A Seashore Tradition

My marking of time has never been January to January like normal humans, but rather by my families annual trek to the Jersey Shore, Sea Isle City to be exact. One hundred and fourteen years ago my Irish great- grandparents boarded trains in Philadelphia with their children, lockers full of food and booze, and headed south escaping the dirt and heat of the city. Next week , I will grab my kids, food and booze and head north from Baltimore to meet my extended family, all descendants of those Irish Greats, dozens of us, still carrying the Sea Isle torch. This is my 48th summer of attendance, my father’s 76th, we aren’t playing when we say tradition. 

Sea Isle Eve was bigger than Christmas in my home, my brother, sister and I  so excited we couldn’t sleep, knowing my Dad would be in before sunrise to waken us ..”have to beat the traffic, get on the road! An early 1970’s style of vacation packing would ensue, rope holding our suitcases to the roof of a Chevy Impala, bathing suits, check, flipflops, check. Not much else, check.  Dad would toss his unsecured children in the back seat, Mom riding shotgun, and we would leave our dark neighborhood, my friends still asleep..I always felt like the Von Trappes sneaking out of Austria. Oh, the adventure. We bounced around in the backseat, taking turns sleeping in the rear window dash, or on the floor,(seatbelts?) stopping for me to throw up, at least once. Who cared, our enthusiasm was bigger than motion sickness, though I’m sure my poor Mom has a different story to tell, cleaning up vomit probably not her idea of a good vacation time. Once over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, we were home free, passing the landmarks that are still there, very little has changed on that stretch of Rt. 40 in fifty years. I am still pointing out the same ones that my Dad enthusiastically did..the GIANT cowboy! The GIANT rocking chair! My kids are probably rolling their eyes at me in their safely secured backseats at this point, but, I don’t care, it’s tradition. show the proper respect to the cowboy, or risk a deduction of your arcade money.

Arriving in Sea Isle was like entering the Emerald City.  We would hit the little bridge,that led into town, belting out “Sea Isle City, Here we come!” to the tune of California, here we come..and at the top of the bridge…THE OCEAN…sparkling in the morning light. No words to describe that feeling in a child who three hours before, (seemed much longer) was leaving her little street of row homes in the dark. The excitement of seeing cousins only seen in Sea Isle, the freedom about to bestowed..joy. Our parents enjoyed the camaraderie with their generation as much as their kids, consequently we didn’t see much of them. We ran the town, barefoot, cleaned only by saltwater, feral. We stayed in a seaside motel, our extended family occupying all the units,  no A/C, sandy, vinyl furniture that stuck to your sweaty skin, heaven. We swam all day, played outside in the dark, catching the frogs that lived around the motel, won fabulous arcade prizes, like giant, blow-up bottles of scotch..aah.. politically incorrect 1970, you were funny. 

Sea Isle has changed, just a little. All the crazy, fun Greats have passed on, but their spirits are everywhere, their memories will be evoked during our week, as always. We have a wide range of accommodations to choose from, A/C and furniture we don’t stick to. The town’s main drag is still only two lanes, cozy and easy for my kids to navigate. The torch is being passed, does my heart good to see them run the town , like we did, like my father did, like his mother did. Happy New Year to our clan!Image

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8 thoughts on “A Seashore Tradition

  1. Our family tradition is not quite as long, dating back only to 1932, and involves a small lake in Northern Wisconsin. However, many of the same memories are shared of magical summers with my grandparents and the freedom to explore – a child’s dream. As I read your piece this owning, I’m sitting in a home on that same lake and sharing the experience with a few “greats”, nieces, nephews, and 3-month old twin great nephews. I hope that the newest members grow up with similar memories. How blessed we all are to have this type of shared family time. Thank you for putting in to words the feelings I have of “my summer tradition”.

  2. You did it again, Tess. You captured the mounting excitement of arriving in Sea Isle. I can almost smell the wetlands (won’t mention the other smells in that old Impala). And you brought back memories of the seashore when a bucket and a seashell were the only toys a kid needed and shoes were optional. You are a wonderful writer!

  3. A mark of a good writer is to interpret and touch the makeup of your fellow human beings. This one was great for me. We woke up in the predawn Midwest for our trek West or North, and it was so exciting. All our belongings in a beer box that my mother had covered in contact paper for each of us. Once we got to Minnesota or Oregon, we were let loose to roam. And those cousins! The one who pinched me all the time, or the older ones who were so wise and gave me tickets for the Ferris wheel. Thanks for bringing all those things up for me!

  4. Awesome post again. You captured and shoveled up a pail full of beach vacation joy in a few wonderful paragraphs. Well done.

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