Wildwood Daze – Maritime Fun – Part 2

Philadelphia, PA – 1976

My father was a Vice President at the Provident National Bank in center city. In his time with the bank, he had risen up the ranks and had made dozens of friends and contacts. My dad was a charming and effervescent guy. Everybody liked him. He was the “cool” dad to my friends. A guy who shot from the hip and not afraid to tell it like it was. I think my mom and I would disagree with some of that.

He had a diverse set of friends and acquaintances around Philly. One of his friends was this rich lawyer who drove a Rolls Royce. He’d get drunk and stay in the city at his apartment at The Drake. He’d tell my dad to take his Rolls for the night and bring it back to him the next day. I remember getting driven to school in a Rolls Royce one morning and it was like sitting in my living room.

This lawyer guy was a total maniac. One night he was hit by a drunk driver in the Rolls. The drunk guy who hit him was killed instantly in the crash, and the Rolls was the only thing that saved my dad’s friend’s life. They took him to the hospital, and while he was waiting to go in to get checked out, he bummed a cigarette off of somebody in the lobby. (You could smoke anywhere, anytime back in the 70s!) As the man is puffing away on the cig, he notices that smoke is coming out of the side of his shirt. In the accident, his lung had been punctured and the smoke was leaking from his wound. The man told the doctors not to put him under anesthetic. Just sew him up while he was fully awake. He said, “If you put me under, I’ll die.”

Yea, this dude was a wildman. He would be speeding down the Garden State Parkway with my dad in his Rolls, and my father would warn him to watch his speed. The guy would simply say, “Let the cops mail me the ticket.”

Lunatic.

But this story is about another friend of my father’s. He owned/managed a restaurant that my dad and his friends would frequent in the city. It was called Davinci’s. My father became friends with the man, and they’d chat at length. We’ll call him Steve, and leave it at that.

He loved hearing about my dad’s place at the seashore, the sweet sea air, and the sheer bliss of having a shore house. Steve wanted this for his family.

Steve had a hot wife who was a slender redhead with an unforgettable bustline. His eldest daughter Jaime was a slightly curvier version of her mother who was blessed with the same assets. He also had an adorable younger daughter Stacy, who was a delightful, hip kid despite her young age.

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1977

So, Steve decides to buy a shore house right around the corner from us on 9th street. It was nice hanging out on the beach with this family. Steve was a charming guy. Picture Lou Ferrigno but without the speech impediment. His wife Jackie was a lovely woman who became fast friends with my mother.

My friends and I, being 15-year-old boys, were instantly enthralled in the presence of daughter Jaime. She exuded raw sexuality and aloofness which fascinated us. (In hindsight, I think it was just that body) Jaime wanted nothing to do with twerps like us. She was already dating older dudes.

Here’s a photo I found of me and hot Jaime.

This is what we’re dealing with. That girl is only a year older than me. She’s built like a woman and I look like a twink next to her. What made things worse for us guys was, she and her friend Debbie would go out into the ocean up to their necks. They would then proceed to remove their tops and swing them around their heads. We were like… “Are they trying to make our brains explode?”

My bathing suit was wet when this photo was taken, but there was endless ribbing from my friends about how it looked like I was “sportin’ one” because I was standing next to her.

Here’s another shot of me with Jamie and Carol. (Sandy’s older sister from the previous chapter)

The struggle was real.

Sigh… I need to move on.

Their house was nothing like ours because they were obviously wealthy. I remember seeing a french phone on a fancy table in their house. Who has a $100 phone in their seashore house in the 70s?

French Crystal Telephone | French Phones at NoveltyTelephone.com

We just assumed they were loaded. They owned a restaurant in Philly. They must be rich. We don’t know anything.

One day, we’re all on the beach and Steve tells my dad that he’s acquired a little boat. (Like the one in the photo above) He’s determined to firmly ensconced himself into seaside living. Apparently, he had won the boat in a card game in Philly. That’s some high stakes, I thought. (I think the boat was worth $12k) He told my father that he could use it any time he wanted.

It was a cool little boat to have access to. My father of course got me a little book to read about boating. I like how before my dad took on anything new he tried to learn all he could about it. He passed that good trait onto me. I read the book cover to cover. I knew starboard from port, and bow to aft. I also knew that if the tide was going out that you had to give the boat that was traveling with the tide the ‘right of way’. All of these things are as important as rules that apply to the road when you’re driving a car.

I remember the boat being up on its trailer in our yard for a period of time. Somehow it was my job to scrub the barnacles off the bottom of the hull and paint it with a special blue paint to keep them from getting back on there.

I also studied the steering mechanism of the boat and rewired the whole thing with fresh cable to fix the steering. That was my contribution to our new shared toy.

Before we ever left the dock my father would always make his presence known with someone on staff. He would tell them where we were going and how long we expected to be out. Safety first!

On the property of the marina was this goose named Thor. He was like the watchdog of the whole place. I had seen him on several occasions squawk and chase hapless mariners around the property. Head down, wings out, at a full angry run.

We’d take the boat out and dad taught me how to drive it. It wasn’t like the boat I had previously ridden in. This had a steering wheel and a throttle. (Way cooler!) You’d get it out in the bay and gun the throttle up, and the nose of the boat would rise up as the boat went faster. I still had much fear about the ocean and water in general, but I really enjoyed driving the little speedboat around.

Once my dad took my sister and me out of the bay and across the channel into the ocean. We were across from second and JFK Blvd at the northern point of the isle. Once we crossed the channel, (which I was told had been dredged to 40 feet deep so the bigger boats could travel through it!) he drove us out to a huge sandbar 100 yards offshore. This amazed me at the time. One always thinks that the farther you go out into the ocean the deeper the water becomes. This is true, unless there’s a sandbar.

He beached the boat and tossed out the anchor. So we were far from the shore and standing on dry land because the tide was low. It was like being on a small desolate island offshore from Wildwood. My mother had packed us all lunches and we had a little picnic out there that afternoon. Everything always tastes better at the shore!

Dad would get his fishing rod out and cast a few times back into the channel. Normally, if there is a sand bar, the bigger fish hang out at the edge of it, waiting for the little fish to come across the sand bar as the tide rolls in.  As they reach the deep water they get eaten by the bigger fish. My dad was hoping to get one of those fish to fall for his lure.

I walked on the sandbar away from shore. It’s so cool because if you walk east you would think the water would suddenly get deeper and you’d go into the sea. But I could walk really far out into the ocean and it only remained a foot or so deep. It was weird to be so far offshore and only be in water up to your knees for 50 yards. But of course, the idea of all of this went against all of my instincts and I didn’t stay out there long. That coupled with my active imagination. I had remembered reading that most shark attacks against humans occurred in less than three feet of water. So I was pretty sure, even though I was in shallow water, I was really far from the shore. I was positive there were tons of big sharks out there just waiting to kill and eat me there. So, I quickly got back to the safety of the sandbar and my dad.

We had some good times out in that little boat. I have another story about our fishing exploits on that boat in another post.

The tide would start coming in and we’d head back to the marina. We took care of that boat like it was our own. But that’s how our parents raised us. You clean up after yourself and you take good care of things that don’t belong to you.

However, this wasn’t the case with Steve’s family. His daughter Jaime and one of her boyfriends would go out in the boat on occasion. We’d find trash in the boat and things in just general disarray onboard when we’d go to use it.

I remember finding a bottle of men’s aftershave stowed under the dashboard of the boat once. I was looking for something when I came upon it.

“Hey, dad. Now we don’t have to worry if the boat sinks.”

“Why not, son?”

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“Because we can just hop into this!”

I don’t think my dad really liked having to share the boat with Jamie and her friends, but it was Steve’s boat, and she was his daughter, so there was little we could do.

I was once sitting on the beach with my next-door neighbor. We were just minding our own business and chilling on the banket. Jaime’s boyfriend comes rolling up to us. He was this big, tanned, buffed-out dude named Rocky. We used to refer to him as “Rocky Berufi” because it just seemed to fit him. (Happy Days TV show reference) He was just a big meathead.

So he comes over and says: “Where’s Jaime?!”

“We don’t know. Isn’t it your job to watch her?” (Me, always the wise guy)

This response only serves to infuriate the brute even further. He grabs our little bag of pepperidge farm goldfish crackers and proceeds to crush it in his hand, turning the contents to dust.

This is like being in a cartoon. Are we supposed to be afraid of this guy?

“Where is she?”

“We really haven’t seen her, Rocky.”

And off he goes down the beach looking for her. I’m sure Jaime was probably out somewhere with a new suitor. We got a fit of laughing after his dramatic exit.

At some point, Steve started giving me $5 a week. He told me that if it ever rained, I was to promise to go out to the marina and bail the water out of the boat. Back then, I was happy to have the free cash and it seemed like an easy gig.  But I was young and busy with my life at the shore. Things slip your mind when you’re a teenager. Too many distractions!

I also wondered if he has the disposable income to pass on to me, why doesn’t he simply invest in a tarp to cover the boat?

Well, one day it really rained hard and I totally forgot to go check on the boat.

It flooded and sank to the bottom of the bay.

He came over to our house and gave me an earful. I was sure that I was in deep trouble. But the gods were smiling upon me that day. My father snapped at him for going behind his back and giving his son money to bail out his boat instead of buying a tarp.

All was forgiven, but we really didn’t use the boat much after that.

I really liked that family. They were really fun people to be around. Much different than my family. My favorite memory of Steve was when their dog once ran away during a thunderstorm. They were from Philly, so the dog probably spent its life in a nice apartment in a building in center city. But at the shore the weather was wild, and thunderstorms on the cape could be intense.

So, their dog panics and gets out of the house, and takes off. I’ll never forget that night. Hours passed and Steve came back into the house after looking for the lost dog. He was soaking wet and quite agitated, but happy he had located his lost dog in the storm.

But here’s the thing. It wasn’t his lost dog. It didn’t even look like his dog. It had short hair and was obviously an older stray.

“Steve… I don’t think that’s your dog. Your dog had longer fur than that dog has.”

“What kind of sicko steals another man’s dog and shaves his fur off to make him look different?!”

“Yea… I think it might be time to lay off the coke, dude.”

The family only kept their shore house for a few seasons before they sold it and didn’t return to the shore again.

But with every encounter in life, a story is born.

 

 

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Toy Boat

Philadelphia, PA – Early 1970s

Toy boat.

Say it out loud three times fast.

Not that easy right?

When we were kids, we had toys. We all had plenty of toys. But we also liked to build things. We had access to our father’s toolboxes. If you could get your hands on a hammer and some nails, you could build something.

We’d find bits of wood in the trash and back the lot at the end of our street. We’d cut them with saws and nail them together to make little boats. They were only about a foot long in length.

Mine was made out of bits of old paneling that I cut and stacked to make the hull, and some smaller pieces to make a little cabin on top. I even nailed a little plastic army man to the deck. Every boat needs a captain!

My friend Michael made something similar but he attached a piece of styrofoam to the bottom of the hull of his boat. This made his ship what he described as “unsinkable.” Genius!

Designing and building boats in my basement was only the beginning of the fun. You came up with your own ideas and made it up as you went along. Gluing or nailing whatever you could find to make a little boat that you hoped would float. The cool thing was, we had these two big old washtubs in the front of our basement next to the washer. I’m assuming they were there to clean clothes maybe before people had washing machines?

We would fill them with water and place our finished works into the water to see if they’d float. If things looked weird or didn’t seem buoyant enough, we’d make the necessary modifications to our ships until they did.

We weren’t sitting in front of a television set. There was no such thing as video games. They weren’t invented yet. We built things with our hands. Created our own little toys and then engineered them to float. We had both read that it didn’t matter what the boat weighed, as long as it weighed less than the space it filled in any given body of water. Then it would float. It’s just science. Yea, we were a sharp couple of little boys!

We’d take our boats back the lot and across the railroad tracks into Cheltenham. We’d cross the ball fields and head off into the woods.

That led us down to Tookany Creek. We walked north along the footpath. We wanted to get as far upstream as we could so that once we launched our boats we could follow them all the way down the creek. We decided that we’d see how far and how long they would last on the journey down the “river.”

There was a footbridge that went across the creek, and we figured we’d release them just above there. It was probably the best place to start because the water was calm and we could see how they did before the creek really got going.

Tookany Creek Park, Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania

We’d place our boats in the water and off they’d go. We walked along the path and watch them float downstream. Normally, that would be the experience. Build the boats, launch them into a body of water, and watch them do what boats do.

But we were young boys. We crave action and adventure. To let these boats just float along was boring. How do we remedy this situation? We could just continue talking, laughing, and walking along the path to see where they went. Or, we could throw rocks at them to make it like a sea battle.

The latter seemed like such a better idea.

We didn’t go crazy and try to destroy them, but we simply pelted them so it appeared that our ships were under siege. Now we had a show!

The idea to throw rocks at the boats didn’t come from enjoying the notion of destroying things. Sometimes the boats would get stuck on big stones or broken branches in the water. So we sort of had to free our boats with what limited tools we had on hand.

But after a while, it was just fun to bomb the hell out of them. They were pretty sturdy and we knew they could withstand a beating. It’s not like these were expensive, elegant ships gifted to us by our parents. They were manufactured out of bits of trash. If they got destroyed, we’d have the opportunity to make more.

We were always taught to take care of our toys and put them away when we were finished playing with them. But we made these toys out of junk. If we chose to massacre our boats, by god we were going to do it.

But all the while we’re laughing and talking. Sometimes singing songs we knew from the radio. Light my Fire, Hotel California, or American Pie. I think the favorite song I would always hear Michael sing was Michael Row Your Boat. I wasn’t familiar with the song, but he would sometimes just hum it. Or sing it to himself when he was working on something.

Just simple things.

A pair of lone warriors separated briefly from our tribe, out on an explore. Walking along the path by the creek under the canopy of trees in the forest. The golden rays of sunshine shone down through the foliage. Breathing in the fresh air. Hearing the birds chirp and woodland creatures scurry about as the creek bubbled and sang along with our joy.

By tossing rocks at our boats we were improving our hand and eye coordination. This was a solid activity for a couple of boys on a warm afternoon. You don’t realize it at the time, but you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in the world.

We’d follow them along the creek and toss rocks at them occasionally for thrills or to free them from a snag. It was a fun way to spend the day. Life was slower back then. There’s something to be said about time running slowly when you’re a kid. Everything takes forever when you’re young. You’re always so impatient and waiting for things to happen. Waiting for Halloween, Christmas, or the last day of school to come.

Don’t you wish you appreciated how slowly time moved when you were a child now? Wouldn’t you like those sort of pleasurable moments in your adult life now to move at a slower pace? I think we all would as we watch the years roll by with great rapidity as we age. These simple childhood memories are to be cherished. To be wrapped up in our memories forever. Because that’s all we have. You could lose everything you own, and any memories you have from your youth still belong to you forever. You can’t say that about many things in our lives now. Even we are on a finite run on this planet. But I hope that by writing these stories they can live beyond my existence on the internet and in my books forever. Because tomorrow belongs to our sons and daughters, and their kids. Tomorrow’s a place for them. Sadly, it’s a place we can never go.

The best part of watching your boats float down the creek was knowing what was coming a bit farther “downriver.” After the rapids and much air fire from us, the creek would become calm. There was a section about 50 feet long that was like green glass. Just the occasional splash from a minnow or an insect.

Beyond the calm was the waterfall. It was the only place where you could see a waterfall. But it wasn’t like the traditional kind where it’s massive and dangerous. It was only about three feet high. But, it would still be a formidable opponent to a couple of little wooden boats.

We’d wait in anticipation to see what was going to happen next. We’d stake out the best spot to watch our boats go over the falls. Would they be destroyed in the pounding brine? Would they vanish forever beneath the waves into the abyss? These were all pressing questions running through our young minds.

There would be that moment just before they went over and we’d yell and shout with delight. “Here we go!”

The boats would tumble over the falls and what would happen was anybody’s guess. The boats would roll around at the bottom where the falling water struck the creek. We would be sure at this point we’d never see our little ships again. But somehow they would suddenly pop back up and right themselves. We would cheer as if we somehow had a part in their survival!

We followed them further down the creek. Under the Levick Street bridge and beyond.

We had gone so far that we didn’t realize that we had somehow stumbled upon the base of the Melrose Country Club. We were all the way down by the creek bank, but we could see the giant hills covered with the fine green grass of the golf course. We had only seen it in the winter when it was covered in snow, but we knew where we were.

TTF welcomes the Bike Coalition to the Tacony Creek Park Trail! - TTF Watershed

We could see our boats had come to rest on the bank. We were about to climb down retrieve them when a security guard rolled up on a golf cart. He asked us what we were doing there, and we told him our toy boats had drifted all the way down there. He told us we were trespassing on private property and that we had to leave.

“Can we just get our boats?”

“No. This is private property and you’re both trespassing and you’re going to get in a lot of trouble if you don’t get out of here now.”

“But…”

“Git!”

So we turned and walked away, north of the golf course. When we got to Levick Street we trudged up the steep hill and made it to the top. We weren’t happy about what had happened and didn’t think we’d done anything wrong. We didn’t go to Melrose with the intention of trespassing or destroying property or anything. We just stumbled upon it. It just didn’t seem fair. This was a sad ending to what began as a fun-filled day of adventure.

Our boats weren’t lost to the creek. We had been banished!

We followed Hasbrook Avenue back to our neighborhood.

As we approached Michael’s house, we saw his father was outside mowing the lawn. Mike immediately told him what had happened. Jim Mitchell Sr. listened intently as Mike and I explained our plight. He nodded as he put on his mirrored aviator sunglasses.

“Let’s take a little ride in the car, boys.”

Within minutes, we pulled up to the edge of the country club. Mr. Mitchell stepped from the car with us following him not far behind.

The same guard rolled up on his golf cart and stopped us.

“Hey… you can’t…”

I watched as his face suddenly changed from authority to apprehension as Micheal’s father approached him.

Mr. Mitchell was a Police Officer with the Philadelphia Highway Patrol. He was not a man to be trifled with.

“Let them get their boats.”

“Yea, but…”

“What did I just say?”

The guard looked down at the ground and back again. He then sheepishly waved us on never taking his eyes from the officer in his presence.

Even I felt the man’s fear.

We scampered down the hill and retrieved our little boats from the creek bank. We didn’t even see the security guard on the way back to the car.

It had been quite a day.

When all else fails. Go get your father. He’ll know what to do. He’s a grown-up.

But it helps if your dad’s a cop.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1