2010-12-02 / News

Long-time resident reminisces about hurricanes and parakeets

By Geoff Campbell

Manny Neronha Jr. Manny Neronha Jr. Manny Neronha Jr. is a storyteller.

Interviewed as part of the Jamestown Historical Society’s Oral History Project, Manny recounted two notable tales from his Jamestown youth. He tells them with a sense of detail and good humor in a way that separates these two from his life-long narrative, which is both rich and story-abundant.

When speaking about his roots, Manny is quick to point out that his mother, Mary (Piva) Neronha, was the first professional “Business Women of Jamestown Honoree, a Red Cross Clara Barton award winner” and that she was one of three original founders of the Jamestown Ambulance Corps.

His father, Manny said, started working very young for the Jamestown Newport Ferry System. “He studied to become a chief steam maritime engineer and rose to become the port engineer for the entire system.” Manny Neronha Sr. retired in 1969 at the age of 62 when the Newport Bridge opened.

Manny, or Junior to his dad, lived at 104 Narragansett Ave. He explained that following the renumbering of Narragansett Avenue, 104 Narragansett Ave. turned into 164 Narragansett Ave., and that the house withstood the hurricane of 1938.

Manny observed his ninth birthday three weeks before the 1938 hurricane struck and he remembers it clearly. He tells the story in his own words:

“I was all alone with my mother in the house. I was in the fourth grade. They let us out of school at the regular time. I don’t think that we got out early.

“It was a beautiful sunny day. I went home and my mother let us go out to play. I went down Maple Avenue to play with a fellow by the name of Al Latham, my brother was at a friend’s house and the wind was blowing but we didn’t notice anything and then all of a sudden a monstrous tree across the street came down – it scared us – I ran home.

“My mother said a storm was coming. My father was on the Hammonton docked down at West Ferry and we didn’t know where my brother was but we

Continued from page 2 knew he was safe.

“All of the sudden the wind blew and I mean it was blowing. Two big trees – sycamore trees – came down blocking Narragansett Avenue. The house shook, the cellar door blew open. I remember looking out my window and seeing a bird come in the air and hit our dining room window and cracked just the top.

“I couldn’t figure what it was. It was naked. It had no feathers… it was a chicken! It was a chicken with no feathers. It was a goodsize chicken. It hit the window and went someplace and when the eye [of the hurricane] came through we looked out and it was caught in the hedges, that’s why I know it was a chicken, it was dead in the hedges.

“It was a chicken and it had no feathers; the wind had blown all of the feathers off the chicken. I though it was some kind of eagle. I remember that clearly. It scared the hell out of me.

“When the eye came through we all went outside. It was beautiful. Everybody was outside looking at the trees, all of a sudden the wind came up again, worse than ever and we could have put some wood over the cellar and we never did that. It went on and on and on.

“It got so windy my mother and I hid in the pantry and stayed there – I slept there.

“If my dad was here he could tell you a story; they were all in the wheelhouse of the Hammonton docked at the West Ferry – he saw the school bus go over – at the time he thought that all the kids were saved because he remembered seeing a group coming off the bus and trying to get to shore. Right after that the [Mackerel Cove] pavilion came through and knocked my dad’s car off the deck. It was a [1934] Chevy. [The pavilion] knocked three cars overboard.

“Dad had no insurance – he got one tire out of that car, he told me. He saw the tidal wave. I asked him about the tidal wave: ‘We didn’t know it was wave, we thought it was a fog blank.’ The wave drove the Hammonton onto the pilings. A couple of the men fell against the pilothouse wall.

“He saw it all. We didn’t know what happened to my dad; he didn’t get home until the next day. My mother and I walked down there but we couldn’t go down Narragansett [Avenue]. The fire department had to go the along the backside to put up a ladder to the wheelhouse to get everyone out.

“After the hurricane everybody in Jamestown had to take – they were requested to – three typhoid shots at the fire station. Apparently they found dead animals in the reservoir.

“I was petrified. I took the first one and then a week later for the second one I ran away to the Pines. My dad knew where I was; he was calling for me and it was getting dark so I came home. I remember a doctor came to the house and gave me a shot on my living room floor!

“I don’t remember how long we were out of school.”

Manny tells another story about Tom Hunt, the “the doctor of Jamestown,” as Neronha refers to him:

“When I grew up here there were no doctors in town, they came later in life.

“When I was young, right across the street there was a house that is still there…owned by Tom Hunt. Tom Hunt was considered the doctor of Jamestown; he was really a pharmacist and where the East Ferry was, he owned the Rexall store. He was very friendly with my family.

“A story I definitely remember – I had some kind of illness and Tom diagnosed it as something wrong with my tonsils or adenoids.

“Now I don’t know to this day why they didn’t call a doctor or something and there was a ferry system then, but my tonsils and adenoids were taken out on my kitchen table by Army Doctors who were stationed at Fort Getty.

“And how that all developed I don’t know, Tom had connections with them. I guess there wasn’t a doctor, [so] they came up and took out my adenoids…I had poisoned adenoids; they took out my adenoids and my tonsils.

“I remember fighting the ether so bad – I remember being in the bed in the morning. My mother had a parakeet in the hallway and my dad was great with oneliners.

“My mother screamed, I didn’t know what happened [because] I was upstairs in the room, [but] I could hear her shouting, ‘The parakeet is dead; the ether killed the parakeet!’ And my dad said, ‘Well, Junior made it didn’t he?’”

The stories Manny tells uniquely achieve one of the principle aims of the oral history project: To learn from long-time Jamestown residents what it was like to grow up here.

Everyone’s Jamestown experience is expected to be different but the willingness of life-long Jamestowners to share their stories may allow us to keep alive a little longer the essence of what is unique about our town and our life on the island.

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