Down-y oh-shun, Hun (trans: down the ocean, honey) is an often-heard phrase in Bawl-tee-more (trans: Baltimore). Down-y oh-shun is my happy place.
My dad loved the beach. He spent many summers in a rental house at the Jersey Shore. Grandma shared the house with her sisters, nieces and nephews. The husbands came down for the weekend, driving from Jersey City. Many Jewish families spent summers in rented Catskill bungalows. The Zuckerman’s preferred the beach.
Naturally, Dad shared his love of the ocean with Mom, Laura, Margo and me and all the “accoutrements” involved in a beach trip.
Going to the beach meant schlepping several items. First was the beach blanket. This was a brown, moth-eaten, scratchy wool Army blanket from Dad’s service in World War II. The blanket had seen better days, as you can tell by my description, but was an essential part of spending a day at the beach.
Next was the green beach umbrella. It weighed a ton but offered good protection from the sun and wind. Unlike today’s plastic poles, this pole was wooden. The post had a sharp point that Dad twisted endlessly into the sand so it would securely withstand ocean breezes. The heavy canvas part went into the pole next, clicking into place. Finally, the apparatus was tilted in such a way as to maximize shade for a family of five.
Our beach bags were nothing fancy. I remember using the upright, heavy plastic drawstring bags we took to camp. Of course, we also had buckets and shovels to dig for treasures and to build sandcastles.
We always took food and drinks. No one back then was “politically correct”—we drank sugary soda. Eating one’s sandwich was always a challenge. An awful lot of sand got into those sandwiches!
Finally, the suntan lotion. Sunscreen? What was that? The goal of a day (or week) at the beach was to get a tan. Who didn’t want to be as golden brown as the little Coppertone girl?
Beaches we visited
The beach with the coldest water ever was Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Dad was the only one who actually swam in the water. The rest of us were content to get our feet and ankles wet. I remember being content to dig in the sand and play with my new friend, Elaine.
More frequently, we went to Atlantic City or Asbury Park, New Jersey. Both had kosher hotels. In other words, Mom got a real vacation—she didn’t have to schlep food.
We also frequented Ocean City, Maryland. For many years, it was understood that the town was not welcoming to Blacks and Jews. So, when we went, we kept a “low profile,” so to speak. Rye bread wasn’t sold in the local grocery store—too “Jewish.” Thankfully, this has changed over the years. Ocean City is much more diverse, and Food Lion sells bagels!
On the way home from these trips, Dad would stop at the produce stands on Route 50, looking for the best price for corn and/or cantaloupes. He had to stop at least twice for price checks. After all, he didn’t want to be taken advantage of and overpay.
Going to the beach with my kids
We began taking Nossi and Eli to Ocean City when Nossi was three. He had a wonderful time—digging, wading, walking on the boardwalk, having Mom and Dad all to himself (baby Eli stayed home with Bubby and Zayde that year).
Two memorable Ocean City trips come to mind. The first was the “week of lousy weather.” It was cold, cloudy and rainy the entire time. The boys played on the beach for an hour or two each day, while we adults shivered. The rest of the days were spent trying to entertain them. In other words, we went to movies, did go-karts, visited the arcades, went to Cowboy Town—anything that cost money! Naturally, the weather cleared up the Friday morning we left.
Then, August 1991, the year of Hurricane Bob. The Baltimore weathermen were reporting the approach of Hurricane Bob and its affects on Ocean City. Baltimore was beautiful and sunny when we left. By the time we got to Ocean City three hours later, the sun was gone, and the wind had picked up. The local DJs were talking about possible evacuation!
Nevertheless, we unpacked and got settled in our condo. We were in a high-rise building and figured that if the storm caused flooding, we’d be relatively safe. We decided to stay, unlike our friends, whose nine-year-old son worried them so much that they turned around and drove back to Baltimore.
Anyway, I found a roll of masking tape in one of the kitchen drawers. Aren’t windows supposed to be taped up before a storm? That’s what I did, just for the heck of it.
At around 5:00 a.m., the wind was howling, and rain beat against the windows. Hurricane Bob was roaring off the coast, pounding Ocean City. However, by 9:00 a.m., the clouds disappeared, and the sun came out. While the lifeguards wouldn’t allow swimming that day in the ocean due to riptides, the beach was magnificent! After the hurricane we experienced some of the best beach and swimming days ever.
Nowadays, Ken and I don’t get to the beach as often as we’d like. When we do, however, the sound of the waves hitting the shore brings back great memories.
Read more by Eileen Creeger.