Two Kids At The Beach

Late on the night of November 3, 1982, our oldest child, William Ryan D’Elia, came into our lives. About 7 months later, he had his first vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey, and his first exposure to the beaches and boardwalk I had known as a kid. 4 years later, he was joined by his sister and brother, and Krissi and Kenny’s Ocean City life started too! For the rest of their childhood years, part of every summer was spent in Ocean City. In a way, Bill, Krissi, and Kenny grew up here, as this was the beach and boardwalk they knew as kids, and still love today.

On Sunday, June 13th, Susie and I drove from Ocean City to the Philadelphia Airport (a trip that would have been immeasurably easier had the Yankees not been playing the Phillies at Citizen Bank Park near the airport) to meet a flight from Raleigh/Durham North Carolina. There were 3 special passengers on that flight…our son Bill and his two oldest kids, 7 year old Layla and 5 year old Henry, who were here to spend a week with Grandma and Grandpa, and get to know the town that their Dad knew as a kid! After getting Daddy to the correct terminal for his return flight to Mommy and youngest sister, 2 year old Annabelle in North Carolina, Layla, Henry, Grandma, and Grandpa headed to their week of fun under the sun!

Our son had brought up the idea of this trip to us several months before, and we had busily been making plans. I think it was a toss up who was more excited: Layla and Henry or Grandpa and Grandma! We’d made plans, and Susie had lists of things we could do, but in the end, the beach, boardwalk, front porch of the house, and just enjoying our time with the kids was the best thing we did!

Of course, there had to be trips to the beach, with romps in the ocean, building sandcastles, burying each other, digging holes, finding shells, and kite flying. Turns out that Grandma and Layla did a better job getting the kite in the air than Grandpa and Henry, but in the end, the wind pulled the kite handle out of Layla’s hand, and even though the kids (and Grandma) chased it, the wind dumped it in the ocean. A nice man retrieved it, but it was a total loss. Wind: one – Layla: zero!

There was a trip to Hoys on Asbury Avenue where the kids got the required Ocean City sweatshirts, hats to keep the sun off their heads, and water shoes. For Susie and I, suddenly we were back in the 1980s and trying to keep our kids focussed on what they were looking for, and not the toys that were in the next aisle!

Ice Cream was always a part of our beach vacations back in the day, and the same can be said for Layla and Henry’s time with us. Not one, but two ,times did we head over to Custard Hut, where the hardest part was deciding what they were going to get, and keeping as much ice cream as possible off Henry! I know Grandma and Grandpa loved it, and I’m pretty sure the two little D’Elias did too!

Of course, there are things that are almost mandated by law that have to be included in an Ocean City vacation, and we followed all those rules too! From playing Mini-Golf (Henry has a decidedly “Happy Gillmore” like swing), to visiting the Discovery Seashell Museum (it was much better when our kids were young and run by people who loved the ocean as more of a passion than business), to doing as their Dad and Aunt and Uncle did as kids, and enjoying the big playground on 34th Street, to watching them make Salt Water Taffy at Shriver’s on the boardwalk, and then filling a bag with your choices!

A family rule is that no D’Elia can visit Ocean City, New Jersey without having at least one meal of “Hose Pizza”, and as good Grandparents, we followed that rule! The pizza place (it’s real name is Manco and Manco) has been part of the Ocean City Boardwalk since the 50s, and was one of the pizza places my Dad liked when we first came to Ocean City way back when I was five years old. The name “Hose Pizza” was given to it by our son Bill when he was 2 or 3, because unlike most pizza places, here they apply the tomato sauce via a hose, and once he saw that, when asked what he wanted to eat on the boardwalk, young Billy always said he wanted to go to “Hose Pizza”. The one we went to is the newest on 9th Street that used to be the old Strand Movie theater. Great to see that old building still being a part of Ocean City’s Boardwalk life, and great that Henry and Layla love “Hose Pizza” too, keeping a 4 generation relationship alive!

Ocean City’s Boardwalk features two big Amusement Piers, and what kind of Grandparents would we be if we didn’t spend at least one evening at the rides!! Layla and Henry enjoyed lots of rides at Gillian’s Wonderland, but agreed that they are pretty much done with the “baby rides”, and that next time they come, they’ll concentrate on only Big Kid Rides! They really liked the Bounce ride, the Superman ride, the Fun House, and the Glass Maze, where Henry refused to walk with his hands in front of him, and kept bumping his head on the mirrors! When I got them on the Merry-Go-Round, I told them to find Grandma and I, and wave at us every time they went around. About the 4th or 5th time around, Layla gave me a look, and I said to Susie, “Layla just gave me a Krissi look!”, you know, the one that says, “Shut up Dad and stop calling out my name!!!” Message received! Who says history doesn’t repeat!

A tradition we honored each trip to Ocean City when our kids were young, was getting an Ocean City T-shirt. It was a very involved process, that could take days to complete. First, they had to agree on which T-shirt shop we should go to. Then there was the process of picking out the design they wanted on the shirt. Last, they’d decide on the color T-shirt they wanted. These decisions often lasted the length of the trip, with the purchase finally happening on our last night on the boardwalk. We were able to speed the process up with Layla and Henry, and do it all in one day…our last day, on the boardwalk. We ended up at the same shop we usually shopped at with our kids, Layla and Henry knew that the design had to say Ocean City, NJ someplace (rule worked out when their Dad was 2 or 3), and they made sure it did. Design picked out, the two of them then had to decide what color T-shirt they wanted. With that taken care of, then it was time for the lady to put the design and the T-shirt into the heat machine, and make their shirts. I think Layla and Henry enjoyed following in their Dad’s footsteps, and Grandma and I did too!

That was some of the big stuff we did, but as I said up front, just enjoying our time with the kids doing simple stuff was just as wonderful! The first night they were here, I read them a story before going to bed. It was a story I’d written when their Dad and Aunt and Uncle were kids, and our three kids were the prime characters in the stories. They were called “Three Kids” stories, and I wrote a total of three of them. The morning after reading it, Layla came to me and asked if we could write a story about their time in Ocean City. She decided that we should call it “Two Kids at the Beach or Layla and Henry Visit Their Grandparents”. After we’d come home from somewhere, Layla would dictate what we should write while I typed on the computer. Multiple times during the day, Layla would come to me and say, “Let’s work on our story Grandpa,” and off we’d go for 10 or 15 minutes, and do just that. By the time Thursday was done, we had 7 pages, including some pictures. Grandma, the best editor around, corrected what we’d written, I printed it, and then Grandma laminated it so Layla can have it for a long time. I’m gonna miss those, “Let’s work on our story Grandpa” words from my smart, precocious Granddaughter!

We’re gonna miss those times we sat on the front porch and watched the world of Pennlyn Place go by. Like the morning Layla and I watched our 99 year old neighbor Doie ride her scooter down our driveway and up to the boardwalk for the daily Ocean City Flag Raising. That led to a discussion of Doie being a Marine in World War II and what being 99 means. Or watching Christina our mail lady arrive and have Layla say, “I’ll go down and get the mail Grandma and Grandpa.” Or Henry running down the stairs to put the garbage cans away after the Garbage Men emptied them and saying, “I got them Grandpa.” Or Layla waving to Emma across the street and watching her new Jeep come and go, and then talking to Emma’s Mom and Dad (sorry Bittenbenders if it seemed like Layla was stalking Emma a bit…). Or watching our neighbor’s dogs Beach Boy and Breaker Boy getting walked, and wondering when Doc was coming home. I had fun on Flag Day telling them what we were celebrating, and watching the kids decide they wanted to get a flag and flag pole for their Daddy for a Father’s Day present. They both became very comfortable in our house and we loved that.

There was meal time fun with Grandpa making eggs or Grandma fixing their waffles or cereal for breakfast, making sandwiches for lunch, cooking mac and cheese and hot dogs, or heating up pizza. There was the night we ordered Chinese Food and Layla and Henry eating everything, and then having Layla tell us, “It’s almost as good as North Carolina Chinese!” Or the day we discovered, as we sat down to eat, that yes, Henry does like McDonald’s cheese burgers, but NOT with ketchup and pickles! Or Henry and Grandma putting a puzzle together and Grandma working with both of them to make Father’s Day cards for their Daddy.

There was the day we switched cars around, and rather than go out in the Honda CR-V, we all piled into Grandpa’s old 2000 red Mustang convertible with the top down to go to the Acme Grocery and drive around Ocean City. The kids loved watching the top go up and down, which they did multiple times, but to quote what Layla wrote in her story, “Too hot, too much sun, too much wind and no room for feet in the back seat!”

So those are just some of the highlights of a wonderful week with Layla and Henry! I’ve heard it said that Grandchildren are the reward for not killing your own kids before they became adults. If that’s the case, we were richly rewarded last week. To spend the better part of 5 days with our two oldest, to learn from them, to see how they’ve grown, to get hugs and kisses, and called Grandma and Grandpa was a delicious treat for the two of us. To be able to watch them experiencing Ocean City, and to remember back to yesteryear when their Dad was their age, and doing the same things for the first time, was just a wonderful time capsule for us. It was a great week, and I just hope that it was as wonderful a week for Layla and Henry as it was for Susie and me! Thanks Lori and Billy for lending us your two oldest for a week!

A great week, only needs a great weekend to cap it off, and that’s exactly what we had next! Look for our next blog, Lake House Fun, coming soon to an internet near you!!

Ocean City, NJ..Part 1

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My Mom and Dad on the 32nd Street Beach in Ocean City in the 50s

Are you lucky enough to have a special place, a sanctuary, where you can go to recharge your batteries, or to hide from the world?   A place that’s populated with family or friends that feel like family?  A happy place that just getting to, no matter what your mood, makes you feel happy?  Well, Susie and I do, and it’s Ocean City, New Jersey!  Ocean City is located on a barrier island, accessible from the New Jersey mainland by 4 bridges.  It is the largest and northern most city in Cape May County, deep in the heart of the southern Jersey Shore.  But never confuse our Jersey Shore, for the Jersey Shore you see on television.  What we love about the place is that in the summer it’s a thriving summer resort, when the population swells to 150,000, but in the winter time is a lovely little town with a resident population of just under 12,000.   What we really love is the friends and the life we have there, and the feeling of happiness that washes over us every time we drive across the 9th Street Bridge!  Ocean City is now our forever home, and here’s how we got here!

 Our family’s association with Ocean City started the summer of 1955, when I was 5 years old.  My Mom and Dad sang in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, and although the job of a singer in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus may seem glamorous, in the early 50s the Met’s season was less than 30 weeks long.  That meant that my Mom and Dad only got paid for 30 weeks of work a year, and we survived the rest of the year courtesy of New York State Unemployment Insurance.   Not exactly the kind of financial background that led to summers in the Hamptons, but when I was 5 years old, a financial background that allowed us to spend most of that summer and the next 5 at the shore! 

 Another married couple who sang at the Met were from Philadelphia, and as such knew the Jersey Shore very well.  So well that their family had a home in Ocean City. Founded in the late 1800s by 4 Methodist ministers as a Christian seaside resort, Ocean City in the mid 50s was still a dry town and a place where businesses closed because of Sunday Blue Laws.  They called it, America’s Greatest Family Resort and did all they could to prove that it was true.  A great family friendly boardwalk, two and a half miles of white sandy beaches, and a small town attitude were what they were selling, and we were buying!  Of course, based on my folk’s finances, we weren’t buying too much, but I sure enjoyed those summers!

 

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3220 Asbury Avenue

Their friends Walter and Kathy’s family had an old summer cottage in the 3200 block of Asbury Avenue, and Dorothy, their next door neighbor, rented rooms.  Well, we spent those wonderful summers in Ocean City in a rented room and as so many folks say when they look to save money on a resort room, all we did was sleep in it!  Two different days of each week my Mom and Dad would need to head back to Queens to sign up for that week’s unemployment benefit.  On Tuesday my Dad would take an early bus from the Public Service Bus Terminal on 9th Street, be at the Unemployment office for his 1 PM appointment, and then head back to Ocean City late in the day.  Every Wednesday afternoon we’d drop my Mom off at the bus terminal and she’d do the same thing, but since her appointment time was first thing Thursday morning, she’d spend the night at our apartment in Jackson Heights, and then sign for her check the next morning and be back in Ocean City just after lunch.   They did that every week we were in Ocean City and netted a combined amount that was under $80.

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The Public Service Bus Station on 9th Street in Ocean City 

Looking back on it now, I’m sure that as a family we were on the lowest rung financially of folks who were summering at the beach, but we were summering at the beach, and frankly, we may have been doing it on the cheap, but I never knew it!  Our days were spent at the beach in the sun and the waves.  An inflatable raft that was bought at Hoys was my prize possession, and it entertained me every day better than the most expensive video game!  A sandwich wrapped in wax paper and as a real treat, a 2 cent pretzel from the beach stand at the 32nd Street Beach schmeered with mustard, and I was happy.  My only concern was how long after eating did I have to stay out of my beloved Atlantic Ocean! 

 By the time night came, I was exhausted from a day in the waves, and I’m sure more FCA5D283-AE28-4639-B1E2-FE76B994E017interested in sleeping than eating, so simple fare for our evening meal was fine with me.  It could be pizza or a hot dog during an occasional outing on the boardwalk, or a quick meal cooked in our communal kitchen.  What I do remember was nights sitting on the big front porch of the house watching the world go by on Asbury Avenue.  Dorothy’s house was just across Asbury from Campbell’s Seafood take-out, an Ocean City landmark for many years, and I’d amuse myself watching the customers head in and out of the parking lot.  This really became a sport on Fridays, as this was back in the days of meatless Fridays for Catholics and Campbell’s business would double!  Even the adults watched those nights!

 Occasionally there were special nights when dinner was a night out at Watson’s on 9th Street, or Chris’ Seafood Restaurant and Fish Market on the bay at the foot of the 9th Street Bridge, or perhaps Sim’s on the boardwalk.  Honestly, I do not remember much about the food at Watson’s, but I do remember that anytime you went there for dinner, you had a long wait, and I’ll always be able to picture in my mind people sitting in white Adirondack chairs waiting to be called for dinner.  I remember Sim’s as the typical seafood restaurant of the 50s, where I only ate fried flounder!   The one I do remember is Chris’, not so much for the seafood which was caught on their own boats and sent all over the country, but for what happened after dinner.  Everyone who ate there got a ticket for a free sightseeing ride on on of their boats, and the one you always wanted to be on was the Flying Saucer!  A 75 foot wooden converted PT boat from World War II, the Flying Saucer would take up to 125 passengers on a ride out of the inlet and then for a wild wave jumping trip into the ocean.  Now that was the way to end a meal!!

 

After six glorious summers spent in Ocean City, my folks started working at the Cincinnati Summer Opera, and our summers went in another direction.  After that, there were occasional trips to Ocean City, but just for a day or two. We never again spent the summer at the beach.

To be continued….don’t you hate when they do that!