2006-07-13 / Editorial

Those were the days: Growing up in Jamestown

By Alayne White

I grew up in West Ferry and Shoreby Hill.

When I tell people that I grew up in Jamestown, the 100-percent reply is, "Wow, that is a beautiful place," and of course, I always agree because it was - then.

Beavertail was dirt roads. We used to go to the beach by ourselves, Potter's or Mackerel Cove, listening to our AM/FM radios, the red round ones, and 92 PRO-FM would announce hourly, "Time to turn so you don't burn." Of course, this was way before sunscreen. We would walk all over the place, downtown included, barefoot. We would be out of the house in the morning because your mother would say, "Go play," and we would leave and return when we heard the fire station horn for lunch and dinner. Rain or shine.

As we got older, we'd venture off to Green's Pier, where we weren't members and skinny dip off the dock back when summer residents were real, real Yankees who summered, not trendy folks who started summering for bragging rights.

Occasionally, an oldtimer would come over to us and ask us to leave, and we would because we were

polite, and we knew we weren't supposed to be there. No swearing or flipping off, we were respectful because that is how we were raised.

If we had friends who lived "up north," (the north end of the island, that is) once school got out, we didn't see them until school started because it was too far for our parents to drive (or rather too much of a pain in the you know where). The only time you would go "up north" is to go to the North End Bargain Center to shop for oddities like sneakers. It probably was the inspiration for places like Job Lot or Building 19.

Everyday we would walk downtown after school by ourselves and buy penny candy at Pintos or Mr. B's. We were devastated when Mr. B's decided to close its doors, and now it is the deli.

There used to be a movie theater downtown and I saw "Hair" four times and "The Deer Hunter" as a new release. I think the movies were $1. The Bayview used to be a bar and a dilapidated old hotel, but the kids could go in there (in the entrance) because Domenic Turillo put video games there and we learned to play Pacman and Galaga. The Islander was the town's greasy spoon, and it was there we would meet in the morning with our friends and have coffee for the first time, endless cups in real dishes. Jamestown Design was the place you went to buy your mom's birthday present if you saved up enough allowance and wanted to get her something really nice.

In eighth grade, we rode our bikes as a class from the Jamestown School to Beavertail for a class picnic and swimming off the rocks. (Imagine all of the worry-wart parents allowing that today.) Speaking of Jamestown School, everyone went there. The only kids that didn't go there were the bad kids who got into too much trouble. They had to go to private school, and we never saw them again. I loved the school and learned a lot. The teachers were allowed to actually teach back then. When four teachers retired about seven years ago, I went to their party to let them know how much I learned from them.

The fattest kid in the class was skinny by today's standards, and notice that I said fattest kid, singular, because there were no fat kids back then. All of our parents let us out of the house alone for the entire day to figure out what to do, and it usually involved running and swimming and biking.

As we grew up, you know at age 16 or 17, we had less of an appreciation for the island's confines. If you tried to get into the Narragansett Caf before you were of age, there was no way in the world that could happen - everyone knew you. There wasn't a lot to do for teenagers, and if you didn't have the luxury of parents to cart you around and you didn't have a car, you had to figure it out.

If you went to North Kingstown for high school and there was any after school activity, you couldn't go because there was no late bus, and there was no way your mother was going to pick you up. Speaking of buses, there were four of them taking us to NK. Because the Jamestown Bridge was "iffy," they would only allow one bus over at a time. We knew that as kids! The lawyers and insurance companies would have a field day with that one these days, but lawyers didn't advertise on TV back then and the only TV stations we watched were 6, 10 or 12, and 56 - if you were lucky. The beauty and the drag of the island was its confines as a teenager, but the advantage was the safety. You couldn't get in much trouble. I loved growing up there. It was safe, it was beautiful, it was boring and fun, and the friends I made there, 30 years later, I am still friends with.

Jamestown has become yuppified and a little trendier and a lot more expensive. I am glad I lived there in its finest hours, and I hope the kids today are enjoying it as much as my friends and I did.

Editor's note: The writer now lives in Bristol, R.I.

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