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In Portsmouth: Holding out hope for a bright 2021

New Year’s Day revelers say they’re optimistic about better days ahead

By Jim McGaw
Posted 1/6/21

PORTSMOUTH — Their lives have been on pause for 10 months and counting, which is probably why a few dozen brave souls were so determined to leave their homes and herald in 2021 with a …

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In Portsmouth: Holding out hope for a bright 2021

New Year’s Day revelers say they’re optimistic about better days ahead


PORTSMOUTH — Their lives have been on pause for 10 months and counting, which is probably why a few dozen brave souls were so determined to leave their homes and herald in 2021 with a chilly dip at Island Park Beach last Friday.

No matter that the annual event, which has drawn a few hundred swimmers and spectators in recent years, was canceled for safety’s sake this year in light of the pandemic — one which has forced so many to virtually isolate themselves for most of 2020.

As Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” drifted gently from a Bluetooth speaker set next to a small campfire that warmed things up after his plunge, Alexander Dell was asked what he’s looking forward to more than anything this year. He didn’t have to think long.

“This — being with friends,” he said, nodding to Dean Domingoes and Brandon Lavigne, who also dove in with him. (“Because,” noted Dean, “there’s nothing else to do.”)

We’ve a long ways to go, of course. The distribution of Covid vaccinations started only recently, and masks, social distancing, and teleconferencing will remain the norm for months to come. However, it was obvious that the New Year’s Day revelers we spoke with were finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Or, as Pete Townsend sang on The Who’s “Tommy” album, they’ve “got a feeling ’21 is going to be a good year.”

New business

Although 2020 was a rough year for small-town entrepreneurs, Tracey Pedersen is planning on making the dream of opening her own business come true in 2021.

“I bought the big house at the trop of the hill (Park Avenue) and it’s going to be a private preschool,” said Tracey, while taking a break from walking her 2-year-old dog, mixed-breed dog named Fen. (That’s short for Fenrir, which is Norwegian for “Wolf of the Gods.” She’s going to call it The Anchor School and hopes to open this spring. 

“All this happened during this crazy time. I’ve lived around here my whole life, and we walk this walk every morning and every night,” she said.

On the other side of the Park Avenue seawall was Mark Mello, who jumped in with a few friends. “I’ve done it the last six, seven years and it’s a good chance to get together with a couple of people real quick and kind of ring in the new year,” he said.

What does he want to do more than anything in 2021?

“Coach football,” said Mark, who’s an assistant coach for the high school’s varsity team, whose fall season got sidelined.

“From what we’ve been told, based on everything going on, we can start practices in February and our first game should be sometime in March,” he said. “But, that’s all fluid, obviously, with everything that’s going on. They’re trying to shorten everything up to get all the sports in that we can.”

He’s hopeful there will be at least some kind of season for the players, especially the seniors. 

“It’s been a tough year for these kids,” Mark said. “It’s a hardworking group and they’ve been engaged in everything we’ve been doing with them. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to give them something to go out on a positive note.”

Matt Viana did the polar dive for 2020 and promised he’d return this time around.  “Everything — live music, concerts,” is what he misses the most. 

Brad Cousineau of Tiverton joined some of his Portsmouth buddies for the dive. In 2021, he hopes to enjoy “dinner with friends, movies with the kids — just the usual stuff that you’re accustomed to.”

More socializing for teens

His 14-year-old daughter, Alex, wants to get out of the house more. 

“I hope to go to more places, like amusement parks and stuff like that — fun stuff,” she said.

Another member of the younger crowd, 12-year-old Tatum Brennan, is also itching to get together with all her friends again. 

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen most of them,” she said. “We usually like to go places — like each other’s houses and stuff — but we can’t do that obviously this year. Usually we’d go shopping, or to the arcade, or something fun, but we can’t. We have to stay socially distanced; sometimes we can’t even see each other. I usually see them on Zoom or only with a mask on. It’s not the same.”

She also wants to get back on the ice with her hockey team.

“I play on the Whalers; it’s part of the PeeWees,” Tatum said. “We all miss hockey. We can’t really go to practices as most of the rinks aren’t open. We can only go to one certain rink and we don’t even get a locker room; we have to get dressed in the parking lot. And we all have to wear masks.”

“She’s in the penalty box a lot anyway, so it doesn’t matter,” chimed in Michael Brennan, her dad.

Tatum made no apologies. “Hey, I play defense,” she said.

Hugs and more hugs

On the west side of the beach, four women were gearing up for an afternoon of paddle-boarding. Kyle Anne of Newport, who teaches the skill, said the group goes on paddling adventures all over the island. They had originally planned to go out on Newport Harbor, but it was too rough on Friday. Today, they were headed to  Nanaquaket Pond in Tiverton and back.

Tobi Mallinson of Portsmouth, the “newbie” of the group, was getting some tips from the others as she carried her board into the glass-like waters. 

Her wish for 2021: “Hugging people — a little more face-to-face.”

Just up the beach from them was another group of women warming up after taking the plunge together. 

“Me and my girlfriends, we all got a test so we could all hang out and jump in the ocean and cleanse 2020 together. It worked out perfectly and the weather’s perfect and I couldn’t ask for a better start to the new year,” said Melissa Johnson, noting that most of the women knew each other from their time working together at Bright Ideas Preschool in Middletown. (She was pleasantly surprised to run into Tatum Brennan — one of her former students there — at the beach.)

Melissa now works at Coggeshall Club, a day care out of Middletown. “I’ve always worked with children. I’m an elementary ed major at (Rhode Island College),” she said.

2020 was actually a good year for Melissa, for she had a baby boy: Tristen, now 10 months. And, she’s looking forward to more good things ahead.

“I definitely want to graduate; it’s been on hold because of Covid,” she said. “I have one class left and I get my bachelor’s. That’s definitely a goal for 2021. And, just raise my son and be happy — be able to go out more. It’s been tough for the past year, but I think all the new moms would say we’ve been little warriors with this, and I’m really proud of all the new moms and how much they’ve accomplished.”

Back at the campfire, Alexander, Dean, Brandon and some other friends were chilling to the reggae sounds and enjoying the relatively mild weather and good company. For them, 2021 was already looking up.

“I just look forward to life getting back to normality without having Overlord Marmalade in charge of our country,” said Brandon, using a colorful sobriquet for President Trump. 

“Hopefully, everyone will start working together instead of being divided.”

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