Growing Up in the 50’s: A Week at the Shore

We had one week of vacation when I was growing up. It happened in July and it was at the Jersey Shore. Seven days on the beach, seven nights on the boardwalk. Then we came home and waited for next year.

I remember staying in a number of shore towns. Some were for our week vacation and some were weekend jaunts. We went to Asbury Park, Belmar, Point Pleasant, Seaside Heights and Wildwood Crest. But eventually we settled on Wildwood for our vacation.

Wildwood beach and pierThat was good with me. Wildwood had and still has the biggest boardwalk with the most amusement piers and most rides. It also has, if you can block out the tackiness that surrounds it, a stunningly beautiful beach. The Wildwood beach has very fine white sand and is the widest beach I have ever seen.

Somebody my mother knew, knew somebody who had a house on Wildwood Avenue and that was where we settled in a week at a time for several years. There was a big house on the property and a smaller unit behind which was what we rented.

Laura's FudgeMack's PizzaI remember Wildwood Avenue because of two iconic stores. One is Laura’s Fudge where the poor guys who worked there had to constantly mix vats of fudge in the front window. Laura’s is still there. The other was the lobster restaurant, a predecessor to the Lobster Shack which on that location now. Much to my chagrin we would have dinner there once a year. I wasn’t much of a foodie when I was little and I was concerned the lobster dinner was cutting into my boardwalk time. My preferred dining location was the Mack’s Pizza a half block away on the boardwalk, where I could buy a slice or two and keep going without losing time by sitting at a table.

We were completely clueless about any dangers of sun exposure. We didn’t use sunblock, we used suntan lotion which was marketed as something that would make you tan faster and darker. Sometimes it was called “tanning butter.” Typically I would burn myself the first day out confident that the red would turn to tan. Or perhaps peel before the week was over so I could burn again before I went home and have it turn to a tan. Unfortunately my father hated the beach. He brought an umbrella which he sat under with a T-shirt on and never went in the ocean with us. I wonder if this week’s vacation was torture for him. My mom, on the other hand, was a Jersey girl.

Nightime was for the boardwalk. I would make a nightly stop at the aforementioned Mack’s Pizza and might spend a couple quarters on a game wheel, my preference being the one where you could win records. I went up and down the length of the boardwalk any number of times. But my two main boardwalk pursuits were the rides and the arcades.

Wildwood had four piers with rides, unheard of even for the Jersey shore. One of my favorites was the ride that spins in a circle both forward and backward to loud music. Sometimes this is called the Himalaya. But Wildwood used to have one that, much to the never-ending amusement of all shore-going kids, was named the Schlittenfahrt. I would also seek out the biggest, baddest roller coaster on the boardwalk and ride it once or twice a week. The biggest and baddest also meant the most expensive so I carefully managed my roller coast rides.

Skeeball - a boardwalk classic

Skeeball – a boardwalk classic

In the pre-digital boardwalk arcade, I zeroed in on skeeball and the pinball machines. I could play pinball for hours. While I potentially could see, hear and talk, I was that deaf, dumb and blind kid to the outside world. Skeeball was about winning tickets which you could redeem for a prize at the end of your stay. If you were on the boardwalk all season playing skeeball every night you might accumulate enough tickets for one of the higher end items like a framed bar mirror with the New York Giants or Philadelphia Phillies logo on it. Since I only had a week’s haul I usually came home with items like a pack of baseball cards, a balsa wood glider and a Chinese finger torture puzzle.

By the time I was eight or nine, my parents discovered that is was way easier to let me bring a friend with me to the shore rather than to hang out all night on piers or in arcades. So I’d head off with a friend, a 5-dollar bill and a curfew, and they were done for the night.

A little while later my parents bought a house in Seaside Heights, so we spent not only our week’s summer vacation but most of our summer weekends there. They had a similar setup as the house in Wildwood. They rented a two-family house on the front of our lot and we stayed in a small bungalow in the back. It was the rent from our Seaside Heights house that paid for my college education.

While I now take at least four vacations a year and travel around the country as well as to other parts of the world, I still never miss my summer week at the shore.

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22 Responses to Growing Up in the 50’s: A Week at the Shore

  1. Lenie says:

    Hi Ken – sounds like you built some terrific memories while vacationing at the shore. I always think its so important to have those memories to look back on. Thanks for sharing them with us.


  2. Meredith says:

    I spent a few days at the Jersey shore a few years ago, and I could see why everyone has such happy memories there. I remember eating great food, and walking a lot. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim says:

    Even though I have never been to the Jersey Shore the memories of my youthful family vacations are similar even if a bit embellished to make them more appealing and nostalgic in adulthood. As the tv show was called, The Wonder Years happen for every kid and last only briefly but are remembered forever.


  4. jacquiegum says:

    I never have been to the Jersey Shore…sounds like I missed a lot going to my family’s farm in West Virginia for the summers:) Laugh! But the best part for both of us, is the memories of the things we did there. Thanks for sharing your story:) I enjoyed it.


    • Ken Dowell says:

      Hard to find two places that are more different than a Jersey Shore boardwalk and a farm in West Virginia. What would make a great summer for a kid is to spend a little time at each.


  5. michelelobosco says:

    i grew up in Brooklyn and spent lots of time on the Jersey Shore…and loved it! Reading this article brought back some old memories (of some family vacations as well as trips I took as a 20-something with friends (got in a lot more trouble on those!). Thanks for painting such a vivid picture!


  6. Hi Ken,
    I love being near water and in it. I have many happy memories of many a coastline and shore. The photos make this a very nostalgic post for many, I’m sure.


  7. Donna Janke says:

    I’ve never been to the Jersey Shore, but it sounds like a fantastic place for summer memories. I too remember the lack of care over sun exposure and putting stuff on that made you tan/burn faster instead of protect you from the sun,


  8. jankedonna says:

    I’ve never been to the Jersey Shore, but it sounds like a great place for summer memories. I too remember putting on stuff to accelerate tanning/burning instead of protecting our skin from the sun.


  9. William Rusho says:

    It is funny how we look back at the things from our youth. I was in a rural area, but each year we had the “fireman field days” which was a small carnival in our town. I looked forward to this weekend every summer.


  10. The Jersey Shore is somewhere I’ve never been, but will probably make it to someday. Your pictures are so evocative and do a great job of capturing its essence.


  11. Beth Niebuhr says:

    I haven’t ever been to the Jersey Shore but I remember very well our family vacations to a quiet lake in Minnesota where I played with my brothers and frogs as well as enjoying the lake by playing in it and boating and fishing.


  12. Great memories of summers.While I was growing up in southern India, we used to take summer for granted . Now, living in Canada with only few months of summer, I really appreciate the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. TheRecipeHunter says:

    Some of my fondest memories are of summer trips with my mom and dad! And they have the Himalaya at the Texas State Fair and it was always one of my favs too! Oh, ok I’ll admit it, it still is!


  14. Duke Stewart says:

    It’s cool that you can look back on your first trips so fondly, even if you have branched out and moved on to different places. I really enjoyed reading and your beautiful pictures.


  15. maxwell ivey says:

    Hi; It does sound like some great times. I only remember one such vacation. my dad was working construction instead of the carnival and we spent a week in myrtle beach south carolina. My dad loved the beach but our work didn’t allow us to go often. but many times we would drive down to it and sit and feel the breeze listen to the surf and smell the fresh air. ski-ball has always been one of my favorites too. Now even they are electronic with sound effects and talking aleans. thanks for sharing with us, max


  16. JoHanna Massey says:

    Macks Pizza, Salt Water Taffy, Steels Fudge….oh my….grew up going to the Jersey Shore with my family…Ocean City…much tamer than Wildwood. But as soon as my friends began getting their license it was to Wildwood we would go! Golden years! Thanks for the memories.

    Liked by 1 person

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