Guest Column > Plenty of joy, no room for pretension

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“You look lit.” My dad can usually tell when I have had a couple of drinks and these were his first words when I walked into the kitchen through the backdoor down the shore. And of course he has an eye for when I have been drinking. God knows I have had my fair share of late nights and good times at Moore’s in the not so distant past. And I like to share my good times. On one occasion, I had such a good time, I felt the need to ring the front door bell a 3 a.m. to gather everyone in the house and regale them with the evening’s adventures.

But this time, sorry dear old dad, you were wrong.

It has been 39 years. I was born in the month of July and found myself down the shore in August. Thirty nine years and I have not missed a summer at the shore. Some of those summers have been lean, like the years I was living in Atlanta and then pounding pavements in New York City during the heat waves, but there was never a year in all my 39 that I haven’t crossed that bridge.

The bridge brings with it its own history. In the early days it was a rickety two lane wooden number. You could see the boards pop up and rumble from the weight of the car going across in front of you. And then there was the drawbridge where you could potentially sit for an hour in the Green Hornet car with no air conditioning. A couple of times my dad sent the kids ahead on their bikes while he sat in traffic in the Eldorado Convertible. But once we made it on to the island, my grandmother loved to hear the stories of the traffic and the bridge.

“Grandmom,” we would say, “it was bumper to bumper all the way down!”

Now it is a new fangled bridge, a large concrete job, high enough for the boats to pass below. And while we miss the rickety old wooden model, the anticipation of that bridge remains the same. It starts with Exit 6 off the Parkway, you go slow around the curve as it sneaks up on you. Pass the run down motels and some of the left over fishing shacks… and there it is. The bridge, sitting high over the marsh, the smell of the bay, the Ferris wheel in the distance, ocean to the left. Pass the egret’s nest on the long road coming home to the shore.

This one particular passing was special. I was alone. I could blare the radio loud with the perfect song and throw down both windows and sing at the top of my lungs until my ears were ringing. The future will bring with it baby seats, lullabies, and cars loaded with baggage and bicycles. Windows will be required to be in the full and upright position, air conditioning firmly in place. But not this time. This time, it was just me, the perfect song and the smell of the bay. I slowed down to make it last forever.

The rest of the hours were just as good as the bridge crossing. I rode my bike to the beach. Fell asleep while still conscious enough to hear the ocean. I watched the Beschen-Callahan races and then watched my beach chair throw long shadows on the sand from the setting sun. I laughed with my family until I cried. I found some old friends and made some new ones. Took some runs on the seawall and sat on the beach for hours. I come here every year to reconnect. To plug in and fill up.

Wildwood is a special, special place. It is quite possibly my favorite place in the whole world (and I consider myself a fairly well travelled person). This is not a place where you walk away feeling you are not enough, that you have to work harder and be more and have more. This is not a place of the haves and the have nots. There are no McMansions built on the ocean and no private beach signs. There are no expensive parking permits or dinner reservations that you can’t get. There is plenty of time for pretentions in the city. Leave those on the Parkway. When you cross that bridge, just come as you are.

All of our North Wildwood inhabitants enjoy the beach block on our bikes and the sea wall is our communal gathering place. You wave good morning to everyone as you sip your coffee. And for that moment, we are all equals, all enjoying the same intoxicating magnetism of the shore, regardless of what you have and where you came from.

And as communal is our beach; it is the same for our homes. In true Jersey Shore style, we all live on top of each other. I know my neighbor wears striped underwear and she knows my bra size, the secrets revealed by the clothesline. And we have had our full share of conversations in the yard, across the fence, in a towel after an outside shower.

We have a boardwalk with rides that rival Six Flags, legit fireworks every Friday night, and seagulls that will steal a bagel, ham and cheese sandwich right out of your hand mid bite. We have the Soul Cruisers, the Chatterband, Westies, Kennans, and Claude’s. We have Boob the bartender at Flipflops and so many stories to tell from Summer 2004, it would make a rock star blush.

We now have a new generation in our little house at the shore. Our house with the donkey pulling the cart and the statue of St. Francis on the front lawn. Our house with the Blessed Mother (who replaced the praying hands) in the window. We have new additions to the family who will celebrate their birthday in the backyard, come to crave the clanging sounds of the front gate, and who will cry every time they have to leave the shore.

When my cousin was born, 44 years ago, our grand mom bought a shore house. She bought it so that the family would always be together. This morning was my birthday. I rode my bike on the boardwalk with my dad all the way to the Crest and back and sat on the rocks at 2nd street to say hello to my mom. We walked on the beach and on our way back I ran into that ocean with abandon, dove into a wave and I swear I heard the angels singing.

So thank you Grand mom. And yes Dad, I guess you were right after all. I was lit. Absolutely, positively, lit up…from the inside, with joy.

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