Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Summers of My Youth

Ocean Grove Pier

Today is the first day of summer and, even though I am approaching the autumn of my life, this time of year always generates a level of excitement in me.

When I was a child, the beginning of summer was a time of endless possibilities: School was out for ten glorious weeks, the Fourth of July holiday was right around the corner with my birthday following close on its heels.

My summer break always started off with a bang but, come August, I was always ready to just relax and enjoy the dog days of summer.  In New Jersey, this means the humidity, jelly fish and crazy summer crowds.

As I have posted before, I grew up on the Jersey Shore, in a little town called Ocean Grove. My memories of the summers of my youth did not include Snookie, the Situation or J-Wow; although our beaches did fill up with visitors from other states, such as New York and Connecticut. We called these summer visitors “Bennies” and truth be told, they did – and probably still do – congest the roads, overcrowd the beaches, and are just annoying period. But in retrospect, those were the things – positive or negative – that made it summer to me.
Crowded Beaches

The world was a different place back then and I remember when I was only 7 or 8 years old, I would head out early in the morning and didn’t return until it got dark. 

My best friend Dina and I would hop on our bikes and head down to the beach on most days.
We actually liked when the summer crowds came around for those few weeks. Living in a town that was only a mile square, we loved meeting new people and, as we got older, we certainly appreciated the influx of new boys who would stay at their summer homes.

But not to get ahead of myself: As little girls, Dina and I lived a very basic existence.  As I said, we would either hop on our bikes or walk every corner of our little town.  If we had some money, we would rent inner tubes or rafts from the shack at the beach.  Depending on how much cash we scored – we would either rent one or two, a half- or full-day – but most times we just shared one inner tube. 

It was so fun to be tubing and catching the waves.  If they were shore breakers, we were lucky not to break anything as we got tossed around like rag dolls – inevitably bouncing off those big black rubber tubes.

In retrospect, I can’t even believe how dangerous they were; but these were some of the best times of my life and I remember laughing so hard I would cry.   

We spent our days at the beach alternating between the water and then dragging ourselves out with blue lips and goose bumps, only to go lay directly in the hot sand.  Who cares if you had to run into the water to turn out the crotch of our one piece suits to get out mounds of sand?
Summer Tents

One hazard of our Jersey Shore beaches – which we don’t have here in sunny Southern California (TG!) – are crabs.  I can’t tell you how many times I had stepped on a crab – even a horse shoe crab a few times.  Once a little crab – a real crab not a sand crab or anything – grabbed onto my toe and I could not get that sucker off.

Being a kid and not that bright, I started floating on my back so I could try and assess the situation not realizing that the zero gravity of the water was helping this not be that painful.  Once I lifted my leg out of the water and felt the entire weight of that hanging crab on my little pinky toe, I screamed.  Put my foot back under water and shook that mo fo loose.  Ow, it still hurts even as a memory.

If we got bored with the beach, we would head to one of our houses for lunch.  Sometimes we would watch television, read books or even just take naps.  Our lives were so simple and we didn’t even realize how great we had it back then during the summers of our youth. 

Today, I have a six year son old who is in major anticipation for his summer vacation to start this coming Friday.  It is hard not to live vicariously through his excitement and I have found myself disillusioned that my own summer break is on the horizon. 

Well, a week vacation with the family on the beach will certainly start it off in the right direction; however, after 4th of July, I will find myself back at work.  But like anything else in life, it is really
about peace of mind.  So I have decided to do little things that will make this summer a bit more nostalgic of my summers past: lunch outside a few days a week; evening swims with my family; and allowing myself to take the time to just have a break some evenings and weekends. 

The only thing I will pass on are the crabs – they are good for eating just not stepping -- unless I make like Snookie and go Jersey on it.

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