In 1955, when I was 5 years old, we first came to a Jersey Shore town I have come to think of as my home away from home, Ocean City, NJ. Growing up and still living on Long Island, over the past 61 years I have been asked time and time again, “You live on Long Island, and you go to a Jersey Shore beach?”. Well, the story is simple. In 1955, both my Mom and Dad were singers in New York’s Metropolitan Opera’s Chorus. In those days, the Met’s season was very short…something like 40 weeks including rehearsals and the spring tour. The rest of the year, they got by courtesy of New York State Unemployment Benefits. So, with all this time off in the summer, and having a 5 year old child, it was the Summer of 1955 that they took the advice of people they worked with in the Met Chorus, and the D’Elia Family journeyed to Ocean City.
Walter and Kathy were another married couple in the Met, and my Mom and Kathy had been friends in Chicago. Walter, on the other hand, was a Philly boy, and his family had a summer cottage on Asbury Avenue and 32 Street in Ocean City. They arranged for us to rent a room next door in Dorothy’s “boarding house”, and for the next 5 summers, Ocean City, NJ was our address! I grew up on the beach and boardwalk of Ocean City, forever forming in my mind the image of a beach town in Ocean City’s likeness.
The story of our connection to Ocean City picks up in the spring of 1980, shortly after Susie and I were married. After those first 5 years, my Mom and Dad started working more during the summer, and our trips to Ocean City were few and far between. After being away for years, in 1980, Susie and I came down to sample the new gambling Mecca, Atlantic City, and our trip included a wonderful trip down memory lane for me in Ocean City, wandering through town and on the boardwalk, and that was the beginning of an ongoing relationship between Ocean City and our family.
Every summer, since 33 year old Bill’s first in 1983, the D’Elia Family has spent part of every summer in Ocean City! When his younger sister and brother, Krissi and Kenny came along in 1986, we continued our tradition of having babies on the beach and boardwalk of this great town. Some years we were able to rent a house for a week or two, some years it was a couple of day’s stay in a motel, and other years we camped in our Pop-Up trailer just off the island on Route 9, and made day and night trips to our beach town. Then, 11 years ago, in January of 2005, something changed for us. Thanks to a fortuitous real estate deal in Las Vegas, Susie and I found ourselves in a position to live out our dream, and we did! For the past 11 years, we have been proud owners of our dream home, on Pennlyn Place in Ocean City, NJ. Since then, weekends, spring weeks, summer weeks, holiday vacations, and whatever time we could steal have been spent here.
Then something else changed for us on January 29th, 2016…I retired and joined Susie, who had already left the work world, and now our time was ours, and less others. Now, what would you do if you owned a beach house? Yep, spend as much time there as you could!! So the past 4 months have found us traveling as much time as possible to Ocean City. Our trip down to Florida in late February did take some time away, and unfortunately the rather cold spring we’ve suffered through, and some ongoing health issues with Susie’s Mom has prevented us from having the kind of first spring in Ocean City I dreamed about, but all in all, it has been great! We no longer have to travel back and forth on the weekend, the beach is still only 500 feet down the street, so we go whenever we want, our great neighbors and friends are still steps away, and our life is settling into the routine we’ve dreamed about for years. It’s mid June, our daily dress is shorts, T-shirts, and flip flops, and we’re already tan…what could be better!!
One of the best parts of having a place that you love is being able to share it with people you love, and this past weekend was a banner example of that! Early Saturday morning, our oldest son Bill, his wife Lori and our two beautiful grandkids Layla and Henry joined us at the shore. They brought with them our favorite daughter, Layla and Henry’s Aunt Krissi, and the family was almost complete!! (Just missing youngest son Kenny, who is presently performing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean…not a bad deal!) It was a great weekend!
Layla is a little over 2 years old and such a beautiful little person. Henry is just shy of 8 months and starting to crawl. What a wonderful continuation of family tradition to see these two beautiful children in a place that I still so remember their Dad in at their ages. After the excitement of Layla exploring the house, finding her room, and helping Daddy unload the car, it was time to get changed and get to the beach. First there was a trip down to the water, and although it was cold, Layla would have stood there all day. Each time the ripple of water would wash over her feet, she laughed and splashed and loved it. Then it was sand castle time. She and Daddy dug a big hole, Dad went and got the obligatory pails of water, and Layla had a great time dumping them into the hole. Then all thoughts of sand castles disappeared and Layla discovered it was more fun to stand in the hole and have Daddy bury her legs in the sand. Meanwhile, Henry was busy keeping Aunt Krissi, Mommy and Grandma on guard, as his real desire seemed to be to get down on his knees and crawl all over Pennlyn Place Beach! And what was I doing you may ask? Taking pictures, watching the unfolding family tableau, and smiling ear to ear!
By afternoon, it was time to get the kids back to the house and prepare everyone for a trip to the boardwalk. On Layla’s agenda was some french fries (perhaps this little girl’s favorite food), and rides! Sounded like a solid plan to me, so as soon as the 7 of us were changed, off we went! One of the great parts of the location of our house, is that we just need to walk down the block, get on the boardwalk, turn right and walk 6 blocks south, and we’re at the commercial part of the Ocean City Boardwalk! As we walked by Wonderland Pier, Goofy Golf, Johnson’s Pop Corn, and the Old Time Photo place, my son Bill’s plan became clear. “How ‘bout we head down to Hamburger Construction Company and then go next door to Playland?” Playland is one of the two large amusement park areas on our boardwalk and Hamburger Construction Company has been a favorite meal stop for the D’Elias since Bill was Layla’s age!
The kids have a great stroller that both Henry and Layla can ride in, and that made the mile or so trip down the boardwalk easier, as it would have taken a toll on those little legs of our Granddaughter…lord knows it was taking enough of a toll on her Grandparents’ legs, but we did survive and landed at Hamburger Construction Company! As we sat down, stretching across 2 booths in the back, suddenly I was back in the early 90s, and was sitting there with my kids and not my grandkids! That’s the great thing about Ocean City…some things just never change! The cheese steaks, chicken cheese steaks, french fries, birch beer, and even Layla’s hot dog were exactly like I remember when it was our little kids ordering. Heck, the same guy is even still manning the grill…he’s no longer the young life guard looking stud I remember, but it’s him! About the only thing that seemed different was the Garbage Fries that Bill ordered. A paper plate of fries, cheese sauce on top, and then it’s topped with cheese steak meat and fried peppers! Looked good…but I didn’t try it!
Then it was time for the rides! First was the Merry-Go-Round, where Layla, Mom, Dad, and Aunt Krissi selected horses and enjoyed their ride, while Grandma and Grandpa watched a sleeping Henry. Layla’s next choice was the helicopter that Daddy went on with her. Luckily, there was a bigger seat in the back for Dad to sit in, and Layla loved going round and round, especially when Daddy showed her that if she pulled the handle back, the ship went up in the air! After that, she and Dad sat down at a water gun shooting game called Stinky Feet, and they won a stuffed tiger for Layla. Then Layla and Aunt Krissi went on a ride that spun and went up and down and Layla was all smiles…Aunt Krissi not so much! Next, Layla picked the surf buggy car ride, and everyone could go on this…even Henry. Layla liked it…no comment from Henry! (Grandma and Grandpa babysat the stroller!) After that it was a ride on the train, but as it only made a small circle, that didn’t seem to be a favorite….I think Henry slept through it! The last ride was another car ride that she wanted Aunt Krissi to go on with her. It looked harmless enough, but when it started up, we realized it was a new incarnation of a ride that her Dad loved when he was little that was called The Whip. Layla loved it as the ride “whipped” you around the corner and she laughed at every spin. The look on our daughter’s face when she got “whipped” around at every corner gave us the clear indication that Layla enjoyed it more than Aunt Krissi!!
Then it was inside to the arcade and a few games before we headed home. Daddy showed Layla one of his favorites that has not changed a bit since he was her age, the Shooting Gallery. Populated with tomb stones, crows, old bottles, rail road signs, and even a “green guy in a box” (a younger Billy’s description), the object is to hit the electronic bullseye with your rifle “shot” and make things move or make noise. While Daddy was transported back in time by taking his turn with the rifle, Layla didn’t seem to be thrilled and moved on to play some Skee Ball with Mommy and Aunt Krissi. Meanwhile, Grandpa decided to put a $10 bill in the coin changer…I’ve still got about $8.50 in quarters…anyone need change?
The kids (and the old folks) were getting tired, so after a brief stop over at Kohr Brothers for some ice cream, it was back to the house. Why is it that when you are walking like this, the return trip always seems longer? Could it be that it was late afternoon and the temperature had been steadily rising and the sun was out in full force? Could it be that we’d just spent several hours walking all over the boardwalk and Playland? Could it be we’re not used to keeping up with a two year old? Well, whatever the reason, we all made it home in one piece, and everyone started showering and changing. Grandma was done first, and was sitting on the front porch couch when her favorite Grand Daughter came out all sparkly clean in her cute jammies and put her little chair right next to the couch so she could sit with Grandma. As the rest of us would come and go, Susie would occasionally get up to do something and Layla would say, “sit on the couch Grandma, next to me.”.
Layla had a little bagel with “dip dip” (cream cheese) and Henry had a bottle, and before long we had two pooped kids who were ready for bed. There were kisses and hugs all around, and the little guys went off to bed. Then it was time for the adults to decide what to eat for dinner (take-out seafood won out) and what card game to play (May I was the game of choice). Unfortunately, the day had taken it’s toll on us too, and we never got through the entire game before it became night-night for us too!
I woke up the next morning to the smell of coffee, and as I opened the bedroom door, Layla looked up from picking up her little shoes in the living room and said , “Grandpa’s up”. Just thinking back to that moment and hearing those words, I have a big smile on my face. You love your kids with all your heart, but there is just something about that little girl, her beautiful face, and adorable voice. She owns my heart!
Unfortunately, Henry hadn’t had a good night and was all stuffed up and on top of that, Daddy’s work phone had been exploding because of the Orlando shooting, so it looked like Sunday was going to have to be cut short, but in the end, that didn’t matter. We loved having two of our three kids and our daughter-in-law with us and we really loved seeing the littlest D’Elias on our beach and boardwalk, and seeing the D’Elia Family’s love of Ocean City continue for another generation! All around just a great time, but Susie and I both agreed that having children is definitely a young person’s game. We were exhausted, but as our summers at the beach go on, these kids (and hopefully more) will get older and they will love visiting Grandma and Grandpa at the beach as much as we love having them!! If our plans work out as we hope, by this time next year, this Ocean City house will be our permanent home, and there will be lots more visits in the future as we all grow older. Till then, we have great memories of a wonderful weekend to start off our first summer at the beach!