Return to ‘the good old days:’ How a book project lifted me past my grief

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My name is Deb Cross and I have created a weekly blog called, “Together We Can! Sharing Our Hope Campaign,” whereby I’d like folks to submit heir personal stories of adversities or challenges that they have overcome.

I am using a 12-Step program format whereby folks first share their experience, then their strength, and their HOPE with others. This is an extremely effective way to assist others in   overcoming their own personal challenges as they realize that someone has walked this path before them and willingly and lovingly will share their HOPE with others.

For those of you who know me personally you know that my family owned ocean front property on Wallis Sands Beach in Rye, NH, for almost 60 years. My heart broke when my mother sold it in 1987. I never really recovered from that loss and it was heartbreaking to see ALL the changes in “my Rye.” It was so painful for me to return to the beach over the years that the day of Hurricane Bill in 2009 I realized that I had two choices:

1. To never return to “my beach” or

2. Tell the story of how it “used to be” at Wallis Sands Beach by writing a book about the “good ‘ol days.” The title of the book is “Remember When We… Wallis Sands Beach Revisited.” These stories have a universal message that will bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye when you reflect back on your childhood memories. A good friend of mine, Ellen Hamil, wrote an article for “Rye Reflections” about the book and I would like to let her words tell the story of how the book came to be.

10_22 Cover Sent to CSJust for old times’ sake, turn back the sands of time….

This is just what Deb Cross has done with her soon to be released book about Wallis Sands titled “Remember When We…”.

Deb Cross of Manchester, N.H., remembers with great fondness her youth and the wonderful summers spent with Gram and Gramp at the north end of Wallis Sands Beach. They were such special times that when she shared them with friends she often heard “you should write a book about them.” Then her experience with kindhearted and generous volunteers during the production of a documentary on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” brought to mind those summers and how families pitched in to help one another with small favors, like keeping an eye on kids, picking up items when shopping in Portsmouth, and most importantly, respecting and caring about each other. Simple kindnesses she feels have been lost along the way.

Last summer when she was working out of her office in Portsmouth, she dropped in on Alex Herlihy who heads the Rye Historical Museum to discuss her idea for collecting family stories of summers on Wallis Sands. Anybody who knows Alex knows he isn’t about to turn down any kind of oral or written history on Rye. Pretty soon he had Deb convinced that a book was possible and she should do it. That was early last summer. On August 19 Beth LaMontagne Hall wrote a piece about Deb’s ambition to share summertime experiences with others that landed on the front page of “The Portsmouth Herald.” The rest is history. The response was enormous. Many had a story to tell.

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.36.08 AMWallis Sands Beach is about one-mile long, beginning at the north end with Wallis Sands State Park and ending at Parsons Creek, locally known as Stinky Creek.   It’s a beach with rocks, sand and salt water so what’s so special about a place where there’s only so much you can do? What makes these stories interesting? One word: families!

Moving ahead. On October 4 Glenne Tilley Ford of Wallis Sands hosted a gathering of fifteen current and former residents to meet Deb and share reminiscences. Some people were known to one another but many were not. This didn’t matter as they all shared one thing in common, the privilege of spending summers on a beach and this beach in particular.

What Deb has ended up with are fifteen stories from individuals between the 1930s and 1940s and thirty-eight stories between the 1950s and 1980s as well as five former local business owners. Most of these stories were personally told to Deb and recorded, then transcribed. Deb says that the most editing done to them was to put them in some sort of chronological order. She wanted to keep the personality of the individual “alive” by not changing their stories to conform to style books or other publishing standards.

When I read through these stories what struck me was the freedom these people had as children, especially considering the body of water they were playing in and around. All mothers required a full hour after meals before going in the water (a practice that is not necessarily supported today). And most set firm parameters about how far their children could wander. They were to stay within hearing distance of how they were called for meals and bedtime. This varied from a megaphone, a cowbell, a brass school bell and a “dreaded whistle.”

The kids were in and out of the water all day long and even if their mother wasn’t on the beach watching, you can be sure some mother was. Blue-lip syndrome was prevalent among the youngsters who stayed too long in the often numbing cold water. “Time-out” was called by a parent and who stood at the water’s edge with a warm beach towel to wrap around you while you were made to sit on the warm sand to warm up, pouting all the while your teeth were chattering.

Many remembered taking Red Cross Lifesaving classes in the estuary by the bridge in the harbor but learning to swim and water safety in general were taught by mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors. It was a sink or swim experience. Once swimming was mastered you learned about waves and undertows, swimming parallel to the beach and looking out for one another.

Riding the waves to shore – or bodysurfing as it became called – was a skill each kid learned. One person told about taking a twin bed cover, running down the beach to fill it with air, tying the end into a knot and then using it like water-wings to ride a wave to shore. I remember having these in our house and using them. I don’t know if they were made from sheets or were purchased already made, or if they were bed covers or pillowcases. Maybe someone reading this can clarify.

One lady described lobstering with her grandfather when she was quite young and how the boat would tip to one side and water would rush in when he was pulling a trap. She was never afraid, she said. Being in the presence of her grandfather gave her a feeling of being safe and loved.

“Bicycle Bob” Shouse told of an incident about his sister falling out of an inner tube and quickly getting in over her head in more ways than one. He and his father were sitting on the porch of their beach house when Bob noticed his sister in trouble. He pointed this out to his father who flew off the porch and ran barefooted across barnacled rocks scraping his feet to where they bled. He reached his daughter just as a neighbor in a small rowboat was pulling her out of the water. It was a close call.

Kite flying was taken to new heights by Bob Brown and his father. They had so much line for their kite it reached an elevation where it showed up on the radar at Pease Air Force Base. How did they know this? A policeman was sent down to tell them to reel it in.

I was interested to learn about the boardwalk at the north end of Wallis Sands and how you could crawl under it and hide out for a spell. I didn’t realize it spanned nine houses. Deb Cross ‘ grandparents house was one of them and she said they felt connected in a special way with the other eight…like it was an extended family. And as she describes it, in many ways it was.

Lots of people mentioned the barge at the south end by Stinky Creek and how it had washed ashore, but Deb Marshall Sarhani set the story straight. She is the granddaughter of Harold Marshall who bought the WWII barge with the idea of turning it into a restaurant. As a young kid, I remember it vividly because of a swear word painted on the side. Mr. Marshall had printed in big letters with white paint “KEEP THE HELL OFF.”

A rite of passage for many youth was the adventurous trek to the rocks extending beyond Concord Point … or Cunner Rock, as we called it. It was usually made on an incoming tide and entailed climbing over big rocks, rocks covered with seaweed and barnacles and then reaching the channel dividing Cunner Rock from the extended point. It wasn’t a successful trip unless you swam across this channel and climbed up on Cunner Rock. Timing the waves was crucial in this attempt. Then, of course, you had to get back! Sometimes on your way out to Cunner Rock you encountered couples who had sneaked away from families and neighbors to steal a kiss or two. No one sneaks away any more. From the window in my cottage on the banks of Stinky Creek I get full kisses in full view!

Not only did Deb collect personal reminiscences she also was given lots of old black and white photos she has tastefully interspersed with the stories.

Many of the stories shared are similar but not everyone experienced each and every aspect of life on Wallis Sands, but if there’s one thing everyone could agree on, it was how grateful they were for the privilege of experiencing the sand, rocks, water and waves, families, friends, sunny skies, salty breeze, crying gulls, moaning buoys and flashing light from Star Island and carefree times at what we all consider a special place, Wallis Sands Beach.

If you are interested in this campaign of bringing HOPE to others I would love to hear your story. Let’s create a community of folks committed and dedicated to “paying it forward” or giving someone a “hand up”! Let’s connect and collaborate on helping others establish their journey to this end. Together we can! Please comment on my blog.

Deb CrossDeb Cross of Manchester, NH, holds a BS degree in Human Services and has dedicated her entire life to being an advocate for those without a voice. As a published author, producer of two behind the scenesdocumentaries for Extreme Makeover Home Edition TV show, award-winning photographer, local TV producer, 36-plus years of sobriety and a holistic practitioner, Deb is committed to assist others in healing from the inside out. Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” You can contact her directly with your own stories at

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About Carol Robidoux 5784 Articles
Journalist and editor of, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.