Life’s a Beach

February 16, 2010

Edisto Island Beach

I’ve been going to the beach ever since I was a toddler. Because my father was raised in South Jersey and we had relatives living in Linwood and Somers Point, my family vacationed near the beach every year.

We never stayed at the beach; that would’ve been too expensive. We would rent a small apartment or stay on my uncle’s cabin cruiser (also small) a few miles in from the shore. Most of our time was spent fishing and crabbing in the inland bays and marshes. Once or twice during our stay we’d go into Atlantic City or Ocean City to spend some time on the beach or stroll along the boardwalk.

Fishing and crabbing with nephews and nieces

I recall one vacation when my parents did something different. I believe it was 1955 or 1956. Instead of going to South Jersey, we went to Cambridge, Maryland and rented a cottage along the Choptank River. We arrived shortly after a hurricane had passed through. Not only was the river running fast and deep, many of the surrounding fields were still draining. We saw a number of people holding chicken wire at the end of irrigation ditches. They were catching some very large fish that had been driven inland by the storm surge.

On that particular trip, the beach wasn’t quite as convenient. But on one of our days in Maryland, we drove over to Ocean City, Maryland and enjoyed their beach and boardwalk.

I have been to beaches all up and down the East Coast, Mississippi, Texas, California, and Oregon. I’ve also visited Brighton Beach in England and some beaches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. They all speak the same language as they invite us to either walk along the water’s edge or sit down and watch the waves rolling in.

Without even closing my eyes, I can hear the sound of the surf, the wind, and the sea gulls.

I’ve often thought about living closer to a beach. I wouldn’t want to own a home on the beach. Hurricanes might not hit a particular beach that often, but once would be more than enough for me. I’d like to live about twenty miles inland so it would be an easy trip to get close to the ocean.

However, with most of our children and grandchildren living within thirty miles of us, I’d find it difficult to move anywhere.

Perhaps we could win the lottery. Then we could move the entire extended family.

My bride and I on Tybee Island

I have been to the beach so many times in my life that I consider it a God given blessing and wish everyone – especially children – could visit a beach on a regular basis.

Twice we were able to stay at rental properties right on the beach. Once was in Ocean City, New Jersey and the other was on Edisto Island. My bride and I rented the place in New Jersey at the end of the summer season (reduced rates) and my nephews and nieces chipped in. On Edisto Island, we were fortunate to be the guests of John and Debbe Mize. That was in November a couple of years back.

Based on those two experiences, I’d say the best time to go to the beach is after Labor Day and before June. The temperatures are much milder and there are no crowds.

We’re hoping to get to at least one beach in 2010, but I think I’m already there mentally.

Earliest Trips to New Jersey Shore

May 28, 2009

Because my father was raised in South Jersey and still had family living in that area, most of our annual vacations were taken at the shore.

I can vaguely remember riding in the old Chevrolet. As I recall, it was a green car that looked something like the one in this photo.

Gone by 1949 but not forgotten

Gone by 1949 but not forgotten

I always thought that car was a 1943, but while looking for a photo I discovered that Chevy didn’t make any consumer cars that year. They were too busy building military vehicles.

In any case, you’ll note the car had a large back seat area. It was large enough (and I was small enough) that I could lie on the floor and use the middle hump as a pillow. My older brother had the luxury of lying on the shelf by the rear window. (Back then, seat belts in cars were non-existent.)

I vividly recall looking up and out the windows and watching the utility poles flash by as we ‘sped’ down the road.

In those early days, we were only able to speed between Irwin, Pennsylvania and Carlisle, Pennsylvania – a distance of about one hundred and sixty miles. In the late 1940’s, the total distance we traveled was more than four hundred miles and much of it was on the old U.S. highways that went through dozens of small towns.

Many of those old highways were three lanes that required drivers to be extremely careful when passing. That middle lane – used by motorists going in both directions – resulted in many head-on collisions.

We usually began our vacations late on a Friday night. Dad would come home from work and sleep for a few hours while mom packed the car. Then, around midnight, we’d start on the long journey. We lived about forty or fifty miles from Irwin and it was mostly city driving. The Penn-Lincoln Parkway did not exist and there were lots of traffic lights.

From Irwin, we’d sail along the ‘new’ turnpike that had opened for traffic in 1940. When we got to Carlisle, we’d return to the U.S. highways and continue our eastward trek.

As I recall, we sometimes avoided Philadelphia by passing through Wilmington, Delaware. If we did go through Philly, we’d cross over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

By eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, we’d be greeted by Uncle Lewis and Aunt Nellie. I’m sure dad was exhausted, but Lewis and I were ready to go crabbing and fishing.

In 1951, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was opened from the Ohio line to Philadelphia. That cut an hour or two off the trip and also made it possible for us to stop at a Howard Johnson’s for more than gasoline.

Coincidentally, a song that sticks in my head because I heard it so much during our travels between Pittsburgh and South Jersey was also recorded in 1951.

Les Paul and Mary Ford were popular recording artists of the time. Several years later, they divorced, but Les Paul continued playing guitar and began designing his own line of guitars. I’m sure my step-son, the rock star, has heard of Les Paul guitars… but he might be left wondering who the guy in that video is.

Getting back to our vacation journeys… the Walt Whitman Bridge opened in 1957 making the trip even easier. Then, in 1965, the Atlantic City Expressway opened.

Today that trip that took at least eleven hours in 1948 can be accomplished in under seven.

Many people have come to take the Interstate Highway System for granted… as though it has always been there. For the younger generations, that is absolutely true – it has always been there!

But those of us who remember being stuck behind trucks and buses winding their way along two-lane U.S. highways cannot thank President Eisenhower enough for pushing the idea through congress.

However, let me let you in on a secret.

If you are not in any big hurry to get from one city to the next, get off that Interstate and follow the old U.S. highways. In many cases, you’ll find the road surface to be in much better condition. It has been resurfaced and doesn’t carry the heavy burden of trucks, buses, and cars.

If you like looking at old buildings (many, unfortunately, abandoned) along with farms and forests, you’ll find the travel much more interesting.

Just keep the secret to yourself. We don’t want everybody to get off the Interstates. Smelling the roses won’t be so sweet if you’re stuck in a traffic jam.


August 5, 2008
Sunrise at Ocean City, New Jersey

Sunrise at Ocean City, New Jersey

My earliest memories of vacations involved our annual pilgrimage to South Jersey. Although my father was born in Philadelphia, he grew up in Northfield, New Jersey. Northfield is on the edge of the salt marshes and lies between Pleasantville and Linwood. Linwood, by the way, was once known as Leedsville.

I vaguely remember lying on the floor of our 1943 Chevy and using the hump in the middle as my pillow. I’d watch through the window and try to count the telephone poles as they whizzed past. Either I was very small, or they made cars much wider in those days.

Since getting involved in genealogy about ten years ago, I’ve discovered we had many relatives in the area (hence the town of Leedsville), but the only people we visited were my father’s brother, Lewis B. Leeds, and his sisters-in-law, Josie and Mary Crowley. We also visited one of Dad’s old friends, Lew Lake. I’ve since learned that Mr. Lake was also a cousin. Sometimes I have a feeling I’m related to most of the old families of South Jersey.

We always told people we were vacationing in Atlantic City (back in its original heyday), but, in truth, we only went there once during our typical two week stay. Most of our days were spent fishing and crabbing. For a number of years, Uncle Lewis owned a small cabin cruiser, The Sea Urchin, that he kept docked at the Hackney Boat Yard on Scull’s Bay. That boat become our vacation cottage. We never moved the boat… I doubt if the engine even ran; but we loved being able to crawl out of bed and start fishing and crabbing before we even ate breakfast.

Needless to say, we ate a ton of seafood during our vacation, and what we couldn’t consume was given to our relatives to freeze.

One of the minor things I remember from those trips was the small store at the end of Uncle Lewis’ street. Today it would be called a ‘convenience’ store; back then, it was simply called a corner store. They sold milk and bread and a few other grocery items. They probably earned most of their income from selling tobacco products, newspapers and magazines, and candy.

The first thing I bought when I entered that store every year was a package of Charms. I never saw Charms sold in Pittsburgh. Charms were similar to Life Savers, but the pieces were square instead of round and they had no hole. The flavors were very similar to the original Life Savers. Come to think of it, I don’t recall that corner store selling Life Savers. Perhaps it was a regional thing like scrapple, Birch Beer, and cheesecake pie.

I’ve visited South Jersey twice in the last several years and could not find cheesecake pie. If you know where I might find this delicacy, let me know. I’m sure the mere sight of one would bring back a flood of memories.

On our way back to Pittsburgh, we’d always stop and buy a large basket of freshly picked cantaloupes. They were the best melons I’ve ever eaten.

I just remembered… we have some cantaloupe in the refrigerator. Although it’s not nearly as good as the ones from South Jersey, I think I’ll go have some… right now. See you tomorrow!

Oops! I almost forgot to say that the beautiful picture at the top of this post was taken by my lovely bride while I was still trying to fix myself a cup of coffee.