My parents were not what you would call “vacation people.” We never visited Disney World or skied at fancy resorts or took car trips across multiple states. When he was inclined to take a day off (which was rare), my dad would work on some home improvement project or catch up on the yard work.
We took family vacations. They were just simple ones. And the same every year.
Three days in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. No more and no less. We stayed at the Dolphin Motel at 4th and Landis. Every single year.
That last year, the summer of 1984, I was being a pest about the vacation thing. Call it being a teenager whose friends were going places, call it intuition, but I was absolutely insistent on the idea of our family taking our traditional Sea Isle City vacation. Come hell or high water, we were going downashore, as we say in Philadelphia.
It would be our last family vacation ever. Six months later, my dad would be dead at the age of 44 after a bout with the flu and a stomach virus that attacked his heart.
But that August, as we sat on the sandy beaches of New Jersey, my dad had spoken to his sister. She and her husband were thinking of buying a beach house not too far away from where we were sitting. The place was steeped in tradition for her. Right after Sea Isle City, New Jersey comes a tiny blip of a town called Strathmere, one so small that it rarely makes it onto the maps. Nestled between Sea Isle and Strathmere is a strip of beach called Whale Beach, which is where my dad and aunt vacationed as children with their parents every summer.
Since we were down in Sea Isle, my aunt asked her brother, would we have a few minutes to stop over at this house she was considering buying and give her his opinion? She trusted him, valued his feedback.
We piled into our golden yellow 1973 Pontiac LeMans and drove over to see the house. We didn’t even get out of the car, didn’t even allow 5 minutes to pass before my dad found a pay phone and called my aunt, hollering that the place was a dump and that she had to be out of her goddamn mind to even think about buying that house.
We later learned that we had gotten the address wrong and the house was several houses up the street – also in not-great condition, but that didn’t stop my aunt and uncle from purchasing it.
My dad never made it to the real Strathmere beach house. Settlement was the same weekend we buried him.
For 27 years, that house has been ours. Not ours ours: my aunt and uncle’s, who have graciously hosted family and friends alike for all of those years. It has a weatherbeaten, lived in feeling that makes whomever is occupying it at the time feel like it is their home.
|By Strathmere Bay|
Because of my dad and the family connection and history, I like to be down at the beach house on Father’s Day weekend. During the last few years, that’s coincided nicely with our vacation times from work and that’s where we’ve been. I like being around the sepia-toned photographs in the house of him and my aunt as children, sitting on a dock that is a few hundred yards from where his never-met twin grandchildren jump in the waves.
I like to imagine that he sits there, still, watching.
On Monday, as I wrote in my previous post (“Better Days”), this was the scene on the street of the shore house as Hurricane Sandy pounded the Jersey shore.
We were already nervous and worried enough about The Husband’s surgery on November 1. And even though I knew this was “just a house,” I could not face the possibility of losing this, too. Seeing this picture, though (before high tide) made me convinced that we had just spent our last family vacation in Strathmere.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, I spent a lot of time checking Facebook and Twitter for Sandy updates. I found two souls in Strathmere (more on them in another post) who were photographing homes and the town and updating residents, easing their minds. Things were, one of them said, better than we might had thought.
And then, as I sat in The Husband’s hospital room watching him sleep, a photo came from my brother.
“Our” house. Still standing. Completely the same. Practically untouched.
“UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!” he wrote. No damage whatsoever. My brother had driven down to the house with my uncle to survey the situation and they found no damage at all.
I stared at the photo, showed my groggy husband. “Look!” I exclaimed, trying to break through his drug-induced post-surgical haze. “There’s no damage at the house!”
“Thaz niiiice,” he slurred.
I sat back down and stared at the photo some more. Made a donation to the Red Cross in gratitude.
And wondered if maybe my handyman Dad did his sister another favor after all, stopping by the house again to make sure everything was okay.
Thanks for getting the address right this time, Dad. Thank you. So much.
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