Sunday, October 09, 2016

A Reminder Of A Childhood Heaven On Earth Or Monsters Everywhere - Nahant

As you all know I love to cross-stitch. So, when I first saw the Dimensions Christmas On The Beach cross-stitch kit I knew I just had to make it as it instantly brought back memories of the first 8 years of my life growing up in Nahant. It was heaven on earth to me and I never wanted to leave.

If you don't know where Nahant is it is a very small island on the coast of Massachusetts, just north of Boston. It is actually two small islands, Big and Little Nahant. It's connected to Lynn via a sand dune causeway and connected to each other via another causeway.

My great, great Aunt Flossie had bought the compound parcel of land in 1910 on Wilson Road in Little Nahant and built a house on the property first and later added a garage and smaller cottage house. We lived in the smaller cottage while my grandmother, grandfather, and great, great Aunt Flossie lived in the bigger house.

I absolutely loved the beach and have always thought it was the greatest place to live as a child. We had freedom to roam all over Little Nahant as this was a time when neighbors knew neighbors and everyone kept a watch on each others children. Everyone's door was unlocked and everyone was welcome to visit.

My first childhood memory is of laying in a crib in one of the little bedrooms in the cottage and looking up at the ceiling with my father's model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. My second memory is standing in a crib in Lynn hospital where my brother and I were to get our tonsils out and calling for someone to come and get me. It must have been the middle of the night as the nurses kept telling me to lay down and go to sleep. I don't think they were very happy with me.

Roaming around Little Nahant as a child was always an adventure. I had my favorite places and my not so favorite places. At the time there were two sets of concrete or stone stairs that anyone could use to get from the higher section of Little Nahant down to Wilson Road or vise versa. I loved going up and down one set of stairs as there were some beautiful flower gardens all along the stairway. I always picked a few flowers for my mother or grandmother. The neighbors never minded.

I was afraid of the other set of stairs. There was a garage that ran adjacent to the stairs. The garage was always dark and the door was always open and as a kid I had visions of monsters coming out to grab me. Yikes! So, I always ran as fast as I could. I don't know what it was about that garage that scared me, but it did. You're going to start to see that I had a thing for monsters.

Our little compound was right on the beach and had a small grass patch and concrete ocean wall with wood steps down to the beach and rock area that ran the length of Little Nahant. I can remember so many times when I'd stand at the top of the stairs and just look down at the beach that spanned from Little Nahant to Lynn. For me it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. I absolutely loved it.

That was during the day. At night I had visions of huge monsters coming out of the ocean and over the concrete ocean walls to get me as I was running from my house to my grandmother's house. I thought it took me forever to run. In reality you could walk out my parents door, take two steps and be at my grandparent's door.

My grandparents house had a large enclosed screened porch that overlooked the ocean and a large open porch on the front of the house. I can remember sitting on the front porch in my grandfather's wooden chairs waiting for the rain to stop and sitting on the back porch in my grandfather's wooden chairs watching all the bathers on Nahant Beach.

My father and grandfather would spent a lot of their time sitting on the enclosed screened porch just enjoying the day. Neither one could handle the sun so they'd sit up there with binoculars looking out on the beach, the ocean, and across the breezeway from Nahant Beach to Lynn. I always thought they were looking at the ocean view. More likely they were looking at all the sunbathers.

I never saw my grandfather and grandmother in swimming suits. My grandfather liked to work in his shop in the basement of his house while my grandmother liked doing crossword puzzles in her kitchen while sipping a cup of coffee.  I spent many hours at the kitchen table with my grandmother or in her lap in her favorite rocking chair in the living room watching soap operas. Once in awhile my grandmother would let me have a cup of coffee.  It was more 90% milk and 10% coffee but I thought it was great.

My mother loved swimming and would swim out to a tall rock on Nahant Beach that was always covered at high tide when she had a chance. Every once in awhile my father would do this and let my brother or I hang onto his neck while he swam. Like any kid I wanted to do this again, and again, and again. Usually I only got one lap or two. Once in awhile my mother would let me hold on to her neck but it was harder for her to do this than my dad.

After swimming we would dry off with our towels and then lie in the sun along the top of the concrete ocean wall. I can remember one time when my mother was laying on the wall and got up screaming. A pincher bug had crawled into her ear and she was screaming for my Dad to get it out. He pulled it out with tweezers. After that I always balled up a towel and laid my head on it. I didn't want any pinchers in my ears. Yikes!

There were large and small rocks all along the beach area in front of the house and it would always amaze us that people on the beach would change into their bathing suits behind the rocks totally oblivious to the fact that everyone in the houses along the oceanfront could see them.

My brother and I loved the rocks for turning them over and catching crabs. Or, diving off them when the tide came in. We'd spend hours on end just diving off the rocks. Climbing back up on them and diving off again and again.

I can remember one time when we were doing this and there were little sand sharks swimming around one of the rocks we were standing on waiting to dive.  I started screaming.  They were only little sharks but to me looked they would eat me alive if they got up on the rock. So, I started screaming. My brother just dove over them and left me standing on the rock screaming. He kept shouting to me to dive over them, but I was just too afraid.

Within a minute or two my grandmother, grandfather, next door neighbor Irene, Mr. Rogers, Blanche and several other neighbors were out on the edge of the water with shovels and oars trying to get the sharks away from the rock I was on. Finally, my grandfather convinced me to just jump over the sand shark that was circling my rock. Of course, when I did I landed right on the shark. I don't know who was more afraid - me or the shark! Yikes! I suspect it was the shark.

My grandfather also had several wooden chairs that were outside on the grass overlooking the ocean. We'd sit there and watch everyone on the beach below. It was fabulous. Many times the neighbors would stop by and my grandfather would bring out more chairs while my grandmother brought out refreshments. It was wonderful just sitting there listening to them laughing and telling stories.

My grandmother's best friend lived right next store where she ran a variety store out of the bottom level of her home and lived in the top level of her home. I loved going over to her variety store to organize the magazine shelves and candy counter. She had so much candy.  She never seemed to mind. Once in awhile she'd let me sit on the stool next to the register and ring up the sales. Her one indulgence was mink coats. She had several and always let me try them on. I couldn't believe how beautiful and soft they were. Of course, this was before owning mink coats was a no-no.

A lot of my memories of Little Nahant have to do with some of our neighbors. One of the neighbors had beautiful rose gardens that she liked to tend and loved showing them to me. Another neighbor always invited me over for dinner for some reason or another. Maybe it's because I didn't mind helping her paint her silver chain fence, which she painted every year. I'm sure I made a mess of it, but she didn't seem to mind.

I believe another neighbor was named Mrs. Parrott. I'm not sure whether this was really her name or was because she had lots of birds, including parrots. What I remember about her house was it, too was a small cottage but was always painted with bright yellow and white colors. All the furniture, drapes, and pillows matched. It was like walking into a room of sunshine all the time. I loved it.

My brother and I would be outside playing in the yard or on the beach from the beginning of the spring until the end of the fall. Good days in the winter you'd find us out there, too. The only time we weren't allowed to play in the yard without my grandmother or grandfather there was when there was an ocean storm or hurricane. My grandfather always tied a rope from the side of his house to the side fence so we knew how far we could go. He told us if we went further than the rope the winds were so strong they're blow us over the ocean wall. Yikes! So, we didn't go anywhere near the rope.

My father loved watching the storms blow in, seeing the amazing white caps created by the winds on the waves and watching the waves crash against the concrete ocean walls. He was thrilled when motion picture cameras first came out as he could take pictures of the ocean and waves in turmoil during the storm. I can't tell you how many times over the years we'd watch the movies of the storms. Each and every time he'd delight in playing the motion pictures in reverse. He just loved doing this over and over and laughing his head off.

There were small sand dunes that ran along the causeway from Nahant Beach to Lynn. In the winter my father and grandfather would take us for walks along the beach near the sand dunes. To me the dunes were huge. Of course the reality was they were anything but. My father loved taking motion pictures of my brother and I running up and down the dunes and, of course, loved playing them in reverse as well. He'd get just a big kick out of doing this no matter how many times we watched the same movies. Go figure!

When we were old enough for school in Big Nahant my brother and I would have to walk down to the end of Wilson Road to catch the school bus. Inevitably, while waiting for the bus, we would play on the beach. One morning we found a woman lying on the beach covered in blankets. She wasn't moving or responding to our voices so one of our friends started poking her with a stick. We thought she was dead and decided maybe she'd been bitten by sharks. So, when the bus came I told the bus driver there was a dead lady on the beach and he told the police. My mother told me wasn't dead - just she was passed out drunk.

I learned to ride my first bike on Wilson Road. At the time I thought the hill that rose to the rock cliff at the far end of Little Nahant was huge. Looking at it years later I realized it was tiny. However, when you're just learning to ride a bike and decide to try riding it down the hill before you really knew what you were doing that hill can become a monster. Especially so when you're riding down the hill out of control and smash right into the back of the mailman's truck. Yikes! That definitely hurt. The mailman just picked me up and carried me into my grandmother's house. As my grandmother was calming me down and tending my cuts and bruises the mailman was enjoying a lovely cup of coffee - courtesy of my grandmother.

Wilson Road has a rock cliff ledge as it circles around to the other side of Little Nahant which faces Big Nahant.  My father taught my brother and I how to fish up there.  He had a long fishing rod.  My brother and I used green rope with a fishing hook tied to the end.  You'd unwind a long section of the rope and then throw the end in the ocean to lure the fish.  No matter how hard I tried I could never throw the rope far enough out to clear the ledge so my father did it for me.

One year for some reason a woman who lived across the street from the rock ledge backed out of her garage and instead of turning to go down the street ended up going over the rock ledge. Lucky for her she didn't go all the way down to the ocean. Instead she ended up dangling precariously on one of the larger rocks along the cliff. All of Little Nahant came out to watch the fire department remove the car from the cliff.

Little Nahant was a small community at the time and everyone knew everyone else. Even the police knew everyone. One day while I was waiting for my mother to finish feeding my sister I got the bright idea to play with a nickel and put it in my mouth. I don't know what I was thinking as within a minute or so I had swallowed the nickel. Yikes!

I can only imagine how I looked to my mother and grandmother. Huge eyes and a look of horror on my face.  I started screaming and crying. As my grandmother was calling the police I heard my mother say, "Linda, if you don't stop crying and screaming you're going to die!" Yikes! That shut me up and, according to the doctor, probably saved my life.

The next thing I knew this huge cop came busting into the house, picked me up in his arms and carried me to the police cruiser where he drove us to Lynn hospital. According to the doctor the nickel was just teetering on the ledge on the back of my throat. The doctor was afraid I was going to aspirate it into my lungs so he told my mother I would have to stay there and might need surgery, I was so afraid my mother was going to leave me at the hospital and got so upset I puked. Well, you guessed it, up came the nickel. I suppose that was one way to get rid of it. So, I didn't have to stay after all. The cop stayed with us the whole time and took us home after that. He, too got a lovely cup of coffee from my grandmother.

For me growing up in Nahant was truly heaven on earth. So, when I saw the cross-stitch picture of the wooden chairs overlooking the beach I knew I had to make it. When I look at it I'm reminded of my grandfather's wooden chairs.  It brings me back to my childhood and to beautiful times growing up in Nahant. Beautiful times with my mother, father, brothers, sister, grandfather, grandmother, and great, great aunt. Beautiful times when neighbors were truly neighbors, when no one locked their doors, when kids played outside all day, when everyone knew everyone and everyone called you by your first name, when the whole town looked forward to and was involved with the town parade, when everyone went to the fireworks on the beach, etc. and when the worst that could happen was sand sharks circling your rock. Or pinchers crawling in your ears. Yikes!

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