Early in the morning the sun peeks up over the waves, and the thin rays glisten over the sparkling undulations of the ocean. Screeching gulls fly overhead catching fish from the briny deep, as the fishing fleet leaves the inlet. With a calm rhythm, the tide foams up on the shell laden beach and the waves pound endlessly on the old, worn jetty. The small brown sandpipers, feeding on the kelp, leave myriads of thin footprints in the moist sand, which are only to be washed away. The forms of a few fishermen are seen jotted along the coastline. There is a beautiful contrast between the blueness of the water and the whiteness of the sand. A cool breeze blows gently which adds to the serenity of an early morning walk along the shore. The sunrise over the ocean is truly one of the most beautiful wonders of nature.
Robert H. Glaze
Young America Writes – 1969 Anthology of Selected High School Essays – National High School Essay Press
Growing up in St. Joseph, MO, north of Kansas City, most of our friends went to the Lake of the Ozarks or lakes in Minnesota or Wisconsin on vacation each summer. We were, however, the only ones who went to the Jersey Shore! My mother was from New Jersey and spent her summers there as a child. Two of her uncles had cottages on the beach in Manasquan near Spring Lake, Sea Girt, Point Pleasant and Bay Head. My parents, having gone while dating, first took me there in 1953 when I was ten months old. Thus began a lifelong, annual pilgrimage which I still make every year. To me the Jersey Shore is synonymous with summer.
Sometimes flying on the old TWA Lockheed Constellations, but most often packing up the family wood paneled station wagon and driving across the country in two days, this was my annual childhood road trip. We stayed in Holiday Inns on the way and ate at the popular Howard Johnson’s restaurants.
Once there, It quickly became my happy place where I spent time with my parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. We swam in the ocean while riding the waves, ran after the sandpipers and looked for shells on the beach during our morning walks, dug holes in the sand, played skee-ball at the penny arcades on the boardwalk, ate in local diners and devoured peach frozen custard and various flavors of chewy salt water taffy. We often went sailing with family friends and even chartered a boat and went deep sea fishing as a family. Becoming seasick was not my favorite experience, however.
My food memories were among my favorites. My parents introduced us to eating the famous savory pork roll or Taylor ham for breakfast along with tasty crumb cake with its brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and flour topping. There was always locally caught blue fish, Manhattan clam chowder or creamy lobster bisque, New Jersey corn and tomatoes and fresh seafood from the local fish market. Dad taught me how to cook scallops. You coat them lightly with flour and broil them in a little olive oil with a dash of salt and pepper. They are perfect every time.
For many years, I spent time there with my family and friends, but as my parents got older, I loved being alone with them every Labor Day weekend. Here we walked together on the beach early each morning, went to our favorite restaurant, Red’s Lobster Pot, on the boat dock in Point Pleasant, cooked with my Dad and enjoyed fireworks on the beach.
Now, making the pilgrimage every year on my own, I make a point to reconnect with these past my memories of walking on the beach early in the morning as I did with my parents, eating Pork Roll sandwiches and crumb cake, pigging out on frozen custard and salt water taffy on the boardwalk, eating at Red’s, cooking scallops for friends, listening to the crash of the waves on the beach and loving the sunrises over the water every morning as seen from my front porch. I also connect with my local friends and neighbors and always enjoy my annual boat rides on Barnegat Bay on an historic wooden boat, the Liberté.
Even more impactful to the importance of this place to me, have been two major recent events. On October 29, 2012 Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. I was glued to the news, watched the effects of the storm online and was expecting the worst to occur. My heart sank and I was concerned that the cottage would be gone. But after the storm passed and I saw that it was still there in a photograph taken by a local, I could finally relax and breathe. We were lucky to have had no damage or flooding, while many of the cottages on the beach were totally destroyed. We had escaped a major tragedy. If we lost the cottage, the memories would have remained and we could have rebuilt, but the physical space would have felt so different.
Then in 2020 when everything shut down during the COVID 19 pandemic, I was worried that I would not be able to make my annual trip due to lockdowns and safety concerns. After being quarantined for over three months, I decided to fly and to make my annual pilgrimage. It was the best decision I could have made. I was able to connect with friends and neighbors outside at a distance, eat on the boat docks and walk the boardwalk early in the morning to avoid the crowds. I again experienced the beauty of nature with stunning sunrises, light, reflections and cloud formations. I focused on the senses and creativity by journaling, writing and daily photography. I cooked my favorite scallops, where the taste brought back years of special memories.
Most importantly I walked on the beach in the serenity of the early morning. I could again hear the screeching seagulls overhead, see the footprints in the moist sand, feel the cool breeze on my face, hear the rhythm of waves pounding on the shell laden beach and old, worn jetty with a reflection of the sun above in the tide foam. It felt so normal.The stress was gone. Life as I knew it had returned and the Jersey Shore was again synonymous with summer!