Little Neck Nostalgia

by Gavin Keenan

We moved to Ipswich when Ike was President and Elvis crossed over from Gospel to Rock and Roll. My father worked for Grossman’s and got a transfer from the Braintree store to the new one in Ipswich on Washington Street. For a while, he commuted from where we lived in Walpole to his new sales territory on the North Shore. Then for two summers we rented the Wildwood cottage on Little Neck to be together and ease Pop’s travel stress.

Windwood Cottage on Little Neck
Wildwood Cottage on Little Neck

After a long time searching for a permanent place for us to live and thus end our nomadic existence, my parents found an old, boarded up Salt Box on Nabby’s Point Road. They approached the owner, local artist Carl Nordstrom, to see if he was interested in selling. As the house needed everything from windows to electricity to a working toilet, he must have figured why not unload it, since the squirrels and raccoons who inhabited the place weren’t paying any rent worth mentioning. I was but the tender age of three then.

Weekends, we would all come up so the family could work on the homestead and make it habitable. Everyone except me of course, I never liked work that much. Ma would pack up a bunch of peanut butter sandwiches for the family and thus provisioned, aim her 54’ Nash Rambler onto the still-under-construction Route 128. Digging into the peanut butter sandwiches with relish (figuratively, not literally) my older brothers would grudgingly share some with me. I’d take a bite, smack my lips and then just sort of pass out on the floor of the Nash. No one could understand why, and speculated it was me just being difficult, typical of my usual behavior. I would continue to turn purple and puke when near peanut butter, until many years later, a wise physician suggested that I might be allergic to peanuts. So allergic in fact, that it might kill me. But who knew? It was the Fifties then and we were more worried about Commies and Polio than Skippy and anaphylaxis.

Ma was quite a glamour girl in those days; she was beautiful and loved a beach, either public or private. Living on the Neck gave us access to all the beaches within striking distance; Sandy Beach, Pavilion, and the long gone Baby Beach across the causeway on Little Neck Cove.

The Pavilion was home to Fried Clams, Ice Cream, Mini Golf, and on selected Sundays, Catholic Masses celebrated by my Uncle Jimmy Keenan, officially known as Father Donald Keenan, C.P. Uncle Jimmy and my Aunt Anna summered with us for a year or two on Nabby’s and enjoyed the full Ipswich experience. Uncle Jimmy was missionary at heart and outwardly ecumenical. He diligently spread the Word to all who would listen at The Sunnyside, The Landing and The Marguery.

Ma firmly believed that having once lived on Little Neck conveyed lifetime access to Sandy Beach. I can remember many a summer day when she would load us into the Nash, cruise down Jeffrey’s Neck Road through the stately pillars of the Little Neck Estate. Approaching the old security guard standing at the base of the hill, she would slow down just enough to wave; shout “Keenan” and dropping the Nash into first gear, burn up the hill to the beach. “All right, Ma!” we’d squeal. The guard was not amused.

But life is Karma. Many years later as a rookie cop working the coveted Little Neck Detail, I would experience similar frustration with carloads of young, exuberant thrill seekers making this ancient pilgrimage. The names they used were different but familiar, shouted with the same hope of entering into the promised land of sun and fun. And who was I to dash their dreams? It took a while for us to understand each other; along with some wise counsel from a grizzled veteran cop (all veteran cops back then were grizzled.) But after a fashion, the young and restless learned to keep it below the sound barrier and we got along just fine. Jerry Rodman and Lenny Fiske never failed to drop off an ice-cold Coke if they were “in country.” Over the decades I became friendly with many Neck families, watched the kids become adults and shared their dismay over the messiness of recent years.

Now, just as the muddy sand of Baby Beach has disappeared beneath the marsh grass and the Pavilion can only be seen in old photos; the area continues to undergo transformation and change. But some things remain ever-constant. Locals still flock to this special place in all weather to gaze across the bay to Sandy Point. Lovers park in the moonlight to seek paradise by the dashboard light. Friends lounge in rough sand compressed by generations of happy feet as the Gulls approach in search of a handout. July Greenheads and August Midges continue to bedevil us all. As my beloved fondly states, “Ipswich is paradise with bugs.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

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