When we were kids, summers were the best. No school, no obligations. We were just free as birds. The parents in those days must have enjoyed it as well. The kids would be out of the house all day long. Some kids would head right to the barbershop and get a baldy haircut. Lots of kids back then had bald heads in the summer.
Along with playing sandlot baseball, we would look for places to swim. The wharf at the Merrimack River was close by. Many boys preferred that. I found that for a novice the current was a bit risky. Also there was a lot of pollution in the water.
My friends and I preferred to walk “out back” to swim. That was where there was a swim hole many of us South Enders of Newburyport liked to go to. It was located on Boston Road in Newbury. It was a dirt road full of gullies and ruts. To make it smoother, clam diggers would dump loads of clamshells there. They would level them and vehicles that passed by would crush them down. The shells attracted flocks of seagulls. Unfortunately, it resulted in quite an awful smell.
I only went that way occasionally when a friend who had a bicycle would give me a ride. In those days only a few boys had bicycles. It was very common then to see two boys on one bike. Mostly we walked to the swim hole. A creek ran along the side of the Boston and Maine railroad tracks. Boston Road crossed the tracks where a bridge spanned the creek. Along the bank near the bridge next to the creek were four large boulders. It became know as “four rocks.” At the bridge the creek widened out to form a nice small pond.
There were a few bushes nearby. We could get behind to change into our swim trunks. As novices we would enter the water at the shallow end. As we progressed in swimming we could dive in off the rocks. Some kids would carry out with them an inflated inner tube. We would take turns with it learning how to kick and use our arms. It wasn’t long before we eliminated the tubes and got along doing the dog paddle. And soon after that we learned how to do the over-arm and backstroke. We had a ball each time we went there. For kicks sometimes when we heard a train coming we’d time it in order to drop our trunks, turn upside down and moon the train.
There were many routes we could take there. No matter which way we went it resulted in a hike of about 4 to 5 miles. Sometimes during the summer we would go there twice a day. Our preferred route would be to cross over March’s Hill to Parker Street. Crawl under a barbed wire fence used to keep the cows in, and go across pastures to Hanover Street in Newbury. The railroad tracks were right there and we would walk the tracks for about a mile or so.
When we got accomplished enough, we’d progress down the tracks from “four rocks” to another creek that widened out. It was called “New Hole.” There we could run and jump and dive into the creek from a muddy banking.
Down farther on the tracks we could work our way to a white painted wooden bridge called “White’s Bridge.” It was a popular spot for older kids. That was on a road that went behind our blueberry picking spot, Old Town Hill. Kids liked it because they could dive and jump off the bridge into the water. The bridge wasn’t that high up off the water and we enjoyed jumping in to escape the swarming greenheads.
Thinking of today’s kids I feel how fortunate they are to have so many neighborhood pools that they can swim in. Because of this they learn how to swim early in life. It is so convenient. But I think they missed out on something by not having that experience of hiking “out back” to swim and the camaraderie that goes along with those adventures together. Once we grew tired of those spots we were onto something better. Plum Island …
Robert “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.