A Beach Story

By Kate Walter

This story first appeared in the Out & About section of the
August 14, 1999 Asbury Park Press.
Reprinted here with permission.

Ocean Beach
A house holds 50 years of memories

     "Goodbye little house, Goodbye little house," we kids chanted and waved, as Dad's '51 Chevy backed out of the gravel driveway of our tiny bungalow in Ocean Beach, Dover Township. "Goodbye little house. See you next weekend," we all said, as the car crawled down East Bay Way, with a speed limit of 10 miles an hour. It was as if saying this ritual farewell when leaving each Sunday night would ensure the house would be there when we came back Friday. My father liked rituals and routines.

The Original Bungalow
The Walter family's original Ocean Beach house, circa 1949.

    In the early 1950s, Ocean Beach, Unit-I, was a new development of starter cottages and empty lots; my parents were among the original owners. We had a rustic one-bedroom house with a screened-in porch that caught breezes from the ocean half a block away. We had no television; instead, we played boardgames on the wicker porch table. Monopoly lasted days, little stones holding down our piles of money. At night, we played pinochle or canasta at the kitchen counter, a fixture of all Ocean Beach houses.
     The main road on Bamegat Island, Route 35, was a two-lane highway, one lane in either direction, dividing the ocean side from the bay side. The Garden State Parkway was not completed, so it took forever to get down the Shore from our big house in North Jersey. But it was worth it. We lived for the shore. We lived for the summer and the weekends in spring and fall.

The Same bungalow
The Same "Bungalow" today, still a warm and friendly place, Spring, Summer and Fall.

A Classic Ocean Beach House
One of the few original houses left unchanged.

     In 1948, my parents rented a cottage for a month on East Channel and thought Ocean Beach was a great place for a young couple starting a family. So they bought a lot on East Bay and had a bungalow built. I believe the house cost $3,000, (easily the best investment my parents ever made).
     In 1949, the year I was born, I spent my first summer at Ocean Beach, and I have not missed a summer since then. From infancy until I graduated college, I spent entire seasons at Ocean Beach. I recall making friends from all over the state, perfecting my Sea and Ski tan during the day, and partying on the beach at night. My first serious boyfriend was a summer romance; my first job was at Martin's Department Store in Lavallette; for six summers, I sold bathing suits.

     From the start, Dad made it clear that we would never, ever rent this house --- it was our home. He installed knotty pine in all the rooms, refinishing another one each summer. This feat surprised us because he was not a do-it-yourselfer, except at Ocean Beach. He was an English teacher, far more at home with book in hand, than a hammer and saw. He disliked the bickering at the club meetings, (over weighty matters like where to place the garbage cans on the sand), yet Dad served as an officer for several years because he wanted to give back to the community.

     The house filled up fast with fishing poles and shell knickknacks, novels read summers past, tacky prizes won at the Seaside Heights boardwalk or Fred's Playland. I squandered a fortune in dimes trying to maneuver a silly crane to pick up this cheesy gold horse. I bought my first surfboard a big Gordon & Smith that's now a collector's item.
    Over the decades, the little house was renovated and expanded, although it still feels crowded, and the bathroom, too small. As always, the house is filled with family. When I visit on weekends, the new crop of kids -- my nieces and nephews -- are trekking in and out with sand and surfboards.
    A younger niece plays with the daughter of my high school chum, who later bought a house across the street. Two of my older nieces are lifeguards at nearby beaches; one will marry a fellow guard later this month. (I longed to be a guard, but back then, women were not hired as ocean guards.)

The Original Bungalow
From left to right; Francis Walter, Agnes Walter and the author,
Kate Walter. East Bay Way
East Bay Way, Ocean Beach.

    Today, the house has cable, but we still sit on stools around the kitchen counter and three generations play scrabble. My parents were right -- Ocean Beach is a good family place.
     From 1948 to 1998, for 50 summers, my folks were fixtures at Ocean Beach, Unit I, first with children, then grandchildren, and recently, a great grandson, still a little afraid of the water. This winter, when my father died unexpectedly, many Ocean Beach neighbors came to pay their respects; we made lame jokes about not recognizing one another in real clothes. At the grave site, my mother produced a pail of sand and we each tossed in a handful. "From the top of our walkway," Mom tearfully explained, "Ocean Beach sand."

Kate Walter is a beach person and freelance writer based in Manhattan. Her writing has appeared in magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Newsday, Daily News, and the Asbury Park Press.

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