July 24, 2015
HERE IS Part 6 of our ongoing series, “Tales of Chester,” my husband’s recollections of growing up in a working-class neighborhood in the city of Chester, Pennsylvania during the 50s and 60s. In this episode, Buttons, the family dachshund, faces capital charges during the annual summer vacation at the Jersey Shore. It’s somewhat disturbing, and for that, I sincerely apologize.
PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE ONCE opined that Wildwood-by-the-Sea, New Jersey, had achieved the Marxist ideal. It was absolutely classless.
The writer obviously was not from Chester. We knew of no better place on Earth. We went there every year for the first two weeks in August. We savored the absolute purity of the humble white-washed cottages, the candy-colored apartment houses, and the futuristic motels that evoked an alien paradise far from Wildwood – the Eden Rock, the Rio, the Lu Fran. We luxuriated in the dazzling sand that burned our feet; the taste of marine depths in the air; the exotic sensation of being on an island; the enormous tomatoes, and Cokes spiked with vanilla extract.
Wildwood-by-the-Sea was a magnificent refuge. The novelty of the school year’s end had worn off by the day after school closed, and we were left to the brutal heat, the demoralizing odors of bad suppers in the languid air and the horrid realization that we had nothing to do. The sultry days passed at a glacial pace. The nights were too hot for sleeping in our flea-infested beds. The only relief came from a tiny rotating fan that scanned the bedroom, parceling out ineffective puffs of warm air, too weak to blow the mosquitoes away from our ears.
We did not need the fan in Wildwood-by-the-Sea, New Jersey. We had the sea breezes and house-high waves. Instead of the cracked railroad bridge along Sixth Street, we had a Boardwalk with roller-coasters and bumper cars. Instead of the odors of bad suppers, we had the fresh and salty smells of the sea. Instead of the loud fights of bad marriages that had invaded our rusty, hole-pocked window screens, our wonderfully exhausted bodies fell asleep to the rhythmic roars of those waves.
And what a sleep it was after a day of body-surfing and castle-building and football on the beach. What a contrast to those tedious steamy afternoons on The Corner, counting cars and watching dogs chew their hopelessly itchy backs. At home a three-block walk to the grocery store was an odious errand. In Wildwood, the three-block walk to the beach was enchanting, full of reverie and anticipation even as the sun-heated asphalt scorched our feet as we crossed the streets. Would the waves be 20 feet high? Was this the day I finally would be tan? Read More »