Courtesy Bellingham Bulletin by Marjorie Turner Hollman
Roland Harpin was born and raised in Bellingham, and other than his military service and ten years in California, he has lived in this area his whole life.He now lives in Blackstone and has been a home builder, architectural designer, inventor, and entrepreneur. Semi-retired, he is working on his latest business venture, ProSaver Cards, which offer discounts on services from hundreds of area merchants.He sat down in his office in Hopedale recently to talk about growing up in Bellingham. [As told to Marjorie Turner Hollman]
Poirier Street in South Bellingham, where I lived from 1951, was a dead-end street. The cul de sac was added later, along with more houses. Just through the woods at the end of the street is a brook, part of the Peter’s River. We had plenty of fun there, playing with frogs and snakes.
One day I found a seven- or eight foot- long snake back near the water, draped it around my shoulders, and brought it home to my mother. I didn’t mention to her that the snake was dead. When I held out the snake’s head to show her, she screamed and threw me out of the house.
Another time when I was probably eleven or twelve, I took my father’s hatchet back into those woods. I found a nice branch in a tree to make a good sling shot, climbed the tree to chop the branch, but the hatchet ended up cutting right through my hand. My mother had just washed the kitchen floor and didn’t want to let me into the house until she saw my hand, and then she called my father. He had to leave work to drive me to the hospital for stitches, and I still have the scar from that adventure.
The now-closed Bellingham Drive-in was on Pulaski Boulevard, and everybody went to the movies—it was the thing to do. The theater people feared that the neighbors would close the theater down because of the traffic, so to keep us happy they gave free movie passes to the five families, including my own, on Poirier Street. When I got older I sometimes borrowed my father’s car, packed my buddies into the trunk of the car, guys and girls, and we all got into the theater for free.
One snowy night I left a CYO dance at Assumption Church and ended up on Cross Street, headed toward Lake Street. I must have pressed on the brakes because suddenly I saw trees, road, trees; I was going around in circles. Up ’til that night there was a Coca Cola sign at the intersection of Lake and Cross streets. My father’s car hit the sign, then slid into a ditch. To add insult to injury, the sign landed on the roof of the car. Police Chief Clyde Fleuette and my father conspired to really throw the book at me. I heard that I had to pay for the sign and the damage to the car, and I didn’t have a job; it scared heck out of me. It turned out that Coca Cola said not to worry about the sign, but I didn’t find Out about this ’til much later.
When I returned from the Navy in the early ’60s, I got married and joined the Bellingham volunteer rescue squad, along with my cousin Bob Harpin. It was an all-volunteer squad. We got calls at two, three clock in the morning for car accidents and such. We trained late at night at the Lenox Restaurant, which was where Dean Bank in South Bellingham is now. We moved all the tables out of the way for our training sessions.The wife of one of the guys on the squad was a nurse and she trained us in CPR, first aid, delivering babies, and caring for different wounds.
You know, I miss those days when everything was fun and we had no real responsibilities—but we were learning. And yes, I learned.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com