Summers at the Shore
There are many vanished icons of daily life. Things that were once common but simply don’t exist anymore – things like typewriters or dial telephones. Home delivery of milk or phone numbers that started with a word for the exchange, like GReenwood or CHestnut. The icons of my childhood once lived in the small beach town where I spent my summers.
We've been spending summers in Beach Haven for four generations. My grandmother and her sister rented cottages with their young families. My mother and her sisters spent the summer playing touch football on the beach with cousins, flirting with lifeguards and meeting their future husbands. Then the three sisters brought their own families to the shore.
When I was a child, my family shared a duplex with my mother's oldest sister, Lenore, and her family. I grew up with my cousins, hanging out on the beach, riding the waves, digging elaborate ball castles in the sand and chasing after the ice cream truck during the day. As dusk fell, we’d eat dinner together, fly kites on the beach and frolic in the clouds of pesticide, sprayed by the "mosquito man" who drove a jeep up and down each street, spraying DDT to curb the pests. Why didn't the grown-ups realize that that probably wasn't a good idea?
Exploring the island by bikes meant freedom for us children. When I talk about those days to my kids, it just sounds like we were unsupervised and unsafe. There were no mandatory bike helmets or warnings about talking to strangers. We went everywhere barefoot and drank water from garden hoses. Cellphones did not exist so you did not have to constantly phone home and check in.
Our bike adventures took us all over our end of the island. If the morning plan was to go crabbing, it would start with the purchase of a frozen bunker for bait. We would take a book or a deck of cards along to pass the time between checking the crab traps. We went crabbing behind the Acme supermarket from the public dock, which is no longer public since houses have been built there. My own kids have tried crabbing, but for children who've grown up online, who thrive on the instant gratification of channel flipping, the boredom of waiting for a nibble was unbearable.
On rainy days the destination was Shermat's Amusements -- a cinderblock garage filled with pool tables and pinball machines. Shermat’s is no longer because there are houses there now, too. For my generation, who grew up without Nintendo, Playstation and the other electronic entertainment that children today can't live without, going to Shermat's was a slightly illicit adventure on the grubby side. We never mingled with the older teenage boys who played pool. For us, skeeball was the attraction. Imagine, you got 10 wooden balls for a dime! If you took your time rolling the balls, really aimed and tried your hardest, a round of skeeball could last forever. The side-by-side lanes encouraged competition, arguments and fun.
One of my most beloved memories lived inside an unlikely spot. For many years, amongst the moccasins, loafers and granny slippers, a creepy, local shoe store had maintained a penny candy counter. I still remember it as a glittering assortment of licorice, Mary Janes, root beer barrels, Swedish fish, chocolate babies, and more. We used to stand and gaze at the display before making careful choices. It seems almost impossible to believe now, but in those days, a penny really did have purchasing power, so we would direct the store clerk in our boldest, voices possible.
"Four Swedish fish, please. Six, no, seven jaw breakers. Five gummy bears."
"Is that 15 cents so far?"
"No? I'm at 16 cents. OK, then just four Mary Janes."
We made our careful choices until our coins ran out, and the small, brown paper bags full of candy were handed across the counter.
As an adult, I can sympathize with the management of the store. So much trouble for such a small profit. All those dirty, barefoot children, trooping into the store unsupervised, touching the moccasins with sticky fingers and then spending only 27 cents. But 40 years later, I still remember my dismay the year we returned to the beach for the summer, to discover that the store no longer had glass display cases of candy, only the moccasins and bedroom slippers.
Though many landmarks have disappeared from the Beach Haven of my youth, my family makes new memories each year, ones I hope my children will cherish. The year we bought a long board and all took surfing lessons. Getting a henna tattoo at the store with the flirty owner. Pinning the accumulated arcade prize tickets to the bulletin board until you’re ready to cash in. Playing our favorite miniature golf courses. Every summer brings new experiences that will always be there in our memories.