Cally was so excited. This year they would spend Christmas vacation at Disney World in Florida. She had a new suitcase that she got for Christmas and had packed it herself. She went to sleep thinking about the up coming fun!
She woke early in the morning when she heard voices in the kitchen and the angry crying of her older brother. She slid down the stairs, wasting no time to put on her slippers. On her way through the living room she stopped in her tracks. Outside the window snow was falling so fast you couldn't see the car in the driveway.
Cally sat watching the weather outside and listening to the news lady telling about all the airports that were snowed in. Mother told her that by the time the airports would open the week would be over and everyone would be back to work and school. She didn't waste time crying like her brother. There just was nothing anyone could do so she went to grandmother's room. Grandmother always made the worse things feel better and right now she needed that more than anything.
Cally slid into bed next to grandmother and asked her if this ever happened to her when she was a little girl. Oh my, said grandmother, vacations were very different when I was a little girl. Traveling to the beach was only 100 miles away and that took all day, no airplanes back then. Really, said Cally, tell me about your vacation grandmother.
When I was a little girl our vacation was always the end of July. I remember that because we were always at the beach for my birthday. I don't think we were poor, just most people who lived in the city always struggled to live but we were always happy, had plenty of food and a row house on a city street. The last month of school was spent getting ready to go on vacation.
Father would buy new "used" tires for the car. He checked all the army cots and aired them out on the weekend. Mother packed everything from sheets, pots and pans and many cans of food that had been bought over the winter just for this trip. In May mother would pull out all the summer clothing and start the "hand down", older kids ended up with newer clothing and us little ones got to wear the repaired hand me downs from many summers before. I was grown up before I owned a pair of shoes that didn't have the toes stuffed with cotton.
On the first day of vacation, after the car was packed, all 6 kids would pile into the back and find a place on top of all the supplies. Of course there was no air conditioning in the car and no seat belts. Our old Ford crept down the highway very slow and made many stops along the side of the road to let it cool off or the water would boil out and cause great streams of steam and water blow into the sky. Mother would judge the halfway point in the trip and hand out sandwiches and a real treat! We each always got our own bottle of Coke, and although it would be warm, it tasted so good.
Finally by mid afternoon we would reach the beach in New Jersey. The house was always old, smelled musty and was full of sand, but no one noticed. Grandmother, asked Cally, why didn't you go to a Motel? Grandmother laughed, Cally she said, a family our size couldn't afford a motel, we always rented a cottage so we could do our own cooking.
The boys got to unload the car and put up the cots on the screened in porch while the girls got to sweep out the sand and empty the boxes in the kitchen. We had one electric fan which didn't cool much of anything so on hot nights most of us would end up sleeping on the porch where the ocean would usually give us some cool breezes. Even after putting on the clean ironed sheets from home, the many years of sand in the mattresses would work its way through them, making you itch all night, so sleeping on the old canvas army cots was a treat.
The first night of vacation was all work. After putting away all the clothing and food and trying to get a meal made with only can goods, we got to sit on the porch and listen to the ocean waves hitting the beach. Our cottage was 4 blocks from the beach so seeing the ocean would wait for the next day.
Grandmother, asked Cally, why didn't you go to Mc Donalds to eat? Grandmother laughed. The only food that you could buy was in expensive restaurants or on the boardwalk, but that was special and wouldn't happened until the last night of vacation.
By morning the car had cooled enough that father was able to drive to a store to buy donuts for breakfast. They always tasted so good, sitting on the front steps running my toes in the sandy soil and waiting to be told it was time to put on my bathing suit.
Finally just before noon we would be ready. Father would carry the glass bottles filled with water, the boys would carry the beach umbrella. The girls got to carry the towels, bags of fruit and the 2 sand buckets we had borrowed from a neighbor. After our 4 block walk we would go under the boardwalk and there it would be...across the hot sand was the cool ocean. It was a beautiful picture of many colorful umbrella's.
It was a day of great fun, jumping in the waves and digging in the sand. There were always men on the beach wearing white jackets and caps with a large box they carried on their shoulder. As they walked through the many umbrella's they would call out, "Get your fudgy wudgy here". They were the beach ice cream men. But for us our lunch would be water and fruit. Getting anything bought on the beach just wasn't in the budget. Grandmother, asked Cally, what is a Fudgy wudgy? Today you would call them a fudge popcycle, but on the beach in New Jersey they were Fudgy wudgie's, big and thick and creamy. Of course, I didn't get to buy one for many years but I still remember how good it tasted after sitting on the hot beach.
Each day before we left the beach we would be given a piece of an old window screen that father had cut apart. We would go under the boardwalk and sift the sand looking for treasures. If you were lucky you would find some change that someone on the boardwalk had dropped and it had fallen through the slats in the boards. Most of the time we found nothing, but the search was always fun and exciting. When someone did find a penny or dime it made the rest of us sift and dig harder!
The rest of the week we would spend going to the beach each day and in the evening we would sit on the front steps and play Simon Says. The last day of vacation was spent getting up early and going to the back bay to catch crabs in baskets we lowered into the water. Mother stayed home getting boxes packed for the trip home and making wonderful extra's that would be eaten with the crabs we caught. This also was my birthday party, each of us getting a store bought cup cake with a candle in it.
We all marched off to get washed up from our sweaty day of crabbing while mother cooked our catch. It was always a dinner we remembered long after we were home and back to school. Baked potatoes just tasted different when you were eating them with fresh crab meat and mother always bought real butter for this dinner, something we rarely got to taste.
Grandmother, asked Cally, if you didn't eat butter at home, what did you eat instead? When I was a girl, said grandmother, things like butter were much too expensive for most people. But that's a story for another day, lets finish with the vacation first.
After dinner, this being our last night on vacation, we all dressed in our best clothing and walked to the boardwalk. Father wore his Sunday suit and hat and mother wore high heels that would get caught between the boards. I think she must have spent most of the night walking on her toes. I remember my summer sundress so well. My grandmother made it for me. It was white waffle cotton with cherries on the hem and pocket and I had new white sandals to go with it that once belonged to my older cousin. If they belonged to your cousin, said Cally, then they weren't new! They were new to me, said Grandmother, all polished up with a new hole punched in the strap by father.
If I had to wear my cousins shoes, I'd feel poor said Cally. We knew and saw what poor was Cally. Some of our neighbor's were poor, but that's a story for another day, said Grandmother.
For us the boardwalk was a magic place! Father would hand each of us an equal amount of paper tickets that would get us on the rides. I can remember standing in line picking out the horse I wanted to ride on when the Carosel would stop and hoping no one else would get on it first. There was the Ferris Wheel, bumping cars and of course Father would take us little ones on the roller coaster and haunted house rides. I remember holding onto the saftey bar of the Whip so hard my fingers hurt!
After all the tickets were used we would start our walk back over the 10 or so blocks and this was when we would be allowed to eat what ever we wanted. There were so many things to pick from, but with our belly's filled with crab and potatoes and our cup cakes still waiting to be eaten, we were limited to what we could hold. Of course there were hot dogs that came steaming hot wrapped in a napkin with mustard and relish on them, or a paper cup filled with french fries, but I always got a paper stick with fluffy cotton candy wrapped into a large looking bee hive. By the time we got back to the end of the boardwalk there was always 6 very sticky children, still licking their fingers from the wonderful treats.
The ride home always seemed much longer but each of us would be holding our bags filled with sea shells and the treasure's we had found under the boardwalk. Home after vacation always meant getting ready to return to school, but I would spend hours thinking about that wonderful week at the beach and glueing my shells onto coffee cans for Christmas presents, saving just a few special shells for myself.
But grandmother, asked Cally, where did you go for Christmas Vacation? That's also a story for another day, said Grandmother. Now lets go help your mother unpack all the suitcases. I wish we had some seashells Grandmother, then we would have something to do today, said Cally.