It's a Wonder We Survived!

The Danversport Elementary School Facebook Group shares some of their favorite memories.

Having spent just two years living in Danversport as a kid, I’ve got a few vivid memories. Yet I knew there were others with many more that were richer in detail.

I found the Danversport Elementary School Group on Facebook and have been thrilled by the response of the members at my request to hear their stories.

The group is an open group boasting 57 members. Isa Cann created the group much to the delight of all involved.  I’ve been reading dozens of responses about memories, and names of classmates we wonder about, and finding it hard to pick just which ones to write about here.  That said, the obviously well organized Cann has also created a document for the group in which members can summarize their Memorable Five, memories they can’t shake.  I hope that we’ll be able to publish them on Danvers Patch in the near future.

For now, however, I’d like to share some of the ones that made me laugh, and made me stop and think- it really is something that we survived our “dangerous” childhoods!

Thomas Moore writes "….how many people absolutely loved the almost illegal sport of dodge ball?"  Patti Turcotte DeBie "loved it" and Robin Hurley said "it was so much fun, but scary when some of the bigger boys would really whip it at you."  Dave Ambler also loved it and didn’t find it the "emotionally scarring game it’s thought to be today." However, Dave isn’t fond of the memory of getting "hit in the face with the nasty red ball." Kim Niciewsky O’Donnell says "Oh wow- the red balls- Dave hit it right on the nose! I can almost smell them still!"  I have to say, these stories made me cringe just a  bit because I only seem to remember kickball, so it makes me wonder if I did in fact actually play dodge ball and might have been hit in my most certainly helmet-less head, thus skewing my power of recall a little.

Another story was about the stacks of blue leather in the Babco parking lot, and others remember the same type of thing behind Creese and Cook.  There, it is said, the men working at the leather factory would throw bags of them out to the kids to play with.  The kids made forts out of them and jumped on them. Roger Eon says "I think I sneezed blue til I was 9."

We all have memories of the fancy imported lunches we received daily at Danversport School.  There was no cafeteria, so meals were brought into us in thermal bags.  The general consensus is that the hot dogs were green, and Alaine Lavoie Amari also chimes in that "the pizza with cheese that looked like scabs on top - nasty!" The milk was usually warm, and any bread involved was damp. Marc Lapointe says "I had a job helping an ex-Marine looking lunch guy bring bags of soggy stuff in from Thorpe School. I used to carry the milk crates." He too remembers the green hot dogs.

On a much lighter note, there was gym class. Since Danversport School didn’t have a gym, we usually moved our desks to the edges of the room if the weather was bad.  If it was good, we’d go outside for dodge ball (or kick ball in my mind), or walk down to the Riverside School.  Square dancing at Riverside was a ritual of passage that we all endured. While square dancing wasn’t in and of itself dangerous to our physical well-being, it was traumatic for those of us who were awkward. Tammy Knight Roberts thinks the theory behind this was "we will traumatize you more and make you to hold hands and dance together." Perry Marathas brought up soccer at recess, and Marc Lapointe says both the boys and girls teams took first place over Great Oak School one year.

Then there was the fire escape.  I know I was terrified of it and lived in fear that I’d slip and my legs would go right through the open slots.  I think I even got my mom to write one of her famous notes to get me excused from fire drills, but it must not have worked because I can still summon up my own fear at the thought of them.  I was not alone; other folks from the group report similar terrors and amazement that no one was killed on the rickety old thing.

I find it heartwarming that so many people remember a woman who was very kind to the kids in the neighborhood, giving rides to school even until Junior High. Elaine MacFarlane mentioned “Aunt Shirley” first and others jumped in to fondly recall her too.

It’s really wonderful to see this diverse group of adults, from various classes and of assorted ages coming together to share their stories.  I’ve run out of room to include them all this time, but hope that once Cann’s document is completed we can do it again.  It has also been great to see classmates asking about others from our grade school days and to see the enthusiasm this Facebook group has spurred.

We survived- the lunches, the fire escape, dodge-ball, playing with toxic smelling leather, and so much more. Perhaps my favorite reminds me somewhat of an old saying that we’ve all heard about walking twenty miles to school in the snow. It’s hard to believe we are saying similar things now, but here goes.  From Dave Ambler: "It was a different world back then.  I too had to walk in any weather. Winter was especially bad for me. My mom made me wear galoshes. The snow and ice would cake up on those stupid buckles, and I could never get them undone at school."  But Dave, did you have to carry ten heavy books too, like our folks used to tell us? And was the walk all uphill – both ways? I’m kidding Dave, and your memories have been great to read.

Kudos to the Danversport kids who I think are all from classes in the 1970’s and 1980’s who participated in this storytelling event, and to all of us for surviving those wild and crazy days!

Doreen Panos Nolan May 28, 2011 at 05:02 PM
In my days, Mrs. Sullivan was Principal. I can't even tell you how many times she sat me in the hallway with my gum on my nose, my punishment for chewing it in class. Grades 1-5, Mrs. Gallagher, Mrs. Wynn, Mrs. Masters, Mr. Trainor and Mrs. Baker/Mr. Meehan. I lived behind the school, on Mill Street, and remember being late for school every day. By the time I ran across the street and up the fire escape, the door would already be locked. Ok, lesson learned. Today, I am a very punctual person! I was the 1st one to get chickenpox in 2nd grade, had one little bubble and went to school anyways. By the afternoon, I was covered and ended up sharing this illness with the rest of the class. Oops, sorry! Dodge ball was fun, but not intended for the face! This game enlightened me to who my "true" friends were. Jump rope, Chinese jump rope and being called a Port rat. The best part of living in the Port was that all the parents watched each others children, would bring dinner if someone in the family was ill or if there was death. We truly cared for one another. My "family" consisted of the names, such as Pszenny, McCarthy, Talbot, Jedrey/Noyse, Malski, Andrews, Hitchcock, Vizena, Jordans, Denis/Eon, Farley, Hooper, Woods, Davis, Toomey, Lavoie and so many more. I NEVER knew that we lived in a poor area, as we were so rich in other ways. In my eyes, this neighborhood was just one big extended family and I am a richer person today for living there. - Doreen Panos Nolan
Laura Hinds May 28, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Hi Doreen- I loved reading all you wrote! Fantastic to have such memories. I think you have a sister, Lori? Laurie? and that she was in my grade. Now I seem to remember Miss Sullivan too, but in the context of her being the Principal at the Portables where I went for 6th grade. Was she an older lady who wore her hair up in a bun? Thanks for sharing!!! Laura Hinds
Doreen Panos Nolan May 28, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Hi Laura - Yes I have 2 younger sisters, Dawn and Lori. I believe that is the same Mrs. Sullivan, older woman with a bun! I always remembering thinking.....just how long is her hair? LOL. I don't remember her smiling too much either. I remember her as being tough, yet very fair. She did move onto the portables, as well, where I also was for 6th grade. The Danversport School did not have an auditorium and I remember going to the white church on the corner of Water Street and High Street to do our Christmas plays, but especially remember our Memorial Day plays and sing-a-longs. Oh the memories. Thanks for sharing, as well. - Doreen Panos Nolan
Christine Hooper Steele May 29, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Hi Doreen!!! Looking back on our days at Danversport, those were the best days of my life. I had soooo much fun when we were kids living in the Port. I never felt like a Port Rat at all!!! I actually have an old framed picture, that used to hang in the school that my mom found in the attic of the house, it is huge and very, very old, probably from the 1800's. I remember getting hit in the face quite a bit from that dodge ball also!!! Used to hate that game, but loved chinese jump rope!!! Danversport was a great little town to have grown up in and the memories are wonderful!!!! Love ya kid!!


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