Ode to a Jersey Spot

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.

A local home, spotted on my run last week, decked out nicely in bunting for the holiday.

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.

Just a minute or so of the Memorial Day parade.

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.

My maiden voyage on the new propane grill.

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.

Something they called a Dutch Coffee which was the drink of the house.

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.

A night view more along the lines of what I remember.

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.

A recent photo of Randy Colosky at work in his west coast studio.

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.

Time

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning I took read my post from last Memorial Day weekend. I was in New Jersey for a concert for work. Despite being in a tent the extraordinary downpour had largely soaked us all and it had essentially been a cold and sodden mess. As it was still one of the first times I was hearing live music I more or less forgave the weather. It was also one of the first times I was seeing my mom as during the first year of the pandemic I treaded softly in the pre-vaccine, no home test days of last spring.

I had however returned to New York via ferry, somewhat exhausted from my exertions both physically and emotionally. I got up tired on Monday morning, Memorial Day, went running, fell and broke two fingers. (I wrote about it here and here.)

It was chillier, unlike this weekend which has already turned warm enough that I am puzzling through had to stay hydrated during my runs in the growing heat and humidity. I was still wearing my heavy sweatshirt when I fell – I was grateful that I thought to take it off so it didn’t need to be cut off once the huge bandage was on my hand.

Recent morning NYC run views of the East River.

Of course I thought about this while running yesterday – giving the lumpy sidewalk where I fell a jaundiced look as I went by. Falling kept me off of running for a few months. When I stopped I was running about three miles I think and it took me awhile to get back to that distance, especially since it was full on summer heat by then. The ring finger on my left hand is still recalcitrant and I think I will need to break down and have my wedding band refitted to that finger as I think that finger and the knuckle is permanently enlarged. (I had been told the swelling could take up to a year to go down.)

Cast one of three, the Urgent Care version.

Given time I run six miles now, some days cutting it short to get to an early meeting. I tend to think that is where I am topping out, at least for now, as it is hard to find the time to run longer than that four or five times a week. (Then again, it never occurred to me that I would be running that far either so who knows?)

I will focus on getting a bit faster for awhile. I have never had the urge to run fast actually which is good as I know I never will. I have a short stride for a tall person and I have always been more interested in distance, the long haul. However, I am very slow so I can pick up the pace a bit. Not killing my middle aged self in the heat is a bigger problem though and for the summer mornings I cannot get out as early as I should I need to be careful. Investigating what and how much to drink when.

The suburban version of my run which usually starts here and then heads into the wooded area at the top of this post.

Mom has had some health issues and since Thanksgiving I make more regular and longer trips to stay with her in New Jersey, vaccinated now and endlessly tested. Although I am a devoted homebody and miss Kim and the kitties, I enjoy the time with her too. (A few of the posts I have written about my time there can be found here and here and one on running in Jersey here.) Whichever place I am in I find hard to leave. It is just the way I am. Running while I am there is one of the things that grounds me though. I am a person who responds well to routine and set about creating them wherever I am.

My buddy Cash in a recent photo on a trip. Penny below, one green eye and one blue! She’s already grown since this!

One of my routines is that since Christmas I have treated myself to coming and going to Jersey via @rideswithcash, a dog and driver duo based in Monmouth County. This has allowed me to come and go at odd hours which fit into my work schedule better and generally saves some wear and tear on me. Jeff is lovely and great about making time for me. The mainstay of his business is folks going to and from the airports, although I guess there are other needs like mine too. The bonus is of course having Cash, his lovely Australian Shepard, sitting with me along for the ride. Petting that beautiful pup has soothed me through some otherwise stressful trips as I fret about mom or work.

Miss Penny has one blue eye and one green one! She’s already grown since this pic.

This spring Cash was joined by a sibling sis – Penny! Well, of course fluffy Penny is about as cute as anything could be. She flirts and plays and chews and is generally adorable. I am not sure Cash has totally bought into Penny yet, but I am sure he will over time. I haven’t made a trip with both of them yet so we’ll see about that, maybe as early as this evening.

Meanwhile, a year has brought us through an intact if somewhat abbreviated concert season at work. We will be wrapping with a final concert and surrounding events in a few weeks. Variants come and (sort of) go and attendance at events waxes and wanes accordingly although ticket sales for concerts has remained strong.

From a recent evening of Venezuelan jazz recently at Dizzy’s.

Our offices officially went to a three day in-office schedule in April. Although we try to bring everyone in on Wednesdays so we can plan meetings, it still feels very empty most days. We are still rebuilding staff which is a slow process and of course other days people might be out or taking vacation days before the end of our fiscal year. Rebooting what was our office culture is hard and I can only imagine that we need to embrace what a new version will be. We are impatient, but only time will help puzzle through that.

I wrote recently about the interviewing I have been doing recently for a myriad of open positions. (That post can be found here.) I wish I could report that the positions are all filled, but not yet to date. A newly fully staffed team will be a large step forward in creating a new work paradigm. In the short term however the interviewing process is like having another job.

A tiny Stormy here. Hopefully I will have a sighting long enough to get a new photo this weekend.

For those of you who were following the story of Stormy, the kitten mom found in her backyard a few months ago, I have news to report. (Her rescue origin post can be found here.) After gaining a bit of strength and familiarity with the house, Stormy left her lofty perch in a large dog cage where she was protected from the hustle and bustle of other kits and has joined the kitty pack in the house.

On my recent trips she has hidden herself entirely during the day and I have at best only caught a glimpse of her at times. However, she has a distinctive meow and I hear her when the lights go off at night, leading a feline rampage through the small house, up and down the stairs, skidding on the bathroom rug at the top before heading back down.

Gus in Stormy’s bed, waiting to see when she’ll be back.

Stormy’s special partner in crime is another adoptee from the backyard, a gentleman puss named Gus. Gus, who looks a bit like he is made from spare parts, has made no secret of the fact that he is quite smitten with Stormy and follows her around devotedly although her hiding even eludes him at times and I will find him waiting for her to emerge.

Well, the big news is that my mom woke up the other night to find Stormy curled up on her lap! She did not stay for pets although she evidently acknowledged mom before hopping down. It is a rather remarkable step however. I often wonder how she can be such a friendly cat, clearly used to being handled when we found her so very small and starving. Did someone have her and lose her? Put her out? We’ll never know her story, but despite my initial reticence about keeping her I am of course glad we did.

Hobo Kitty, the outdoor feline denizen of the Butler household.

So, after those updates and bits of reflection I am off for that run (early) and then packing to head to New Jersey for a few days. I have promised to get the new gas grill working and some other daughterly duties. For those of you who follow my running journal on Instagram, see you from Jersey!

Jersey Jogging

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am pausing in the Pictorama photo post fiesta which will likely resume tomorrow, the reflect a bit on my return to running. I run slower than ever since my fall running on Memorial Day which resulted in two broken fingers. (Posts about my nascent running and the finger crushing fall can be found here and here.) In the heat of summer it is tough going to get back to my former distance. Still, every morning which does not require a breakfast meeting, or it isn’t pouring rain, out I go to give it my best.

I rarely show the westside view of the Esplanade where I run along the FDR, preferring to share the river views which I try to focus on, as below.
Winter view of the Esplanade at about 79th Street.

Running clears my brain better than most things. (Lifting weights can also have this effect, but the hand is definitely still too weak to be trusted much with the free weights in the apartment. I wrote about my studio apartment pandemic workout a few months back and can be read here.) While I used to listen to books while working out at the gym it has developed that it has to be music for running. I have become partial to Beethoven, in particular the 7th Symphony, but I have roamed around a bit too. I love Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello concertos and am very fond of the Moonlight Sonata, but neither runs quite as long as I need and I find myself mid-run looking for the next thing to listen to. As I Jersey girl I will admit that I also have Bruce Springsteen as a fallback – always good if I need a kick in the pants to get me going.

I am also a bit strangely partial to Wynton Marsalis’s Blues Symphony. (As a staffer I would be remiss not to point out that the free download can be found here and a variety of other places on the web.) And in fact I was listening to it when I fell – apologies Wynton, but true. That did not dampen my affection for it however and I still like it very much and have it in rotation. My usual run down by the East River is along the FDR Drive and that means that half of it is quite noisy with commuter traffic. I had a day of trying to listen to Russ Columbo (long-standing Pictorama readers know that I am partial to popular music from the 1920’s and 30’s – this post found here is one of several which touches on that part of my life) while running and alas his voice is too soft to hear. You need a bit of boom to be heard over the morning traffic I am afraid.

Last weekend I made the trip to Jersey to visit my mom. I had last seen her earlier in the fateful Memorial Day weekend when I had been in for a wet, cold concert on that Friday evening – perhaps my exhaustion that morning contributing to my fall. (Arg! That tale can be found here.) The rigors of hand in cast, followed by ever so much ongoing physical therapy have occupied me greatly and made travel a tad harder so this was my first chance to get back there.

Ten second or so of ferry ride under the bridge!

Sunday morning had breakout sun and heat for my ferry trip after a night of heavy rain. Unfortunately a quick front moved in just as we pulled out of the Sandy Hook stop on the ferry, a summer stop only for beach goers. Pulling away from the piles of families we just left on the beach in a very sudden, pouring rain, which then lasted the rest of the day. I thought about those poor stranded folks for the rest of the day as there is virtually no shelter there and the next ferry would be a wait.

On Monday morning I woke early with good intentions and determination to head out for a run, despite the gray morning. I threw on my running togs, layered for some Jersey chill, and said a quick hello to mom and went out the door – and into a new torrent of rain. I regrouped and had a nice coffee with mom, ate a really memorable Jersey peach, and was ultimately rewarded for not eating a full breakfast when the rain cleared around 7:30. Out I went. I queued up Beethoven although it would have been a nice day to nod to Bruce as I was virtually down the street from his home.

Mom’s front yard, soaking wet somehow made the colors dramatic and saturated.

These days my mom lives in a town just a few miles from the one I grew up in. I am familiar with it in a general way, but realized early on that I could easily get lost in the roads walking or running around in the area surrounding her new house. I mapped a route earlier in the spring, but wanted more distance today and so I peeled off toward a grammar school with a playing field I figured I could check out. I always had my phone to get me back to her house after all.

Where the turkey vultures come from?

The morning was still heavy with rain water and the trees, flowers and grass were soaking. I resigned myself to sodden sneakers early on and instantly wished I had thought to pack extra socks. (I have a friend/antique jewelry dealer on IG, Mia aka @therubyfoxes who runs in the British countryside and always shows photos of her mud caked sneakers post-run. I was channeling you Mia!)

Observing the etiquette of the suburbs I greeted the few folks I met along the way with a cheery greeting of Morning! (In Manhattan the most you might have is a nod at someone you encounter frequently, but in all fairness, there are a lot more people here in New York.) I took my chances and followed a road beyond the school up, figuring I could make a big loop without getting hopelessly lost.

The roads around my mom’s house are named for schools. She lives on Oxford and I found myself running along and past Dartmouth, then Harvard, Princeton and Rutgers – a nod to the home team I guess. My sister had a high school boyfriend who lived on one of these streets – I think it was Dartmouth. I was trying to remember and see if any of the houses looked familiar, although many are newly built on the sites of older ones. I may have picked it out, but hard to say.

There are a number of cul de sac dead ends where basketball hoops proliferate and kids clearly command the streets. Several homes sported unmask our kids signs which reminded me that it had always been a community that wore its politics on its sleeve with yard signs favoring political candidates, making statements. Maybe all suburbs are – it is the only suburban community I have ever lived in so I am unsure.

Deer not dog!

I continued on, up toward some additional community playing fields boardering on a heavily wooded area which I believe is responsible in part for the diversity of birds my mom enjoys in her tiny yard – including hawks and, surprisingly, turkey vultures. As I approached the field I saw unleashed dogs playing and was hesitant to run through – however as I got closer I realized they were instead young deer romping. I jogged the perimeter of the field and noted a nice community garden with someone just beginning his work there, along one side.

A stray mailbox and flag on the edge of the woods – didn’t see a house though.

Running on turf as opposed to concrete, as I do here in Manhattan, was a bit heavenly and I couldn’t help thinking that a fall here would likely only result in getting muddy as opposed to broken bones. Meanwhile, don’t think heroic thoughts about how much I was running. It was my usual three miles and still required (several) periods of walking and as there were no inclines to challenge me I can only admit I really just don’t have my wind and stamina back yet.

Tree bursting with apples along the route.

There is something downright edenic about being out in the suburbs though, especially after our long months bound to our apartment and our corner of the city, although I always feel fortunate to have grown up in such a pretty place. These days though even being on the ferry and out on the water, some part of my brain releases and relaxes in a way it doesn’t quite ever do here these days – although my time along the esplanade in the mornings comes close.

My route ended with a loop around the original area I had mapped out. Street names that my friend Suzanne had helped me list during a walk one day as I found an initial route. I checked in on Forrest (my grammar school nearby was Forrestdale), Park and Beekman, easy for a Manhattanite to remember for obvious reasons – touched base near her house on Ridge, and turned tail home where mom and a (not New York) bagel with smoked salmon awaited me.

Planting

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother has always had a garden. Perhaps it speaks to her largely Italian roots where there was a grape arbor in the backyard, cherry and other fruit trees and a kitchen garden for vegetables. (Posts about my grandmother’s house and that yard can be found here, here and here.) It was fertile soil (Jersey is, after all, the Garden State) and responsive to care and planting.

The Cittadino family yard at the turn of the century.

Mom also majored in zoology and botany in college which was as close as she (she a mere woman at a girl’s college) could come to a pre-med course. Much of that work in botany would come out over time, making up the fascinating accumulation and source of information my mother is. (Although of course I suppose that’s what mother’s are!)

In the first house I have clear memories of residing at, there was an impressive rock garden planted by the previous owners. It climbed up the sloping backyard and in my child’s memory was enormous – probably much smaller than I remember. One of my earliest memories is being about 3 and sitting with my mom as she worked in that garden. I think she was weeding and I picked up a handful of tiny frog as I ‘helped’ her. He jumped, we all jumped and I screamed in terror as my mom tried to explain the nature of the frog to me.

I believe that this more formal sort of garden was not really mom’s taste which was clearly a bit more natural, wild even. However, presented with this beautiful garden she certainly did tend it lovingly.

In the cottage on the river where we lived until I was about 11 the soil was sandy and salty from the water. Betty dug her heels in and really did battle to make anything grow there. Through considerable grit she achieved a smattering of rose bushes and something that served as a lawn, although may have been largely well-trimmed weeds in reality. No matter, lawn was never a passion of hers.

Magnolia tree near mom’s which inspired the purchase of one for her yard.

In summer she coaxed a bay of giant sunflowers in a side yard that was otherwise a fairly no-nonsense vegetable garden. It was there that I learned the joy of bountiful homegrown tomatoes and a surfeit of zucchini, and the occasional eggplant. It was tough going though and I also remember the failure of corn and all the evergreen trees that died too. (She had had a plan to buy live trees for Christmas and plant them. As one after another died she realized that this plan would not work and bought an artificial tree instead. The practice of cutting trees for Christmas really bothers her.)

The yard was all mom’s. Dad traveled constantly for work and his schedule only allowed for occasional involvement where he worked under mom’s direction. His background as a city kid did not allow for much gardening expertise or interest.

We moved several blocks away when I was about 12 and there my parents stayed until a few years ago. Although still on the water it was less likely to flood and the soil, while not that of her youth, was definitely several notches better.

Here she planted numerous trees, which we had the pleasure of seeing mature over those decades. Because the water table was still very high, it was the willows that thrived, although there were nice oaks and maple trees too, a weeping cherry. There were some lovely old trees on the property, one outside my bedroom window housed a screech owl, foxes made a home of a dead one in the backyard. She had her tree failures – a beloved copper beech that never really thrived as I remember.

Irises in mom’s yard, but not the ones she brought from the other house.

She was serious about tree care and people came at least annually to examine, prune and make suggestions. Living in a hurricane zone it was necessary to know that your trees were fit to withstand those high winds. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy the loss of trees in the yard and the neighborhood left it sad and denuded. These were old friends that were gone now.

In this yard mom combined flowers and vegetables. There was a grapevine and strawberries – the wildlife got far more of these than we ever did however. The tiny delicious strawberries seemed somewhat miraculous to me. Tomatoes still reigned, but herbs were what I remember most. She planted them in the ground, but also in containers. It was lovely to hop outside and snip some fresh herbs for whatever I was making for dinner.

Mom’s house when we first purchased it.

There were glorious rose bushes in a variety of colors and some stunning irises that a friend had made a gift of and which he had brought from his home in New Orleans. There were azaleas and a glorious butterfly bush. In later years, with no family to feed, mom focused her planting on flowers and plants that would attract and feed the birds, insects and wild life of the area. The result was a cacophony of birds, buzzing bees and often a half dozen bunnies in view at any time. Deer found their way there and fox. Hawks and even vultures stopped by looking for prey. The yard was a wild kingdom of sorts in later years.

Mom’s house earlier this spring.

When mom moved into her current house she had a blank slate as the previous owners had only done basic maintenance. Mom is housebound now, but has a trusted gardener known only as Mike to me. Between them they have transformed the small yard, front and back. Mom is entirely focused on flowers which she enjoys from a windowed room at the back of the house. The irises were rescued and transplanted here and she can tell you about other plants and bulbs shared by friends and acquaintances, some rescued from Mike’s other jobs when they no longer suited the owners.

I have contributed some peonies (which have come into their own this year), a hummingbird feeder and a weeping cherry and a magnolia tree are on their way to her presently as belated Mother’s Day gifts. I took a tour of the yard when I was there last weekend and it was nice to see how it has grown in. After this long year spent in our Manhattan studio apartment walking around her little paradise is better than ever.

One of the peonies I gave mom, blooming this month.

This multi-colored honey suckle reminded me of the masses of it we had growing wild in our yard growing up. Dad showed me how to extract a single drop of nectar from each – amazing! When I remarked on it mom told me it is one of her favorites and that she had asked for it. A fact I never knew.

Multi-color honeysuckle.

In order to better survey her kingdom mom has a friend who records mini tours on video. Larry does a great job and I am enjoying these too.

Having lived in a Manhattan apartment my whole adult life I don’t know if I inherited mom’s green thumb or not. Kim, with his green thumb, tends our mass of African violets and single aloe plant. I miss those fresh tomatoes each summer!

Ocean Grove

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.

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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.

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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.

A Whale of a Good Time

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.