It’s hard to believe, but it took Susie and me 20 years before we rediscovered Ocean City. It was during a trip to the Jersey Shore, the spring just after we got married. At the age of 30, I walked the boardwalk I’d first walked when I was 5, and discovered that so much was familiar. Some of the stores were different, but the rides, and the smells, and the sights, and the atmosphere was exactly what I’d remembered! It was an incredible reconnection with my past, and the best thing was that the girl who had just become my wife felt the connection too! Who says you can’t go home again?
So, although the connection was there, the early years of a young couples lives are full. For us, these were the years we bought our first house, and started our family. The next time the D’Elia Family traveled to Ocean City was the summer of 1983, when son Billy was 7 months old. We rented an old house in the 3900 Block on the west side of Central Avenue, and it reminded me a lot of the house we’d stayed in when I was a kid. First, no air conditioning. Okay, we’re at the shore and we’re in our 30s…of course we can live without AC! The bathroom was painted purple and had a huge claw tub, but no shower. The
shower was located outside, at the bottom of the back stairs. Billy was, of course, in a crib, and Susie and I got to share a double bed! The rest of the house was furnished as if some old lady had just locked the door in 1957 and never came back…which was fine! The one thing that cinched it for me, was that just like the house we stayed in when I was a kid, our rental house had a big front porch, full of more overstuffed furniture and surrounded by almost floor to ceiling windows. There was no TV in the rental, so just like when I was a kid, our afternoon and evening entertainment was sitting on the porch watching the world go by! We didn’t have Campbell’s Seafood Take-out to watch, but the comings and goings of Central Avenue, and the neighbors across the street kept us plenty occupied
We rented from a young guy named John who stayed in a small first floor apartment, while we had the whole second floor. We always wondered if this was indeed an old family home, because the decorating style was definitely not in keeping with a young guy who drove a black Pontiac Trans Am! (think Smokey and the Bandit) One of the downsides of the place was that the outdoor shower, at the bottom of the stairs, was just outside John’s kitchen door. We never saw what the downstairs looked like, but John and his friends always seemed to be in the kitchen, making the taking of a shower a little strange, because it kind of felt like you were showering in their kitchen!
But we were in Ocean City, half a block from the beach, and we loved it! So did the rest of the family who came and visited us that first year! My Mom and Dad came down, and relived those 6 summers long ago that Ocean City was our summer home. Susie’s folks came too, as did her sister and husband and her brother and his girlfriend, and everyone enjoyed our summer rental…even if it was only for one week! Traveling with a little baby is never easy, and we had “stuff” loaded in and on the car for our week in Ocean City. By the time we were packed, our little Toyota Tercel was full…trunk, trunk top luggage carrier, back seat, and even a portable roof rack! Porta crib, high chair, stroller, and all the other necessities made packing and unpacking a big job….thank God we have kids when we are young! That first week as a family in Ocean City sold us, and with the exception of extending our rental to two weeks, for the next 3 summers we called “John’s House” our summer home!
Our “summers at the shore” were filled with days at the beach and in the water, meals cooked at home most nights, walks on the beach in the evening looking for shells and beach glass, and trips to the Ocean City Boardwalk. It had been 22 years since I’d been a little kid in Ocean City, but there were still so many things from my childhood that remained. Stores and rides that were still on the boardwalk. A trip on the merry-go-round on Gillian’s Fun Deck, or some salt water taffy from Schrivers. A pizza “cut” from Mack and Mancos which I think was my Dad’s favorite place for pizza on the boardwalk when I was a kid. Sounds of the Ocean City Pops coming from the Music Pier, and the movie theaters I remembered. The Surf, the Moorlyn, the Strand, and even the old Village Theater, that had started on the ocean side of the boardwalk, but when they moved the boardwalk towards the ocean, found itself on the shore side! Just like when I was a kid, Ocean City was still a dry town, and even in the early 80s had Blue Laws in effect, making a Sunday night walk on the boardwalk very different than it was any other night of the week. Amusements and theaters were closed, as were most stores. The few stores that were open had large areas closed off containing objects that you couldn’t buy on a Sunday. On a Sunday night, the Ocean City boardwalk was about walking and looking at the ocean…much the same as it had been when I was a kid.
It wasn’t just the boardwalk that held memories of my childhood at the shore, downtown Ocean City still looked much as it had when I was a kid. Stores like Stainton’s on Asbury or the Chatterbox and Bookers restaurants on 9th Street. So many of the big old houses through town were now B and Bs, catering to a new generation of tourists. Every summer we had to have at least one meal from Campbell’s Seafood, my old neighbor on Asbury. When we’d go down to pick it up, I’d look across the street at the old house we use to stay in, and be that 5 year old again. The new Campbell’s was built on the parking lot and the parking lot was where the old building was, but the menu and food was much the same. We’d get the meals in the white boxes and be fascinated when they’d run them through the string tying machine, giving you a neat stack of boxes, all trussed up and ready to take home. Unfortunately, something else was the same and that was when we got home, there always seemed to be something wrong or missing from the order.
Another thing that was the same as when I was a kid in the 50s was communication with home. Now, this may be hard to believe in the times we live in, when virtually everyone is walking around with a phone in their pocket, but the only way we had to check in with what was doing at home and to assure everyone that we were good, was via a pay phone. Looking back in my mind, I recall there being blocks of pay phones on the Oceanside of the boardwalk, and lots of folks using them. That’s what we’d do on nights we were at the boardwalk, calling either Susie’s or my folks to check in. On nights that we didn’t go to the boardwalk, we’d walk the two blocks to the corner of 40th Street and West where there was a pay phone outside of a restaurant. This was the way it was in the 50s, and still the way it was in the early 80s.
Something else that our kids have a really hard time understanding is the fact that when we first started going back to Ocean City in the early 80s, there were no such thing as ATMs! Frankly, it’s even hard for me to remember what the world was like when you couldn’t access your bank accounts from almost every corner anyplace in the world, but that’s exactly what you dealt with when you went on vacation way back then! It really impacted us one summer vacation when oldest son Billy must have been 3. It was early in our Ocean City stay, and one morning we decided to go downtown and rent a surrey for a ride along the boardwalk. A surrey is basically a cross between a bike and a car, in fact it’s like having two bikes side by side…..four wheels, 2 sets of pedals, and instead of having two handlebars to steer with, there’s a steering wheel. So we rent a surrey, and since Billy is so small at that point, he gets to sit in a basket on the front of the vehicle. We have a nice hour or so ride, and as we get back to the rental place, I pull down the break lever on the steering column just as Billy turns and sticks his little hand in the wrong place! He screams, I scream, he starts gushing blood, and Susie grabs him up. We run down the street to the car, jump in, and speed off to Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point! Well, long story short, the X-rays showed a break and after an appointment with a local orthopedic doctor the next day, all was well…but for one thing. Billy couldn’t get the finger wet for the next couple of days!
So there we were, at the beach for 2 weeks with a three year old, planning that most of our days would be taken up by hours and hours on the beach, and suddenly we had to put that plan on hold. So what else could we do? Trips to the boardwalk, visits to Cape May, and just about everything else we could think of to occupy him cost more money than spending the whole day at the beach. Our cash that we had with us that was budgeted for our two week stay was going fast, and I really worried if we would be able to stay the whole time. Luckily I discovered a way that an American Express card and a personal check could buy you AmEx Travelers Checks, but I look back on that time and really wonder how we got along without our modern conveniences like ATMs and Cell Phones!
So we spent 4 great summers at “John’s House” as a family of three, but by the next summer, everything would change. You see, upon getting back from Ocean City in the summer of 1986, pregnant Susie’s scheduled appointment with the doctor revealed not one little baby growing inside her but two! With just a scant few months to wait, we needed to wrap our minds around the fact that our family of three was about to turn into a family of five! Our twins, Krissi and Kenny joined the family on November 20th and suddenly we were parents of 3 kids under the age of five! Of course, with changes in family size, other things have to change, and our plans for the D’Elia Family’s Summer of 1987’s Vacation did too!
One thing that didn’t change however, was our destination. Where better to introduce our new babies to the beach, than Ocean City, NJ? So, come June of their first year, Susie and I loaded up the van with a 4 year old and two 7 months olds, two cribs, two high chairs, two walkers, and about everything else we could think of, and headed to Ocean City. Two changes though, this year we decided that 3 weeks would be better for our expanded family and our destination was not “John’s House”.
For the summer of 1987 we upgraded our residence by moving from the west side of Central Avenue to the east side. That summer, we spent our time on the second floor of a beach front house just across the street from John’s house. We were now living side by side with the folks we’d been watching for the last 4 summers! 3 bedrooms meant that the twins had their own room as did Billy and two bathrooms plus a real indoor shower meant that life was much more comfortable for us. Just being able to take the path over the dunes to the beach also meant that it was a lot easier for us to bring all the junk that three little kids need from the house to the beach. It also meant that when we had to travel back to retrieve the one or two items that we always seemed to have forgotten, that wasn’t such a big deal anymore either. It was an idilic 3 weeks at the beach and all the kids loved it.
As usual our days were spent at the beach and most meals were home cooked. There were occasional nights along the boardwalk pushing twins and sometimes carrying Billy. There was a lot of Dad standing outside stores on the boardwalk, because getting 3 little kids in a store was not easy. There also was the night we felt sorry for ourselves as we waited in line, trying to get into Mack and Manco’s pizza with the twins in a double stroller. Our attitude was changed greatly through when a woman came out pushing triplets in a Triple stroller!
The first taste all three of our kids had of beach life happened in Ocean City, NJ. It was a great introduction, and it was a continuation of my summers in Ocean City to the next generation. While Ocean City would be a part of these three kids’ lives every summer growing up, sadly, after the summer of 1987, our visits would change and it would be a number of years before we’d get back to this kind of an Ocean City visit, so the summer of 1987 is really the end of part two of our saga of the D’Elia Family and our love of Ocean City, NJ!
To Be Continued