Here in Georgia, children returned to school as early as August 4th, but as a child, we never started back until the Tuesday after Labor Day. That would be tomorrow! I’ve yet to hear a good explanation as to why the children of this state have to return so early. Perhaps it’s to keep their teachers out of trouble.
I tried to find a video showing appropriate pictures while someone sang “On the Boardwalk in Atlantic City” because my family vacationed in New Jersey almost every summer while I was growing up, but I couldn’t find anything to meet my needs. Youtube.com has finally failed me!
We always said we were going to Atlantic City when, in fact, we were headed for Northfield or Linwood. These two small towns were inland and probably equidistant to Atlantic City and Ocean City. Atlantic City was in one of its hey-days back in the fifties, but Ocean City was considered the family resort because they did not permit anyone to sell alcohol. They still don’t.
Most years we’d spend the first two weeks of August visiting with relatives and doing lots of fishing, crabbing, and swimming. We’d usually go to the beach once during our stay, and then immediately drive to the Mill Pond in Bargaintown to wash away the salt and sand before returning to our rented cottage – or my Uncle Lewis’ cabin cruiser.
We’d also spend one evening strolling the Boardwalk. As I recall, it was like a carnival that stretched for miles. On the shore side, there was one shop after another selling salt water taffy, peanuts (complete with a human-sized statue of Mr. Peanut), souvenirs, pizza, fudge, and ice cream. In addition, there were auction houses selling jewelry, furniture, and all sorts of other items.
To get to the ocean side of the boardwalk we had to weave our way through hundreds of other strollers and a myriad of rolling chairs. The rolling chairs were of two varieties: one type looked like a giant wicker basket with a leather cushioned seat. It was propelled by the physical effort of the man walking behind it. The other type was dark blue steel with a similar leather seat. It was propelled by an electric motor and steered by the man at the rear.
I have no idea how much it cost to ride either of these conveyances. I have no idea how much the operators were paid. If it was typical American, the man running the electric chair probably got paid more because he had more seniority… or some such reason. All I know for sure is that my parents said we couldn’t afford it. Back then, words such as that meant the end of the discussion.
The ocean side of the boardwalk had fewer shops, but more exciting things to see. Besides the great views of the ocean and passing ships, we could watch the people who were still enjoying the waves. But the biggest attractions on the ocean side of the boardwalk were the piers. As I recall, the Million Dollar pier was basically loaded with carnival rides and games of chance. The only thing I ever won was a box of salt water taffy when the man failed to guess my weight within ten pounds. He missed by twenty-five!
I believe there was also a Garden Pier and a Steeplechase Pier, but I can’t remember any specifics about them. The largest attraction was the Steel Pier, which remained a mystery to me for many years because there was an admission fee just to get onto the pier. Once again, my parents simply said, “We can’t afford it.”
When I was fifteen or sixteen, I finally experienced the Steel Pier. In fact, on that particular day I also experienced my first date with a girl.
My relatives arranged for me to meet Carol Baker, a young lady (I believe she was fourteen at the time) from Philadelphia. After spending a couple of evenings sitting on the front porch of her family’s cottage, I invited her to go to Atlantic City with me. She and her parents agreed, so off we went.
We rode the bus into the city and walked to the Steel Pier, paid our admission fee, and partook of many of the wonderful things going on. I don’t remember paying for anything except food once we got on the pier, so I’m guessing that the admission fee was good for all the attractions. In any case, we went under the water in a diving bell, sat in on part of a concert presented by Xavier Cugat and Abby Lane, and watched the famous diving horse jump into the ocean.
Until I located and viewed that video I’d forgotten that there were also acrobats, seals, and a number of other acts.
For a young man and his first date, it was certainly a day to remember. As I recall, one of the foremost things on my mind was making sure I saved enough money to pay for the bus ride back to her family’s cottage. With all the people who were more than willing to take my last dime, it wasn’t easy, but I managed to get us home safely.
As I recall, I even got a goodnight kiss! WOW!
Tomorrow I’ll address how our family managed to afford that annual two week vacation. I think it taught me a lot about frugality.