Henriette Elizabeth “Lily” von Trapp Derbyshire Clark
I am what they would call a third generation Adamsvillian, my grandmother was Henriette Lajoie von Trapp and my mother is Stephanie von Trapp Derbyshire. I was the lucky grandchild to be named after my grandmother, although given our small town I was always known as Lily.
Just like my mother, I was born at Charlton Memorial Hospital on May 20th, 1991. My parents, brother and I first lived in a rental on River Road in Westport Harbor. Soon after they moved into an apartment attached to my Grandma’s house (what was previously my grandfather Rupert’s medical office) in Adamsville. Then in 1994 my parents bought a house just around the corner from the apartment. I could walk to my grandmother’s house from mine and only cross one street. In fact, I did a lot of that in middle school. Especially if a casual mother/daughter fight occurred, I would flee to my grandmother’s house, that’s how dinners at Grandma’s house on Wednesdays nights came to be. Between my maternal grandmother being a 5-minute walk and my paternal grandparents being a 5-minute drive, I did not know how special that was growing up.
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, Henriette, as a kid. In addition to weekly dinners at her house I would also help with her chores. She had been stricken with polio at the age of 22 and was in a wheelchair for most of her life. Although that hardly stopped her from doing anything. She taught me to pump gas at the tender age of 11 mostly because she didn’t want to pay a premium and have someone else fill it up. I would help her grocery shop at Lee’s each week, that list rarely changed, and I can recite it from memory. I’d help her set up her monthly potlucks. Adding the table leafs and bringing all the chairs from various rooms to make enough spots for everyone. Setting the table, making sure the table wine was set out. I never knew who would attend these potlucks or what they were even about. Recently my mother and a dear friend Judy Melanson (also my former boss) started them up again, anyone connected to Little Compton is welcome, no menu needed. I now understand the deep bonds that are formed over hodgepodge meals and fantastic conversation. This is one of the many traditions that the people of Little Compton have continued to practice. One that a tight knit community lives for.
My grandmother also hired me to mow the field that was in front of her house, $20 a week which I would spend all of it on lunch, magazines and candy at Simmons that very day. The crisp bill barely had time to cool off as my dad would say. She also hired me to clean her already clean house. She kept an impeccably clean and orderly house, one could close their eyes and be able to find everything they needed because it hardly moved from it’s designated home.
My schooling started in the vestry of the United Congregational Church taught by none other than Janice Gomez. I have a vague memory of sitting at the end of a long table with Mrs. Turcott co-teaching, cleaning up a mess I had somehow made. It was there I made lifelong friends with Courtney Evans and our mothers met and became friends too. I then moved onto Wilbur McMahon where I borderline thrived. I say borderline because there was that one time I got sent to the principal’s office for fighting with Ben Wyatt for the first spot in line of 4-square. I did find my place on the stage of both Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Fennessey’s original plays, one of which was my favorite performance was that of a nun which I now realize as an adult how fitting that was. “Sister Roasalie” was the production, co-starred with Santiago Nocera. Who knew my crush from the 6th grade would later become an old love interest in a small town production 2 years later. I still sing the Eager Beaver 3rd Grader song on occasion with friends, most recently at the wedding of Laura Crowther where I served as a bridesmaid alongside her sister Angela and Judy’s daughter, Taylor. There were several projects, songs and experiences that were year markers while I was at Wilbur. One project that we did in the 3rd grade was a history project on the landmarks and business in Little Compton and Adamsville. Somehow I ended up doing my report on the United Congregational Church, little did I know how much time I would be spending in that church during my life. I can recall my state’s facts (3rd Grade), my Helen Keller history from the Holiday Tea (4th grade), my topic of the Egyptian project (6th grade ) and most of my talents that were done during the annual talent show. I treasured the days of being able to do after school art club and play basketball in the same evening, still being home by 6 for dinner. The weekly bus rides to the Hut in Newport to play one of the 5 or 6 other middle school basketball teams in the area created lasting memories. I can still taste the sweet victory of beating St. Phil’s in the championship of my 8th grade year. My Wilbur memories run very very deep.
I was one of 38 in Wilbur McMahon’s graduating class of 2005. Those days of being together for so long created an extended family, we treated each other more like siblings than classmates. When most of that class merged into the pool of Portsmouth High School students, we would search for each other in each classroom on the first days of freshman year. I know I would feel relief when I saw a friendly face in a classroom full of strangers, even if I wasn’t close with that person at Wilbur, we were in a bigger pool of fish and suddenly close now.
I enjoyed my time in high school, it wasn’t without it’s hiccups. I reflect back on it and vividly remember how the Little Compton kids leaned on each other a lot. Some branched out into other groups of friends, but we did always have a strong bond of being from a really really small town.
I ventured up to Vermont for college, finding Castleton State College (now Castleton University) my home away from home. Of the four colleges I toured, the one that felt like home ironically was comparable in size to Little Compton. I told people frequently it was Little Compton with a college. I found math, a lacrosse team and my husband, Cameron Clark. I loved college; all the activities, the games, parties, learning, but most of all the community. I knew no matter what I would be moving back to Rhode Island post graduation, I missed the ocean too much and wanted to be closer to my family and my Little Compton community.
I returned to home in May of 2013 and landed a job working as a data analyst at a corporate wellness company in Coventry, RI. I found an apartment in West Warwick and then learned what all the jokes were about Rhode Island. Little Compton wasn’t like the rest of the towns in Rhode Island. There wasn’t a wicked strong accent, there were words I had never heard of before. I could see Foster Glouster on exit signs, I was so far away from home. I enjoyed working with spreadsheets and biometrics for a little while until I needed something more. That more landed me at Rhode Island College in the Admissions office and back in the classroom getting my Masters degree. After several classes in Project Management, it became clear to me that higher education was not my jam right now. I stumbled upon a digital marketing agency in Fall River of all places and my current dream job, as a project manager. After so many years of poo pooing Fall River as a kid, I could not be more excited that my commute included going over the Braga bridge each day. I commuted from West Warwick for a little bit until the right door of our first house swung open in the Pierce Memorial Field Neighborhood of East Providence. An adorable 3 bedroom, 2 bath cape with cedar shingles is where we call home. If I had it my way I’d pick up this house and drive down the road and plop it on a piece of land in Little Compton, none would be the wiser.
Since graduating college, my free time has been devoted to United Congregational Church of Little Compton. It started with helping at the annual summer fair each year while I was home from college, my father dragging me out of bed at 6am on the second Saturday of July to follow him around as a junior garbage girl. My second job being with Christine Merriman doing the Lobster Luncheon served in the very vestry where I learned my numbers and letters. Then the role grew a little bit each year, I would help move books and white elephant items on Friday, prep for the luncheon and attend the Friday night entertainment and then spend all day Saturday on the Commons. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, would always be in tow, helping to capture pictures, or empty trash or answer questions of a new fair goer, anything that needed to be done. Boy did he not know what he signed up for.
After about a year of being at home I found myself on the Board of Deacons (one of the youngest adult members). The year after I added Hospitality Chair to my list of church duties and then on the team of Fair Captains, helping to lead a team of maybe 100 or so volunteers to make the fair come to life in Little Compton. I recently became aware that not all of the volunteers are tied to the Church, in fact most aren’t. People from all corners of Little Compton, Tiverton and Westport (sometimes farther) come to help volunteer at our Church fair. From the road race, to the craft vendors, white elephant, books, dog show, food and everything else, the fair has been a staple on the commons for over 50 years and will continue to be as long as I’m alive. The UCC of LC has always been a staple in my life. My parents were married in that church in 1989, became members in 1995. I was confirmed in that church in 2005 and my husband joined in 2015 and later getting married in 2017. I never thought that a small school project in the 3rd grade would turn out to be one of my biggest sources of joy in my life.
As I continue to entrench my free time in all the large and small volunteer opportunities that the Little Compton community presents to me, I’m acutely aware that this doesn’t happen everywhere. In very few places can a committee come together and request that the entire street is shut down so the town can have dinner together. With no other purpose but to get to know our neighbors just a little bit better. Little Compton isn’t without its beauty but if you took the people out of it, it would be just another nice place. It’s the people that make the community so special.
I still dream of the day when we’re able to return and call Little Compton our permanent residency. I’m not sure when that will be, but for now I’ll still make the trek down interstate 195 any day of the week to be in my favorite place with my favorite people.
Henriette Elizabeth “Lily” von Trapp Derbyshire Clark