It was the summer of 1961. I had just completed my junior year in college. Summertime was for beaches and romance, according to all of the popular songs and movies. My college roommate had invited me to go to Wildwood, New Jersey, with her and her family. Her father was employed in the menhaden fishing industry, based in Reedville, Virginia. In the summer, the menhaden fish moved north, off the coast of New Jersey. All employees moved there and lived in rented homes for the whole summer. The lady next door to my roommate’s family’s summer home had a spare room she was willing to rent to me. My parents gave their permission since I would have my roommate’s parents next door.
And so the stage was set for a glamorous summer adventure! My room was small with no air conditioning. I had kitchen privileges and freedom! My roommate and I had visions of ourselves as waitresses in a fine restaurant, earning big tips and meeting rich people. These hopes were dashed at the first interview when we were asked if we were experienced in “arm service.” Of course we weren’t. We didn’t even know what that meant!
On to Plan B. We checked out the stores along the boardwalk and found jobs at one that sold beach apparel. The job was simple: help customers and keep the merchandise neat. Mrs. Greenwald, the manager, was a no-nonsense boss with red hair. She expected us to stay busy. I opened a checking account at the local bank, feeling my independence.
Back to romance. Not many young men patronized the store. My roommate did attract the attention of the store owner’s son. She was tall, pretty and blonde. The Italian guys from South Philly, who made up the pool of male prospects, were charmed by her. I only recall one date — a blind date with a foul-mouthed, talkative young man.
I wasn’t much of a cook and I wasn’t comfortable in the kitchen, so I found all the cheap food along the boardwalk to eat. That summer I was introduced to the true Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
There were some good times. On one of my days off, I took the Greyhound bus to Atlantic City, about 30 miles away. There were no casinos then, so I just walked on the famous boardwalk. Another great opportunity was my first flight in an airplane. I was invited to fly in a Piper Cub owned by the menhaden industry. It was used to spot schools of fish. I was delighted to fly low over Wildwood for a bird’s-eye view.
I went with a group to a club in town where Paul Anka was performing. His career was just beginning to take off. The club was small and we were excited to be able to talk with him. I was the only one in the group who was 21 and my companions were disappointed when I did not order a drink.
There was not much time for the beach. It was a beautiful wide, white sand beach. The beaches at home did not compare. The summer passed and I realized I would be going home with no golden tan. That was unacceptable! To get some beach time, I quit my job a week early. The store owner was very unhappy. I spent every day on the beach with my baby oil and Bain de Soleil. There is a photo of me back at school, looking dark. I wasn’t “tan” because the photo was black and white!
My summer adventure did not turn out as I had anticipated but there are good memories. The experience did awaken my love for travel. The next summer I went to California!
Nancy P. Sykes has been a Peninsula resident most of her life and is now in her 21st year of writing for Oyster Pointer. She can be reached at 757-269-0506 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.