Thursday, November 1, 2012

Jersey Shore



We moved to Margate, New Jersey, from Illinois, when I was 4. I attended kindergarten in Margate and could walk the one block to school. On weekends, or after school, Mom or Dad, or both, would walk us the couple blocks the other way to the beach near where Lucy the Margate Elephant stood. We’d run in the waves and dig in the sand and dare each other to touch the occasional horseshoe crab washed ashore. My Dad taught at the college in Glassboro, and the commute was a bit much, so after a year we moved to Richwood, which I consider my childhood home. As I grew up, I remember deep sea fishing trips with my dad, friends, and their dads. I remember a trip to Cape May. I had heard you could find diamonds on the beach, but I didn't find any. In sixth grade, my dad took me to Long Beach State Park as part of a science project – one of Mr. Combs’ "contract" projects, for those of you from Harrison Township. And there was a long weekend with a friend and his parents in Barnegat. I remember one trip when a another friend’s dad took us down to Atlantic City. We were, what, 15, maybe 16, years old. An older Eastern European couple set up their blankets right in front of us and decided to change, as is their custom, into their bathing suits right in front of us! For us adolescent boys, it was a show I know I can never forget. And as we got older, once someone had a driver's license, came more road trips to AC and Ocean City and Wildwood trying to sneak beer on to the beach in coolers. After the Junior Prom, we went down to Ocean City for the day. We walked the boardwalk in a driving rain. My date, already having had enough of me, chose to walk in the rain rather than under my umbrella. I can't say I blame her.

I remember a particularly great summer between junior and senior year in high school at Monmouth College – nearly every afternoon we’d walk to the beach at Long Branch. I’d work on my pathetic pink, freckled tan and my equally pathetic flirting of girls in bikinis. Then came senior year and during college breaks the occasional trip to the casinos, trying to get in, the legal age now being 21. Most of my friends could get in but my baby-face, and peach fuzz for a beard, betrayed me. One day, during summer break in college, a friend convinced me to ride our bikes to the shore. On the way, he decided we should swing by a camp ground where a friend, a "female" friend, and her family were camping. I was a bit surprised by this detour, but he was the trip leader and I agreed. We surprised, happily I think, his friend, lingered for a brief time, then continued to Ocean City where other friends met us. We spent the night at my biking friend's cousin's house. That girl at the campsite? He wound up marrying her.

After that first year in Margate, my dad always wanted to be at the shore, and years later, my parents found a house in Brigantine. That house became the default destination during breaks and vacations. We could walk to the beach and to the ice cream store, and the fish store, and to Ernest's Meat Market to get jerk chicken subs on AC roles with gigantic barrel pickles. It was at that house that an old girlfriend and I realized we were not meant to be. And it was at that same house, a little later, that my late wife, Amy, then my girlfriend, met much of my family, cousins, and an Aunt. Later, married, and with kids, it became our family destination of choice during breaks and holidays. I sent Amy and our first son there for a week when I (nearly) remodeled our kitchen. We'd go for a week or so and the boys would get to know Grandma and Papa and play with their cousins and the uncles would show them how to body surf and the proper technique for building sand castles. I remember a windy Thanksgiving, a hot as hell Fourth of July, and our oldest's first dip in a too chilly Atlantic. It was a funky little house, not one of the big tear-downs you see, but it had a front porch perfect for sipping scotch, playing poker with brothers, and listening to waves off in the distance. They sold that house a few years ago. We children were bummed, of course, but we understood their rationale and the economics of that decision. Two summers ago, now with a new love in my life, we spent a wonderful weekend in Cape May at a B&B.  And this past summer my parents rented a house back in Brigantine and our whole family, now numbering 2 parents, 5 kids and partners/spouses, and 9 nieces and nephews, spent parts of July there. It was nice to be back. And it was at this most recent trip that I realized, really realized, that I would marry Lori.

I talked to my dad today and it sounds like their old house, the one that is not their house anymore, was likely spared, but much of the island, particularly the northern side, was not. I've found myself searching for new news and pictures but none of it is satisfying. Everything is sad and depressing. I've had the fortune over my 40-some years to visit a number of beaches on the east coast from Maine to Florida. Some beach areas are mostly for tourists. They are clustered with big houses on stilts and condos and hotels. Florida has plenty of these. The Outer Banks has a few hardy year-round souls but it's mostly rentals. And the Jersey Shore has its share of touristy spots but it has a lot of rgular houses. Where regular people live. Year-round residents who work at the casinos or the air force base or some other regular place. I feel especially sad for them. It's one thing to loose a vacation house. It's quite another to loose your home. I expect the shore will be rebuilt, much of it. But not all of it. Some is now lost forever and that makes me sad. I feel I should do something, but what?

A couple weeks ago we got an email from the B&B in Cape May where we stayed two summers ago. They are offering special off-season rates this winter. It's cold then, but I like the shore in the winter. It’s not crowded and it feels like I am in on a secret that only a few others and I know. I imagine walking along the beach and can see no one else and imagine what it was like to be the first human to stand on this beach. Cold wind tears my eyes and fills my. With an audible sigh it will be one of those moments when I know I am truly alive. I think I'll call the B&B tomorrow and see if they'll be open, maybe in January. Yes, we will be going back to the shore very soon.  Plus the ferry crossing from Lewes is always fun.

I never really knew it 'til now, but I love the Jersey Shore. I sure hope someone will answer their phone.