was a little angel in a Newport hoodie that was two sizes too big for her, and it was a little one.
We granted Meera her first wish, a tour of the Journal building.
A piece of history in the Journal newsroom
What is that?
In the corner of our entrance hall to the Journal newsroom, there is a silver cylinder in a sealed glass case. I explained that it was the Providence Journal time capsule that was filled with artifacts when The Journal celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2004. It will be opened on our 200th anniversary on July 21, 2029.
“Oh, I want to be here for this,” Meera said.
In the perfect past and future timeline bookend, Kris told Meera that he was present when the time capsule was sealed and locked in this case, but he couldn’t remember what was stored. as memories of history. If fate is good, on this day in 2029, maybe Meera can photograph Kris in front of the time capsule.
During a tour of the newsroom, without reporters or editors because of the pandemic, I showed him four of the Journal’s most prized possessions, our Pulitzer Prizes. Standing on a red stepladder, I pointed to Meera and pointed out a bit of a mystery that confused me.
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In the opening citations on the Pulitzer plates appear words to this effect, “To all present, let us know that the Providence Journal” has been honored for its work. These sacred words open the tribute in the awards The Journal won in 1945, 1953 and 1994.
Then I asked Meera to read our 1974 Pulitzer quote, and a puzzled look appeared on her face. Wait, something here doesn’t make sense, she said, as she stumbled as she read that particular quote.
Meera got it.
For some reason, the words “all people” have been replaced with the words “all men”. It would only be a fleeting moment for Meera, but her visit to Providence now included a mini history lesson on gender equality.
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What’s for dinner?
I had one last promise to keep for Meera: dinner. She had one requirement: had to be Rhode Island staples.
At Murphy’s pub opposite our newsroom, we ordered fish and chips, stuffed clams and clam chowder. Meera’s mother, realizing the nutritional value of my dinner recommendation, added a vegetable to Meera’s plate.
Meera washed down dinner with a Yacht Club orange soda, served in an imperial pint glass bearing the Guinness harp.
Over dinner, in a time capsule of French fries, Meera recalled bits and pieces from her three-day visit and stored them in the memories of a precocious 9-year-old visiting Providence for the first time.
What did she like the most? “History. There is so much here. I really liked the history of architecture.”
What do you want to be when you grow up? “I don’t know, but I’m good at math. Maybe I’ll make a lot of money.”
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What was your favorite contribution from Providence Journal readers? “That was when an entire class responded to me.”
Middle School? “Maybe I’ll go to school here.” (Meera was going to visit the Brown University campus before returning home.)
After a stroll through downtown Providence, I walked Meera and her mother back to their hotel. The gift of a coffee mug and chocolate pretzels awaited me, along with the promise that I would always be welcome in Virginia.
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Since March, when I first read Meera’s letter and wrote a few articles about her, it has been a lesson in the preciousness of a child’s hopes, the kindness and generosity of strangers, and the value of sharing stories and making new friends.
Meera and her mom thanked me for everything we did for them.
No I said. Thank you for everything you have done for me, and for us.
David Ng is editor of the Providence Journal. Email him at [email protected]