Having gone through the phase of swimming out back, we kids were ready for bigger things. Older kids went to Plum Island. There were more things to do there. In order to get there we had to thumb rides.
Kids in my area of Lower Prospect Street in Newburyport would walk to Water Street as soon as possible. Cars would come along going to Plum Island. As we walked along we’d put out our thumbs to passing cars. In those days, the traffic was very light. Our destination was Rolfes Lane, where Bummer’s Rock was. Matter of fact, it’s still there. The owners of the property left it as a memento. If we were first there, we’d sit on the rock to thumb. It was a good spot because cars also came along from Newbury and elsewhere. When other kids came along, they would spread out on the turnpike.
When a car stopped to pick us up, we’d all pile in, most often sitting in other’s laps in the front seat and the back. Very few cars went along with only one or two people in them.
Occasionally we’d stop to swim at Plum Bush. That was a bit before the bridge. The swim hole reminded us of New Hole, which was out by Four Rock. It was a pretty wide area with muddy banks we could dive in the water off of. You wouldn’t recognize it today because it’s all grown in.
But the most fun was at the center of the beach. It had a large parking lot that handled all the cars. The beach went right out straight from the parking area. It was very wide, as I recall. It went out about 50 yards or so before it dropped down to the water. The sand was soft and granular. It didn’t cling to you. Most bathers sat near the water. Behind them was this wide area of beach. We would throw a football around to each other. Sometimes we would punt the ball back and forth. If we got into a game, there would be many kids on each side. The game didn’t go on forever because we would get tired from running in the soft sand.
People swimming would stay close to shore. There weren’t any lifeguards on duty. There was a sandbar just offshore. Sometimes people had difficulty getting back to shore when the tide came higher.
We kids had a great time diving into waves. We would line up on the side of the banking and wait for the right wave to roll in. When it did we’d all run down and dive into it. You had to be careful because if the wave broke too soon, you would end up diving into the shallow water. That could be dangerous, but we would just get a lot of sand in our suit.
When it was time to go home, we would put our pants on over our suits. Mostly we went home with a wet seat. People thumbing a ride home would line up all along the turnpike to get picked up.
Plum Island had more to offer than just swimming. For entertainment there was the large bowling alley and arcade. Up next to the parking lot there was a building where you could roller skate. The dance floor was wooden, just right for dancers. This was during the Big Band era. Good-sized bands played on weekend nights.
Fishing was big then. They were so plentiful you could go off Plum Island pier and catch a pail full of flounder in no time. Plum Island had a lot going for itself.
A few times, some of us kids would sleep over in the dunes at the south end of the beach. We would bring a rolled-up blanket and some food. Finding some driftwood for a campfire wasn’t a problem. We would sit around the fire at night and just talk. Then we would get into the dune and sleep. I must say, there were sand fleas to put up with.
Later in life, if I was with people from elsewhere and they would boast of Cape Cod, I would say, “You haven’t seen Plum Island.” To me it was just paradise!
Robert “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.