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!