By Barbara Quinn
My mother often told me that the first time she took me to the beach I was little more than two weeks old. No wonder I developed an absolute need to be by the water. Something about the sound of waves crashing and the tang of salt air still comforts me and allows bothersome things to fall into place.
I spent my formative years on the beaches of Long Island, New York where we had a small summer cottage on the Great South Bay. Sometimes we merely hit the sand for a few hours of swimming and playing, but on many days we loaded up our cabin cruiser and took to the water for day long trips stopping to lower anchor to swim or fish. Other times we headed to Fire Island and the pretty beach beyond the dock. We fished, crabbed, and clammed and had wonderful sunburnt times.
Years later, I continued my trek to the Long Island beaches with my own family. We extended our beach reach to the Jersey Shore where we fell in love with the quaint Victorian atmosphere of Cape May, and spent time crabbing in the bays off Long Beach Island. After a time we gravitated north and landed in Bradley Beach, where we bought a home thirteen years ago. An interesting fact is that the shore in New Jersey is usually called the shore, not the beach. New Yorkers go to the beach. Only people from New Jersey go “down the shore.”
My regular walk takes me along the oceanfront where I stroll through Bradley Beach, north to Ocean Grove, and on into Asbury Park. My favorite part of the walk occurs when there is boardwalk beneath my feet. There’s nothing like the feel of the springy boards of a real boardwalk. Most of the wooden boardwalks have been replaced by stone pavers, or composite board but some real stuff still remains, though I have a feeling it isn’t long before it too is gone.
The boards sound very different in the winter than they do in summer. The frozen boards creak and crack more as you tread. They are less resilient but still more forgiving than hard stone or composite.
At this part of the Shore, the towns are often bounded by small lakes. Bradley’s lake on the north is Fletcher Lake. Bradley Beach sits on one side of the lake facing Ocean Grove to the north. As I pass from Bradley Beach and enter Ocean Grove the housing stock changes dramatically to old Victorian. These are charming homes, many with no more than a foot between them. They pride themselves on having a top notch fire department which is needed for the old wooden structures.
After Ocean Grove and another small lake called Wesley Lake I walk through the old Casino building into Asbury Park. This wasn’t a gambling casino. It was a place for ice skating and for a gorgeous old carousel. Nothing remains now except the stunning facade of the old building that still retains a gritty charm and elegance in spite of its age.
I pass through Asbury Park with its rich history of rock and roll. The Stone Pony with its black silhouetted horse is there as is Madam Marie’s fortune telling booth which is mentioned in the song 4th of July (Sandy). Madam Marie is gone now but her family carries on the fortune telling tradition. I can hear Springsteen’s Sandy echoing in my head, bringing the shore experience to life in the best of ways. What is better than a summer love on the beach with the sound of the ocean roaring in your ears and the tang of salt spray in your nostrils? And on those nights when the carnival is in town on the green it’s beyond sublime.
At the old Convention Center and Paramount I turn around and head back home. In the past Springsteen has practiced here, sometimes throwing the back doors that face the beach open so the crowd outside can hear. I pass the Wonder Bar and the old Howard Johnson’s that’s been beautifully renovated into an Ale House.
I cross back into Ocean Grove and head to the pretty pier that juts out into the ocean. At the end sits a mascot of the former fishing club that was washed away in Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The little fellow sits atop a sign that reads Down the Shore Everything’s Alright, a line from Bruce Springsteen’s song Jersey Girl. I often head down the pier and take a seat, watching the ocean and waves crashing, and listening to the gulls cawing overhead. My insides settle and I’m aware on a different level that yes, down the shore everything’s alright.