Thursday, May 24, 2018

An Unanticipated Memorial and Childhood Recollections

I wanted to get down to Salisbury Beach Reservation for my mum’s birthday in April, but the weather then didn’t cooperate, and May was taken up with a big work project. This week, with the project finished up except for a couple stragglers to come in, I figured I could take Wednesday for the adventure.

However, I crawled out of bed yesterday up in the air about it. I’d lost the enthusiasm about going. There’s so much at home that needs doing. Do I bother taking an entire day to go to the coast? Plus, those who might come on an adventure with me were unable to which meant I would be alone.

I was hesitant, but it was a beautiful day for a day trip. The sun was shining, and temperatures were predicted to reach 80 degrees. A great day for the beach, so after breakfast with friends, I headed for the coast. The last few times I’d gone, I took Route 101E to I-95S to the Salisbury, Mass., exit. This time I decided to take the Exeter exit off 101 to visit areas where I grew up.

Buildings I remembered from younger years seemed more rundown. Businesses changed, new facilities are built, but there was still familiarity. A couple areas seemed unchanged except trees were bigger making roads feel smaller.

Then I got on Route 150 heading towards Kensington. Stronger snippets of memories flooded me. I remembered when that building was a restaurant. Years later a little girl drowned there. They lived across the river. Her mother babysat my kids. (Thankfully, my kids weren’t there that day.) It was so horrible.

Driving past the marsh, I remembered when I was really, really young, a fire burned through the entire swamp from one road to another. I remember the family waking in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens. (Hmm, maybe this is why the sound of sirens always bother me.) And although we lived on the other side of town, the smell of burned wood permeated for days.

Other names came to mind. Are these families still around? Do relatives still live there? What was once the town store is now a cafĂ©. The church and town hall look run down. I passed the old cemetery and approached the newer one. It dawned on me this adventure was turning more into a memorial than just an adventure to Salisbury. Should I visit my dad? I don’t know if I’ve ever gone back to that cemetery since his funeral. The car turned in the small dirt path next to the old grange hall. Could I even remember where his grave is?

I pulled into the last crossroad before the woods and got out. I think it’s around here and was just beginning to think memory failed me when I found the Brewster plot. Yes! I found dad’s grave. His, and my uncle’s, had American Legion little flag holders and both had a small American flag waving in the breeze.

When we were little, the elementary kids would place these flags on veterans’ graves during the Memorial Day town parade. Do children still do this? It’s not Memorial Day yet.

I said some prayers to the family and spent a little time with dad. I thanked him for being a good dad and a good man.

Leaving the cemetery, I looked across the street to the library. It looks the same as when I was a kid. How many times did I climb those steps and go through those big doors?

I turned down Trundlebed Lane. Oh, I walked and biked this road so many times! There used to be an old, dilapidated blacksmith shop on the corner. It was caving in, and a friend and I found a bunch of horseshoes which we hid out by a small pond. The building was torn down and a bigger pond built for use by the fire department. We never went back for the horseshoes … at least I didn’t, I don’t if she did.

The surrounding landscape looks totally different now. The fire pond is longer and farther up the road, a huge, fancy town park has been built incorporating the old skating pond in the woods. (This was my favorite place to ice skate as a kid.) On the other side of the road, which was mostly just woods, now looks to have walking trails. The old Rev. Sawyer home is now gone. The plot of land where dad once had a big potato field is now a ball field.

Next up, the old farm we knew as Miller’s is still there, but more rundown. We used to cut from Cottage Road through edge of their field to Trundlebed Lane which saved time going up around to Stumpfield Road over to Trundlebed. Years later when they fenced in the field for horses, we cut through the woods coming out into where the park is now. Across from Miller’s, the old cow pasture from Schweizer’s Farm now has houses.

I took Stumpfield Road around to Cottage Road, passing the house my first husband lived in and remembering the parties we used to have at the Brown’s property on the corner. Are any of them still around?

The next corner, a very sharp, almost 90 degrees, is where, on the left side of the road, we cut through the Miller’s property. On the inner side of the corner is the farm my dad was born at. The house doesn’t look the same at all and the barn is being dismantled. I was shocked to see most the outside siding and roof gone, gaping holes, no doors or windows …

Barn being dismantled on farm where my dad was born.
A man was working inside. I stopped and walked up the driveway and called to him. He came over and I explained about my dad. He said he is taking the building apart and repurposing what can be reused. I told him some of the history of the property, what little I could remember. I took a couple photos.

I drove past the house where I lived from age 13 to 17. I stopped and looked for the magnolia and other bushes my mum had planted. But it’s changed. My brother and his wife lived here after my mum, aunt, and I moved out. At that moment, nothing pulled my heartstrings.

Continuing down the street, I remembered other families. The homes still there with newer homes squeezed in here and there. Here was a place where a barking dog ran out and spooked the horse I was riding. She bucked, the saddle came loose and flipped under the horse, throwing me to the ground. The horse ran off. I was one huge hurting body for days!

The huge maples in front of what I used to think one of the prettiest homes on the street are gone. The house looks to be well-maintained, but I was surprised to see the frame of an old (but not old, old) of a shack still standing in the trees to the other side.

I was shocked at the condition of my childhood home.
Then there was my old house where I lived until I was 13. I could hardly see it! I expected the old brown shakes that my dad had put on. Instead it was a light gray, but the trees and vines were so grown up around it, I could hardly see the house. What happened? It’s obviously abandoned. I had to stop.

It’s funny, because I’d been thinking about this house lately. Mum had beautiful flower gardens here, with a large lawn going down the hill to dad’s vegetable gardens, and farther down, chicken coops. Beyond that was woods, brook, and pond. (What I remembered about this pond was playing tag in the winter on ice skates around the trees.) This was a time in life where mum played hide ‘n’ seek with us in the woods, we’d walk old logging trails (and later when we moved to that newer house up the street, we could loop around through the woods between the two places.)

But now … there is so much vegetation, I couldn’t even see where there had once been any lawn, let along flower gardens. Yes, there was a lilac bush and honeysuckle near the road. I don’t remember honeysuckle as a kid, but I remember the lilacs. A long huge swath of it grew along the driveway that went ¼-mile into the woods to another Sawyer property. (And the only way you would know there was once a driveway there was because of the old telephone poles along the edge of that property and the one next door. Which at the time we lived there was a field, part of which dad had more vegetable garden.

Somewhere along the years, the driveway had been paved and a huge two-story, two-car garage built. The driveway is all cracked with vegetation growing through and the garage is almost as grown in as the house.

(I am now kicking myself that I didn’t trespass, but that vegetation was so thick! I’m totally flabbergasted by it.)

The upper floor right window in back was my bedroom.
I walked out on the other side of the house, in the field. Wow, the field looks so much smaller than I remember. I looked for the big forsythia bush we used to play beneath, but that’s gone. There are huge maple trees … I remember climbing them – they were smaller. I took a photo to show my bedroom window.

I was tempted to walk farther down the field to see if I could see more of the old yard, but I wanted to move along. Before getting in the car, I carefully stepped through poison ivy to reach the lilac bush and broke off a couple of sprigs. The blossoms are fading.

I continued on to Seabrook with memories swirling. I drove this route for so many years on my way to the factory where I worked for almost 30 years. I turned right onto Route 1. Yikes, Seabrook has changed! Big box stores and businesses have swallowed smaller places which look a bit run down. Some businesses are still the same as I remember. Stop light after stop light and I was finally through and passing around the corner into Salisbury, Mass.

I decided that as this day turned more into a memorial than in just going to the reservation, I should go by my uncle’s place on Ring’s Island. A lot of the same buildings remain along Route 1 in Salisbury and again, the older ones are looking sad. Even Jim’s Auto Body is still there (where my first husband Bill worked when we first got married).

My uncle was harbor master here for over 30 years.
I made the turn onto Ring’s Island and almost drove by my uncle’s house (except I knew that was the house because of the corner!) Holy crap. The small garage has been turned into a huge fancy garage and the house has been so fixed up it’s got to be a multi-million-dollar property now. It’s stunning and beautiful!

There used to be only one floating dock.

I pulled into the parking lot for the pier. It’s wider than in my uncle’s time. I took time to photograph the plaque/memorial the town put up to honor him: “In Memory of Ray Flanders Harbormaster 1957-1995.” On “his” house side, saw grass has filled in the small beach where we learned to swim. I walked out to the end of the pier stopping to take photos. (I’m looking for scenes to paint.)

This was once my uncle's property. I didn't look like this back
then! We learned to swim here. No swimming now.
Years ago, there was one floating dock on the water accessed by a ramp that moved up and down with the tide. Now four docks with boat moorings between extend out into the river. There is a no swimming sign. I remember jumping from the pier and/or dock and swimming to shore.

I walked down the ramp and out to the end and back. I wished for someone to talk to, to learn how things are now. I sat on the pier to take some notes. The sun was hot, and I didn’t have on any sun screen. I returned to the car to continue on to the reservation.

I’ve told stories before of Salisbury Beach Reservation and how my mum spent her early years here. Their house was along the banks of the Merrimac River between Black Rocks Creek and the Atlantic Ocean before the government took their property by eminent domain. What’s now the reservation and campground was my mum’s and her siblings’ playground. It is here we took her ashes after she passed when she demanded to me to “go home.”

I drove in along a road that I remember from my mum taking me here as a child. I don’t know if it’s changed much. Now, of course, there’s the huge campground on the creek side and facilities and boardwalks over the sand dunes on the ocean side. I turned right towards the boat launch on the creek stopping for photos. Unfortunately, the tide was out so there were no good water scenes.

Butler's Toothpick
I pulled into the first space at the boat launch parking lot closest to the path to Butler’s Toothpick, grabbed my camera and walking stick and headed out along the trail. The paths are well marked. It’s important to stay off the dunes. Again, I stopped often for pictures, and as I reached the beach area, I chatted with a woman about mothers and childhood homes.

Through the dunes.
There were people fishing, sunbathers, and dog walkers. Boats and jet skis were in the river. The water was a beautiful deep blue. I looked across to Plum Island and down river towards Newburyport. What a gorgeous spot!

The sand was very soft. Soft sand is difficult for most to walk in, but especially so for me. The sand gave way under my weight and each time jolted my body sending my back into spasm. My right hip also began to cramp. I managed to get photos of the toothpick, looking up the creek and along the Merrimac River.

Along Black Rocks Creek
I sat on a rock of the little jetty on with the toothpick is perched and took a few notes. I wanted to feel my mother but couldn’t. It was like she wasn’t there. I came here for her, for her memory. Well, there were plenty of memories, but I couldn’t feel her presence. I told her about the lilacs I picked for us.

I started to head towards the rocks closer to the mouth of the river where the seals hang out, but the soft sand was too difficult to walk in. I had to turn around. It was agony; three baby steps, pause, all the way back to the car. It was disappointing. I wanted to walk so much more. Twice people passed me asking if I saw the seals. I was sweating by the time I got to the car and had an awful time getting my legs in. Drat. My plan to stop oceanside would have to be postponed to another time. At this point, there was no way I could walk out to the ocean from one of the parking lots even along a boardwalk.

Yes, disappointing. Oh, this getting old. Still, I got down there. I know even though I didn’t feel mum, she’d be pleased I visited. (And yes, I know, my mum is with me all the time.)

I left the reservation and drove north on Route 1A. Hampton Beach was beginning summer with bumper to bumper, stop and go traffic. There have been so many changes since I’ve lived in the area. Once through the beach proper, the drive is much more enjoyable. I continued into Rye but didn’t see any interesting spots for photos. I cut through some back roads in North Hampton to Route 1, then down to Route 101W.

I arrived home just after 4 p.m. My mind was on such a whirlwind of emotions all day. I couldn’t process it. There are always so many “I wish I had …” but this just means I have to make other times … or not. I did what I could. It really was a good memorial. Hey, how many lifetimes can I cover in one day.