By Ken Poor
One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn’t always have a camera to capture the memories I was living and this story explains just part of the reason. In the spring of 1956 or 1957, I was about 15 years old at that time, and still in high school. Jimmy MacDonald and I would typically meet up outside the cafeteria to wait for school to start. Jimmy was my best friend.
On this particular day when I arrived at the school, Jimmy was already waiting for me at the Green Street entrance. It was easy to see that he was very excited and was in a hurry to share with me what he considered big news. As it turned out the big news was that he had been given a whole bunch of camping equipment. With classes scheduled to start within a few minutes we made plans to meet up after school and go to his house to look at his new treasure.
At the time, Jimmy, his brother John Thomas, and their mother Lydia lived on Manning Street in Ipswich. There was a garage at the end of the driveway and in the past we had been given strict instructions to stay out of it. On this occasion Jimmy had permission to go in the garage and that was where the camping equipment was stored.
We spent the rest of the afternoon going through what was to us a treasure trove of camping equipment. Back in those days there was an immense abundance of surplus military equipment from WWII. It was obvious from the markings that this equipment was Army surplus. For two young teenage boys the fact that it was Army surplus only added to the intrigue.
Among the equipment was a large tent, two cots, two sleeping bags, lanterns, folding shovel, a stove, camping pots and pans, a percolator style coffee pot, metal dishes including cups and plates and cooking utensils. The fuel for the stove and the lanterns was kerosene.
We needed a place to set up the tent and check out the equipment and quickly decided on the backyard of my family home on Wainwright Street. The immediate problem was how to move the stuff from where Jimmy lived on Manning Street to where I lived on Wainwright Street. The whole package of camping equipment was big, bulky, and heavy.
After several trips we had moved all the equipment to the back yard of my home and then we set about figuring out how to put it altogether. For several weekends Jimmy and I camped out in the backyard and spent a lot time planning adventures to pursue when school was out for the summer.
In those days I had a small row boat with a 5 HP Johnson Sea Horse engine on it. One of the adventures we planned was a camping trip to Sandy Point. Jimmy and I had often made the trip from the town wharf to the Sandy Point and we were confident it would be a great place to camp. The boat served us well for moving the equipment to our camp site and as our method of transportation for the entire summer.
Sandy Point is located on the Atlantic Ocean in my hometown, on the south end of Plum Island in Ipswich Massachusetts. In the 1956-time frame, the area was a much more isolated location than it is today, but as soon as school was out, we set-up the tent and for most of the summer lived on Sandy Point. I doubt that our families had any idea what we were doing and probably would not have approved of it.
Throughout my teenage years, for spending money, I was working on a lobster boat most week days, on the party boats on weekends and digging clams to sell when there was time. The big challenge I faced while camping out was getting to work each day.
Sometimes I would make the run to the town wharf with my boat, sometimes I would get picked up at the Little Neck pier or just meet the lobster boat in the river. Each night we would plan our strategy for the following day. If we needed to pick-up groceries or gas for the boat engine or the stove, we would meet at the town wharf. Often times if I was on the lobster boat it would pull in close to shore and I would jump in the water and swim ashore.
Lew Kilbourne, or as we knew him Mr. Kilbourne, lived alone on the Island. He was a very soft spoken and friendly man. He would often stop by our camp site and chat with us. At the time Ipswich residents referred to him as the “Island Hermit”, but Mr. Kilbourne did not like that title. He felt that just because he chose to stay on the island, after everyone else had left, that didn’t make him a hermit.
Mr. Kilbourne was very knowledgeable about the waters in the area, and he was always willing to talk to us about the best places to fish, dig clams, either sea clams or soft shell and where to find sea worms or blood worms. He explained to us how to fish different spots, how the tide should be, what the bottom composition would be in an area and what we would catch in a particular spot. He also showed us the correct way to clean and fillet fish.
He also told us how to be safe on the water. Our first couple of nights on Sandy Point we beached our boat between the sand bar and Emerson Rocks. Mr. Kilbourne asked us if we knew where Bar Rock was and we told him no. He went on to explain to us that we were very lucky we didn’t hit the rock when we were bringing my boat into where we beached the boat. That day he showed us a better, more sheltered place and a safer method to anchor our boat while we were camping on Sandy Point.
That summer, so long ago, would go on to shape the entirety of my life. I learned to appreciate the power of weather, the ocean and so much of nature. Jimmy and I would spend that summer walking the beaches to gather driftwood for fires and to search for the myriad of treasures that would wash up on the beach.
To this day, well over 60 years have gone by, and I still love the outdoors, the beauty of nature and all it gives us each and every day. And now you know why one of my biggest regrets of my life is that I didn’t always have a camera to capture the memories I was living and this is just a small part of the story.