I believe this saying is known almost exclusively to the tri-state area commuters when they want to go visit the Jersey shore. Being from Philadelphia, I learned at a very age, that going down the shore meant we were headed to one of three favorite spots: Ventnor, Margate or Ocean City. I have vivid memories of my Dad and Mom packing up the station wagon with all kinds of goodies with my brother and I in the back seat of this vehicle; no seat belts necessary.
I was a beach girl. I loved the moment I could “smell the ocean”. Laughingly, that smell resonated from dead fish, sea animals and whatever else was decaying in the ocean water. I felt the smell also could be gotten from smelling a local telephone pole. Life was so different “down the shore”. I felt so free and safe down here. We didn’t lock our doors on the cars or places we stayed. I could stay out at night and had freedom down here that I didn’t have in Northwest Philadelphia. My brother, like my father, were not really thrilled about the ocean or sand but they never complained.
At the age of 6 years old, I developed my first crush on an Ocean City lifeguard. I would run up and down and around the life guard stand hoping this teenage or older man would pay me some attention. A big thrill came when someone would take my picture standing next to them at the guard stand. I can still see the plaid one piece bathing suit I wore with the white bathing cap. I thought I was cool! I remember really liking the bathing suits my mother put me in. They were very feminine and sometimes had a little skirt to them. They fit my personality even then!
Although I only remember my grandmother through stories from my mother, it seemed my maternal grandmother loved the shore also. There are photos I can see in my mind of Louis and I being pushed in strollers by them, all dressed nicely in summer dresses and summer clothes. I can hear the cries of the pesky seagulls and remember the place on the boardwalk where we could get ice cream!
The night-time brought a cool breeze which never necessitated a fan because in those days, there didn’t appear many places had central air conditioning! It was always hard to fall asleep because I was so excited thinking about the next day and going to the beach.
As I got older and my parents and grandparents didn’t accompany me any more, I would go down the shore as a guest of my very best friend at the time, Patti VanDenBurgh and her single mother, Betty. Betty was a nurse and she treated me just like her daughter. Every year on the week where the fourth of July hit, we went down to Ocean City for a week! This was heaven to a 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 year old girl! Patti was my best friend from Faith Christian School and we shared everything! Patti was a bit more worldly and intelligent and from my young perception “had it all” while I was a bit shy and naive and did not dare do anything wrong. We were a perfect fit. Patti’s mom was quite heavy and Patti was a bit embarrassed to hang around her where I was not. I felt bad that she did not have a husband or someone to be with. Betty had a great sense of humor and never told Patti or I “no”. Her life was her daughter and I was a surrogate. Where my parents were a bit strict; Patti’s Mom gave us a little more “freedom”. We would spend the whole day at the 9th street beach and then have dinner at Watson’s (whatever I wanted) and would then go back to our “room” and “get ready” for the boardwalk. It was the mid 70’s and fashion at the time was halter and tube tops and short shorts and although I didn’t dress like that at home, I did enjoy the feeling I got when I wore those “forbidden” clothes. Patti had the best clothes and she would let me borrow them. From 12 -14, we were just young girls enjoying all the longer summer nights and all boardwalk had to offer. We were so innocent then! There were no cell phones or Ipod’s and we were well versed in communication skills.
One of my favorite memories was the summer of 1975. I was 15 then and had a huge crush on an older boy at school who worked at the “Stingray” hotel on 15th and the boardwalk. He was a very tall, athletic built guy with longish brown hair and eyes. His name was Phil. He was a senior when I was a freshman and we both were in the choir. That was one of my favorite classes that year, of course! His brother, John, was just as nice and cute but he and I were friends and he would talk to me about my friend, Dianne, who he had a huge crush on. they were both Christian boys, which was something very important to me at the time. I knew he worked the whole summer in Ocean City and this was my last chance before he went off to college and I only had one week to be dazzle him! To think back on it, brings a smile to my face at how naive and juvenile I really was. Patti and I would start our day walking, biking or going to the 15th and the Boardwalk area to see if we caught a glimpse. As he was working our sitings were few but just the momentary view of him, set my heart beating! Finally my time had come and I saw him outside the hotel on the boardwalk and got to speak with him. He was so friendly and happy to see me! We chatted about how I was here for the week and would be going home in a couple of days. He told me his plans and how he would be attending college in the fall. Patti, who acted as my backup, finally got fed up with my shyness and just blurted out that I liked him and wanted to get together with him….Well, that was a disaster. He looked confused, embarrassed and instantly uncomfortable. He said he was flattered but….I can’t recall the exact words other than he was extremely nice when bursting my bubble! It felt like the end of the world and the last few days were a bit sad. Ahhh, young love!
Patti said there were other fish in the ocean and proceeded to put her beautiful smile on and before you knew it; my embarrassment faded and we had a “date” that evening with two cute college boys on the boardwalk at 8:00….Ahhh, some fond memories of ‘going down the shore’…