Monday, July 28, 2014

Jersey Strong

I'd love to live the rest of my life at the shore.
I love the smell of the sea, the sand in my toes and my sun toasted shoulders.  
I'd love to sit back in a sand sinking chair occasionally placing my heavy hardback book in my lap while I observe my girls chasing each other through the surf, almost in slow motion.  
I love the sun and I love the clouds.  

A few weeks ago I strongly suggested to my husband that we scoot off for a weekend 'getaway' at the shore.  I *needed* to put my feet back on the beach and wanted to visit a friend — a two fold trip.  I found a place in Point Pleasant roughly 20 minutes from my girlfriend's house.  After minimal conversation, we made reservations.  If I took the time, I could give you the exact number of years since I'd been to the Jersey shore.  Hmmm...lemme think...

I'm not going to count college.  Anything I did in college was done in a haze with minimal appreciation.  

So, it's been over twenty years since I went to the Jersey shore.  My parents, originally from Jersey, religiously booked a week every year with my Mom's parents.  I can still hear the faint belly laughs of my Grandmother, the clicking of the live crabs in the bathroom tub and I can still smell the gutsy bait on my hands after a morning of fishing with my Grandfather.  

Say what you will about Jersey; it's so much a part of my childhood.  
We never fought our way through the crowds to get a good spot on the beach — my Dad got his ass out there first thing in the morning.  We weren't bothered by the brashness some notice in 'Jersey folk' — have you met my Grandmother, Frieda?  We learned to live like royalty in even the shittiest of rental homes.  Our places were never beach front — we hauled a shit ton of stuff in the dead heat of Summer.  We spent the ENTIRE DAY on the beach reading, riding the waves, picking shells and playing paddleball.  And seriously, who could afford a home with a pool?  We ate like there was no tomorrow — diving into the endless tin can of cheese balls and devouring the homemade lasagna, eggplant parmigiana trays and full-on Thanksgiving dinner Frieda would heat up for our first night's meal.  We ate turkey sandwiches all week with a side of parmigiana.  

Typing this blog makes me smile.  :)  

I'm not sure why we started going to the Delaware beaches, but not too long after the switch my Grandfather passed away.  He died soon after he retired from his position at Maxwell House.  Although I was eleven years old, I was pissed at everything, but that's a story for another day.  I got the feeling that we'd never go back to the Jersey Shores.  Maybe there were too many memories; maybe the adults felt there was more to offer in Delaware; maybe I'm out of touch with my family and I have no stinkin' idea why we never made it back.  

This weekend's getaway with MY family stirred up a lot of the memories deep within my soul.  After a short two hour drive on Friday evening, we pulled into a spot adjacent to our ocean side hotel room.  Within in minutes, our things were piled into the room and we headed towards the beach to check it out.  

My Paradise
I was excited to be back in Jersey.  The town of Point Pleasant was laid out much like all the other shore towns I had frequented as a child — surf shops, eateries and local stores lined the blocks leading up to the main attractions — boardwalk, shit food stands galore and mini-golf.  
The following morning, I itched to get out the door to find coffee.  I distinctly recall my Dad getting up early (what I had thought was the 'butt-crack of dawn', but probably wasn't) for a brisk walk to pick up the daily paper.  I don't remember him getting coffee, but occasionally he'd pick up bagels and/or donuts for us fatties.  (Well, I stand corrected...I was the only fatty in my family.  But, that's yet another story that someone will have to pay me to tell.)   Unfamiliar with my immediate surroundings, I opted to hop in the car and cruise north on Ocean Avenue.  I circled to the left around the Coast Guard building, a jug handle in disguise, getting a little tour of the inlet before heading back south down Ocean Avenue.  I stopped for coffee (and two donuts) at a local joint called Top That Donuts.  My family welcomed me...I mean, the coffee and donuts with opened arms.  

We had access to a semi-private beach as part of our reservations with the hotel.  Thankfully, for Mr. Roberts, this was the case.  Figuring history would repeat, I envisioned the four of us with toys and blankets in tow, jockeying for the optimal position close to the shore line with enough elbow room to breathe.  It was after 10 am; surely, we'd be twenty people deep from the ocean; we would have better luck seeing the ocean from the hotel pool.  We planted our butts in the sand in the front row, go figure. 

The girls were happy, I was happy...even the Mr. was happy.  

We met up again with my girlfriend and her kids.  I think everyone got along just fine.  

Instant Friends
I remember a summer when I met an awesome girl named Liz.  I have a picture of us somewhere; I also have a scrap piece of paper with her address.  Our families were vacationing the same week and we spent so much time on the beach together.  The quickness in which my girls took to Jackie brought me back to those summers of meeting other young girls and becoming instant best friends.  Happiness.  

On the way back from a delicious lunch at Surf Taco we were being tailed by a rotund man wearing THE.BEST.SHIRT.EVER.  I turned around, pointed my finger at his shirt and said, 'yeah, it IS gravy, not sauce!'  Guido and I both threw our heads back and laughed, sharing in the Italian humor that's forever been a conversation in my family.  I observed Guido a little closer - this man, sweaty from his short walk, must have had every square inch of his body sprayed with some delicious cologne.  He walked with a slight waddle as a result of his weight, frame, and expansive upper body.  With each step forward, his thick chain swayed side to side.  He held a large back of meat; I would guess that he held close to 7 pounds of a pork shoulder.  Guido invited us to dinner; again, we exchanged laughs and went on our merry way.  

After a late afternoon on the boardwalk, we split from my girlfriend and her kids to hit the pool one more time.  The sun was behind the building and the air was much cooler.  I braved the change in atmosphere for ten minutes of water time with my kids.  Eventually, sooner than later, the goosebumps and shivers forced me out of the water.  Maybe my hunger had something to do with it, too.  We changed and headed back to the boardwalk for dinner and ice cream.  What a rich, people watching experience — young, old, drunk, oblivious, scantily clad, overly dressed, whiners, yellers, complainers, idiot walkers, you name it; we saw it.  

We retired to our room close to 10 pm.  I carried Alli at least a half mile — that girl was busted.  Ava whined most of the way back — she was a trooper, though.  The girls passed out in their sleeping bags not long after being tucked in.  Alli crawled into our bed around 3 am, just before Mr. Drunk Man started banging on our door, thinking that he was staying with us.  After being advised, numerous times, he had the wrong room, Mr. Drunk Man retreated and I tucked Alli back into her sleeping bag.  We all woke up closer to 9 am.  The mission was to get out, check out, and get breakfast before leaving town.  Ava cried while telling me she wanted to stay forever.  I heard her loud and clear — me too, babe.  

We arrived at Perk's Cafe and checked in with a ten minute wait.  Like a scene from a movie, we sat on the bench facing Ocean Avenue while the Cafe pumped Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band through its speakers.  Less than ten minutes later, we were seated at a table near the rear of the restaurant.  After sipping a delicious cup of coffee I ordered my food and sat back into my chair.  A familiar smell crossed my nose.  It took me a good five or ten minutes to identify the scent.  A force stronger than my own will dragged me into the basement of Frieda's home in Lyndhurst, NJ.  I remembered standing against the door to the crawl space under the stairs.  My Grandfather, with a pencil in hand, coached me and my brother to stand tall while he marked our height with a straight line on the frame of the door.  I think he put the date next to the line.  I wish I could take that piece of frame home with me.  I vaguely remember Frieda cooking up a storm in that basement.  She'd literally slave over the stove, stirring the gravy while dabbing her sweaty neck with a damp paper towel.  The basement kitchen was always used for special events in which a shit ton of food was needed.  She feared the possibility of running out.  My God, we could all starve.

I miss those days.
I look forward to creating new memories for my children.