Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wish you were here

In case you didn't know, I grew up going to the Jersey shore and I still make an effort to take my kids there in the summertime. I want them to be feeling their inner Jersey girls, at least once in a while. Last night I realized I hadn't been taking them enough. Hopefully it's not too late to rectify that.

It was my turn to read bedtime stories to the five-year-old; per usual, she chose a book (The Zabajaba Jungle by William Steig) and I chose a book (Flotsam by David Wiesner). Per usual, she initially regarded my choice with skepticism, but when I explained to her that this was a sentimental choice, that this magical, wordless picture book was set in Long Beach Island, vacation mecca of my childhood and the same "down the shore" she'd visited a number of times, she relented. She loves LBI, of course. To the uninitiated it probably doesn't seem like much—a skinny, flat strip of sand in the Atlantic. Eighteen miles of laughing gulls and mole crabs and tartar sauce and ice cream parlors and cute lifeguards and the clink-clink of sailboats in the marina at night. Old Barney, big and benevolent like all old-school lighthouses, and some of the best heels-over-head, rough-and-tumbling, sand-in-every-orofice body-surfing around. Even Lindsay, who'd mutter darkly about Galveston or South Padre vs. LBI when I first forced him to go some 20-odd years ago, feels the love.

After we read Flotsam (naturally she loved that too), I told my daughter that Superstorm Sandy had wreaked some serious havoc on our beloved Jersey shore and I wasn't sure how LBI had fared. I did know that the Seaside Heights roller coaster and log flume had been washed out to sea, and that various boardwalks were in shambles. She looked confused. What's a boardwalk?

Omigod, have we never taken her to a boardwalk? Is it too late?

I am no fan of Governor Chris Christie but something he said at one of his many press conferences this week made me a little verklempt. He said that the boardwalks would be rebuilt but to folks of a certain age, they'd never be the same. He's so right. I guess I'm of that certain age. When did I get to be a certain age?

I realize that if you're not from NJ, you think that the Jersey shore is Jersey Shore. I've never watched the show; that might be what it's like now (or, well, that might've been what it was like a few days ago), but that's not how I see it. I see it as it's depicted on these vintage postcards (scored, mind you, at an antiques mall here in San Antonio): LBI was Eden (a mostly treeless Eden, but Eden nonetheless), and the boardwalks of Seaside Heights and Wildwood were a beckoning Babylon. My brother and I had to beg my parents to take us to that "honky-tonk" as they disparagingly referred to it, and that honky-tonk never disappointed. Please rebuild, Jersey. It won't be the same, but I've got some young Texans who need to feel the boardwalk beneath their feet.

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