Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Summers at the Shore
Since we lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia when I was very small, summertime always meant at least a week spent "down the shore". To our family, that meant Ocean City, New Jersey. It was a dry town, a family town, and had the nicest beach we knew. It also meant a stay at one of the big rooming houses - the ones at least three stories tall, with many steps leading up to porches which wrapped around the first floor - porches lined with highbacked rocking chairs, and shaded with striped awnings.
My mother and I, and often a neighbor, a friend or an aunt, would board the bus in Philly for the long ride. I never minded the ride. I always had a window seat, and enjoyed watching the changing scenery, excitement mounting as it turned into sun and sand as we approached our destination. I would be wearing a sundress and sandals, but Mother would be wearing one of her best dresses, and white shoes, and a hat - always a hat - and gloves. I do remember one memorable trip when the weather did not cooperate. The walk from the bus station to the rooming house was made in the rain, and by the time we got there Mother's hat was ruined and her dress was shrinking.
As we'd reach the house, I always peeked around the corner of the building to be sure there was an outside shower. That delighted me. When we came from the beach we took a shower out-of-doors to get rid of the sand so we wouldn't track it into the house.
Our days there followed a pattern. We would have to dress to go downstairs for breakfast. The biggest treat was toasted cinnamon-raisin bread. For some reason we never had that at home. It had icing on top! I was always anxious to get to the beach, but first, Mother had to have her second cup of coffee. Then we would go up and change into bathing suits at last, and head for the oceanside. The ladies had their favorite spot on the beach, in sight of The Flanders Hotel. That is the landmark I always look for, even today, when I am in Ocean City.
After a morning spent jumping the waves and building sand castles, we would go up to the boardwalk and find the hot dog stand - again, right near The Flanders. There has never been a better tasting hot dog or hamburger anywhere than those from that stand on the boardwalk. Only three or four summers ago, I happened to be on that boardwalk, and found that stand, and it's true! They tasted just as good! And I'm not really that big a fan of such things. I don't suppose they could have been using the same gr... No, of course not.
After we ate and looked into a few shop windows - especially the one that sold the salt water taffy, and manufactured it right there in the window before our very eyes - we headed back to the house. I had to take a bath and then a nap in the afternoon. I don't know what the ladies did. I imagine they joined all the others in the rockers on the porch, using the palm leaf fans, and chatting with one another. It was a very rare thing if we found another child in the house. Once in a while there would be another, but mostly I was alone. Again - I didn't mind. I was used to being alone, surrounded by adults. I concocted my own little games, or just daydreamed much of the time. After my nap, I had to dress up. Then, while my mother got dressed (which took forever) I would go out and sit on the front steps with a pinwheel or a doll, to wait for her. Then we would go to dinner. Do you have any idea how long we stood in line outside a restaurant in town. I think every tourist in town tried to go to dinner at the same time. Dinner was always very, very good, when we finally got there. And then it was time to stroll the boards. I was often allowed to go on the merry-go-round or other amusements on the Kiddie Pier. My favorite was the ferris wheel. And we walked the whole length of the boardwalk and back, as it grew dark. Oh, I loved it! Allowed to stay up way past regular bed time, and see the lights and the crowds. We would end at the Music Pier, but my favorite was hanging over the railing, listening to the surf wash underneath, pretending I was aboard a ship.
By the time I fell into bed, I was more tired than I'd ever been, and I could still smell the wonderful salt air.
At the end of our visit, we would return home with tanned skin, and souveniers in our suitcases, and a couple of pounds of fudge and salt water taffy.
There were other trips to the shore. Once I went by train with a girl friend and her parents. Another time by car, with another friend, this time to Stone Harbor where we stayed in a little cottage with a pier out over the water. Had great times with them. But the best was always the rooming house with its porches and rockers and palm leaf fans. How times do change! Today's children wouldn't be satisfied with that kind of visit, would they? Wouldn't likely be taking naps and dressing for dinner either. But I kind of miss it. Maybe I'll ride over to Ocean City and take a stroll on the boardwalk. Might even look for that hot dog stand.
The picture above is NOT mine. It was done by professionals: Senior Studio in Ocean City, and is of Gillian's Fun Deck, taken in 1936. I was probably there then, and many successive years.