On Asbury Avenue

Hey folks! Taking a quick detour from Thanksgiving Prep Week to participate in another Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled carb-laden goodness tomorrow.


I think we all have ways of revisiting our childhood, opening doors to our past. We visit the amusement parks we went to as children, or maybe make a return trip to our elementary school. Sometimes it’s as simple as picking up a favorite old stuffed animal. I have a lot of physical, concrete connections to my childhood. My parents still live in the same house I was brought home to after I was born. Many of my favorite books as a child now sit on my kids’ bookshelves. Mom never throws anything of ours away, so every time I go over for a visit there’s some little snippet of my childhood she’s dug up from a drawer. Snoopy colored pencil set and rainbow erasers, anyone? Mom’s got you covered.

But you can’t always go back.

My family has vacationed in Ocean City, NJ every summer since I was 4 years old. From age 4 to 24, we rented the same house on Asbury Avenue. The memories from that house flood my psyche at the mere mention of “The Shore.”

The steps to the side door. That door would open for the first time each summer, I would see those steps up to the 2nd floor, and vacation had officially arrived. Dad would see those steps and groan at the thought of all the luggage he would have to haul up. I remember how those steps looked at night, when we would come home happy and tired from the boardwalk, our arms filled with the treats we had purchased.

The back bedroom with the plastic flowers hanging from the ceiling. My big sisters getting ready in their pretty swimsuits in front of the bedroom mirror. Me wishing I was old enough to have a cool swimsuit like theirs. The closet that smelled of mothballs. The chenille coverlets on the beds. I recovered from chicken pox in those beds one year. I remember how crisp and clean mom’s sheets felt on those beds. How waking up each morning of our two week stay in that house was the very essence of summer and relaxation. Nothing but a fun-filled day of sea and sand stretching in front of me.

I etched my name in one of the dresser drawers.

I would twirl down the hallway in my swimsuit.

That tiny bathroom with the tub I would just about fill with sand when I cleaned off after the beach. I remember how fresh the water smelled as I washed off. And when I emerged from the bathroom all squeaky clean in my summer clothes, my dad would always remark at how fresh and nice I looked. He probably doesn’t even realize he did that every year, but it was something I looked forward to hearing from him.

That outside shower where all that sand was supposed to go. The water would run under the door of the outside shed and puddle in the sidewalk beside it. I remember how cool that puddle felt under my hot feet.

The fireplace in the living room – did anyone ever use it?

Those aquamarine walls. I wouldn’t want them any other color.

The dining room with the glass table. Home to many a spaghetti dinner. Everything tastes better at the shore.

The little kitchen. Where we would eat our hoagies for our first dinner at the shore each year. That kitchen and its contents are solely responsible for my addiction to antique Fiestaware and Swanky Swig juice glasses. The cupboard was stocked to the brim with the colorful kitchenware.

The porch. The green indoor/outdoor carpet, the red patio furniture, the awning. They all said summer to me. I would sit there, morning, noon or night…and just think. Watch the world go by and think. I would eat my Rosetti’s water ice on that porch and pretend I was a character in my own version of The Outsiders. Breakfasts on that porch were heavenly. Mom and me in our robes sipping orange juice and feeling the salt air on our sleepy faces. Does it get any better than that? I used to play shell shop on that porch. Line up my shells and sell them to whichever poor family member happened to be sitting on the porch with me that day. We always had a front seat for the antique car parade.

The front windows. They bring back memories, too. Looking out and watching the traffic go by – the distinctive “clunk clunk” the cars made as they drove over the seams on Asbury Avenue. When I was a little older, I would look out those windows late at night while watching Carson and Letterman. After Carson, the Shell Shop sign across the street would go out. After Letterman, the realty sign would click off. I found that so comforting for some reason. The predictability of those signs “going to sleep” each night. How the clunck cluncks of the cars would slow as it grew later, giving way to faint sounds of the ocean. What a summer lullaby.

Then we stopped renting that house. There just wasn’t room anymore. Not enough bedrooms and bathrooms for all the husbands and grandkids that were added to the mix. That late summer when Hurricane Floyd hit and we had to leave early…I think that was the last time I was in that house. Had I known it was the very last time…

I think I would have paused on the way out.

Said goodbye – touched a wall or two.

I don’t know, something mawkish like that. When you have that many memories wrapped up in a house, I think you have license to be maudlin and caress a couple inanimate objects.

But I figured it would always be there. I figured I could always go back.

After all, even after we began renting elsewhere, we would pass by on the way to Kessel’s Korner and I would look up at that 2nd floor porch and smile…like a nod to an old friend with whom you have a long history.

I looked over that same way in April, 2005 while on a day trip to the beach. Ready to smile at my old friend. I had done the rounds…drive by Kessel’s Korner…all is well…opening in late April. Pass by the Discovery Shell Museum, open for business as usual.

In an instant…

The unchanged buildings on either side of the empty space…it was as if they stood by with guilty sheepishness…the house was gone, and they could offer no explanation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a small lot so bare as that lot of cinder block and rubble. In that instant, I could almost hear the audible sound of a door shutting.

You can’t always go back.

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Under a Canopy of Tomatoes

Gardening 1975

Me at work in the backyard, circa 1975.

I’ve been around a garden for as long as I can remember. My father is an avid gardener, and when I was a child, the entrance of spring meant peat pots, seed packets, and my dad at the helm of a lumbering rototiller. I’d watch dad care for his huge tray of seedlings, which while still germinating inside the house, would span across the back sliding glass door and block our exit to the backyard. Mom just loved that! He’d mark each pot with a white label, and if I wrote carefully, he’d let me do some of the labeling, too. I’d check on the sprouts daily, and before long the seedlings were big enough to transplant. Dad would guide me through gently placing the tender plants in the soil (you never called it dirt) and he’d furrow small rows for the seeds he was directly sowing. “Don’t cover them too much or too tight, Beck,” I can still hear him remind me.

I’m sure I wasn’t much of an actual help, but all summer I would love to keep him company, crawling under the canopy of tomato towers and snapping pole beans into a colander. Knowing I was always under foot, Dad would embed the tines of his garden hoe into the ground lest I step on the end and smack myself in the head like the cartoon characters. Dad taught me how to properly pick a vegetable from its vine, and to this day, the smell of a tomato vine brings me right back to Daddy’s garden. The harvest would vary from year to year, but would always include eggplants, green beans, limas, squash, lettuce, peppers, my personal favorite – okra, and an ever-changing variety of tomatoes.

The work that followed in the kitchen was just as fun as the garden tasks. Dad would make sauces, chili (among other creations,) and fried okra – which never made it past the pan, we ate it so fast.

Coming from this rich gardening history, you would think I would have dived right into it myself as an adult. But for years while I worked in an office, I didn’t have the time to properly maintain one. I was instead content with a small flower garden, stocked with daylillies and flowers gifted by my sister. When we moved to the home where we are now, and I became a work-at-home mommy, I entertained the idea until I quickly realized that the many deer that roam our yard would only use a garden as an all-you-care-to-eat buffet. It was only just last year that we got a Grow Camp (and also a deck) that now allow us to continue this rich gardening legacy.

The season is starting, and while I may not have a huge plot of land to till, or an enormous tray of seedlings to tend, I do have a modest little garden space that allows me to put into practice the skills I learned from my Daddy and I delight in being able to pass this hobby on to my kids as well.

And Daddy? He’s probably at work in his garden as I type. It’s a little smaller than it used to be, and this year he’s decided to order plants instead of planting from seed. But I love that we can still work the soil together.