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.

New Jersey Aunts & Uncle

April 30, 2009
The Crowley residence

The Crowley residence

This house on Shore Road in Somers Point, New Jersey, was the home of my two ‘spinster’ aunts – Mary and Josie Crowley. It would appear that when Uncle Lewis B. Leeds married Nellie Crowley, it was a package deal.

The Crowley girls had been born and raised in Pittsburgh and Uncle Lewis met Nellie sometime after he and dad rode double on a motorcycle from South Jersey to Pittsburgh. That trip to find employment occurred in 1910.

I’m not sure of the time frame, but at some point Uncle Lewis and the girls moved to Florida. A few years later, they moved to South Jersey. That’s where they were living when they each eventually passed on.

Uncle Lewis' home in Linwood

Uncle Lewis' home in Linwood

The entire arrangement is one I never thought about until the last few years as I learned various details from my cousin, Ruth Morris.

According to family rumors, Aunt Nellie refused to allow Uncle Lewis to consummate their marriage. In the meantime, Aunt Josie may have had at least one secret affair that was consummated.

My sister, Gert, somehow found herself as the executor of Aunt Josie’s will. Josie was the last of the group to pass away. During the process, Gert learned that Josie had left everything (which turned out to be a negative number) to some woman who could only be contacted through a church. Unfortunately, the woman could not be located, but it is surmised that the lady in question might have been Josie’s daughter – born out of wedlock and given up for adoption. We’ll never know the whole truth behind that one.

In the meantime, when we would visit Mary and Josie in the 1950s, there was a blind man living with them – a Mr. Biddings. Again, the rumors insisted that Mr. Biddings was Josie’s live-in lover. Another thing we’ll never know for sure.

According to Ruth, Uncle Lewis and the ladies also had a habit of checking out of hotels without bothering to pay the bills.

That’s one of those rumors that, on the surface, doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure what Uncle Lewis did for a living prior to becoming a politician, but he eventually became a Freeholder in Atlantic County. I, being a little boy at the time, bragged to my friends that he was a freeloader. I might have been right!

I’ve been told that a freeholder in New Jersey is the equivalent of a county commissioner in other states. I have no idea how much he was paid in that capacity, but I do remember he drove a big Cadillac.

Aunt Josie worked at a mental hospital in Pleasantville. She called it the Looney Bin. Uncle Lewis used his political clout to get her the job. Considering some of her idiosyncrasies, she may have made a good resident of her place of employment.

For one thing, Josie refused to drive faster than thirty-five miles per hour. I can recall riding with her on the Garden State Parkway. I was greatly relieved that we only traveled a short distance on that superhighway.

When Uncle Lewis died, Josie inherited the Cadillac as she was the only sister who drove. She immediately had her garage remodeled. The finished product had doors on either end so she would never have to back in or out.

Aunt Mary was the chief cook and bottle washer in the family. I should note that when Uncle Lewis died, Aunt Nellie sold her home and moved in with her sisters.

Eventually, Aunt Josie was the only one left.

One time I had a business trip to Philadelphia. I decided to take my middle son, Kenn, and planned a side-trip to Atlantic City. Kenn was around twelve years old at the time. We dropped in on Aunt Josie and both Kenn and I soon realized what we were dealing with.

Aunt Josie repeatedly asked me how Jimmie was doing and I repeatedly explained that I was Jimmie. The house was a total disaster and Josie kept offering us something to eat. She finally went into the kitchen and invited us to follow. She pulled out an apple pie that was covered with mold and offered us each a slice.

It was then I decided the visit had lasted long enough. I stretched the truth a bit and explained that we had a dinner reservation in Atlantic City and really had to be going. Kenn was pleased that we had escaped without being fed.

About a month later, Gert was in the area and stopped in to see Josie. To Gert’s surprise, Josie was royally angry at me. After Kenn and I left, she had prepared a meal for us… and we never returned to eat it!

There is one more memory I have of Aunt Josie. When Aunt Mary died, Josie had her body shipped back to Pittsburgh for burial. I went to the funeral and rode in the limo with Josie to the cemetery. They had a very nice memorial service in the chapel. When the service was over, Josie insisted on seeing her sister’s coffin lowered into the ground.

The undertakers and cemetery officials were not prepared for that and tried to talk her out of it. She was adamant… as were they. Fortunately, I bumped into another undertaker, Ray Brusco, whom I knew through the Lions Club. I explained the situation to him and he pulled some strings.

Later I learned that the main reason for Josie’s insistence is that she did not trust the undertakers. She was afraid they’d open the casket and steal things from Mary’s corpse.

Just think, I could get ornery and crotchety when I get old. Nah, that would never happen.

How Times Have Changed

March 9, 2009
Family reunion in the fifties

Family reunion in the fifties

This photo was taken in the back yard of my Uncle Lewis’ home in Linwood, New Jersey. The three couples are (from left to right) Seward and Cathryn Leeds, Lewis and Nellie Leeds, and Fred and Gertrude Ulmer.

Three of those people are also in the next photo.

Classmates in early 1900's

Classmates in early 1900's

The second and fourth from the right (in the first row) are Seward and Gertrude Leeds. The first boy on the left in the second row is Lewis Leeds.

Thus, the photo of the three couples is a family reunion for three siblings.

My parents are the ones on the left – Seward and Cathryn Leeds. Dad’s name was ‘officially’ William Henry Seward Leeds, but everyone in the family called him Seward. Naturally, his co-workers called him Bill.

Dad was the youngest of the three siblings who survived to adulthood. He was born in 1891.

In 1910, he and his brother rode from Northfield, New Jersey to Pittsburgh (double on a motorcycle) in search of employment. They both succeeded in not only finding work, but in finding wives. Dad married Cathryn Mary O’Hare and Uncle Lewis married Nellie Crowley.

At some point, Uncle Lewis and his wife, along with two sisters-in-law moved to Florida and later back to New Jersey. Dad and mom remained in Pittsburgh, but I believe dad’s heart remained in south Jersey.

Aunt Gertrude moved to Philadelphia to find work shortly after she graduated from high school. She was the only one of the three to finish her formal education; the boys had to drop out of school and go to work to help support their widowed mother. Gertrude eventually met and married Fredrick Ulmer.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Gertrude became the parents of three children. The most famous of the three was Fredrick who was instrumental in a bombing raid on Tokyo and later became curator of the Philadelphia zoo. I wrote about his exploits sometime ago. Click on “A Tribute to an Unsung┬áHero” if you’re interested in learning more about him.

Unfortunately, I only got to know one of the three. Ruth Ulmer married Ed Morris around the same time as I entered this world. She, and most of my siblings and cousins are a good bit older than I; thus, when our family visited my aunts and uncles, my cousins were off raising their own families.

I finally got to meet Ruth about three or four years ago. She is a delightful woman and full of information about our family’s history. Her brother Fredrick died a number of years ago, and her brother Leeds, passed on a few weeks ago.

Uncle Lewis and Aunt Nellie were childless. That’s why I have two brothers named Lewis.

I apologize for rambling about my family, but one picture leads to another and one sentence tends to do likewise.

My original intent was to point out the clothing worn in that first picture. It was not at all unusual for adults of that time to dress up for events that seem trivial in today’s society. For instance, it was not unheard of for men and women to put on their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes to ride a Greyhound bus to another city… or simply to take a shopping trip to the downtown department stores.

Airplane trips were a big deal back then and anyone in less then business suits or dresses would have been totally out of place.

On the day the group photo was taken, my parents were joining the others for a meal at a restaurant. Notice I did not say ‘fancy’ restaurants. There were very few of that variety back then. There were very few of any variety in those days. Most women were called ‘housewives’ and they stayed home and cooked for their families.

One fancy restaurant reasonably close to where my Uncle Lewis lived was the Smithville Inn in Galloway Township. The siblings and their spouses may have been headed there, but I have my doubts. That place might have seemed too expensive to my frugal parents.

In any case, about fifty years later, my wife and I, along with a group of nephews and neices went there for dinner. We wanted to celebrate our little family reunion by dining in the ‘Leeds Room’ which was named for Jeremiah Leeds… an ancestor who once owned most of what is now Atlantic City.

Our attire clearly demonstrates how times have changed.

From fine dining to casual

From fine dining to casual

There are many who would point out that the clothes we were wearing when this photo was taken would be considered by many to be the Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes of the twenty-first century.

My, how times have changed!


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.