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#53 My Heart Was Gone When We Reached Avalon

One-inch picture frame: Going the to the seashore

Even in their leanest financial years, my parents always managed to make sure the whole family spent a week or two each summer at the Jersey shore. Dad sang at nightclubs in Wildwood and Sea Isle while Mom wrangled us kids into a rental house in Stone Harbor or Avalon.

Dad would send us down the shore on a Saturday morning while he stayed behind to work at the bar, usually joining us sometime Sunday afternoon.* Mom would roust us out of bed early with a singsong, “Time to go to the seashore, kitty cats kids!”

Mom and Patti at the beach. That bathing cap is #goals.

Getting 6 kids and an unruly dog ready for a 2-hour road trip was pure chaos but, as the youngest, I wasn’t relied upon to help with any of it. We were packed into Mom’s giant blue station wagon, sometimes I got lucky enough to get the rumble seat in the way way back, where my sister and I would make faces at the drivers in the cars behind us. Our go-to move was to press our mouths and noses up against the flat, cool glass and exhale sharply, eyes wide, so our faces contorted into a grotesque mask and our breath fogged the window.

Totally safe.

We knew we were close when we saw the signs for Egg Harbor. My brother told me they called it that because it smelled like farts. We’d stick our heads out the windows and try to catch the scent, “Eww. I smell it!”

Once we got past the Sea Isle exit on the Garden State Parkway, Mom would roll down all the windows, saying, “Smell that salt air, kids! We’re almost there!” The smell was fresher than the sulphur of Egg Harbor, but still had a heavy, swampy feeling courtesy of the coastal wetlands we drove by on our way to Seven-Mile Island.

I couldn’t wait to get there: the seashore meant sand castles, hermit crabs, and ice cream. If we were lucky, we’d get to go to The Boardwalk and ride the teacups. If it was closed, which it often was,** we might just walk “up town” to get a water ice and maybe a t-shirt with an iron-on decal. My favorite water ice flavor was "bubblegum" from the 5 & 10 store because they put a real gum ball in the pointy tip of the paper cone. By the time I reached the gum ball it was near frozen, so I’d walk around with it rolling around my mouth until it was melty enough to chew.

Mom’s caftan game was strong.

We’d always buy shark bracelets as soon as we could, putting them around our wrists or ankles. They're always too big at first, but the trick is to go right into the ocean and get them soaking wet. When they dry, they shrink up to fit so snugly that Mom has to stretch them out a little until they’re perfect. The pure white braided bracelets turned grey over time. We always knew summer was really over when Mom had to cut them off with scissors because the nuns wouldn’t let us where them to school.


*Some of you know how that often turned out. If you don’t, I’m sure I’ll get around to retelling that here.

**Our parents told us The Boardwalk was only open one day in the summer, and we just kept missing it. When I first realized they lied, I almost called Child Protective Services. But when I went to The Boardwalk as an adult, I realized they were acting out of pure self-preservation.

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