Wildwood, New Jersey – 1975
One summer day my family were all at the beach together. This wasn’t uncommon, especially on the weekends. My dad was off from work, and we’d all make our mandatory pilgrimage to the sea. Everybody had their job. Each member had to carry a different object. My job was carrying my father’s binoculars. I loved those field glasses. You could just see so far on the beach. If something was happening you could see it before anybody. Those binoculars were so powerful. I always hoped I’d witness a shark attack.
My father was frolicking in the surf with one or more of my sisters when he noticed another girl playing and swimming in the water by herself. Somehow a conversation ensued and introductions were made. She was the same age as my older sister. Her name was Sandy, and her folks had a house about four blocks west of our house up above 8th and New Jersey Avenue.
Sandy was sort of a plain teenager. She was from Warrington, PA, and seemed like a simple country girl. A kind of naive chick that appeared to lead a sheltered life. She had an older sister named Carol, who was tall and beautiful. Odd thing was they appeared to come from humble beginnings. Sandy wore the same bathing suit every day and I think her sister Carol only owned one yellow bikini. They both seemed nice, but maybe they were poor.
We eventually met their parents and that was quite the contrary. They were wealthy and misers. My parents did everything they could for us kids. Sandy’s parents were sort of wrapped up in their own lives and did little for their daughters. Bordering on neglect. They were pretty basic, simple people that saved their pennies, and lived an itinerate life of church and faith. Sort of the opposite of my parents.
Sandy’s dad seemed nice enough and volunteered to take my father and I out in his boat. It wasn’t a ship or anything. It was more like a skiff.
Even though I didn’t really like deep water and could hardly swim, he said we’d just cruise around the bay and do a little fishing. I knew the backwater was calm so I wouldn’t lose my mind or get sick with fear. Unlike an incident a few years earlier.
So my older sister had a new friend, and they seemed like nice people. I’d get some time out on the man’s boat with my dad, and everybody wins.
Now, I don’t know if this incident happened the first time we ever went out on his boat or on a subsequent mission. But I’ll tell the story as I remember it.
We would drive with the man in his jeep back to 5th and the bay. There was a big parking lot there, and a concrete ramp where you could launch small boats. He would have the boat on a trailer, and back his jeep down the ramp to the water’s edge. Then he’d get out and crank a handle that would slowly launch the boat into the water while it was tethered to a rope. Once in the water, My dad and I would hold onto it. The rope would be untied from the boat and the man would pull away in the jeep. He’d park it and the trailer, and return to join us. We’d all hop in it and he’d start the motor and off we’d go. There were plenty of men and boys out there and it was a pretty simple process.
It was fun to cruise around in his little boat, and sometimes he’d let me steer it. You just sat in the back of the boat and held the tiller on the motor and went from there. If you turned it in your hand the boat went faster. (Sort of like the throttle on a motorcycle.)
After a few hours out on the bay, and much slathering of mosquito repellant, we’d return to the ramp to bring the boat back.
On this particular day, he suggested I stay in the boat while they pulled it up onto the trailer on the ramp behind his jeep. I don’t remember why. Maybe I had to pull the motor up out of the water so the skeg wouldn’t hit the concrete. So, he and my dad haul the boat up onto the trailer and I’m assuming we’re good to go.
He gets in the jeep and starts to pull up the hill to get back into the parking lot. But he forgot to tie the boat to the trailer. The boat proceeds to slide off the trailer backward with me in it. All I remember is a sudden, jarring, BANG! as the fiberglass hull struck the concrete. I held on for dear life. I was shaken but more surprised than afraid.
The man and my father jump out of the jeep to grab the rope as the boat begins to slip back into the bay. They pull it up and I clamber from the boat. There was no way I was staying in there anymore. I needed to put my feet on land again.
My dad flips out on the guy. I was actually surprised by how angry my father was at this error. I was okay, it was just a careless mistake. But he laid into him about what had happened. I realized it wasn’t about the mistake, it was more about his son being in the boat when it happened.
That was the last time we ever went out in his boat. My parents even cooled to Sandy and Carol’s parents in general. It just wasn’t a match. I think what tore it for me was the neglect of their teenage daughters. Oh, that and I heard the guy’s wife once refer to African Americans as “Darkies.”
But my sister remained friends with Sandy and her sister. They were both really nice girls despite their naivety.
But my short history with boating was just beginning. There would be another boat that would come into our lives. That, and a brand new cast of characters that would join us on the sandy stage of Wildwood in the summertime.
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