Memorial Day is closing in. The official start of summer. When vacation time loomed as a kid you were either a seashore person (Ocean City was the place of choice for vacationers in Glenside where I grew up) or a mountains person (the Poconos, of course). That meant that in your childhood world of wishes ideally you'd get to be at one place or another all of the time yet it never worked out that way.
The simple reality of my childhood was that, until my father, died our summer seashore vacation happened for a week at “The Longshore” a rooming house at 9th & Central in Ocean City, N.J. And it was just that, a room in a big old house. A double-bed for my parents, a cot for me. Mrs. Snyder owned the place, I called her “Grandma” and her son Billy was a life guard. After Dad died, our summer “vacations” were usually day trips to visit friends that actually had rented a place down there for a week or two.
I had friends whose parents liked the mountains and rented summer “cottages” there. I’d get to go with them from time to time. But fishing for yucky eels or catfish, looking at trees all day, building camp fires or splashing around in a lake, were not my idea of great fun — and the mountains were a long way from the ocean. On top of all that, it was way too quiet up there.
When Mom remarried (I was 16) they’d rent an actual apartment for a week or two at the shore, basking in the euphoria of days gone by — real or imagined. My mom’s family vacationed in Atlantic City when she was a girl (at Haddon Hall, Grandfather Roth had money). So she was a seashore gal and that meant I was destined to be a seashore guy.
Some of my high school friends got summer jobs at the shore, but unless you had family to stay with, the best you could do was "break even" financially. I thought it would be great fun, but my mom was violently opposed to me being on my own at the shore all summer. "Get a job around here," she’d say, "and save your money." So I did.
When I was in college, though, I’d drive to the shore for the weekend to visit my pals and stay in some of the cheapest lodgings known to man. Where you slept didn’t matter didn’t matter, we were "at the shore." There was one place that we stayed that cost just $5 a night for a room — the catch was that the room had no door. For $10 you got a door. Since we were usually just this side of broke, who needed a door?
In those years I had a friend that worked one summer as a salad maker at Watson’s Restaurant. He had a room where I could crash, so I visited him often. (He also smuggled some food out for me.) My car was a 1951 Pontiac. It was big and green. One time I drove to Ocean City in a downpour and by the time I got there my brakes were gone (wet from the rain). I down-shifted (kids don’t have any idea what that is) to stop and when I parked the car I slowly drove in to a tree trunk. The Pontiac had no damage, nor did the tree. The next day the rain stopped and the brakes worked again.
Once I became a grownup and worked at Spring Garden College (I was athletic director) we bought a house in Ocean City. Our kids loved it and students from the college crashed there regularly. Since my college job was a nine-month one, I hired on with the Ocean City Recreation department and coached a teen baseball team and ran their summer day camp. Financially, we broke even but everyone loved the place. When we sold it in the early '90s we did so because no one was using it. So what did we do? We rented a place there each summer for a couple of weeks instead.
When it was time to buy at the shore again (after a decade of making landlords rich) we found that everything we could afford in Ocean City was a dump and everything we liked we couldn’t afford. Enter Wildwood, the town where my wife spent all her childhood summers (her grandfather was a barber, had a shop down there — and a house). The Taylor family also had a Wildwood history and owned a home there for several decades.
This summer will be the 19th year for our Wildwood Crest home. It’s a dry town and reminds me of a little of Ocean City. (Actually Wildwood is four separate municipalities. Why? Ask the politicians). Sometimes we think about selling it – and then we go there and enjoy ourselves and say "maybe we’ll sell it next year." Our kids and, especially the grandkids, love the shore and our house provides a seashore destination. So maybe we won’t.