Wildwood, New Jersey – July 2021
The next morning I woke up upstairs in the apartment on the second floor of the shore house. This used to be where my father lived. This may be the bed he slept in for all I know. The apartment still has the 70s vibe and the walls are covered in wood paneling. I kind of like that it reminds me of a time in the past when life was simpler.
I looked at my phone at it was 5:30 am. Early. I looked at the weather app and it said sunrise was at 5:45. I knew I had 15 minutes to walk the block and a half to the beach to see the sunrise. I hadn’t seen a sunrise in I don’t know how long. It may have been the late 70s or early 80s but it was probably after I’d stayed out all night with some woman.
It’s always cooler at the shore. The heat was unbearable in Philly in July, but even when it’s blazing outside, there’s always a breeze at the shore. I threw on some clothes and quietly headed out. My sister’s husband had already left because he was going out on a fishing boat for the day with his brother or a friend.
I walked down the street towards the beach. Some of the properties have remained the same. The old-time, small clapboard shore houses. But many of the properties on the island have been torn down and transformed into massive condo complexes. It’s kind of sad because the architecture is part of the essence of a town. Being all built up like this sort of ruins the aesthetic of the community.
What was once a landscape dotted with little shore homes has now been mostly replaced by buildings that take up the entire property. Case in point: next door to the shore house was once a little one-story home. It was cute and perfect for the block like the other homes. But it’s been torn down and a massive three-story building is going up on that property. This completely blocks the air and the view of the sea from my sister’s place. So that’s another thing ruined. When you look out any window in the house now on that side all you’ll see is someone else’s gigantic house right in your face.
Where there were once motels all designed in the classic doo-wop design, are now massive properties and condos. Gone are all of the tourists that would stay at those motels each summer. The sound of people coming and going, and kids laughing and splashing around in the pools and music playing… all gone. It’s very quiet down there now. It looks nice and clean, but a huge part of the look and feel of the place is long gone.
I get to the beach and there are a few people around ready to see what I’m about to witness. I live in Philly. There are no sunrises to see. I’m surrounded by huge towers of steel and glass. It’s a city. They all look the same. It’s the neighborhoods and local businesses that make a city. They give it a personality. Wildwood has lost a lot of its personality.
The beach has retained its natural beauty. That timeless place for millions of years has done the same thing. The moon’s gravitational pull makes the waves lap the beach turning rock into sand over time.
I approach the lifeguard chair here on the 8th street beach. The chair is a timeless symbol of the seashore. The guards sit in the summer sun and go from tan to brown through the season. The protectors who sit and watch that no one drowns on their watch. The lifeguard persona is like a fireman. A protector, and yet, fit and admired by the women and girls who would flock to the beach each summer.
As I get closer to the chair, I notice a little plaque on the back of one of the horizontal stabilizing beams on this one. I take a closer look to read the inscription.
I don’t have any idea who John Steiger is, but the plaque on the right is a memorial to my father.
My dad loved the beach and being at the seashore. He’d been coming here during his childhood and then in the 60s with mom and the kids, and then bought the house in the 70s. He was never a lifeguard but always made friends with the guards and liked swimming in the sea. He was a social guy and I suppose he enjoyed the whole vibe of the beach scene. If they gave him a plaque I’m assuming he was an annual contributor to the Wildwood Beach Patrol over the years.
Whatever happened, it was nice to be standing here at almost 60 years old on the beach that held so many fond memories from my youth. I hadn’t stood on this beach in many decades. At least this was unchanged. You can’t move or build on the Atlantic Ocean, so it remains the same. That’s comforting. It made me smile to see my father’s name on that chair. It put him there with me for a few moments.
There’s an orange glow in the sky and upon the sea where the Earth will turn towards its nearest star to welcome a new day.
I’m happy to be here today to witness this daily event that we all take for granted. Life is good right now. I’m at the shore. There’s no stress in my life, I have my health and I really can’t complain about anything right now.
Like a shiny new penny, the sun begins to rise from the sea. It’s really beautiful. I see a couple off in the distance by the shoreline. They are but silhouettes and embrace each other as the golden disc rises before them. I smile and think back to when I fell in love every week back in the 70s in Wildwood.
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