Here I sit. Sipping a dram of whiskey, listing to the Atlantic Ocean on the New Jersey shoreline. Cousin Pat is heading to Scotland next week and this is part of her research.
We’re on the Jersey Shore on a narrow strip of sand that I didn’t know existed. I thought the coast of Jersey was like that of California or Brasil, a long stroke of sand or cliffs in a continuous unending ocean line.
But here is an 18-mile-long island, less than a mile wide. The sun rises in July at 5:30am over the Atlantic. 15 hours later, a short walk to the east, it sets over Little Egg Harbor, an inlet with only a shadow of land far on the other side.
It has been an emotional two weeks. I said goodbye to my old sweet cat, allowing her to pass humanely. A few days later, my father-in-law passed away, my husband, Fred, and his brother at his side. Then my gentle young dog’s eyes began to grey and suddenly I was making specialist appointments as I tried to minimize the damage with vet-prescribed drops and gels. I am in no way attempting to compare the sadness of these events, only that they were many and emotionally overwhelming each in their own way.
Despite these things, we chose to continue our plans to go someplace we’ve never been, Long Beach Township, New Jersey. We have been discussing this visit for years. We first planned our trip for summer of 2020; and then there was Covid. About four months ago, we finally took the leap and bought the tickets.
I suppose if this was just a vacation for us, perhaps we would have canceled. But it wasn’t just for us.
My father-in-law, Bill, has a cousin, and she had been asking us to visit for almost 10 years. My husband’s job in the Air Force often interfered, with deployments to Germany and Korea, and just the commitment to a job that was often unrelenting. He retired in January and took a job working in a high school. Suddenly we were faced with him having actual time off; a whole month every July.
With Fred’s father passing, it seemed even more important to make the journey to spend time with his cousin.
And so early on the morning of July 2nd, we got up early, dropped the dog off at his cage-free boarding (who assured me they will take care of his beautiful eyes), loaded our daughter in the back seat (up all night with a terrible migraine) and headed to Las Vegas.
I’m sure you’re wondering, Las Vegas? We live in the Tehachapi Mountains, only an hour from Bakersfield and only 90 miles from Los Angeles. In my flight searches, Las Vegas provided the only direct flight while also being the least expensive.
Travel these days is complicated and the warning for this weekend was glaring; canceled flights, not enough pilots or airplanes or staff. Las Vegas was quiet and clean and easy.
We arrived in Newark near midnight. There was very little wait for bags and then went to meet our driver; a New York native who had settled in Jersey. You could feel the 98% humidity, a warm heaviness to the air. He drove us the hour-forty-five minute drive south and onto Long Beach Island. There are regular tolls along the Garden State Parkway and even in the dark, I could see the dense trees lining the edges.
The roads were wet from occasional rain storms and when we finally arrived at Cousin Pat’s, the smell on the island was deep and earthy. Hers is a 1950’s bungalow surrounded by modern beach craftsmen. She has a beautifully landscaped yard filled with flowers and bark.
She’s the 5th house from the Jersey Shore. The beaches, and many of the properties here, were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Her home was piled with 3 feet of sand, taking 11 trucks to clear the property.
You would never know, almost 10 years later, that this little community was hit so hard.
It was overcast with a warm fog when we woke in the morning and made our way to walk along the beach. The plantlife is much softer than that on the California Coast, with broadleaf and grasses growing in the beige sand.
The sand is both thicker and looser than what I am used to in California. It is damp from the humidity and seems perfect for building sandcastles. You sink as you walk, not having that same compact firmness of California beaches. There are beautiful polished stones and tiny clamshells.
Later, we found our way downtown.
I didn’t know what to expect as we packed for this trip. I somehow imagined a sleepy community on an island and wanted to be sure we had exactly what we needed in case it involved driving off the island for more.
The sun came out as we walked into downtown, we were met with the hoards of travelers, families who haven’t fully been able to travel in 2 years. There are shops and restaurants on every block; ice cream and bagels are a staple.
In the afternoon, Pat and Fred journeyed out to the local fresh fish market and brought us home scallops, recently caught. Pat magically cooked them up on the BBQ and they seemed to melt with every bite.
As the sun lowered in the sky, we made our way the short walk to the west side of the island where we watched the sun set in dynamic oranges over the bay as paddleboarders and small boats made their way through the water.
We ended our day with ice cream. As we waited in line, we had a small family of 3 in front of us. They had the Jersey accents you dream of. As they began to order, more and more began to join them; grabbing their cones and wandering off again. Finally, the father turned and looked at us and said, “Sorry. There are a lot of us. All family.”