Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The Jersey shore of my youth has gone”
Governor Chris Christie

The tragic words of Gov. Christie, after seeing the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, cut through my heart and soul, but oddly enough, awakened a dormant nostalgia for the good ol' days of my childhood and adolescence. The Jersey shore was more than a vacation destination for me. It was a rite of passage. It was a ritual. It was a love affair.  I loved the beach. I loved the boardwalk. I loved our little house on So.Richmond St. I loved walking barefoot around the kid-friendly sand-lined neighborhoods. This was my second home.  And as far back as I can remember, the Jersey shore has always been a part of my family and the generations before me.

A few years before I was born, around 1955, my father, his older brother and my grandfather, built our future vacation home in Point Pleasant Borough.  It was a one level brick duplex with front and back apartments. Our families shared the front apartment, while the back apartment was rented all year. My family’s designated vacation time slot was August to Labor Day.  And it never came soon enough.  From the time I was a child through my teenage years, my life during our stay in Point Pleasant was rich with self-discovery, joy and wonder. It was a time for new experiences and renewed friendships. It was a time for adventure and explorations. It was a time for simple and precious events.  Innocent, beautiful, life-transforming events that somehow slipped away into a chasm of lost memories, never to be thought of again.

The Jersey shore of my youth has gone…but is not forgotten. The Jersey shore of my youth… will always be a part of me. And with that wistful thought, my mind wandered back in time. I was no longer in my cold, dimly lit kitchen. I was no longer staring, helplessly at my battery operated boom box. I was back in the late 1960’s. It was August! Point Pleasant – here we come!  Our green Chevy station wagon was all packed and ready to go. But I had one last mission before we pulled out of our driveway - finding my wily black and white cat, Lucky. Darting from room to room through out my house, my one man search party trapped her under my bed. Gotcha! I quickly put her in our do-it-yourself cat carrier (a cardboard box poked with holes), slid into the back seat next to my little brother, Dante, and we were off! We were going  Back to the Shore!

I knew our route cold. Garden State Parkway - exit 98 - Route 34 South, which becomes Route 35 South, which takes us practically to our street.  We made one necessary stop to satisfy my Dad’s sweet tooth.  Dugan’s Bakery - a little hole in the wall located on a lonely stretch of Route 34.  Dugan’s was a  landmark. Everyone went to Dugan’s. And we stocked up on enough sticky buns, coffee cakes and other baked goodies to last almost the entire month.

Back in the car and finally we are headed for the home stretch. My heart flutters as we cruise toward the Route 35 drawbridge. Is the drawbridge up? No!  Clear sailing all the way!  I roll down the window to catch a whiff of the salty sea air and a better glimpse at the white boats dotting the dark blue water. We roll into town, pass the legendary OB Diner on the right, turn left, pass the tall reeds on our corner, make a left into our street   pull up in front of our familiar brick home.

Statuesque, red calla lilies and orange marigolds, planted in the circular flower bed by my grandmother, welcomed us. I had always marveled at the bizarre, enormous lilies that I had never seen any where else and always associated with our shore house.
My Aunt Kay and me - Pt Pleasant - 1958
I bring the “cat carrier” out and open the box. Lucky anxiously jumps out, nervously looks around, and sensing  foreign territory and stray cat confrontations, dashes to the nearest and tallest tree in our yard, climbs to the tippee top and stays there for three days (or until she wants to eat)! Yep! She’s done this before. It takes her a good week to adjust to her temporary new surroundings.

I help to unpack quickly and just as I finished making my bed, I hear a knock at the front screen door. It’s Laura – my summer pal and neighbor asking if I could come out and play.  Laura ‘s straight dark hair and almond eyes always made me think she was part Asian, but she was full-blooded Italian American, like me. And she was always barefoot. Always! Paling around with Laura was an adventure in itself. We would ride bicycles, play hide and seek with the other kids on our block, catch lightning bugs, pick and eat crabapples from a neighbor’s tree, pick mulberries from our two trees, pick wild blackberries that grew alongside the road and hang out in the fort that the neighborhood kids built in the clearing among the reeds next to our house. I was in heaven!

And of course, there was the beach.  Bradshaw’s Beach  in Pt. Pleasant was  my summer respite and playground.  Bradshaw's was a family owned beach that my mother stumbled upon when she was pregnant with my brother. It was the only beach to allow free beach access to pregnant women. So, no argument here, this was now our beach.  Bradshaw’s was a neighborhood beach with a little boardwalk area for food and restrooms. It was here that I met, Theresa, another summer pal who was my beach and future boardwalk cohort. Theresa was a big girl with a non-stop tan, high cheek bones, deep dark eyes and a passion for the beach and boardwalk. We both loved to soak up the sun (Bain du Soleil # 8 was the norm!) swim, collect  shells, or hang out on her navy blue canvas raft for hours.

This was the life - lying on our beach towels, listening to WABC on our transistor radios. Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy and Cousin Brucie were the popular  DJ’s who played  the hits of the  summer of ‘68 –  Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf), Hey Jude ( Beatles), Hello I Love You (The Doors)  Jumpin’ Jack Flash (The Rolling Stones) and my personal summer favorite – Pictures of  Matchstick Men ( from the British one hit wonder band - Status Quo). This “psychedelic” hit was blasted up and down the boardwalk that summer to the point where it drove my parents crazy. It drove me crazy! I had to have it! And so with lots of luck (and a few nickels and dimes), I won the 45 single at a boardwalk wheel game. It was my most prized possession that year!

Me, Dad, and Mom holding baby Dante - Bradshaw's Beach - 1966

Speak of the boardwalk, Well...who didn’t love the  Pt. Pleasant boardwalk?  Nights at the boardwalk were a thrill a minute and a circus of noise, blaring music, lights, masses of humanity and intoxicating aromas. It was a kid’s wonderland!  The Tilt-A-Whirl,  Roller Coaster, Ferris Wheel, The Himalaya, The Scrambler, the Funhouse,  games of chance, huge stuffed animal prizes, caramel popcorn,  Kohr’s soft ice cream, Martell’s fudge,  pizza, Putt-Putt Miniature Golf, noisy arcades with pinball machines, Skee Ball and fireworks (every Thursday night,)  was almost too much to handle. I was on full tilt! Whew! I wanted to do it all! By the time, my vacation was over, amazingly enough, I had my fill and so did my Dad’s wallet!

Labor Day weekend was always bittersweet. But summer was still going strong for the lifeguards at Bradshaw’s. The beach was packed and the lifeguards had at least twenty friends over for a big party that night.  The Rolling Stones song, “Sympathy for the Devil”, started to play on the radio. The lifeguards and their friends started singing and dancing to the song and soon half the beach spontaneously joined in shouting “Woo, who. Woo, who.”  It was a great show and the perfect ending to a perfect summer.  

 You could say it was a Jersey moment.

Next- My Ode Continues...

© Danette Whelan 2012