By Susan Wagner
We spent a week this summer at the Jersey shore with three of our grandchildren. Watching another generation enjoy our special place was a huge pleasure. I met my husband in Ocean City when we were both 18 and newly graduated from high school. We have been together since.
My husband’s parents worked and played there when they were in college. He was a cook and she a waitress, just like us. They continued to visit every summer with their children and my husband’s grandmother. We brought our own children down every summer, sometimes for a week, more often for day trips.
These grandchildren, the oldest three of our grandchildren, had been in Ocean City as babies. Now we returned with them as preteens and teen. A lot has changed.
Stores and restaurants have come and gone. Hurricanes have taken a toll, especially Sandy, and, literally, tons of sand has been pumped in. But the boardwalk is still there with its family activities and all manner of stores. People still ride bicycles and surreys, play air hockey and eat pizza and salt water taffy. And The Chatterbox is still there in all its pink glory.
The Chatterbox restaurant, open since 1937, is a family favorite. Located right on 9th Street, it was where my in-laws worked and where their group employee picture hangs. My husband and his sister also worked there but by then the summer picture practice was over.
Naturally, seeing the picture is a family tradition. We all troop to the spot where it hangs and my husband points out his parents while we answer questions from the kids. Young eyes see the old fashioned uniforms and hair styles. But there’s a familiar feature here and there that we point out. They look to see them in each other.
We eat burgers and fries and then are off to the boardwalk. They are old enough to walk about themselves but young enough that they like the tradition of “the old folks.” We laugh at being called old. We don’t feel it. In fact, we feel years younger while we are there. We point out where my husband proposed and I said yes. Where we played miniature golf and where my husband got on the salt ‘n pepper shakers to impress me, never mentioning how he hates rides like that. They laugh at that story and a half dozen others.
A lot has changed over the years but somehow the shore experience has not, at least where we are. It feels comfortable to settle into the street we used to walk so many years ago, to see the gulls fly over the beach looking for food, to hear children laughing as waves hit their feet. Our three, all city born and raised, are happy with this historical pastime.
Despite all the technology they already have mastered, our grandchildren are content to do simple things, swim, build sand castles, walk the boards. They hang out and talk.
When the week ends, we pack the car and take them home with us for another day. They effortlessly make the transition back to the constantly connected life they lead. Phones, computers, iPads, all turn on and just like that, social media returns to prominence. We do some school shopping and then they’re off to the train and home.
It takes a day or two for us to recover and then, we too, are all reconnected and the shore feels like a dream. I think I might write something profound about the experience some day when I get the chance to put it all together. I tell myself I will. Something transcendent will surely come to mind, something to last like the photos at The Chatterbox. It could happen. So much else has.