A Shadow over Forest River Park


One shadow lingers over my memories of Forest River Park.  A dark shadow.
His name was Albert. He was in the same grade at Saltonstall as me.  Where I was thin, he was skinnier still. A faint breeze could blow him away.
I don’t remember any occasions when he was up in our apartment, but believe he must have been.  I had added to my collection of models by this time. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Phantom of the Opera now shared room on my desk with Dracula.  And Albert had an obsessive fascination with movie monsters, in fact he would always talk about his favorite magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland. I felt that he probably slept with a copy under his pillow at night.
Usually he seemed easy going, even if slightly sinister. More along the lines of an Igor, the limping assistant of the Big Monster. (I wouldn’t have been surprised if he ate spiders in secret).
But that perception shifted one day.
He tagged along with us to play “army” in the park. We would have eventually worked our way along the ridge to the rock face, but not this time.
Albert was acting more odd than usual. One foot dragged and his speech took on an Igor like cadence.  I turned my back to him. Without warning he hit me with clenched fists. I turned and pushed him away, saying something like, “Cut it out, Albert!”
He wouldn’t. He kept at me with something of a growl. I hauled back and punched him. The blow spun his frail frame and my second jab landed square on his back. His body arched as if an electric shock were pulsing through it, his mouth drawn in a grimace, snarling and drooling, not unlike Lon Chaney’s unmasked Phantom. Then he fell to the ground and it was as though he were enacting some death scene from a horror movie.
Of a sudden, I had a revelation, he had wanted me to inflict pain on him.  In some sado-masochistic sense he wanted me to continue to beat him.
I backed away. We all backed away and left.
I have no memory of involvement with Albert after that. He stands in the back row of our Eighth grade graduation picture, a frown on his face.

The Guns of Forest River Park

There was only one entrance into the park. Cars used the same one, though they were limited to a one way track that circuited the grounds. Pedestrians had free range to go where they wanted.
A local attraction was situated just inside the entrance, a living history exhibit portraying a town from the Pilgrim days, called Pioneer Village.  We could see some of the goings on through the hedge, but could never afford to go in.
However, the village was never our reason for coming to Forest River Park. There were other sights and delights near and dear to a young boy’s heart. The park was covered with trees, (hence the “Forest” designation of the name, I never saw a river there but my father assures me that there was one that disgorged further down the shore).  Some of the trees had branches low enough to allow us to climb into them.  And these trees had a curious looking bark, little loose bits of which looked like jigsaw puzzle pieces, so we called them “puzzle trees.”
One of the chief attractions was the playground in the center of the park that consisted of: swings, seesaws, monkey bars, and a monster slide. The slide was all of concrete, built into the contour of the terrain.  It was unique in that you dared not slide down it without a piece of cardboard under you, lest it shred your clothes and remove a layer of your skin after that.
You mounted to the top via steps built into the hillside that ran beside the three lane slide. You seated yourself on your cardboard of choice, and when you committed yourself, it was an almost vertical drop of a foot or more before a regular slope took over and you held on to that cardboard with all your might.
All the way to the back of the park set a large sea water swimming pool, very nice on hot summer days.  I was more fascinated with the rocky hill in front of it.  It began as a ridge at the right side of the park entrance and broke out as the cliff face at this end. To my mind’s eye it was the rock fortress in The Guns of Navarone, and my friends and I re-enacted the exploits of Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn all over it. And the swimming pool was the straits whereon the British ships were in peril from the German great guns.
Guns of Forest River Park

Going to the Park

Life wasn’t all indoors. I spent a good deal of time out and about.
Usually an expedition would start in the alley space in back of the apartment.  A back stair led to an exit that opened directly into that courtyard-like area. Not much was there, just well trampled dirt and a garage, the doors of which we never saw open.
A narrow alley led from this enclave out to Leach Street, a tree lined affair with little traffic.
My destination from here was the park – Forest River Park.  I could either wend my way over using the streets and sidewalks, or follow Leach to the end and the ocean.
The shoreline there was not of your surf and sand variety.  Surf there was, but it was all rock, no sand in sight. Actually it was more of a breakwater, for the protection of the homes with the views looking out to sea.
I would pick my way across the rocks until a cove or inlet broke in on the shoreline. At this point I had two choices, either curve around the rocks to the pebbly beach at the apex of the cove, or brave a walk on the pipe that emerged from under the rocks and stretched across to the boathouse/marine shop at the other terminus.  I usually took the “tightrope.”  It was a huge diameter pipe with a broad surface and easy to walk on, but it was well above the surface of the ocean below.
Crossing directly to the other side was out of the question. The property to the boathouse/marine shop was fenced off.  A pipe ran straight out from the beach and joined with the big pipe a little past midway. It had a much narrower gauge than the big pipe, about one quarter the size.  Walking it was an high wire act, a misstep left me straddled on a couple of occasions, but I made it to shore unscathed and dry.
From there It was back to the surface streets again and the ultimate goal, the park.
The Pipe