Belmar. Ocean City. Wildwood. Cape May. Spring Lake. Ocean Grove. Long Branch.
These towns are just some of the places that my family has spent their summers. Today, it involves full weeks or long weekends getting away from work. For my father and grandmother, it meant weeks upon weeks with cousins and aunts, soaking up the sun, while the fathers and uncles came down on the weekends.
It’s the place where I spent the last fleeting week of undergraduate life with my best friends. It’s the place my husband and I had our first date. It’s where I spent time waiting for my son to finally decide to be born.
There are many sub-traditions within the broader context of “the Jersey Shore.” Food ways are a big part of our summers at the shore. If it’s OCNJ, it’s Mack and Manco’s pizza at lunch with a Stewart’s Black Cherry or Cream soda. A night on the boardwalk ends with a Kohr’s Brother’s custard (chocolate and banana twist for me, if you were curious). When we’re back at whatever house or apartment we are staying at, it’s home-cooked family meals. Spaghetti, steaks, seafood. Other times we order hoagies or pizza. To remember our times at the shore, we take Johnson’s Popcorn or Steele’s fudge with us back into reality. It’s all just about being together.
Summers at the shore is a tradition that both sides of my family partake in. My father’s family, who hails from Newark, NJ and its surrounding communities, spent their summers at Belmar and Wildwood. It started generations ago, although the story is not totally clear as the years have passed. In 1888, my great-great grandmother, Helen White, and her sisters, Mary and Kate, came from Ireland by way of England and arrived in the United States. At some point after, the sisters purchased a piece of property together in Belmar and split it into three parts. In the middle, Helen never developed her property, as she claimed later “where would everyone park?” On one side, Mary put up a rustic bungalow. On the other, Kate constructed a house. As the years passed, Helen sold her property to her sisters, again for parking purposes. Kate’s nephew, Tom Cunniff, bought her house, and Mary’s only child, Michael, inherited the bungalow. Mike, a U.S. Olympian in the steeplechase, kept the bungalow and opened it up to the family. This location is where my father remembers spending the summer. Later, after “Uncle Mike” passed away, my grandmother’s friends, the Barrett’s, bought the bungalow. As my father tells the story, they “ruined it.” How? By putting up more walls, heat, and hot water. The bungalow’s charm came from how rustic it was.
On my paternal grandfather’s side, they spent many summers at Wildwood, where my great-Uncle Eddie still has a house, which is fortunately still standing after Hurricane Sandy. Other cousins live in Cape May.
My mother’s family came to the shore much later. My aunt and uncle have been fans of the shore, and drawn us there time and time again. They even own a condo in Ocean City. Ocean City has become the shore of choice for my little family, and we hope to take our son, Elliott, there next summer.
After watching the coverage of the superstorm, it’s difficult to think about summer and if our traditions will continue. Hopefully our favorite places will rebuild, stronger than ever, and generations of McGee’s can spend their summers at the Jersey shore.
Photo Captions: 1. Credit, Rosemary McGee Smith. Edward Handville, Marc and John McGee, Belmar, 1957; 2. Credit, Rosemary McGee Smith. Helen Cunniffe Lee and Maureen Bell McGee with their children, 1953; 3. Credit, Megan McGee Yinger. The boardwalk at Ocean City New Jersey around 8th Street, April 2009.