First Grade came winding down. I received my first Holy Communion. My parent’s bought me my first suit of clothes, from Robert Hall, and I trudged with a couple dozen boys and girls to the altar to taste the Body and Blood of Christ. Then it was summer. And just like school changed the world into weekdays and weekends, so school gave us summer vacation. Three long months that had a rhythm and structure all their own.
My family took a two week vacation at the end of June each year. We would rent an apartment in Ocean City, NJ and spend two weeks at the shore. The day consisted of waking up, going for a long walk on the beach, to the point perhaps, and then going home to get our towels and toys and going back to the beach. We spent the day on the beach except for lunch. Lunch was a rushed sandwich, tuna or cold cuts or PB & J, and then back to the beach.
We’d body surf and try to float. We’d make great sandcastles. Most of the time we stayed near 59th Street in Ocean City. Until 1962 it had a long fishing pier that stretched well out into the ocean. It also had a row of great Granite blocks dumped along the shore to hold the beach in place. We’d play inside the spaces between the blocks. We found sand sharks in gullies and learned how to find shells in the morning.
Sometimes my father would play box ball with us or handball. It was my father who taught us how to body surf. How to catch a wave just right. In the evening we’d eat seafood from Campbell’s and then if we were lucky go to the boardwalk and ride the rides.
My father had been going to Ocean City his whole life. Ocean City had long ties to the Philly Irish community. The Kelly’s of Philadelphia had a big house that my father never failed to point out to us. Our Uncle John had a home on 42nd Street right on the beach and we’d walk up and visit Uncle John and Aunt Ellie and my fathers cousins, including Aunt Alice who I thought was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
On the boardwalk our father taught us how to grab the brass ring on the merry go round and took us up high on the ferris wheel. We’d watch the great summer moon sink into the sea and then get up and do it all again.
By the time we returned to Wenonah it too was different. Wenonah in summer was hot and humid beyond belief. Nothing moved except the children. That first year we joined the Wenonah Lake and went there to take rudimentary swimming lessons. We played in the kiddie part of the lake and cooked hot dogs and ate snow cones.
We began to expand our world that summer. Mick had gone to Kindergarten that year and now had friends of his own. Some of my classmates were members of the Lake as well as his so we all joined together in games. Hierarchies had not yet been established and we knew nothing of cool. We were just having fun.
In the evenings we could play outside till 8pm when it was time for bed. There was really nothing of consequence on television so we began our long games of Kick the Can. Our friends played it for hours after we’d gone to bed and we could hear the can rattling along the sidewalk from our beds.
Thunderstorms would come rolling through and I’d lie at the end of my bed with my cat Surprise and watch the terrible skies light up. Great trees would fall and crush a house or lie across the road.
Each summer the town would put new macadam down on several of the streets. The smell of hot tar would fill the afternoon and the stones were new and fresh. We had yet to really explore the woods but that was soon to come.
Finally the summer wound down in a long, long slide that took us inexorably back to school. A few days before the first day of school we could walk up to the school and they would have our class listings posted.
Second grade for me would put me in a class with Third graders. Miss Quigley was our teacher. She was blond and pretty and looked a bit like Donna Reed. I was as glad for summer to end as I’d been for it to begin. I was bored with play and wanted something new. Something new I would get. Each September.