My mother’s parents, Fanny and Harry, also known as Little and Big GG, bought a house in Belmar, New Jersey when I was three? five? Perhaps I could ask my aunt — just one aunt alive now and living in Wisconsin. It had four bedrooms on the second floor. Grandma & Grandpa’s had a private porch which I loved to sit on.
I remember the day we accompanied them to look at the house — climbing up the porch stairs and walking into the living room with its robust wood pillars and dark brick fireplace. (The photo is from 1983). My parents wouldn’t let me play on the stairs to the second floor during that visit. You could start climbing a few steps either from the entry or from the kitchen. These two small staircases joined at a landing and then turned to go up to the second floor. They were a favorite place for me to play when nobody was paying attention once it became our summer home. A grate in the floor at the top of the staircase so that the heat from the fireplace could hopefully warm the second floor was another object of childhood fantasy.
My mother had two sisters and I was one of eight cousins. We all lived on the same street in Bayonne, and every summer we would go down to the Belmar house. The men — my father and two uncles — divided the attic into three bedrooms and a full bath to accommodate us all as the family grew. I have only a vague remembrance of my grandfather joining in on the work but perhaps I could ask my uncle — just one uncle alive now and living in Wisconsin.
Every June after school let out we would drive through Staten Island to the shore. I remember going in our 1937 Pontiac. Even after the Turnpike and Parkway were built we would often go through Staten Island since we lived at the southern end of Bayonne very close to the bridge. We would travel old Route 440 and pass Dinger Farm. I watched for it every trip and would giggle to myself because that was the word one of my aunts used for that strange thing that my boy cousins had but girls do not.
The picture of the car is from 1949 when the car still belonged to my grandfather. He had a vanity plate. HR were his initials and he lived at 80 West 5th Street.
The moms and the cousins would spend the summer in Belmar. We had two refrigerators in the kitchen — two families would share each and each family had its own kitchen cabinet and pantry shelf. As the families grew we would switch bedrooms. It finally wound up that the older boys and Janet and her parents were on the third floor and my sister and I were on the second. Going up to the third floor to use my favorite shower after a day on the beach was like entering uncharted almost hostile territory. The boys always seemed to be up to some sort of boything. The second floor shower was small and creepy and I never felt comfortable in the outside shower. It’s amazing that it still exists, while the two porches are now gone. It’s the little bump out at the lower left corner of the house to the left. Showers were tough.
The uncles and Grandpa worked in the city and would come down by train on Friday nights. As I got older I was allowed to stay up for their arrival. There would be Entenmann’s crumb coffee cake and coffee. Do you remember the Entenmann’s man coming to your back door to sell cakes and things? In later years Uncle Eddie would make pizza — which was quite foreign to me. It was much later when Vic’s in Bradley Beach became a regular for us for a fun night of pizza out. My father would take a two week vacation to be with us every summer. We’d go fishing at the inlet which is now apartments, play miniature golf, and go to Asbury Park for the rides and salt water taffy.
As we grandchildren grew into our “tween” and teen years, my aunts and their families stopped coming and the summers consisted of just my parents and older sister and my grandparents. I loved these years at the shore. It was the only time I really felt free — no school, a gang of friends who spent every afternoon on the beach and every evening at the 10th Street arcade. My parents let me roam.
One year I had a blue polka dot bikini with a wired top which caused me a lot of ridicule from the boys who knew that it wasn’t me. I would get burnt to a bright red color at the beginning of every year. I had a crush on a Lawrenceville boy who sometime would give me a ride home on his bike. That’s him to the right. At night we played pinball and listened to rock and roll.
My parents eventually bought the house, winterized it, and moved in. I was already away at college and home only for the summers. and moved out on my own immediately after graduation. By that time too many bad feelings kept me from visiting much.
About ten years after my dad died my mom finally sold the house. This was much later than my sister and I knew she couldn’t live there by herself, and she resisted. We moved her to a senior residence in New Hampshire, just a few minutes drive from me.
My boys have few memories of the house, which is my fault for not visiting with them, but we all went down to look and walk the boards a few years before Sandy. I am sure the inside has been modernized — at least I hope so.
Every year as Thanksgiving nears I look for a place to bring the family to celebrate. Nothing is as good as Grandma’s house.
But the house in Belmar and the memories it stirs are an aside to my story.