“What else can I get you my darling girl? How about another piece of cake?” I can still hear my grandmother’s attentive voice. Every summer my younger brother and I would spend two precious weeks at my grandmother’s house in Portsmouth. It was an utter treat to be waited on–a far cry from home where we whined about having to set the table and wipe the dishes every night. To entertain us my grandmother planned little excursions…sometimes we’d take the boat to Star Island for a picnic, or we would walk to the Old North Cemetery, passing through the train yard where my grandfather once worked as a B & M baggage handler. Other times we would tour old houses like the John Paul Jones house or the Rundlet-May house. Or we would walk the narrow streets down to the water to see the tugboats. A walk around Portsmouth then revealed a city in all its un-gentrified glory. The old port area had a shabby quality about it that made it a candidate for federal urban renewal projects. And in a zealous desire to build parking lots and new office buildings many dilapidated but historic buildings were torn down. Fortunately some of the long-neglected houses were moved across town and restored and are now part of the Strawbery Banke museum. You can borrow one of the library’s museum passes to see some of the city’s early architectural history. Or if you want to learn about some of the city’s more colorful characters, download an eBook copy of Portsmouth Women to your device.
Portsmouth nowadays, like any respectable tourist destination, is filled with high end restaurants, bakeries and specialty shops. Charming still, but I sometimes wish I could go back in time, step into Woolworth’s on Congress Street and order a coke at the lunch counter with my grandmother sitting by my side.