Childhood winters recalled as ‘bloody good time’

Rick Weida battles the snow drifts during the Blizzard of 1978. Brad Therrien provided this photo. Rick Weida battles the snow drifts during the Blizzard of 1978. Brad Therrien provided this photo.
In this photograph from 1969, 3-year-old Allan Belden skates on a frozen pond in an abandoned gravel pit at the Hummocks in Portsmouth. The property is now privately owned, and there’s no skating there today. This photograph was provided by his sister, Diane Belden-Rosenthal.

In this photograph from 1969, 3-year-old Allan Belden skates on a frozen pond in an abandoned gravel pit at the Hummocks in Portsmouth. The property is now privately owned, and there’s no skating there today. This photograph was provided by his sister, Diane Belden-Rosenthal.

PORTSMOUTH — “When I was a kid, school was never canceled! We had to shovel our way there through six-foot drifts!”

OK, perhaps some former childhood memories of living in a small town like Portsmouth are often exaggerated. We were curious about how some Portsmouth residents — past and present — remember their town during the winter months long ago, so we asked them. From walking along a frozen bay to sledding down Mr. Duffy’s yard, they recalled their youth as if it were yesterday.

Their stories also revealed a simple truth about growing up in the ’60s and ’70s: “Helicopter parents” were a rarity. Kids went off on their own for hours at a time, often getting into mischief and banging themselves up — only to climb back to the top of the hill to do it all over.

Before global warming

Stephanie Detusa: “I don’t remember what year it was — I am thinking ’78 (when I was) 6. I remember the bay froze over and we walked over to Bristol and back.”

Rhonda (Emsley) Hogarth: “Yup, the bay froze in the late ’70s. David Hall and Ben Hall both took their dirt bikes out on the bay over near Weyerhaeuser.”

Jim Lipe: “It froze pretty hard in he early ’70s, I think. Chuck Forst said he walked about halfway across from McCorrie Point. Froze hard again in the late ’80s, too; at one point I believe it froze out to Block Island. You would walk out in front of Island Park, cut a big hole in the ice then bullrake or tong.”

Deborah Helms Moore: “It was probably around 1970 when the bay froze. From Common Fence Point we could walk about halfway to Mt. Hope Bridge before you would hear those cracking sounds; the cracks were like stars around our feet. Ice-cutters made their way to Fall River keeping the channel open for the freighters.”

Tim Brady: “I remember the river used to freeze almost every winter. We used to skate over to Tiverton from the cove.”

Deb Gustafson: “I remember the river freezing over and watching ice boats on it — sailboats with runners like ice skates. I listened to all the stories my grandfathers told of going across to Tiverton and cutting ice for the ice boxes; one time, someone took a car out there. But those stories always ended with a very stern warning that in no uncertain terms were we to go on that ice, ever.”

A slippery slope

Rhonda (Emsley) Hogarth: “Sledding down Mr. Duffy’s yard! It is next door to mom and dad’s place, 524 Bristol Ferry. The best hill in town as I see it. My dad would plow Duffy’s road and pack it at the end of his house. Now we had a snow hill of monumental proportion — great takeoff point. The night before everyone came sledding, I took buckets of water and iced the hill. Raine Morell was first to show up; he had a four-man toboggan. He says he’s going down standing up — like riding a surfboard. He passes the wall then picks up speed right before the train track. He hears the train, then turns and takes out a pine tree and splits the toboggan in half. No blood yet. Sean and Gary up next. They have an old metal sled — the kind you drive with your feet — but Gary lays down face-first then Sean on top of him. I push them hard. They’re flying fast and make it over the train track and halfway into the marsh, then into the briar patch. Now we have blood. I went over the wall and landed on an old wine barrel, crushing it. Laura hit the train track and busted her lip — more blood. The year is 1978 — the best bloody friends anyone can have. We all went home blue, cold, wet and came back the next day to do it all over again.”

Christine Dunne Staskiewicz: “Back in the ’60s, if you lived on any of the streets near Hathaway School, there was the best hill that unfortunately was flattened when they added onto the school. It was a pretty steep slope and if it was a good enough snowfall, you could go from the top of the hill and then continue down Tallman Avenue.”

Brad Therrien: “I am reminded every day of sledding at Hathaway School. When I was 10 or 11, I was lying on the sled and Mikey Chase was lying on my back going 100 miles an hour when someone beside us grabbed the runner on the sled and jerked it sideways, sending us careening into a tree. Full impact on my right shoulder. Every day since, my shoulder reminds me and I could never throw a ball very well after that. Still great times and actually lucky, I guess; a few inches and it could have been my head. My poor mother; good thing she worked at the medical center.”

Laurie Davidson Spaner: “The plow driver would plow all the snow to the right on the hill at the bottom of Glen Road. We would carve it into a luge and sled at a million miles per hour down that steep hill. The only ‘rule’ (made by the neighborhood kids) was that if you crossed Heidi Drive into the neighbor’s yard, you had to bail so you didn’t go off the high cliff onto the rocky beach and die. The fact that we could do that dates me. No helmets back then, either. Double-runner sleds, usually.”

Mona Carberry: “We’d get all bundled up, pile sleds and skis into the car and go to Turkey Hill (Lehigh) and spend hours there. It would only take seconds to go down the hill and forever to get back to the top.”

Wendy Mitchell: “My mother, Linda Manchester Mitchell, says when she was a kid they used to close off Church Lane and sled down toward Macomber Lane — used to close the street off with sawhorses. This was in the ’50s.”

Skating in circles

Donna Hetland: “I remember going ice skating on the pond by Boyd’s Lane in the late ’50s and early ’60s. My older brother, Joe Beausoleil, and his friend Henry Gormley were skating when my brother fell through the ice. He was OK but when he got home he was frozen stiff. My mother was furious. This happened over the Christmas holiday.”

Jim Lipe: “The pond by Ramada was a big skate hockey site. The pits in Common Fence Point had mostly nice ice. If there wasn’t much wind when it chilled down, it was decent skating. I myself used the bend-your-ankles-over-and-walk-on-the-sides method. That started my goalie career. I could stand and fall with the best!”

Pennie Durand: “Let’s not forget the crab pond — so frozen we would skate to the golf club. There was also a year that Boyd’s Lane got so thick that the family gathered up the Christmas trees and had a huge bonfire on the ice thanks to our parents and our local firemen. That is my fondest memory.”

Diane Belden-Rosenthal: Do you remember the Derby, Garceau, Sunderland and Belden kids all skating on the ‘pit’ (at the Hummocks)? Because it was an abandoned gravel pit and 60 feet deep, we weren’t allowed to skate on it if the temperature hadn’t been below freezing for five consecutive days. We even had Mr. Derby check the thickness along the edge with his hand-cranked drill and if it was six inches thick, it was a go! To think we were allowed to skate on a 60-foot deep pit! What would Child Services say about letting kids do that today? All I know was it was where I learned to skate.”

Beverly Calcutt Kelly: “The Portsmouth Fire Department used to fill the basketball court in Redwood Farms with water and it would freeze over and make the best ice skating rink.”

Susan Lemieux-Cortez:I remember with anticipated excitement waiting for the Fire Department to flood the amusement park (later the flea market area). It was suddenly turned into an ice skating rink that was perfect.”

Gary Edwards: “The town put in a skating rink at the old amusement park across from Tremblay’s. They put in an asphalt curb and then filled it with eight inches of water and it turned to a skating rink pretty quickly. One day it had snowed just a bit, and cleaning the snow off the ice had left an 18-inch mound in one area. We would get up enough speed and jump the mound of snow — lots of fun. Except one time, I slipped coming down and fell. Well, here comes Tim Boff right behind me. He makes the jump and his skate hits me right in the head. He was wearing figure skates, so I had about six cuts/indentations in the top of my head. Of course several came to my aid, wiped off the blood and away we went again. A little blood on the ice — everyone thought that was cool. Luckily he wasn’t wearing speed skates.”

Pennie Durand: “I remember the ice rink by the arcade. It was supposed to be a safe place for us to have fun, but that came to a short end with that darn flea market.”

Staying warm

Brad Therrien: “The house on Child Street had a wood-burning furnace until I was about 14, when it was replaced with an oil-burning furnace. The wood furnace had a single grate in the living room floor, so the second floor got pretty chilly in the winter. My three sisters and I would come in from building snowmen or snow forts and run to the living room and stand on the grate to get warm. We would hold the bottom of our coats out to catch the heat and I could hear the snow sizzle as it melted from our galoshes onto the furnace.”

Deborah Helms Moore: “Even now, I think of the smell of wet clothes drying on radiators. Not a good smell. I don’t think our mittens and gloves ever dried all of the way. When the boots stayed wet, mom got out the bread bags and rubber bands to put over our shoes. She stayed hopeful that one day they would work. We’d grab the garbage can lids for sleds.”

Rick Weida battles the snow drifts during the Blizzard of 1978. Brad Therrien provided this photo.

Rick Weida battles the snow drifts during the Blizzard of 1978. Brad Therrien provided this photo.

Blizzard of ’78

Cheryl Maynard-Tucci: “We couldn’t see out the first-floor windows. We had a small hill on the side of our in-ground pool and fence, so we ‘built’ into the pile of snow there (just over six feet) and made an igloo with shelves inside for snow ball storage.”

Rosemary Davidson: “We built our new house in 1978 and the appliances were delivered the day the blizzard started. We got the appliances but by the time they were in the house, the delivery men could not get off the island to go back to Providence and had to stay over at the Ramada Inn. It was a great week of sledding and playing in the snow. We lived on Viking Drive. You could walk up and down East Main Road.”

Pam Shaffer: “My boyfriend at the time got stuck at my house during the Blizzard of ’78. Fast-forward 25 years and we reconnect … and became stuck in a house he was working on for three days due to a bad snow storm 10 years ago. Then we got married.”

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3 Comments

  1. Rick Caron said:

    I remember living on Quaker Hill. In 71. Just before sundown we would
    crush the snow down the hill about 3ft. Wide all the way to the bottom. Next morning it was now an ice run. SOO much fun.. That’s why i like the winter Olympics.
    Rick Caron

  2. Rick Caron said:

    I had a paper route in early 70s. 6 nights a week. 4 miles on a bicycle. After school in winter it was dark outside, and COLD. I know live in South Carolina now, they all laugh and say it was always uphill right. NO CLUE!!!!!!

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