Pam’s Pictorama Post: Yesterday, the first part of this tale was devoted largely to the downtown commercial area near the town I grew up in, Red Bank, New Jersey. Now close enough to mom’s house that I can run there, I toured it a bit the other morning, noting the changes since I lived there and also its nascent resurgence since the pandemic. (That post can be found here.)
Today I pick up my story on Friday morning, having been promised a trip to Edie’s Luncheonette for a breakfast post-run. A friend from high school was visiting from the west coast and staying with a friend. The three of us made a plan to have a late breakfast there.
Edie’s is notable to me because it was one of my father’s regular haunts post-retirement. (I touched on Edie’s in a previous post which can be found here.) For some reason Dad staked out Edie’s as his own and for years would eat there, usually breakfast sometimes lunch, several times a week. Weirdly, I had never set foot inside before this Friday morning. Timing was always wrong when I visited my parents back when Dad was still driving and also it seemed like his own hangout. It is close enough to Mom’s house now that I could run there, but that would mean walking home after eating and as someone who is always looking to maximize my running miles, running to breakfast generally doesn’t work for me. (It would be a short run or a long-ish walk.)
However, this little sliver of an establishment which has always piqued my interest is perched on an equally tiny smidge of property, hovering at the edge of a ferociously busy street. The tiny triangle of property it sits on merges with an equally busy street just below. It has three impossibly small parking spots in front which you may not use – there are multiple, dire towing declarations. As a result, cars tuck themselves creatively in all manners of illegal spots all around and can be found there all day most days. We parked in front of someone’s house a block away and made our way across the treacherous street.
The little one-room cottage restaurant has houses to one side and behind it, but on the other side is a church and a very old cemetery. A brick wall protects it from the traffic pounding around it – the cemetery is the tip of the V where traffic merges. It is all a very strange intersection of many things, which I have considered as I drove by over many decades. It would seem that the Edie’s building, one of the oldest in the town of Little Silver, dates back to 1849, starting life as a housing for a tenant farmer, but it is better known for its stint as a general store and post office starting in 1889. In 1928 it begins to morph into a grocery store and then a sandwich counter, and found its true calling as a restaurant in 1970 when it more or less arrived in its current incarnation. (An interesting detailed history of the building and restaurant can be read on their website here.)
Some original details can be found inside, such as a built in craftsman style sideboard in front of the kitchen which fascinated me. Edie’s has a long menu, mostly many variations on omelets, burgers and sandwiches – you can get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich there, or a cup or bowl of daily soup. The fact that you can order Pop-tarts made me laugh. Nothing fancy folks, just the basics.
Mom reminded me that Dad’s order included two eggs over medium and rye toast. I’m sure it also included bacon and knowing the man I suspect he wasn’t entirely a stranger to the french fries. I settled on the eggs, rye toast and cottage fries in his honor. I left the bacon to my friend Suzanne, despite sentiment I am a vegetarian. She had bacon with a “small” stack of three enormous pancakes that looked righteous indeed. Randy split the fries with me and ordered the same eggs. I will say, the simple order of eggs was done to perfection.
We jammed ourselves into the small room and made our way to seats at the counter. There are only a few tables that can accommodate more than two people and since it was a holiday weekday the place was at close to full tilt. Our perch was a good one though and I got to view the action behind the counter and there was plenty of hustle. I worked a counter like this back in high school and it was a hard job that I remember fondly.
All too soon, breakfast had come to an end and Edie’s had emptied out until the lunch rush. I snapped a final picture and out the door to we went, to wind our way back across Rumson Road.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a Joy of Jersey post. This week I headed down for my regular visit with mom a bit off schedule as we hosted a large dinner at the hall on Friday. We have Election Day off and, as Kim and I had discharged our civic duty over the weekend, I headed down to her on Tuesday afternoon.
It was my last shot at seeing some beautiful changing leaves as I made my daily morning run. I was running shorter distances last year, and I realized I had also missed much of the changing leaves as mom was in the hospital this time last year. (A post about that time can be found here.) That was about the time I changed to a regular schedule of being in Jersey, generally every other week for several days. Anyway, the foliage did not disappoint and I had pretty runs each of the days I was there.
A good friend, fellow Jersey-ite of my youth, was also going to be visiting while I was there this week. In honor of and in advance of Randy’s visit, I turned my first run to the south to and through the small downtown area nearby called Red Bank. A lovely small commercial area, it was where we kids went to feel grown up. It wasn’t really where we went to get into trouble – there is a beach town in the other direction called Sea Bright which was full of bars which was designated for that (posts about that town can be found here and here), Red Bank, on the other hand, is where you shopped and ate out.
The bones of Red Bank have remained the same while the denizens have come and gone. Jack’s Record Shop lived on the opposite side of the street in my youth and had a head shop in back – in the days before I knew what that was. It now occupies a spot near where a huge hardware store called Prown’s was. I can still smell the specific dust and fertilizer odor of that store. (They are still in business, but have moved to another location. In fact, they just installed a new backdoor for our garage at Mom’s.) The Woolworth’s is gone as is the Newberry’s, and the Steinbach’s department store, but there is still a coffee shop on the edge of town which is either the most recent incarnation of one of my youth, or a newer version. (It sported wax fruit in the window and my mother used to say, Never eat in a place with wax fruit in the window. It was a good point, but I have frequently eaten in such establishments and lived to tell the tale.)
There was a large photography shop called Dorn’s which lasted into my adulthood, but eventually fell prey to digital photography. I did find this new photo store below which is good news if I eventually start making early process photos again at mom’s. I wrote recently about another family business in time gone-by called Kislan’s – it took care of all of our athletic needs, which were admittedly less diverse in those days. (That post is here if you are interested in the full NJ roundup.) Randy and I spent many hours of our youth, together and separately, in the town of Red Bank. Whether it was pancakes at the diner in the middle of the night, running errands or wandering the small shops on the side streets.
Wednesday and Thursday passed in a blur of work this week, cramming five days of work into three. I staked out time to spend with mom over morning coffee, lunch and tried to end the work day at a reasonable time. Randy showed up in the evening on Thursday and mom got a kick out of seeing him for the first time in decades. Despite sporting a mask for her benefit, mom declared him unchanged.
Along with our friend Suzanne, we had dinner at a restaurant which probably deserves its own post, Tavolo Pronto. This epic establishment is, in my opinion, one of the best things to hit Monmouth County in years. Their sandwiches have carried my through long dark days spent in the hospital and hospice with dad, and now it is my favorite lunch spot during my stints there. Their singular fare will stay linked in my mind with these years of my life, the adult years spent visiting Jersey, and it has comforted me during some bleak times.
Friday, Veteran’s Day, was another day off and a plan was cooked up to have breakfast at Edie’s, another local eatery that morning. Suzanne and I are early risers, but Randy hoped to sleep in a bit. This meant I could get a run in, have a coffee with mom and head over for a rare treat. Edie’s was my dad’s territory and favorite breakfast locale. He adopted it late in life and somehow he and I never ate there. The plan was set! Tomorrow, in the second part of this Jersey tribute, I will take you to that surprisingly historic spot which also has great personal significance.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: By the time you read this I will be heading to Denver for a conference having left at the crack of dawn. However, I leave this summery post in my place. Today’s ice cream post is a bookend of sorts to last week’s running in the heat. One advantage of running through the summer is it allows for the consumption of a certain amount of ice cream.
Long time Pictorama readers (and well, anyone who knows me) are aware that I have a serious soft spot for ice cream. In my world ice cream has no calories and if ice cream is available it should be eaten. Therefore, I generally do not keep it in the house, although this seems to have only a marginal impact on my consumption.
My taste preferences are eclective – I am not an ice cream snob in the least – however, if you say salted caramel my ears will perk up. But I like a soft serve cone, a bowl of strawberry from a local creamery or something more exotic at a restaurant making their own all equally.
I appear to have inherited my love of ice cream from my father and his affection for it was documented in a very popular post which can be found here. Dad was always up for a trip to the local Dairy Queen and usually had a container or two tucked into the freezer, especially in his advancing years. He went from being a plain chocolate guy to having a distinct preference for exotic flavors with bits of candy bar or cookie. I started as a vanilla girl and now like, well, more or less all of it.
The New Jersey version of my habit is largely centered around trips to Ryan’s whose homemade ice cream I only discovered several years ago. Their strawberry is epic and when the peaches ripen the peach is just heaven. Although if time does not permit a trip out to Ryan’s I might talk my friend Suzanne into a much closer trip to Carvel. When dad was alive Father’s Day and his birthday were often celebrated with a Carvel, Fudgie the Whale of a Cake. Jolly blue icing bits in the one I remember and yummy chocolate crumbly bits.
For many years there was a Carvel near me here in Manhattan, on the corner of 85th and First Avenue, although sadly there is a Starbucks there now. I would stop in for the occasional cone, but they were too far from the office to grab a party cake there. (I did used to bring ice cream to the office at the Met sometimes, but needed to buy it closer – ice cream sandwiches did surprisingly well for delivery, re-freezing and consumption. I would also occasionally grab one or two other people and go across the street where a Mr. Softee is resident for the summer and buy dripping ice cream treats for whoever was knocking around the office on a summer afternoon.)
Unlike people who might find the Mr. Softee tune (generally Pop Goes the Weasel) or tinkling bells annoying, it fills me only with joy. Having grown up in a wealthy suburb it was unusual for him to make his way to us and we generally drove to the Dairy Queen for ice cream, but I hear it not infrequently in the city.
Soft serve ice cream is still sold in the Rumson spot where Dairy Queen (DQ) was, although it has been renamed Crazees. I have not had the pleasure of trying them. In high school I yearned for a job at Dairy Queen which seemed like the pinnacle of cool. Sadly it was a much sought after job and I lacked the connections it seemed. Instead I had to settle for working at a pizza place serving my second favorite food – and consuming large quantities of it.
However, this summer has been the summer of Mr. Softee. The extreme heat and humidity and a calorie margin of error that 7 miles of running 4-5 times a week gives me has allowed me to develop the habit of grabbing Kim on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in search of the ice cream man. A classic vanilla wafer cone with chocolate sprinkles is just right for each of us although on the hottest days you need to eat it with a certain alacrity.
I understand the while Mr. Softee isn’t suffering from a lack of consumer interest, the rising prices of ice cream and condiments as well as gasoline has made it a difficult living. I can only offer each one I encounter my enthusiastic summer support.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I was in New Jersey over Memorial Day this year. Some of you may have caught my video clip of the Memorial Day parade I caught the tail end of while on my run early that morning when I posted it on Instagram. It was an unusually warm Memorial Day and memories of marching dutifully, first as a pint-sized girl scout and then in later years as a member of the high school drill team, immediately came back to me. (It should be noted that the appeal of the drill team was that it allowed me to sport short white boots with purple pom poms, a tiny purple corduroy dress which harkened to earlier decades and appealed to my nascent vintage clothing sensibility – and of course our wooden faux rifles which clicked and clacked in satisfying unison.)
Virtually every annual gathering found us early in the morning preparing to march in the damp chill culmination of a sodden long weekend. I have written about Memorial Day weekend growing up at the Jersey shore before – somehow you had it fixed in your mind that it was the commencement of summer and the beach and were always disappointed as even the end of May can be quite chilly. (That post can be found here.) This year however, beach weather it was this year and I was out for an early run so as not to expire in the heat of the day.
The parade route has evidently moved to Fair Haven. My dim memory was that we started somewhere in Rumson (where I grew up), probably the high school, but definitely not where I found them gathered last week, coming from a different direction. The marchers had gathered and the last groups were getting into formation in a baseball field across from the local middle school at the foot of mom’s street. I run through this baseball field every time I go out as it is the turning point in my run from going north, looping back to the south before heading home.
I managed to just catch the high school band which was bringing up the rear. It was a great hometown moment and I was happy to pause and record it.
That evening, after some instruction from a friend to ensure I would not blow us up, I tackled breaking in my mom’s new propane grill. My dad was the griller in the family and although I would occasionally act as his runner and lieutenant, and for all my other cooking experience I have personally not been in charge of a grill. Although we had a gas grill when I was a tiny tot, in subsequent years dad was a charcoal man. With Larry’s help (I video taped his instruction for posterity and future reference) I mastered the basics of the propane and managed to pull a credible vegetarian grilled meal together. If I can get it hot enough I can cook on it.
All this must have put me more in mind of my high school and college years in New Jersey. It was a certain kind of nice warm night and suddenly I thought of a place we used to frequent constantly called The Inkwell.
Somewhat incongruous in the environs of Long Branch, which was at that time a somewhat down at the heels beach community, The Inkwell was a coffeehouse harkening to the great tradition of coffeehouses of the ’50’s and ’60’s. It existed in a fairly stock format house and frankly I was always a bit surprised to see how it looked in the daylight because largely one was only ever there in the middle of the night. It was a constant on date night rotation, an inexpensive evening out. At night it exuded a come hither cool of a kind that was the siren call leading the likes of me to a life in New York City I guess. (Apologies for these low-res photos snatched from some local articles about the closing.)
The memory of not only cheerfully drinking endless cups of coffee (occasionally hot chocolate in winter) in the middle of the night back when evidently insomnia was not a yet a fact of life, but that the coffee was also topped with an enormous dollop of whipped cream. Oh my gosh! Well, waitressing and long days walking on the beach must have burned all those calories and still allowed me to sleep soundly.
I know we also ate food there sometimes, but what that was is utterly lost to me now and I guess it wasn’t really the point. I suspect it was along the line of onion rings, fries – maybe a burger as I still ate them back then. We were always hungry after late nights at the restaurant however and I think of the endless stacks of pancakes we consumed at diners in the wee hours of the morning more often.
However, you were at The Inkwell for coffee. No alcohol was served or allowed on the premises. In retrospect, it was a great option for high school kids. Although people of all ages were always there, generations of customers who frequented it over the years.
I have not even thought of it in decades really. Until the past year when I head over to stay with mom throughout the month, my adult visits to New Jersey have been almost universally a day or two in order to see my parents. I have not stayed in touch with anyone from high school who settled there who I might see socially while in town. One ex-boyfriend, Sam, who I saw through much of high school and college, died a few years ago. (It wasn’t clear, but it seems like maybe it was suicide sadly.) I had not been in touch with him since we broke up while I was in college. Other friends have either drifted way or moved to distant locales.
I am still close to my good friend Randy, an artist who shuttles between San Francisco and Los Angeles these days and who I first met in high school; he is one of my oldest friends. Kim and I just saw him on a visit to Manhattan and I get together with him whenever my job takes me to the west coast. Back in our Jersey days we worked at the same restaurant (I wrote a little about that summer and job here), and we would hit the diners mentioned above (one had oddly orange pancakes, never figured that out but they were good) and/or The Inkwell.
I don’t think I could have found it again on my own. Despite being a non-driver I remember most routes, but I am wuzzy on this one.
Anyway, I texted Randy and told him I was thinking of The Inkwell and our many trips there, even of the car he drove back then and that it was that sort of night in Jersey. He responded promptly and we had a nice impromptu text visit, late-ish night for me, early evening for him. One of the joys of our contemporary world.
On a whim yesterday I looked up The Inkwell and was surprised to find it had closed a week to the day of the evening I was thinking about it and texting Randy. Seems that over the years it had evolved to serve a wider menu of food but was largely unchanged. They remained popular and made it through the pandemic (outdoor service expanded into a yard where I only remember there being a porch before) and were closing for other undisclosed reasons.
I learned, not surprisingly, that Bruce Springsteen had frequented back when I was, or just before as his ascent to fame had already grown beyond the local. Kevin Smith the filmmaker (Monmouth County denizen and owner of Red Bank’s comic book store, Jay and Bob’s Secret Stash) was still a customer in recent years. There wasn’t much to do in Monmouth County – bars, beach and The Inkwell.
The photos bring it back fairly well although of course it had changed over time too. My memory was more toward old wooden mismatched chairs, classic red-checked table cloths with candles on each table, and Christmas lights year round. I don’t remember the first person to take me there although probably Randy’s older brother Ken who I dated for awhile. It was an excellent way station on the road to adulthood though and I am sorry I didn’t get a last visit in.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some on-going Pictorama readers may have figured out that I am an Aquarian, a February girl, my birthday tucked in next to Lincoln’s and a kissin’ cousin to Valentine’s Day; amethyst is my birthstone and I am a water sign. Although I do not go deeply into astrology I have given a lot of thought to my relationship to water which has informed much of my life although sometimes I wouldn’t say I actually have an affinity for it as this story bears out.
I grew up on a river, close to the Atlantic ocean, and these days we live with a view of the East River where I run most mornings now. (IG followers see my running journals, @deitchstudio or Pams-Pictorama, where I share some of the views of the water as well as my slow progress, impeded in part by falling and breaking a few fingers on Memorial Day. I have written about my endeavor to start running over the past year which can be found here, here and here. Reconnecting with the life of the waterfront has been wonderful over this past pandemic year and I appreciate it as much as the much needed exercise.)
I was taught to swim as a tiny toddler, in a pool in Sea Bright, New Jersey (a neighboring beach town I have devoted a few posts to which can be read here and here) and I took to it reasonably well. I have never been a great swimmer, unlike my sister Loren who was all swim teams and life saving, however I was at the beach and in the ocean and pools constantly between the ages of about six and twenty, so I guess I did it well enough to stay afloat and get where I was going.
Living on the river as we did floods were a constant part of our lives. At first we had an adorable little house on a narrow spit of land in Sea Bright where the river ran hard and fast into the bay on one side and the ocean was on the other. Without the sea wall the walk from one to the other would have taken ten minutes. It is a cottage that lives on in my imagination, a nifty little mail order home from Sears, it was sea sunlit and smelled of salt and sand.
We only spent summer weekends there so I was not subjected to the ongoing floods of suffered by year round residents, threatened as it was by both sides when tides rose. When I considered moving back there as an adult my parents were loathe to have me deal with the flooding, which while endurable as a summer beach cottage would have been more problematic 365 days a year, so instead I settled in Manhattan.
While still a tot my family moved full time to the shore and our first house in Rumson was on the (aptly named) Waterman Avenue. Just around the bend from the Sea Bright-Rumson draw bridge, we lived on a fast moving part of the water as it merged into the bay, teeming with boat traffic in the summer. Our view was of downtown Sea Bright across the river and the ocean just beyond and we were within walking distance of the beach. (My adult dream life takes me back there occasionally, enduring hurricanes and even tidal waves.)
Each year fall and early winter would bring hurricanes and quickly we learned about the days we would be picked up from school early, the car would be parked on higher ground where it would be safe and we would prepare for the high tides around us at home with streets that turned into ponds or sometimes raging rivers. (Sadly, I believe a hurricane did pre-empt Halloween one year.) Occasionally we kids would be left with my mom’s parents in Long Branch, an inland part of the neighboring town where my mother grew up, but she would generally return to Rumson to weather the storm and keep an eye on things. She recently described one of those evenings spent in bed on the second floor of that little house with the walls quaking with water and wind.
Generally those storms were a lark, the flood days, at least for us kids. My mom would put on her waist-high waders if she had to go out when the squall calmed, but the water had not yet receded. (Dad was usually at work in the city or traveling for his job at ABC News – it was the family joke that he missed just about every major flood we had.) Sometimes the flooding was just annoying, occasionally it was significant and memorable, but mostly it was just part of the fabric of my childhood, accepted as part of the way things were – the same as having cats and dogs and a green Plymouth station wagon.
Eventually we moved to a larger house several blocks away, but perched on an inlet of the river which was further protected by a small island between the mouth of our “pond” (which went by both names Oyster Bay and Polly’s Pond – I never could find out who Polly was and the oysters were sadly long gone when we got there). The natural barriers and somewhat higher land meant not just calmer waters, but less flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes still meant flooded streets, but even water in the yard was less common.
Although flooding impeded daily life less, we weathered a few significant and memorable storms in that house. My parents were ultimately dislodged from that home by Hurricane Sandy and the shifts in water tables which brought the first water into the house we ever had – even then it only filled the garage, but destroyed the water heater and even warped the wooden floors with so much dampness under them. With the advent of every hurricane we have, I offer ongoing gratitude that my mom, now alone, is tucked away, relatively far inland in a tiny home in neighboring Fair Haven.
All this to say, that history behind me, these days I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building on the upper Eastside of Manhattan and while our river views mean we can get with some high force winds in a storm, in general flooding is not something we often consider. Living on the top floor of a building which is more than a half century old means that our water intrusion generally comes from above, or occasionally from aging pipes. (Our building was re-piped several years back – a true horror. I thought I had written about it, but alas I cannot find it as a link for your consideration.)
Kim and I have experienced leaks in almost every single possible area of our compact 600 square foot abode – water has come from under the kitchen sink, it has worn through pipes and leaked in the bathroom walls. On occasion it has poured from incorrectly installed pipes in the ceiling near the windows and onto our books. As I write today, the ceiling near the windows sags from another mistake in design after the re-piping fiesta and the wall under it is soggy as well, all pending repair in the foreseeable future.
Most notably, a new front has opened over my current work at home desk set-up as a result of the recent Hurricane Ida. As it turns out, after a lifetime of preparing conscientiously for storms and fretting about them, when one finally came along to bite me, there was no real warning or preparation. Normally a storm that has hit land and traveled over it for several days means no more than some stormy days by the time it arrives. A storm that has gone back out to sea can pick up speed again and be a threat, but Ida, while she packed a wallop when she hit New Orleans and Texas, didn’t seem to be a threat as she winded her way through the Midwest and up to the greater New York area.
As the somewhat desultory rain of the day turned harder into the evening, I became aware that the wind was blowing hard enough to make me glad that the building had installed new windows – although they could certainly still shatter in high winds. However, it was a call that I got from my doorman at 10:00 at night that worried me. Our building basement had several feet of water in it already and the elevators were not functioning. We were not to go to the basement and be aware that the stairs on the first floor would be slippery.
Morning dawned and the news was appalling. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day – people trapped in basement apartments and in raging flash floods. Horrible stories. Meanwhile, several feet of water remained in the building basement although the elevators came back online in the morning. (We were told that the water simply poured in from the windows and the street.) It was several days before we were allowed to begin investigation of the storage locker we keep down there, shifting seasonal clothes kept in bins, household items that have gone out of vogue or use for a time and not much but some artwork.
As it happens, we found some interesting stuff and I will devote tomorrow’s post to what we found (art by both Kim and me) and rescued from that rapidly molding enclave.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last weekend for the first time since October I headed out to see my mom in New Jersey. As I had in the fall, I hopped on the ferry at 34th Street and the East River. I say hopped on, but there is a lot of queuing up, appropriately distanced, and waiting to get on the numerous boats to go up and down the river and coast. The same ferry line that takes me to Highlands goes significantly further north, up to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. (Although perhaps the more substantial model boat that I took home at the end of the trip, more on that later.)
Like many people I have been hesitant to see my elderly mother and possibly inadvertently infect her. She has not been well and I have wanted very much to go, so I took a Covid test and hopped on the ferry last week. I sat on the upper deck outside and it was cold, but a gorgeous day. Like the trip in the fall, it felt strangely heady and almost decadent to be traveling. (I wrote about that first trip out of town in an October post here.)
For my fellow workaholics I will confide, it was the closest I have come to unplugging in more than a year. I only attended one meeting in two days and colleagues were very thoughtful and there were less emails than usual. I’m pleased to report that no major meltdowns occurred.
I thought I had dressed warmly enough, but was wrong again. I always forget how much colder it is on the water and on a boat zipping along that way. I layered on all of shirts I had with me, put Beethoven on my earphones and watched the scenery while perched outside reading the Camp Fire Girls Behind the Lines which I have downloaded to my phone. (If you are curious about my Camp Fire Girls reading, I have written about those early juveniles from the teens here and here.) The trip is only about 50 minutes (an hour and a half on the train) – twice as expensive, but half the time. Since I don’t go that often it is well worth it.
As we enter the Sandy Hook Bay I start to get nostalgic for my childhood. I remember being in my grandfather’s small fishing boat, the Imp, or later sailing with my dad in that Bay. Not that often, but often enough that the sense memory kicks in when I see it. As we get closer to Highlands memories of walking on the Hook come back too. I have walked it in all seasons, the fall there being especially pretty and quiet.
Highlands and Atlantic Highlands are built into hills right on the water, making for some dramatic, virtually vertical roads leading up to wealthier inhabitants at the top, with commanding views of the water, river and ocean. Perched at the very top are the Twin Lights, important lighthouses in their day, now non-functioning and a museum. Erected in 1828 the existing structure is from 1862. It was a landmark I always looked for from car and boat growing up in the area.
At sea level there are tiny houses, mostly raised with garages on the ground level to address constant flooding. I have always had a yen to own one of these little houses. For some reason, although I grew up along another part of the river, this area always had the pull on my heart. If I had bought a house there it would have been in this area or in Sea Bright on the other side of the Bay.
Mom currently lives in a small town next to the town where I grew up, about 15 minutes from the ferry. After spending most of this year cooped up in our tiny studio apartment, her little house seems expansive – stairs! The surrounding neighborhood is in a glory of spring blooming and flowering trees, tulips and other flowers are just bursting all over.
I got up early for a run and took the route to a friend’s house, figuring I was least likely to get lost that way. It was Edenic. Just running without a mask was blissful. The cherry trees and magnolias were so beautiful (some shown above) I ordered one of each for Mom’s yard for Mother’s Day.
Another morning gave me a chance to walk on a virtually empty beach, a few miles from where the ferry dropped me, in the town of Sea Bright. It was a very warm day and the sand was hard packed for easy walking, the ocean lapping. It too was heavenly.
Meanwhile, in the past year my mother has acquired two stray kittens who are in the middle and latter stages of adolescence now. I seem to terrify and fascinate them both, Peaches and Gus. I missed my friend Red who died in the past year as well. (I wrote about him in my post Red Buttons, here.) However, these two keep things lively in the house, racing around constantly. (Gus on the left, Peaches – very worried – on the right.)
On the third morning it was time to head back to Manhattan. I stayed an extra night and took the 6:00 AM ferry back to the City. There were many more passengers than I would have expected and a larger, more no-nonsense ferry in use. The upper outside deck was closed off so I stayed warm inside and watched the sunrise over the river.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This snapshot popped up on Instagram for sale recently. Ocean Grove, New Jersey, is about a forty minute drive from where I grew up in Monmouth County and it immediately took me back to my childhood. Written on the back of the snapshot is Asbury Park 7-4-35. I thought this photo was earlier than 1935, and I am a bit tickled that it is July 4. I am also surprised by the coats for a July 4 at the seashore however. I don’t think I remember a chilly Fourth.
The Ocean Grove community abuts onto Asbury Park so this declaration of location is not surprising – a town called Bradley Beach surrounds Ocean Grove on the south end. For those of you who may not be acquainted with it, Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as Methodist summer camp community. Known for its enormous wooden Great Auditorium, an extraordinary survivor of Victorian architecture, it has hosted concert performers from Enrico Caruso and John Sousa to Kenny Rogers.
Another notable aspect of Ocean Grove are the more than 100 tent-homes that are erected annually, these attached to wooden sheds providing a kitchen and bathroom and making them more substantial. There is a more than ten year waiting list for tent rental. (I would put myself down now for a summer tent for retirement, however Wikipedia notes that dogs, cats and barbecuing are prohibited, as is subletting of tents. A cat-less summer would be no fun. It is also noted that while you do not need to be a Methodist you do need to support their spiritual mission.) Ocean Grove is the longest active spiritual camp site in the country.
As a child, the concept of the tent-houses fascinated me and I longed to see what they were like inside. The idea of a whole summer spent enjoying ocean breezes and sun dabbled days in one was fantastic.
Meanwhile, the law prohibiting cars on Sunday was equally exotic to my childhood mind. It seemed impossible – how could you close roads to cars every Sunday? Was there a place where people parked them and walked in? The fact that additionally the beach was closed on Sunday meant that this was never really a destination for weekenders from Manhattan, unless they were there for the day, attending one of the many concerts (musicians from New York and Philadelphia regularly grace the stage) or lectures held there.
Although neighboring Asbury Park was also founded by Methodists, soon after Ocean Grove, it was more like the Jersey shore’s answer to Coney Island. While Atlantic City reined for boardwalk pleasures further to the south, Asbury was the turn of the century amusement park boardwalk gem of Central Jersey and therefore a fairly easy day trip from New York City. The Convention Center and Casino offered largely the opposite sort of appeal of its religiously observant neighbor to the south. The difference struck me even as I understood it as a kid.
During my childhood both towns were largely in steep decline and neglect. The Victorian hotels were turned into SRO’s and, it seems to stick in my mind, nursing or retirement home type facilities. (Maybe we knew someone who lived in one?) During the late 1960’s Asbury was the site of race riots, documented by my father in his role as news cameraman. All this to say, I rarely went to Ocean Grove or Asbury Park growing up unless there was a specific reason. As these things do, it therefore fascinated me all the more. The architecture of the somewhat deserted Convention Center and the dilapidated boardwalk (and not to mention a really great if dilapidated carousel) always beckoned for more exploration than I was allowed.
In young adulthood I discovered that a series of summer flea markets are offered in Ocean Grove, which I have only had the pleasure of attending once, many years ago with my father. It was perfectly splendid and I have always wanted to go back. Starting in the late 1980’s, both towns but especially Ocean Grove, enjoyed an immense renaissance and renewal. Despite knowing this my parents could never quite get over their dislike of the area and were always reluctant to go. (My mother is the same person who still sees Central Park through the lens of 1970’s urban decay and was appalled when I announced that I was going to work for the Central Park Conservancy years ago. In fact, I think she can barely accept that my whole life in Manhattan – and that of my brother – isn’t taking place in the neglected city of her memory.)
The area is not ideally accessible by public transportation (some Pictorama readers may already know that neither Kim nor I drive) so alas, it remains somewhat unexplored for me – one of those things that nags and glitters just out of reach. Summer always tugs me back to my childhood at the shore. I miss the ocean and the beach, but busy times mean that trips to Jersey are more about spending time with my mom, and less about lazy days of ocean and sand. Meanwhile, this Covid summer has deprived me of all summer Jersey shore visiting pleasures. But perhaps this means that next year I will plan a real vacation at the shore – one with trashy novels and a little too much sun – and of course well-timed around some flea markets at Ocean Grove.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The fun and jauntiness of this snapshot caught my attention, probably from the teens judging from her dress. The large fish sign she is holding proclaims, Size of the One I Lost at Michigan City. One imagines that it was a photo op you were offered as part of a fishing trip package. I never thought about it, but fishing is a long-standing, major tourist attraction for Michigan, and a quick internet search turns up a thriving charter fishing industry. It makes sense that where there are enormous bodies of water there would be fishing.
Pictorama readers know that I grew up in a fishing family and photographs of family members with particularly enormous fish dot our family albums. I myself have not spent much time fishing – I am a bit too soft-hearted, although I eat fish and I have done my time cleaning them. I take no pleasure in the act of catching them. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my grandfather repaired outboard motors and he also kept a medium-sized, wooden fishing boat which was call The Imp. In retrospect it was a surprising name for him to have christened his boat with. I must remember to ask my mother where it came from, assuming she knows. Perhaps the way it bobbed around in the water – a bit impishly?
It spent the off-season in a spot next to his workshop garage, up on a wooden frame or trailer, keepin it off the ground and make it easier to work on. (Unlike our sailboat which wintered at a nearby marina.) I remember it seemed huge and high to me as a small child. The Imp was painted gray and I have memories of the seemingly constant scraping of the bottom (barnacles were a concept that fascinated me at a young age) and re-painting, as anyone who has ever owned a wooden boat well knows. Even in the 1960’s wooden fishing boats like her were becoming a bit old fashioned. I remember she made delightful creaking sounds when you were out on the water with her and there was a smell of the sun-warmed, painted wood which I cannot really describe.
Despite being the daughter of a fisherman, my mother is cursed with a poor inner ear and she can only be on a boat on the calmest days without being seasick. (My mother used to say it could make her seasick to watch our sailboat bob in the backyard during stormy weather and windy days.) Therefore I did not go out fishing with dad and Poppy too often, as I don’t think my mom was entirely comfortable entrusting the small children to them without her own watchful eye. When we did go we wore the bulkiest of life jackets which impeded much actual movement although we certainly would have bobbed like a cork in the water.
Dad was a city boy born and bred, but he was fascinated with fishing and sailing and would go out with my grandfather and others as often as he could. He started a documentary film on it, but for some reason it never got off the ground. (Shooting film in those days was a real expense and editing was a bulky affair.)
As I alluded to yesterday, my grandfather died suddenly and young of a heart attack. The Imp was sold shortly after, with some discussion. I think a boat is a bit like an instrument which is meant to be played – we wouldn’t have gotten her out much, even our sailboat was idle much of the time. Dad continued fishing with other folks, neighbors, on boats or surf casting on the beach. (There was a nearby draw bridge that folks fished from, but I don’t remember my father doing that. I think fishing was more tied up with being on the water or at the beach for him.) Fishing poles were piled around the garage and house, the line getting tangled and caught in everything. Even when he wasn’t fishing his buddies, or my grandfather’s, would bring fresh fish by for us.
Although blue fish does not enjoy much of a good reputation, when grilled with lemon and pepper, fresh off the boat it is a very different affair than that which has been sitting in a fish market where it tends to quickly grow oily and strong. I grew up eating it all summer, along side of Jersey corn – maybe also grilled – and tomatoes from our garden. Blues are big, toothy fish and wrestling them while cleaning them was messy work. Generally in the cleaning was done outside, fish scales sticky and flying everywhere and sticking to me. Our cats in their glory, their noses in a fury of sniffing, as smelly fish guts piled up.
There were other fish too – crabs my sister and I caught in the backyard off our dock which were boiled and tediously cleaned. Scallops in butter and lobster of course, although I think the majority of those were fished a bit north of us. The river inlet I grew up on was known as Oyster Bay because it had at one time been thick with them. Pollution eliminated them, although they re-seeded the bed to some success in later years. Because of pollution my mother steered us away from the practice of eating raw clams, and even steamers, and I didn’t eat mussels until I was an adult.
I cook fish often. As a result of growing up with it I am comfortable working with fish and never really think twice about the nuisance of cleaning a pound of shrimp, and am always surprised by folks who are stymied by it. If we were entertaining guests over this (Covid so we are not) summer my grandmother’s faux bouillabaisse might be in the offing. Well known for being better for sitting overnight, it is a favorite for guests as it then only requires heating. My French food training showed me the difference – hers is more of a thicker Mediterranean-Italian fish stew which I cheerfully favor. I will write about it and lay out the recipe one of these days.
For those of you with access to a grill this summer I urge you to throw some fresh fish and corn on and enjoy it for me. It is one of the pleasure decidedly denied to us city dwellers.