Today, I am
fourteen years old. It’s July 2,
1964. I’m in
staying in our grandparents’ cottage, which sits at the corner of
One of the
sofas is a weird-looking thing. It’s
the only uncomfortable piece of furniture in the cottage. The back cushions are rectangular and
stiff. If one of us sits down on the sofa, a cushion always tumbles to the
black linoleum floor. There is a white formica surface attached to
it. Maybe that’s why our grandparents
bought it; it provides a much-needed space for a lamp. This sofa and a rocking love seat do double-duty
as beds. We’re so happy to be in
I change into my bathing suit. It’s a yellow and white checked two-piece, just like Annette Funicello’s in Beach Blanket Bingo. My sister Laurie is eleven and Jane is ten. Rubber flip-flops are the common denominator in our beach attire. We bolt down our Rice Krispies, grab our towels and head out the back door. Our mother will join us later.
We walk through the yard, past the thick, fragrant tangle of honeysuckle vines that wind through the fence. The house next door has mystified us for years. The black wrought iron front door is permanently closed, although the same family occupies the house every summer. I call it “the hacienda” because it reminds me of the houses in Walt Disney’s “Zorro”.
We scurry quickly past the next house. The woman who lives there doesn’t want anyone coming close to her garden. With her big yellow teeth and screeching voice, we have decided that she is a witch.
There are three huge houses at the corner of
down as we pass the Spanish style mansion on
any traffic on
My sisters and I walk to the orange canvas tent bearing a vertical sign with our grandparents’ name in bold, black letters. Inside, there’s a wooden storage box which also serves as a bench. There are several tents beside ours. There are more tents on the other side of the jetty. The Steger stand, where people rent rafts, umbrellas and chairs, is perched between the beaches, near the jetty. Every day, my sisters and I hand over our quarters for ice-cold Cokes in green glass bottles that are kept in a big red and white Coca-Cola cooler.
We spread out our towels and chairs in front of the tent and head for the ocean. The lifeguards are wearing the same red and white jackets that they’ve always worn. One of them has a plastic covering over his nose and the other’s is smeared with zinc oxide. Sometimes, I borrow my grandmother’s “Bain de Soleil” sunscreen because I love its citrusy smell, amber color, thick creamy texture and French name. It does nothing to prevent sunburn.
is an important part of every
Right now, I’m reading “The Wayward Bus” by John
Steinbeck. I bought it at Hogan’s
The ocean is fairly calm today, but there are some nice waves, too, big enough for body surfing. Our mother taught us when we were little. Although my sister Jane is the youngest, she is the most athletic and she fearlessly rides the biggest waves.
I step in slowly and gaze into the glassy green surface of the water. It’s so clear, I can see my feet .
Here comes a big,white-capped wave! Should I dive under or try to ride it? I quickly thrust my arms forward and catch the wave at the crest. It propels me all the way to the wet sand. But before I land, a blurry panoramic impression of the beach scene appears before my eyes: fringed umbrellas, straw hats, children dribbling sand castles. Beneath me, blue-black mussel shells are embedded in the sand. A string of seaweed slips between my toes. Then I quickly dive under so that my hair will be neatly slicked back. I have naturally curly hair and I know that it will turn frizzy as it dries. When that happens, I always run back into the water, and dive in so that it will look sleek. I’m convinced that if I had straight hair, I would be beautiful.
Ah, here comes “The Flamingo”, the weather-beaten , pink and white tour boat. I’ve loved it since I was a little. I always imagined that the sightseers were waving at me.
A plane flies over with an advertisement trailing behind it. It reads, “Get Zaberized!” which reminds me of the catchy jingle constantly playing on the radio: “Get Zaberized at Zaberer’s tonight”.
Zaberer’s is a famous restaurant in North Wildwood. I’ve been to the Lobster House and The Merion Inn. I always order the combination seafood platter. The scallops are my favorite. Once, my Uncle Jay and Aunt Nan took us to a place called Palmer’s near The Lobster House. My uncle actually ordered “roast Tom turkey with all the trimmings”. I was mortified! I couldn’t believe that anyone would actually order turkey at the seashore.
I walk back
to my beach chair and pick up my book.
Laurie and Jane are in the water.
Jane’s best friend, Virginia has arrived with her family. She has three sisters and four brothers. They stay at one of the big Victorians on New
York Ave. Laurie and Jane are excited because
has arrived on the beach and she’s having a lively conversation with the
Maybe my mother’s friend Connie Mills will show up in her gold lame bathing suit, conch shell earrings and high heels, or mules, as my mother calls them. Better yet, maybe Louis Pron will come by and take my picture for Pennywise.
Pennywise comes out every week of the summer. Its cover features pictures of anyone from the beach or boardwalk who‘s willing to pose, as well as handwritten ads and handwritten copy, including illustrations by its founder, Joe Barker. The issues always have a theme and is full of puns. This week’s theme is football.
“For a steak worth tackling, Henri’s featuring Bobby Harris
at the piano “or, from a bird-themed issue, “For a Pheasant Evening Go To The Windsor Cocktail Lounge and
I glance at my mother. She’s standing near the tent with her hand shielding her eyes from the sun as she gazes out at the horizon. I know that she’s can’t wait to jump into the ocean. Sometimes, during our evening swims, she cries out, “The sea is my psychiatist!”
Quite a few of the women on the beach are wearing what my mother calls “dressmaker suits”. I think that means they’re made with demure little skirts. With her slim waist and shapely legs, my mother is one of the only women on the beach wearing a two-piece. Her dark hair is cut short revealing tiny gold and turquoise ear studs. Tonight, she’s letting me borrow them when I go to my hangout, The Green Mill.
lunchtime. I’m ravenous, as usual. My grandparents have arrived from
plums and Hershey’s kisses. She is wearing a delicate gold chain around her neck with the Hebrew letter, “Chai” or “life”.
My grandfather sits on a piling smoking a Churchill
cigar. He’s grinning at Laurie who is
his favorite. Two years ago, Louis took pictures of my grandparents,
my cousin and Laurie in front of our tent.
I’m in the same issue standing next to my friend Nancy Bewick. I’m wearing
a black one-piece with four white buttons.
I spend the
afternoon swimming and talking to my grandparents. My grandfather loves the ocean. My grandmother likes to sit and chat with
Mrs. Lamb, the
At about 4:30, my mother gathers my sisters and their gear. Half an hour later, I carry my chair to the water’s edge. This is my favorite time of day. Most people have left. . I listen to the rhythmic rolling of the waves as I dig my toes into the sand.
Soon, the Steger truck pulls up and Danny and the others load up the rafts. Jerry is sitting on the back of the track. Although we have never exchanged a word, he is my favorite Steger boy. He hangs out at Frank’s Playland on the boardwalk, or at The Green Mill shooting hoops.
The Green Mill is where everybody hangs out. It’s a big, rambling green and white frame building with a basketball court, pool tables and a snack bar. I go there most nights, but tonight, even on my birthday, I can’t wait to get there.
The lifeguards stay until 6, so I decide to
take one last swim. I gather my things
and leave, taking a different route on my way home. I walk a few blocks down
When I get home, I grab a towel and head for the outdoor shower. I love the sweet, clean smell of the wet grass, the powerful jet of water against my skin.
..My mother is preparing scallops and bluefish. .She’s baked a round layer cake with chocolate icing, decorated with tiny nonpareils, gumdrops and M&M’s.
Meanwhile,I agonize over what to
wear. Should I wear my new madras tunic with
I do my best with my hair which is asserting its cursed
curliness as it dries. I slip on a
braided John Romain leather headband and step into my
John Romain leather sandals. The look is completed by my mother’s birthday
present: a John Romain wicker shoulder bag with
leather strap and brass trim.
gave me a guitar before we left. It’s a
really good one—a Goya
with nylon strings. I started taking
lessons a few months ago in
good-bye, pick up the guitar and head toward The Green Mill. I love looking at the houses that I’ve passed
so many times on
Madison Avenue to
Mill is another two blocks up at the corner of
“It’s ‘Les Miserables!’” I said proudly.
“That’s a very dirty book!”, she exclaimed.
I walk up the sandy path and open the green screen doors. I’m elated, as three Steger Adonises are there, shooting hoops. One of the pool tables is open.
I love pool. I learned to play right here, starting when I was twelve., week after week, setting up innumerable racks, scratching the felt, smacking the cue ball at the beginning of a game and watching it sink the eight ball. I’m still not great at it, but now I occasionally hear the click-click-click of a decent break and sometimes I sink them as I call them.
My friend Sandra is there. After we greet each other, we pick up some cues and start playing. I’ve improved since last year. My eyes are half on the game and half on Charlie, Jerry and Mike on the basketball court. No wonder I can’t sink anything.
After a few games, Sandra and I decide to go to the boardwalk. We park ourselves on a green wooden bench across from Morrow’s Nut House. After a while, I take my guitar out of its case and begin singing.old ballads like “Henry Martin”, “All My Sorrows” and “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.”. All songs from Joan Baez’s first album. Joan Baez is my idol.
Little by little, people start to gather in front of me.
“Sing another one”, someone says. And then “Another one!” “Encore, encore!”
I thrill to the intimacy of singing for this audience. Men, women, teenagers, boys and girls. It’s magical.
After I sing the last song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” people come over to talk to me. They compliment me on my voice and I feel great.
As I’m putting my guitar back into its case, a boy who’s been listening for a long time approaches me. Wow, do I have butterflies in my stomach! He tells me that his name is Nick . Though he’s not a Steger boy, he sure is cute! He seems much more real than they are because he’s actually talking to me! He tells me how much he liked my singing and offers to walk me home. I look into his big green eyes and nod my head.
. Nick picks up my
guitar and we walk along the seawall that replaced the boardwalk after the
Nor’easter of ’62. The moon casts its
reflection on the water. Where else
could I have a birthday like this but in
page last updated: Jan 31, 2009