PORTSMOUTH — Jim Lipe, 61, doesn’t even live in Portsmouth anymore. But from his perch high above Mt. Hope Bay in his Tiverton home, he still watches over it. And, via his computer, he still has a lot to say about the town he loves so much.
If you’ve been on the Facebook page, “If You Grew Up in Portsmouth, RI, Share Some Memories,” you’ll recognize the name. Whether he’s reminiscing about the old roller rink and bowling alley or just posting a picture of a can of Spam (a favorite childhood treat), Mr. Lipe, who graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1969, is the unofficial mascot for the group, which now totals over 1,200 members.
He didn’t start the page; credit for that goes to Alan Herman, who got the site off the ground a couple of years ago. Mr. Lipe, however, is the most frequent and mischievous poster, who always gets a conversation started with his humorous recollections of days gone by.
The retired postal worker, who has three adult children with his wife, Priscilla, recently sat down for a chat about the popular Facebook page — one that he readily admits to “stealing.”
Two stints in Portsmouth — “I lived here from ’57 to late ’60. I went to Hathaway School, I went to Coggeshall School. Then we moved to California, where I did sixth, seventh and eighth grade. My dad was Navy, but I grew up on Quaker Hill. This was always home. The big difference between Portsmouth and California? The weather. It’s Christmas (in California) — ‘Where’s the snow?’ I came back when I was 15.”
Why Tiverton? — “I bought a house. This house got left to my mother-in-law. She was gonna move here, then she decided to live in Portsmouth. I was probably looking for two months and she said, ‘Why don’t you buy this house?'”
On taking over the Facebook page — “When Alan Herman started this, he asked, ‘Does anyone remember when Nadeau’s closed?’ I just swooped down and said, ‘Does anyone remember when you went to the dentist and he would give you a slip so you could get a free ice cream cone at Nadeau’s?’ I used to go to Nadeau’s and trade it in for a comic book, which was great. Then I started printing pictures from the high school yearbooks, and then from around town, which got a tremendous response. We kind of got away from that, because I ran out of yearbook pictures. I just started describing things that I remember that were kind of neat growing up.”
Conversations take their own course — “You put something up and it just grows. I threw up a picture the other day, ‘Ray’s is just a Shell of itself’ (referring to the former Ray’s Shell next to Clements’ Marketplace on East Main Road), and that led to a story of people stealing tires from the back of Ray’s.”
Learning to kick at Sandy Point Beach — “Ruth Earle taught thousands of people how to swim. She’d take you out to ‘deep’ water — maybe to her knees — and hold you there while you kicked. After a while, it’s just like riding a bike; you look up and dad’s gone. Ruth Earle’s 10 feet away — ‘I’m swimming! I can swim down to the big rock and jump off it.’ Even though you’re not supposed to swim out to the big rock — to this day.”
No Nintendo needed — “You could go to the helicopter tree. It was a tree down by Rego’s on Middle Road. They had a goat chained nearby. There was this one big, long branch. If you climbed up and you got enough kids to shimmy out, you could step off the branch and it would go up, like a helicopter. You could go to the orchard and have an apple fight. It was a great place to grow up. There was always something to do.”
No adults needed — “We played pickup baseball at Henry F. Anthony year round — one bat with a screw in it and a ball with electrical tape all over it. Five fouls into the graveyard with the briars and you were out. Even when we were out of high school, a bunch of us had an independent league at Common Fence Point. We had teams from Quaker Hill, Redwood Farms, Island Park, Fall River —organized just by us.”
On the time a member quit the site after posting an angry rant about its content — “I remember somebody came on and said, ‘All I ever read about are Jim Lipe and his stupid stories about what happened in Portsmouth.’ I was like, ‘I didn’t know I was pissing anybody off. Excuse me, I’ll just shut up and go back to playing cribbage on the computer!'”
On all the Three Stooges posts — “That started with Mary Viera. It had something to do with the Beach Prom and the Three Stooges lottery tickets that came out that year. She couldn’t stand them, or the movie. She came out with a rant about the Stooges. It was like, ‘Mary’s ranting. Let’s pay her back!'”
Beach Prom? “We’ve had one so far (at the Portsmouth Portuguese American Citizens Club last year). Terry Nunes, who grew up in Portsmouth, lives in Alaska. He did a tremendous job of organizing it. He came down for it, too. All told, somewhere between 100 and 180 turned up. We had Wonder Woman, we had Cat Woman and we had Super Girl. I wore my Kentucky Derby hat. There were people who graduated in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I met people that I never knew before, that I never knew even went to Portsmouth. Terry’s already booked the next one (July 6) at the Beach House in Island Park.”
Staying connected — “I’ve always had this curiosity about how people I know or knew turned out, where they went, what they did. Portsmouth is just a neat little town. There’s something about Portsmouth that if you live there, it just grabs you. When you’re in high school, you’re in your formative years, so you pack in a lot of memories. People who grew up in this town who moved all around the world, they still stay connected. There’s people on Facebook now from Alaska, California. I’ve made even better friends with them now than I did in high school, when they were just passing acquaintances.”
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