Walking along Nantasket Beach is something that is extremely peaceful to me. The long sandy beach and the sounds of the waves crashing is very soothing. Whenever I get the chance I take it.
I've walked that beach so many times, and it always amazes me. Looking out towards Boston , wondering how long it will take to walk to that end of the beach. At that far end, Hull Beach, the rocks come right up to the shore, its probably the best place to find starfish. I remember taking that long walk a few times in the later years as a teen. It seemed to take forever. Usually, we would walk the other way down towards the park end. Those rocks were always fun too.
One day my brother and I walked out to those rocks, We were out there quite a while, searching for crabs, snails and whatever else we might find. We were out there so long, the tide had come in and we were stuck for a while.

Now I walk with my son, he's ten, we look for the tiny crabs and shells. We still spend hours turning over rocks.
As a kid, my cousins and I would hunt for snails in the surf at low tide. It seemed that was the best time to find them, the water was low, and clear, and because it was so flat, you could go out forever before the water got too deep. Snail hunts were a laugh. It seemed that I always got the ones that were sooo gooey.
I remember Uncle Bobby laughing at me because the ones I always got seemed to have the longest trail of slime hanging off of them.
Digging for quahogs was another way of passing time. Digging in with our heels until we hit something hard, and then diving under to pull out a huge clam. My mother and aunts would make stuffed  clams, or fish chowder with the quahogs, and later they used the shells for ash trays. There must have been two hundred clam shell ashtrays in the old cottage. We usually took some home too. Our garden in Wilmington was lined with the white shells.
We collected sea glass too. I remember searching for the light blue glass the most. You could always find brown or green, it was the cherished light blue or aqua that was the most precious. Mom and I would walk for what seemed like forever, with our eyes aimed at the little pebble line at the edge of the water, I would never feel just how much the sun was bearing down on my back and neck, not until bed time anyway.

Usually by the end of a good day, we had a pail full of snails and another bucket with glass and shells.
The snails would always try to climb out of the bucket, we'd knock them back in and they'd do it again. Sometimes we'd want to bring them back to the cottage. It would be ok, but only for a day or so, then of course they'd die, and the smell was awful.

Near the end of the day, the seagulls and pigeons would start to move in, picking up all of the scrap food left behind, or the little crabs that we had to dump out. 

The beach had so many different little things about it.

Sometimes it was the annoying sand fleas. Other times the horseflies were unbearable. I can recall the year of the sea weed too. Mounds and mounds of brown sea weed piled up high, the flies were all over the beach that year. There was the jellyfish that would swarm all over the shallow water. The huge manowar jellyfish that was so big and washed up on shore, the MDC had to use a bucket loader to scoop it out of the sand. We stumbled across this on one of our walks to the penny candy store. We saw a crowd of people and had to see what was going on. There must have been fifty people surrounding that thing. It was huge. Probably three feet across with long tentacles stretched out over the sand. Kids were throwing sand balls at it.

I watched the lifeguards pull a baby sand shark out of the water once, only to slam it on the sand in front of Mrs. Carpenter and her mother.( I saw Mary Carpenter at the beach last September ( 2003 ), she still looks the same and was enjoying the last warm days of summer)


We'd watch the US Coast Guard helicopters fly low overhead when ever there was a threat of sharks or the lifeguards rowing the dinghy right off shore.
I don't know how many times I found money in that water, once I came up from under with a twenty on my head.
I can remember the "ice cream " man walking the beach with his cooler strapped to his back. The gulls moving in closer as the day wore down, and running after them making them scatter seconds after they landed.

What would we do if it looked like rain was moving in? We'd wait it out. That was always funny to me, it would start to drizzle and the beach would slowly clear, then if it got a little heavier, the beach would empty out in seconds. Nana used to tell us kids to stay put, she was watching the clouds and knew the rain burst was just passing by. She was almost always right. We'd wait it out and sure enough the sun would break through. We had the whole beach to ourselves.
More searching, more walking. More fun for all of us.








As I am sitting here today, with the rain falling once again, it seems like its been raining all spring.
Its cold and damp. Even a bit dark outside and it's only one-thirty in the afternoon. I only mention this because it also reminds me of those cold, damp, non beach days that were so rare.

  I can probably say that over a stretch of some sixteen years, I can count on one hand how many days we missed going to the beach because of rain. When I say that almost every single day at the King of France cottage started out  with every intention of a day at the beach I am totally serious.
"Time to get up", my mom would say.  "We're going to the beach".
Even if it looked gray outside, we were up and ready for another day on the sand. We'd pack a sweat shirt and maybe socks too, other than that, we dressed in our bathing suits with  tee shirt on and headed out the door. I always wore sneakers, I hated walking barefoot in the street. There I am, three feet tall, waddling down the road with a towel tucked under my arm and an tin beach pail full of Tonka trucks. My brother probably had a beach chair, a towel and a transistor radio. He might be carrying a baseball glove too.
  Depending on the day, it could have been any one of my aunts or uncles walking us down to the beach. On the weeks my dad was there, he would always be one of the first ones out and down to the beach.
 
Once we were on the abandoned stretch of gray sand, we'd stake a claim to a spot. There are not too many people on the beach this day, mostly those who walked or jogged and a few of the other regular die hard beach fanatics, us included.
Damp days were best for ball games and sandcastles. With all the open space and especially if the tide was out, we could all have a good game of whiffle ball or something like that. Digging in the sand was fun too,  and on a gray day we wouldn't have the sun beating down on our backs.
 
Gulls flocked the beaches picking over small crabs and shells. The seaweed might be thicker too, because the gray sky usually meant that the seas were pretty rough out there, a storm was either on the way or had passed through in the night.
As the morning wore on, a few more people might arrive. By noon the beach had a regular crowd on it. If the rain had held off that long, people were going to come to the beach. Even if it meant sitting there, on your blanket wearing a bathing suit and a giant sweatshirt.
   
  Occasionally the sun might peek out but the clouds held strong.  A sure sign of a storm at sea, on these days there were no boats on the horizon. No tiny triangles of white sliding across the edge of the sea in the distance. Dark spots in the Atlantic showed up and in the waves we saw the swirls of brown rubbery seaweed. A little farther down the beach at Surfside, there might be a few guys in wetsuits trying to catch a wave or two.

  We knew at some point we would be taking a walk. Some days it was only towards the rocks at the closer end of the beach, towards Paragon Park. We might pop up onto the boardwalk to watch the people dancing at the bandstand.
On other days, we might head the other way, stopping to look at rocks, shells or sea glass along the way.
We were also headed in the direction of the Penny Candy store. If it was one of those days we were just as happy. The Penny Candy store as I mentioned earlier, was a great place to go. Penny candy. A huge pail filled with candy! We also might wind up with one of those little plastic parachute guys or a new Frisbee.
After I would pick out about a hundred sweet tart candies, giant pixie stix, and some gum, I had to make the choice of what I wanted to eat first! I always wanted to eat the pixie stix right away out of fear that they would get lumpy from the moisture in the air, but had to wait till we were back at the cottage because you needed to cut off the plastic end of the tube to eat it and we didn't happen to carry scissors in our swimsuits. We were only allowed to have one candy on the walk back. The rest we'd save for the remainder of the vacation, or sooner if we were sneaking into our pails!

Back to the blankets and it might be lunch time. Someone is either headed to Carl's or over to the Surfside Restaurant for food. Lunch some how tasted better on these rainy days, maybe because it was a bit chilly out and the warm burgers made us feel warmer or, it could have been because we were dry, we didn't have sticky salt water washed hands and weren't eating a ton of sand with our food. This seems so funny now, "go wash your hands in the water before you eat", yeah wash your hands in a puddle of sea water, mud and brine shrimp!

If the skies cleared a bit, we might get a kite up in the air.  ( Visions of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite in the thunder and lightning .) The black bat kite or the white ones with the bloodshot eyes. Flying high over the beach, trying to make sure that they don't suddenly dip and nose dive at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour into the surf or onto the sand. These kites would snap instantly when they hit the ground rendering them entirely useless for the rest of the day only minutes after taking its virgin flight.
If we got one up in the air, it might stay there for the day, with possibly several different people controlling its flight. There is only so long that you can hold a kite, the wind is pulling it up there tightly, tiny rope burns begin to form on your hands. You either trade if off to someone, or stake it to the ground for the day.

We often had several different things going on at the same time. Someone was flying the kite, others were playing smash ball or Frisbee, and someone else would be dragging a long piece of seaweed. Tonka trucks were strewn out every where, tiny roadways cut into the sand. Little kids pushing Tonka's mighty dump truck up and over a mound of sand or through some rocks. Someone over there is playing with a little plastic boat in a what amounts to nothing more than a puddle of sea water and mud and
the adults would sit and chat. Reading a book, newspaper or magazine. Mostly watching other people.

There never seemed to be an end to what we could have done on that beach. I really can't remember any really boring beach days. 
If we cut the day short because it was just too cold, we might wind up over at Playland for some skee ball.
Someone might make a laundry run or even  take a short drive down to the grocery store provided there was car available. There may even have been a trip to the old bowling alley. Today, the bowling alley building houses the Nantasket Clarion hotel

Rainy nights usually would be good for some television if it was really bad. But most of those nights, we would still sit out on the back porch looking out over the bay. We'd watch to see if the park was going to light up or shut down. The rain water streaming over the edge of the roof, a waterfall pouring down in front of us. Paragon Park might be still open, but there was no click clack of the Comet to be heard.
Someone inside the cottage is probably reading a book, or in the kitchen with a cup of coffee a cigarette and they are still talking. Laughter can be heard on most of these nights. In fact it can be said that laughter was probably heard EVERY night. Yes, now I'm sure of it. Every night.

  Some rainy nights Bill Warwick would come in, soaking wet.
Even though Bill stayed at the cottage too, we never really saw him much because he was down on his boat, while we were at the beach and he may have often times, simply gone back to Boston for a few days. Water running off his raincoat, his fisherman's cap all soggy. Bill's white hair matted to the back of his head.  He might have some dinner for us, if anyone down at the salt water club had gone out and made a catch and had some to spare or Nana would have saved him a plate and they would just sit and eat together. Other nights he might just have a book to read and would sit in the chair all night reading by the fireplace.
I only remember a few times when we actually got that old fireplace lit. And I can't remember if it ever really helped to warm the place up. I seem to remember more, the search for wood and the struggle to keep it lit. Bill would fight that fireplace every time. He'd have to be the one to go under the cottage to  gather the firewood. With his flashlight and wet cap, Bill would cut through the cobwebs under the house, fumble around a bit and come back with an arm full of wood. I was under there a few times with him, nothing much to see under there, some old tires, a few cans, maybe an old beach chair. I remember now as I write this, seeing an old bicycle under there too,  A few large rocks might have been there and I'm sure there had to be some type of animal living under that house. Mostly though, it was dark and dusty. Cobwebs everywhere and some weeds that might like to grow under cottages with minimal daylight. The firewood we found was mostly just scrap lumber. A few chunks of real firewood, but mostly it was old planks, some broken lattice work and junk.
Now there may have been another problem too. You see, with the usual lack of men in the house on a regular basis, ( remember, all of my uncles and my dad were not usually there unless they were on vacation from work- my father's business being a swimming pool store, required him to be at work during the summer. He usually had a week in August off.) there were no newspapers around either!
Bill often had an old paper laying around somewhere, even if it meant having to back outside in the rain to go through his car. The fire would get lit. The night would wind down.

The next morning came, and we heard: " Time to get up, we're going to the beach!".




I think if you walk along the beach and listen closely, you can still hear the sounds of Paragon Park. Maybe it is because the old carousel still stands there today playing music, or maybe its from the sounds coming from the bandstand.
This past summer while I was at Nantasket Beach, I know I distinctly heard the clatter of that big old chain pulling the Comet up the hill. Someone on the beach may have had a radio on, playing “oldies”, and I probably heard something like BTO’s Takin Care Of Business, or one of those great songs from the seventies, either way, while I listened,  I got a chill and remembered just how much fun we always had at Paragon Park.

Hearing the game operators barking out the call for all the guys to “Win one for the gorgeous lady”, always brought the question from one of us to let us play. More often than not we were denied, because as I mentioned earlier, our parents knew that the games weren't really “fair” and we could probably buy the very same toy we were trying to win for about half the price as would have cost to play. But it would have been so much fun to try. I guess I shouldn't say that we were always denied, because sometimes we were allowed to play the squirt gun games, and I even remember throwing a few balls at “whack the cats”. Of course, I also remember never winning anything either.

Standing in lines for rides could get so boring, looking back though, I have stood in lines longer at the bank. Waiting there patiently to get on board the old Mine train, or the Indy 500, we would look around spotting the next biggest or fastest ride to go on. Over in the waiting area stood my Aunts, Mom and Nana. Maybe eating an ice cream cone or more likely, smoking a cigarette. ( Nana didn't smoke, it was more likely she was eating a slushie )

I think I only can recall one or two times when we were at Paragon Park and it might have rained. I know for sure that it did rain once. I remember all of us hurrying along to get inside the Playland arcade. There was always a huge puddle on the pavement at the Congo Cruise, just at the base of the drop hill. When it rained on this night, that puddle got to be huge. Imagine, four or five eight or nine year old kids, and their moms trying to get around that puddle, you know that one of us had to test the depth of that puddle. I can hear it now clear as day, “ Don’t you even think about stepping in that puddle!” it makes me laugh.

Every now and then there would be a radio station set up in the park broadcasting , there were always crowds gathered around the DJ, hoping for a free tee shirt or bumper sticker. Sometimes we’d walk home with a handful of bumper stickers hoping to plaster them all over the shiny chrome of our dad’s cars.

Somewhere in the corner of Playland stood one of those old “fortune teller” games, for a quarter, you got to see the mechanical fortune teller pass her hand over the cards and then spit out a tiny yellow card with your fortune on it. The sounds of the balls rolling up the skee ball alleys, and bells and whistles going off.
Laughter in the background as someone might actually win one of those giant stuffed bears.

Everywhere we walked in that park people were laughing, smiling and just having a great time. It was like nothing else mattered and everyone was there having fun. We’d walk along and as we got to different areas in the park you could smell the cotton candy, or the hamburgers and fries. We would watch those lemonade machines that stood on the counters full of pink or yellow lemonade. The poor girls who made cotton candy, they almost always had a wisp of cotton candy in their hair. Popcorn everywhere. Outside the park, we always watched the salt water taffy being stretched out on the machine, Mom would always buy a box, and she’d keep it just out of reach of us kids back at the cottage. We didn’t care though because we would have our candy from the penny candy store anyway.

We usually didn’t go to Paragon Park on “bargain night”, the one or two nights during the week when you could buy one ticket to ride all night, we almost always had some coupon for tickets that could get us on a ride with only one ticket. A much better deal than buying the multi tickets that most people used. The ones where you had to use a certain number for each ride. We only needed one ticket per ride. I don’t think we ever turned in a matchbook for $2 worth of tickets for $1. We just saved those matchbooks for our own collection, and from the looks of what is now available over the internet on Ebay, those matchbooks are now worth something. I have a few now too.

One night, when us kids were old enough to walk down to the park without an adult I went down to the park with my cousin John. Being kids, we didn’t have a whole lot of money, and probably only had about five dollars each. We wanted to ride the rides, and came up with a brilliant idea to stretch our money. Before we went down, we would gather up our skee ball tickets, we’d then go to the park and look at what color the ride tickets were that night. Maybe one of us had a few of those single ride tickets left, and we would have a skee ball ticket that was the same color. We’d look for a ride that had an attendant who seemed more interested in watching the girls  going by, than looking at the tickets he collected, then we’d put the skee ball ticket under the real ticket and hand them over to him. Bingo! It worked. We had successfully boarded the ride!
We also may have tried the “two for one deal”, we’d scrape up enough money to buy a bargain day tag, we’d both get on a ride, one of us had a ticket or two, and then when it was over, only one of us would get off the ride, giving the other the ride pass, and we’d get back on again.
I still could never get John to ride that giant coaster though. We just stood there at the base and looked up at it. John was more of an Indy 500 rider, or we rode the Sizzler or Tip Top. ( the Tip Top could actually be worse than the coaster, as you spun the cars you were in and  the entire ride spun and went up and down.)
I remember once getting on the Tip Top and while we waited for the ride to fill up, we’d spin the car as fast as we could. We had to seek out the car that didn’t have its brakes on that would spin freely before the ride started. We found the car and got in. We got that thing spinning fast, and were having a great time. We got so dizzy. We also got tired, as those cars were a little work to keep spinning. We’d stop and get our bearings, then we’d notice that the ride hadn’t even started yet. Catching our breath, we’d wait for it to actually start and then go at it again. That ride was crazy! Spinning around, and going up and down, the loud blast of air coming from it as it would drop, it always seemed like the longest ride there.

The lights at night were dazzling. Every where you looked there colors and sparkles. Neon and electric glitter everywhere. The old Giant Coaster with its lights up one side of the first hill, the Paratroopers with the bright lights surrounding the tops and the flashing neon going up its skeleton frame.  The Trabant with alternating bulbs and the Indy  500 brightly lit making its huge orange and yellow structure glow in the night. Music blasting from the Himalaya ride and its bright strobe lights and disco ball. Yellow, green, red, orange and purple everywhere.
Teenage girls dancing in front of the rides to the music. Older couples walking along holding hands or with their arms around each other. Everyone there forgetting about life for a while and just having fun.

Near the end of the night, the lines got a little shorter, there seemed to be more discarded popcorn buckets or cotton candy tubes. Someone walking around sweeping up cigarette butts, and emptying overflowing trash barrels. Snack bar workers wiping down the counters and possibly offering up a free burger or French fries.  Lights starting to dim, and some even switching off. The laughter seems to quiet down a little bit, and I’m sure somewhere there are kids crying because they didn’t want to leave. ( of course that was  NEVER us. )  A lot of strollers going by with kids fast asleep, or dads carrying kids draped over their shoulders exhausted from a full night while carrying an oversized stuffed toy.
The lines at the ice cream stands on the street would get longer though, everyone wanted that last cone before they all went home for the night. Maybe a few more tries from the guys running the games on the street, for someone walking by empty handed to “win one for the gorgeous lady!”
Everyone is tired, and they all had some fun.
“We’ll come back again”, is heard all up and down the street and at the gates of Paragon Park.
We always did.

The blizzard of 78 was amazing. The devastation  that storm caused is still etched in my mind. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live in Hull and go through that.
I got to watch the destruction from the safety of my home in Wilmington and saw the blizzard's effects only through the local news. It was incredible.
  When springtime came, so did my birthday. In March. One of the things I wanted most was to go down to Nantasket to see the beach and see what the blizzard had done.
I was so amazed when we got there.
Here it is the middle of March and there were still mounds of debris everywhere. Entire streets were wiped out, we drove along the shore as close as we could and looked at the devastation brought by the monster storm. We saw bucket loaders scooping up the entire contents of the shoreline homes. There was furniture piled high on every corner. Rubble stood where once beautiful sea side homes stood and we were driving inland ONE BLOCK!
The destruction that storm caused was awful.
  I looked around and saw no beach left, there were barriors everywhere. The sea wall had given in to the the mighty Atlantic, huge sections of concrete had fallen away.
  We had to drive up Eastern Ave. I needed to see that the King of France had survived. I knew she would, situated up on that big hill. Slowly our car crawled up that hill, what we saw once we got there was even more amazing. From the top of the hill you can see just about all of Nantasket Ave and it was just a huge mess. If there wasn't a mountain of snow piled high, there were mounds of beach sand, or just piles of furniture everywhere.
  The old King of france had survived as did most every other house on the hill. It was the low laying areas and waterfront homes that took the brunt of the storm.
We drove down Hull Shore drive, again more devastation.Homes along the waterfront had sand packed on the front porches, and as high as the third floor windows. Front yards disappeared under beach sand. Stone walls were buried.
We drove past Paragon Park and saw the boarded up arcades still in tact, but the sidewalks were covered in sand. Everything there was touched in some way by the blizzard. it was an experience I will never forget, and I'm sure for anyone who lived through it there, they won't forget either.

  I go back there each winter now, I drive along the shore as far as I can go, looking to see how things are holding up. I see the huge sand dunes that stand there now, hoping to protect the waterfront homes from any more damage.

  Its been more than 25 years now since that week in February that stopped everything in Massachusetts and most of New England.
I sit here today in my home in New Hampshire, buried under about two feet of snow, thinking about that time. Looking to my left at the pictures on the wall of Paragon and Nantasket.

  The following summer we went back, most of everything had been cleaned up, there were still remanants of the wicked winter, still some areas that were off limits, unsafe. There was construction going on everywhere, homes being rebuilt, people getting back to their lives and saving what they could.
When we got the chance to go to Paragon one of the first things we noticed was the new heavy steel cables that were installed to the Comet. The old girl stood up gainst the blizzard pretty well, and was now reinforced with some cable. She would survive. But only until 1984 came along.....


July 2006.

After over 40 years of seeing her on the beach, and knowing who she was, I finally re-introduced myself to Ms. Carpenter this year.  She remembered my grandmother, and our band of beach fanatics. We had a nice conversation, and we shared some memories of years gone by. She asked how everyone was, and what we are all up to these days. I got to the beach several times this year, and saw Ms. Carpenter there almost every time, and we would chat and say hello every time. She even  stopped me one day this summer on the sidewalk while we were both walking because the tide had come in and the beach got smaller.
Ms Carpenter told me about the plans for several new condominium projects that are being planned, including a proposed condominium project slated for the corner lot opposite Anastos corner, where Casey's liquor store used to be. There is also another proposed building for the land near what was once the surf area, along Hull Shore Drive, where the new wall has been built, with the proposal of closing off Hull Shore Drive for the condominium residents effectively cutting off the beach and creating what would amount to a "private beach front".
There is also yet another proposal for a building in the lot which is now used for residents to park in, on the corner of Bay Street, diagonal from the Clarion Hotel, where they would like to build another condominium.

The beach is now flanked entirely on one end with condominium buildings. There is a new building high up on the hill above the old aquarium, which instantly blocked the ocean views of several homes that sit up there.

Having seen this little town change so much over the years, I also see alot of things stay the same. There are almost always the exact same people sitting on the beach in the exact same spots every day. Myself included. I always go to the same spot, in front of the Red Parrot, as does Ms Carpenter, and others like the "ramp guards" as I call them. ( the group of men who sit there at the top of the ramp every day and talk about the Red Sox, Boston politics, and playing poker ), there is the lady who sits at the bottom of the ramp every day as well as so many others.

What I have seen mostly though is the transition from what was once a very busy and popular place to what now almost seems like a ghost town. In the 20 plus years since Paragon Park was torn down, there is an almost eerie feeling all over. Sidewalks that were once full of people walking shoulder to shoulder are now virtually empty every day and night, shops, restaurants and homes now stand empty or boarded up. There are rarely any bus trips there any more, with only a few from schools or camps. I heard very little music coming from the bandstand this past summer,even though there is a new dance floor. The bandstand is now more a home for the skateboarders who flock there on a daily basis.

The difference here is amazing to me, it seems as if with the passing of time, this little beach community has been lost. It seems that those who are now in charge of making the decisions are blind to it, and are only thinking about building more and more condominiums. They seem to be completely missing something though, and that is the simple fact that there is now nothing for anyone to do there other than sitting on the beach. Sure there still a few places to eat here and there, and there are still some shops to go into, but ever since the loss of the park, and waterslides, there is now nothing for the local kids to do, as well as those others who once spent time at the beach as a regular family vacation.
The loss of the park eliminated jobs for the local teens and seniors who onced worked there. The attraction is now gone. Tourists who once took the boat from Boston don't arrive anymore, buses that took seniors from all over don't park anymore. Cottages remain empty and boarded up. Rental signs are everywhere.

I had the opportunity to speak to a man on the beach sidewalk this summer, as it turned out, he was visiting Nantasket Beach for the first time in years. He had some memories of the park as well and we spoke for a while. The funny thing to me was that, he was renting up on the hill, on Hillside Rd, at number 6 or 8, just doors away from where I spent so many days and nights as a kid.

He thought that the place looked ok, and the beach was still beautiful, and I agreed, and he thought that not much had changed. But when we started to talk about our memories of days gone by, he too noticed the eerie feeling of what was missing. We chatted for a bit more, both agreeing that with the Carousel still there and open, it does let us go back in time a bit.
He said he was going to walk around a bit and see what he's missed over the years. we said goodbye, and off he went, over to the carousel where he could, if even only for a few hours, go back in time.








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