Saturday, May 17, 2014

Back in the Day

My grandparents at Ocean City
 -- probably in the '50s
My Dad's family had a kind of summer "time share" at Ocean City, Maryland.*  I don't know that they actually owned an apartment there (they were never called "condos" back then), or had a partial ownership in one or anything like that. I think it was more like my grandparents had an informal agreement with the owner of a rental that they reserved for about a week when the heat in Baltimore became unbearable. I'm pretty sure it was a regular annual thing.  A lot of people did this back in the day, especially before the 1970s -- before air conditioning (b.a/c). My kids don't remember those days, but I sure do.

All we did all summer, b.a/c, was try to not be hot.  Actually being cool was a hopeless dream, but there were some things you could do to be less hot. You could find some shade and hope for a breeze, or lacking that, you could fan yourself with a magazine, or
sit in front of the electric fan in the house...  but that just moved the hot air around, making you wind blown, but still hot. The only a/c in those days was "adjusted climate."  You waited for summer to be over, in which case God did the adjusting -- or you adjusted your environment yourself, by going to the pool or the swimming hole -- or if you were truly blessed, the beach.

In my grandparents' day, a lot of people made it to the beach for summer stays. It was the custom, especially on the east coast.  Well-to-do folks, imitating the Vanderbilts and Hearsts, stayed all summer in well-appointed beach houses, but even members of the humbler class like my Dad's family, saved up their money, packed up their swimsuits, and headed to the shore, too.  Their digs were not as plush and they didn't get to stay all summer like wealthy folks did, but they got their chance at the ocean breezes.

I have no idea where this was or when (the mid to late '30s is my best guess), but it looks like some kind of seaside beer garden.  Pictured, L-R: My great grandfather, my grandfather, my great grandmother,  my grandmother,  And the children are my Dad (so CUTE -- on Pop's lap) and his cousin. 
My handsome dad at a swimmin' hole,
probably in the late '40s
 Unfortunately, by the time we kids were old enough to enjoy such a thing, the family elders had passed away, the family youngers had scattered, and the annual summer get-aways had become just snapshots in my grandmother's photo albums.  Such a pity this fun tradition faded away before my generation!  But I do have one memory of it.  When I was about kindergarten age, my parents brought the family up the coast from Virginia to what was probably the last family gathering at Ocean City and, perhaps because it was such an extraordinary event for us, I have vivid recollections of it.  Besides our grandparents and one of our uncles, our great grandfather had come down to the beach. We called our great grandfather "Pop," and I can still remember the smell of his cigar mingling with the salty beach air.  He taught us how to do the finger game: "Here's the church; here's the steeple..."  My little sister, Linda, who was about three at the time, couldn't manage the finger movements with her stubby little fingers, and Pop laughed at her attempts and made quite the pet of her.  (I bet she doesn't remember that!)   

My brother and me with our Dad in the mid '60-s
At some point before we left for home (It was just a day trip for us), everyone got together for a walk on the beach.  On the street corner before the boardwalk, my grandfather met up with a friend of his with a very, very deep suntan and almost no teeth.  The toothless man had some kind of strange accent and we couldn't understand a word he said, but I remember "Pappy" (what we called our grandfather) laughing with him for a few minutes before we got to continue our stroll -- at the end of which we children expected ice cream cones.  We were very impatient with my grandfather and his toothless friend keeping us from our appointed ice cream! But  I remember that day at the beach -- and  many other summer days of my childhood with bittersweet nostalgia.

Since I'm a late Baby Boomer, I can't lay claim to being one of the Greatest Generation, but I feel privileged to have grown up in the last "Unconnected" Generation.  I was in college when computers interconnected on campus for the first time, but I have the memory of long, slow summers without air conditioning. I  blog on a laptop and my flat screen TV operates wirelessly, but I remember when  technology was rabbit ears on the big box TV, and we didn't have the world at our fingertips -- "Google" was a kind of peanut butter when I was a kid!  We can communicate instantly with friends and family across the world now, but when I was a kid, we were tuned in to the people right at our elbow. We had no cell phones to distract us, no blogs to write, no Facebook threads to catch up on. We were fanning each other with magazines.

And we may have been hot and bored, but we were hot and bored together.

* Here's something fun: to find out what's happening on the beach this very minute at Ocean City, you can go take a look at the webcams at this site.

* And to check in on other beach adventures, grab your beach chair and sunscreen and head over to
  Sepia Saturday, the May 17th edition!

* It was Ocean City, wasn't it?  Any family members who remember the details, I'd love to know more and see if my memories are on target!


Jinksy said...

I guess hot and bored together is better than hot a bored alone.LOL

Violet said...

I haven't ever felt an ocean breeze but can imagine it being a wonderful feeling. My memories of the 60s summers include every household on our street sitting out on their verandas in the evening, Once the a/c came along, we rarely saw our neighbours any more.

La Nightingail said...

Unfortunately, Violet has a point. Air conditioning is a kind of isolator. I live in a beautiful area & love to be outside. But when the temperature begins to climb into the 90s & over 100,(F), the AC comes on & we stay inside. Or we head to higher ground. The air is considerably cooler above 6000 ft. elevation - usually.

Jackie Mc Guinness said...

Great memories. it's so true we complain all winter about not getting outside then come summer we are inside with the AC.

Jackie van Bergen said...

We must be a similar age, I have very similar memories and experiences of the time.

Boobook said...

You're right about the isolation effect of mod cons. I wonder what the next generation will do.

Jo Featherston said...

An enjoyable and thoughtful family story, thanks.

Bob Scotney said...

Whenever we visit America I long for un-air conditioned cars, houses and shopping malls. I can't keep warm!
It's years since I saw anyone play the 'finger game' - I wonder whether today's children know what it is?

Wendy said...

Wonderfully detailed memories! Since we lived so close to the beach, we never vacationed at the beach. Daddy's day off was Tuesday, so that's usually when we went for the day. But what did we know or care about sunscreen back then? We'd fry ourselves and go back for more the next week.

Postcardy said...

My mother taught me that same finger game when I was little.