Summers in Wildwood: More than nostalgia

Posted: August 30, 2005

Look for Nancy Viau's snapshot of the Shore each Friday.

In response to the articles - dripping with nostalgia - about Wildwood, let me tell you the other side of the story. My Wildwood goes back 70 years, when Wildwood was really wild wood. My parents inherited a three-story, ramshackle rooming/apartment house on Poplar Avenue, next to North Wildwood.

My summer began when we loaded our car and set off to get the place in order. You haven't smelled real mustiness until you have opened the door of a seashore house that has been closed during the winter.

There was cleaning to be done, window screens to be renailed to the frames, furniture to be rearranged, kitchen equipment to be moved in. And garbage pails on each floor for me to empty daily.

My parents and I occupied the first-floor front apartment, to keep an eye on renters or "lookers" who could be coaxed to come in and inspect. My parents occupied one bedroom. I slept on a cot in the kitchen.

The building was three blocks from the beach but adjacent to the Pennsylvania train line, which was a financial blessing. On Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, my mother (the salesperson) and I would meet the trains from Philadelphia to spot potential roomers.

Individuals who carried only a small box were ignored. They were "shoebies," with their one-day needs in a shoe box. Families with children and suitcases and beach chairs were our game because we had a secret weapon: a Bulletin newspaper delivery wagon. My mother offered not only reasonable rates but also her son to tote the baggage.

The railroad was also a source of income for me. It offered one-day bargain "excursion fares." I would buy the return tickets from folks who were staying longer. Later that day, I'd sell them to people who wanted to return to Philadelphia that night.

The boardwalk was lined with games of chance. After studying one for weeks, I put down my nickel and tried to drop three metal disks to cover a circle on the table. The hustler could do it, but, of course, I couldn't. It was the same nickel my Dad gave me every night as my reward for the day's work.

For us, a Wildwood summer was a spartan life of service to others - the folks who are now writing about it with nostalgia. For me, it has provided moments of teenage memories, and it put me through college.

Henry Klein


Shore appetites

During a recent ride to the Shore with three of my girlfriends, the topic of food monopolized the conversation. Much of what I've suspected about food was confirmed: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It was unanimously decided that the traditional green-bean casserole served every Thanksgiving rocks. You can keep the hipster rendition prepared with fresh green beans, blanched, and then minimally tossed with a patiently whisked, homemade cream sauce. We prefer our casserole made with overcooked frozen green beans swimming in Campbell's cream of mushroom soup made with love by Aunt Sadie.

Don't get us started on burger rolls. Burger rolls are not supposed to be trendy. Remember "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun?" There is a reason I remember that jingle years since eating one of those burgers: It works! Skip the focacchia, the multigrain roll, the English muffin.

Our conversation graduated to the ultimate inquiry. If you were on death row, what would be your last meal? One passenger vacillated between her mother's homemade spaghetti sauce, pasta and meatballs, and pizza from Marra's in Philadelphia.

(We're not even on the Atlantic City Expressway yet.)

Another passenger swears by a meatloaf-and-mashed-potatoes dish she ate years ago at a eatery that is now defunct. Her enthusiasm in describing the ingredients, textures, and her pleasure made me salivate.

(We just passed Frankie Farley's travel plaza.)

We laugh when we realize how seriously we were contemplating and debating our last supper. "Didn't we used to talk about sex a lot more often?" "When did food trump sex?" Maybe it's a fortysomething thing. To appease ourselves and our egos, we changed the subject to sex. After a few minutes, we arrived in sunny Margate.

"Where shall we have lunch?"

Gina Busler

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