Sunday, April 07, 2013

Nahant, MA

(click here to read previous story: Pittsfield, MA)

In 1930, Ralph and his new bride, Babe, moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts so that Ralph could begin his new job as a chemical engineer for General Electric's plastic division.

In 1936, my great-grandfather Ralph was transferred to General Electric's plant in Lynn.  So he picked up his pregnant wife and preschool son, Dinon, and moved from the west end of Massachusetts all the way to the tiny peninsula of Nahant on the seaboard side.


The 1936 move, 120+ miles from Pittsfield to Nahant
Nahant: A single square mile peninsula of land

Since my grandfather, Dinon, lived here for 6 years between the ages of 5 and 11 (1936-1942), he remembers Nahant better than Pittsfield.

“In Nahant, it was a regular town, because they had a town hall, a library, and they had a few small stores," Dinon said.  "I remember there was one store that I passed all the time that was run by a Jewish man that had candy.  So I would rob my globe bank and buy some candy on the way home ... I would probably buy licorice.  I don’t remember them having red licorice or any other color, if you got licorice it was just black.  Some of the licorice they made into the shape of a pipe.”


“In the house we lived in, I could see the ocean two different directions from my bedroom - you could look out it at a forty-five degree angle and see it one direction, and at forty-five the other way and see the ocean, and of course when I lived there I thought it was great, I loved living there.  I loved it," Dinon said.  "When we had a storm, dad would take us down closer to some place we could watch the waves come in and splash against the rocks, and watch the foam go waaaay up in the air.  I mean, way way up.  I thought that was really great."


"Big tree after Sept. 1938 Hurricane"
(source)
In September of 1938, the Great New England Hurricane blew by - and was just another adventure for a happy seven-year-old boy.

"My dad was out of town on business, and he tried to get back but he couldn't, the storm was so bad.   We lost power and it was dark, so Mother had to light some candles," Dinon recalled.  "The next day, a lot of the big trees were lying down, and of course the roots were vertical because they just toppled over.  Well, gee, going to school you either went over the tree or around it, and I thought, 'Well, this is great fun!'"

"I remember my father had arranged for one of our neighbors from Pittsfield, the Gigerichs, to come and have a fishing trip.  This was just after the hurricane.  I remember we went on this boat, and the ocean had swells that go way up, and way way down, and way way up, and way way down," my grandfather said, chuckling and waving his hands to illustrate.  "Everybody on that boat got seasick except me and their daughter, Judy, who was about my age."


Since it took a while for his baby brother, Daryll, to get big enough to play with, it was common for Dinon to run around the island on his own.  One spot that he liked was the mile-long causeway that connected Nahant to the mainland.


Old Postcard of Castle Rock and Egg Rock
(source)
"On one side, it had this beautiful white sand beach. I never went down to just lay on the beach – I wasn't really that crazy about sand, y'know, walking in the sand, getting it between my toes and all that, but I liked to climb on the rocks," Dinon said.  "On the other side of the road, there were these HUGE rocks; I don’t where they quarried these, but they were MONSTROUS, huge.  And they just dumped them there, they didn't try to build a wall or anything with mortar and all that kind of stuff, they just dumped them to help hold the causeway.  But these big rocks really fascinated me.  Since they were dumped there willy-nilly, why, there were lots of crevices that you could crawl around through, and so, by myself, when I was six or seven years old, I would crawl through the crevices these rocks had in them, until one day I darn near got stuck at the bottom, and I panicked.  I got out, obviously, but I never went back."

And sometimes he would even hitchhike (a common way to travel in that time) over the causeway to Lynn, the town where his father worked.

"I was really a bad boy," my grandfather said, folding his hands and shaking his head.  "Most people do not know that I would hitchhike into Lynn and would shoplift from some of the drugstores – take a flashlight, or something, nothing very big."

As he told this story, he was sitting in the neatly-maintained home that he purchased 40+ years ago with his life-long wife, the same house that they raised their four children in.  Even now, in his eighties, he continues to landscape his yard, fix his gutters, pay his taxes, and go to church every Sunday.  In that living room, the thought of my grandfather shoplifting at any age was stupefying.


Old Postcard of Bass Point Beach in Nahant
(source)
"One day, the police came to the door at my home," Dinon said.  "Well, I denied it, I flat-out denied that I had anything to do with it, because there was another kid that was doing the same thing.  We stashed our ‘loot’ in some abandoned building … I guess we did it because it was something to do.  After the policeman came to the door, I just quit, I mean, that was it, baby!  I wasn't taking any more chances, I didn't want to be a crook!  But there was a short time in there that it was more fun than anything else, that I was doing it and not getting caught, but I came very close!"

He chuckled, embarrassed.

"I don’t have any clue as to why they came to the door, because this was early evening when the policeman showed up.  So, my guess now is that they caught the other kid and he ratted me out, that’s the only thing I can think of.  But it was a time, and I was glad to finally get back on the 'straight and narrow', I guess," he said.  "I don't think my parents ever found out.  I told [your grandmother] Liz, but very few people know that I did that, and I don’t even think any of my kids know.  But you know, as a kid, you do some dumb things – you get in the wrong crowd, or, whatever, and veer off the 'straight and narrow'."


From then on, he stuck to fun within the law, like Kick the Can and chewing tar.

"Some of the streets were paved," he said, and held up his hand, making a quarter-sized circle with his thumb and forefinger. "We liked to get a chunk of tar and chew it.  It would be the 'pure' tar that they used on the road, and in the summertime it would sometimes bubble up, and so the kids oftentimes would get some of it and chew it."

Another favorite treat was ice chips. 

Their home in Pittsfield didn't have an ice box (Dinon's mother, Babe, would keep the butter on the outside window ledge during the winter), but here in Nahant was a different story.

"In Nahant, my mother had a refrigerator that used ice, and I always used to like to see the ice man come around in the wagon – I think it was a little truck – and we always tried to get the ice chips from the ice man," Dinon said.  "When the ice man would come around, I always went to the back of the truck to try to get the little ice chips, because he’s got a big block of ice and he’d chop off a block to take in, and he had these big tongs, and he’d carry it in and put it in the fridge."

At the Nahant home, in the
sailor suit his mother made
According to family stories, his mother, Babe, was a gold standard for the housewife.  She stayed home with the kids, was a famously good cook, and was great at making clothes for all the family members.

"My mother was an excellent seamstress, I mean, she could make my dad’s dress shirts, and everything," he said.  “There was a sailor suit that my mother made for me when I was in Nahant.  And, boy, I was proud of that.   She made that sailor suit, and with the jacket I looked really sharp … I had these nice big brass buttons on it, and I was so proud of that, golly!  And I would guess that that would probably be right at the beginning of when the war started … I don’t know for sure, but that’s what I would guess.” 

But even the happiest childhood in the 1930s couldn't wholly avoid the effects of a brewing world war, especially when it was lived on a vulnerable spit of peninsula on the eastern seaboard.


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