CARP’S -Jim Bousquet & Mary Jane Bousquet Crevier
Weather lore tells us that “the cold begins to strengthen as the days begin to lengthen.” And that meant, of course, the best skating weather every year, when we’d head home for the skates after school and go off until dark.
In the early 50s, we hit “the Swamp”, between Splaines’ house and Mrs. Donais’ brick house on Charlton Street. It really was a swamp, filled with weeds and submerged tree limbs, but we learned to skate around the obstacles and jump over them, and my brother Jim even learned to play hockey among the weeds. A year or two later we walked through the woods from Worcester Street to Clemence Pond, which always seemed pretty swampy too, under the power lines and across a brook where you’d drink water from your cupped hands.
But then, in the first few years after “the flood”, we found the best place of all: Carp’s.
Carpenter’s Pond was a real pond off Worcester Street. You’d go up Snow Street near Keyes Pontiac, or from our house, up Worcester Street, then up Moon Street at Fileno’s shop, and down past where Louie and Queenie Gubbs bought cardboard from us. Even before you’d turn the corner and go over a little rise in the road, you’d smell the wood smoke and hear Tennessee Ernie Ford or Chuck Berry belting out songs. And then, for the next couple of hours, it was just fun—clean fun, the kind you could have back in the 50s and never be bored.
The real name might have been Carpenter’s Pond Youth Association, and it was started by a group of young guys, a lot of whom we knew only by first names, in their late teens and early 20s. Most worked at Hyde’s or the AO, and they used to fish and hunt together and wanted a clubhouse where they could hang out. Among them were Bob and Ray Dupuis and their friends. One of the group had been Aime Dupuis, who was killed driving a front end loader when they were building the Mass Pike. They decided to make a memorial for him and do something for the kids from the Flats. They did it because they wanted to, and they gave kids good memories that would last us all these years.
Carp’s would open for skating when the ice was six inches thick, as measured at a hole they cut by the dam, where they also kept a dipper we could use for drinking water. They had an ancient Pontiac with a plow welded on to it and tire chains to clear snow from the ice. Somebody even had a pump, and they used it to flood the ice with water after they closed up so the ice was smooth the next day. Inside, they kept a stove going and manned a snack bar with coffee, hot chocolate, soda, candy, chips, and hot dogs that Raoul cooked in an early microwave. There weren’t many things that felt as good as coming inside with your cheeks burning from the cold and standing next to the woodstove drinking hot chocolate. They put down planks to walk on with your skates so they didn't get dull walking on the ground. No big technology, just thoughtfulness. There were benches where you could sit and put on the skates, and you’d leave your shoes underneath the benches, where they were always safe.
The “upper deck” was made out of old storm windows and tar paper, and this was where they played 45s through a loudspeaker to entertain the skaters. The guys playing the records kept their eyes out for fights or whatever, and if you caused trouble, you were out of there for good. We’d listen to Elvis, Fats Domino, the Platters, and the other hot singers of the day as we skated from the sunny side of the pond into the shadow of Page Hill. It was on one of the circles around the pond that some girl about my age asked if I liked Elvis. I didn’t know what to answer, because he sure wasn’t allowed into our house, and, sounding just like an adult, she told me that she thought he might be a nice person but she sure didn’t like his music. And when the Platters sang about the great pretender, we could glide backwards and fantasize about skating in the Olympics.
The place ran so smoothly you never knew if there was anyone in charge, although Bruce used to have the keys. The guys all showed up early in the morning on weekends, got the snacks and coffee ready, started the stove, and then they were ready for skating from noon til 9 o’clock. During the week, they showed up after work, turned on the floodlights so we could skate at night, and same deal—everybody had fun.
In the summer there was a little dock where we used to swim. Someone named Nelson was always there when kids were swimming. I remember seeing him pull some kid out of the water and fix his bloody nose when he dove off the shallow end of the dock and whacked his head on the bottom.
Carp’s was a great thing when you look back at it. There must be a lot of us who remember the good days when kids used to skate there, fish there, swim there, and play baseball next door at Henry Street Field. Carp’s was more than just the pond or the skating, though; in those few years after the flood, the whole Flats area pulled together, and Carp’s exemplified that spirit
A few years ago we drove up Snow Street again. Carpenter’s Pond is quiet now, and the shack is gone. Even though it was a February vacation day, there were no kids on the ice. I guess today they’d have to make sure the ice passes safety tests, the woodstove doesn’t emit too much smoke, the music isn’t too loud. Today they’d need insurance, and somebody in charge who knew emergency first aid, and they’d probably have to rent out lockers for our shoes. But sometimes, on cold starry nights, I’ll bet if you listen very carefully, you can still hear Fats Domino singing “Ah found mah thrih-ill”…and I hope that somewhere in their memories, the Dupuis cousins and Bruce and Raoul and Nelson are sitting around their shack playing loud music and letting kids have fun.
With thanks to those who gave us Carp’s”
Mary Jane Bousquet Crevier
January 28, 2007
More Southbridge Recollections