My Jersey shore
I had originally posted this in 2013, but, in honor of hitting a milestone with my newest follower today, the Jersey Shore Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, I am releasing this again. Thank you to that wonderful organization for honoring me by reading my blog. I can honestly say, having been all over the world, that the true Jersey Shore has the most beautiful beaches and communities I have ever seen. Here’s why:
If you lived in NYC when I was growing up, there were three places you went to get away during the hot summers. If you were rich, you went to Connecticut or Long Island. If you were middle class you went to the Jersey shore.
When I was young we would often take trips ‘down the shore’ as NYers say. We would get up very early on Saturday, pack up the car and take the two hour drive (it was only 70 miles but there was unbelievable ‘shore traffic’) to the beach. Then we would sit out on the sand, dash around in the waves, eat hot dogs, take a shower outside by pulling a chain and standing on an open wood platform to let the water drain down below, and head back at sundown. Despite the hot car rides with sand in my bathing suit and sunburn, I really loved those trips.
Later on, my parents bought a house at the shore, one block from the beach near Asbury Park. So I spent a lot of time walking on the Boardwalk, getting all the junky food and trinkets that kids love and which make a place like Asbury Park or Seaside Heights (just restored and savaged again!) a paradise of fun and mayhem. There was the famous Fralingers Saltwater Taffy shop where the candy was mixed in huge rolling drums, then extruded, pulled by hand, twisted, cut and wrapped in a swift and neat process that you could watch from the window of the store. James candies (who subsequently purchased Fralingers) was there along with all the memorabilia shops where you could get just about anything made from shells.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As I have said elsewhere, the mid coastal towns of New Jersey have a long history stemming from the time when Henry Hudson landed and complimented the inlet at Belmar as “a beautiful sight to see”. There are homes in Red Bank, the main town when I was there, that date to the early 1600s.
If you travel around Rumson or Locust on the banks of the Navesink river, you will see rolling estates that were once owned by descendants of the Mayflower and the early Dutch settlers who made fortunes in shipping and rail.
It is truly the epitome of the Garden State. Both Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi live in the environs of Red Bank, on the river.
Another thing I loved about going ‘down the shore’ was the annual trip to Atlantic City in the fall. It was just when the air was turning crisp and the leaves were bright that my mother and I would head to the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall hotel on the Boardwalk. There was some sort of New Jersey teachers convention there each fall when I was very young and my mother would take me along. We would walk among the exhibits and I would get toys and crafts that were being sold as samples for teachers ordering classroom supplies. I particularly remember buying beads and little tiles to make bracelets on elastic or to glue onto a frame to make a trivet. I looked forward to that trip every year and the special time with my mother.
In those days, Atlantic City still held the atmosphere of the Golden Age – its heyday. In September, the winds off the ocean were brisk and cold. You would wake up in the morning and head out onto your balcony to smell the sea. That is something that for whatever reason does not occur on the Pacific Ocean. I was so disappointed when I rushed out on the balcony my first day at the beach house in Los Angeles and there was not even the slightest whiff of ocean. Not so in Atlantic City. It was a real seaman’s town, old, worn, gracious and genteel.
I particularly looked forward to the restaurant in the hotel and the quaint, Florida-like coffee shop with that distinctive mint green decor and pink flamingos painted on the walls. Each morning we would head down to the Wedgewood Dining Room for breakfast on beautiful china made especially for the Chalfonte and dinner would be in the Peacock Room that evening. That was where I learned to love a proper British breakfast of shirred eggs and biscuits with clotted cream to go with finnan haddie or kippers. Afterward, we would walk along the boardwalk amid bicyclists. In the early 70s it was much like it had always been in Atlantic City from happier, more affluent days.
One of the things I loved most was the huge indoor, heated pool – my first. And the fact that the cavernous bathrooms in the stately guest rooms with their soaring windows on the ocean and elegant moldings and chandeliers, had a tap in the large clawfoot tubs that was marked “Salt Water”. You could fill your bath with warmed sea water that was piped in and filtered, both into the large swimming pool, making you buoyant and swimming a breeze, and turning the bathroom into a spa.
Then it all changed of course when Atlantic City, abandoned and forgotten was taken over by the gambling interests. I will never forget how upset I was at that change – I knew even then that the city that I loved so much, the resort where my grandparents had spent their honeymoon, was gone forever.
The Barnegat Lighthouse with waves dashing on the rocks, the pine barrens with trees and sand that stretch as far as the eye can see, the white dunes, dark steely water, Gulfstream-warm enough for a swim even in October, the cold salty air, the lobster that you could catch by any pier in clean water.
That is my Jersey Shore.
Images: Americastowns.com, AtlanticCityMemoryLane,Wikimedia Commons, eBay