Life will be peaches and cream?
I haven’t lived in New Jersey for 17 years.
The last time I was home was 2004. Summer. A brief visit, I drove home and drove back within a few days. Then crazy-life happened. Poverty. Marriage. Children who hated being in the car.
A week ago I was driving home from the grocery store after picking up my daughter from school, and she was starting to drift to sleep in the back seat. I saw it in the rear-view mirror, and I looked over my shoulder to check. Yes, her head kept dropping to her shoulder. I thought, Yes. Here we go. We can go home soon.
And then Sandy happened.
For years I’d been thinking that I couldn’t wait for my kids to see and learn the places I spent a lot of time growing up. Long Beach Island. Wildwood. Seaside Heights. As a 21 year old I’d often get a bug and just hop in my car at night, get on The White Horse Pike, and drive down to Atlantic City alone just to walk the boards and get a lemonade. The smell of the Shore was a call, all of the time, and I’d open the windows so I could smell it before I even got there.
My dad took me onto Barnegat Bay every summer to catch crab. The smell.
Monday night people in Philadelphia could smell the Shore.
I sat and watched, I couldn’t not watch, as I waited and worried and wondered if my mom, pretty much on the Delaware, would be safe. She was fine. Mom was fine. I took a breath, and then I extended my concern out from mine. The homes. The businesses. The land itself.
I wanted my children to see what I had seen, and they never will. It’s gone. I will never be able to stand my kids on a specific spot in Seaside Heights and say, “This is where Grandpop told me I didn’t have to go into the haunted house.”
Because I can still see the vista in front of me at that moment. I’d eaten some green beans that day, but I don’t know why. I know that I stood on the boards, and if you had stood me there two weeks ago I’d have said, “Right here.” I can still see it all in front of me.
I can see all of them.
I can see staring at my feet in the dark on the boardwalk in Ocean City as the ocean washed under the boards during high tide, and we were on our way to visit friends of my parents who had a restaurant there. The ocean was under my feet.
I can hear, while walking the surf, “Ice cream!! Fudgie Wudgies!!!” from the dudes who sold cold things to hot people.
I can remember the size of the beach in Wildwood, and how the lack of beach in Ocean City was due to the sand ending up in Wildwood. Wear shoes to cross that beach. The sand was hot and large before you got to the water.
I remember, very small, being in the surf in Ocean City, and a wave knocked me down. As I got up another one hit me, and another one, and I couldn’t stand. The water was pounding me into the sand, and suddenly I was in the air, and my Uncle Jack had me lifted and free. And at that moment I loved him more than kittens. Or my dad.
I remember crabbing and fishing for flounder off of LBI on the day of Live Aid, and while my friend Lisa and I had originally protested, that day of being on the water was a thousand times more fun than sitting in front of the TV.
I remember my Great-Uncle Herb people watching on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. He loved to people watch. Resorts was new, then. It was all new. Casinos? Really?
I could spend hours in each.
Anyone else remember when Brigantine Castle got washed out to sea?
My heart hurts terribly for the people who have lost everything. In the long run, all I have lost, personally, is the ability to stand my children in a spot and say, “I was here, once.” Or twice. Or a hundred times.
But I am warm, and I am fed, and my TV is yacking at me to buy a new Honda while I type this. Tonight I will sleep in my bed with my husband and know that tomorrow I will get up and do the Saturday thing.
Someday I will take my kids down the shore, and they will build their own memories. I will see new places and new things. Because it will be back. It will.
Please give what you can, if you can. My mom always said that for the most part it seemed like NJ was protected from the worst weather. That time seems to be over.
My heart is with my home.