Sunday, September 1, 2013

"Oh, Kaye!" - Celebrating Labor Day Weekend With Some Summer Memories

Happy Labor Day Weekend, Reds!  I hope everyone is doing something they enjoy in honor of this long holiday weekend - something relaxing and labor-free as we say good-bye to summer.


Here’s an excerpt:

“My family calls it, simply, the Big House.  Each summer for forty-two years I have traveled here from winter homes across the United States.  The Big House is where I learned how to swim, play tennis, sail.  The Big House is where I first kissed a girl, first got drunk, first experimented with drugs.  My most vivid dreams and nightmares are set here.  It is where I read the books my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather read as children, and where I wrote my own first book.  It is where I decided to get married.  It is where my wife and I buried keepsakes to remind us of two miscarried babies, not far from where my grandfather’s ashes are buried.  I have come to recognize the peculiar rattle each window makes in its casement, the luffing of each window shade, the texture of each forest path under my bare feet, the sound of each screen door slamming, the nine-second pause between the beam from Cleveland Ledge Light that stripes my wall as I lie in bed at night.  Although I have spent only a month or two here each year for four decades, I have always thought of it as home, if home is the one place that will be in your bones forever.”

The writer describes how, as children, he and his brothers would point out, and loudly shout out, landmarks along the way during their summer journey from their winter home to the sprawling 100 year old, four-story, eleven bedroom summer home on Cape Cod.  And how his children are now pointing out the very same landmarks on their summer journey to the Big House.  And continue the pointing and shouting once they reach the house; in a kind of “Hi House, I’m back” arrive and reacquaint tradition.

And while reading I remembered my own family’s summer journey.  The journey we took every summer to Ocean City, Maryland

There certainly weren’t any Big Houses waiting for us, unless we count the rooming house hotel we always stayed in while we were there.  The Dennis.  Or as we always referred to it, “Miz Dennis’ place.”  

Ella Phillips Dennis  is a woman I wish I could have known. 

Her story has always fascinated me.

She moved to Ocean City in 1890 to regain her health after a long illness. Two years later she built the Dennis Hotel.  She was also a staunch Presbyterian and has been given credit for founding the First Presbyterian Church of Ocean City.

Miz Dennis became well known for her ability to speak her mind and is said to have made statements to, among others, the local newspaper, concerning the men of Ocean City, MD that “Ocean City is seventy percent built by women, run by women and the men are all henpecked.”  (She sounds pretty healthy to me.)

She was one among a group of smart, savy, formidable women known as the Petticoat Regime of 1890-1926.  Of the thirty-two hotels and boarding houses listed in a 1926 guide to Ocean City, all but two were owned and managed by women.  

More about that here:

Now, I don’t know who actually owned “Miz Dennis’ Place” when we stayed there, but I do think it was still in the Dennis family.  I remember the place as well as I remember any place I’ve ever been.  I remember the long hallways, and I remember it having odd little nooks and crannies – the  types of little hidey nooks children just love.  I remember big wrapping porches, and I remember everyone being wonderfully kind.
Obviously, my family didn’t have much in common with Mr. Colt’s family.  At least not financially, and  not culturally.  But, we did share a love of the sea.  And the need to emotionally reconnect with a place that holds our hearts.

My traditional reacquaintance with Ocean City goes sorta like this.

Mother and Daddy and I drive from  Cambridge.  Me in the backseat bouncing, and pointing and squealing, “LOOK!  There’s  Mr. King’s filling station!  Wonder if he’s there?!  Can we stop and say Hey?!  He gives me candy.”  

"LOOK!  There’s Mr. & Mrs. Ruark’s restaurant!  Wonder if they’re there?!  Can we stop and say Hey?!  They put gravy on my French fries for me.”  

"LOOK!  Isn't that Miss Clara's house?!  Wonder if she's there?!  But let's not stop - her turkey chased me the last time we were here!"

Needless to say – the two hour drive usually took a bit longer than two hours.

Approaching Ocean City, we cross a bridge, windows down and we can smell the salt.  And we feel “different.”  We know there’s something in the air.  Some shimmering “something.”   Something that’s hard to define.  You just know it when you experience it.  You just have to let yourself feel it.  It’s pure and clean and freeing, and I guess if we have to give it a name, it would be joy.

After crossing the bridge, we turn right and go to the parking lot at the very edge of town, past the very beginning of the Boardwalk.  As we get out of the car and I start to run, I hear my dad say, “Kaye Alan, don’t run!”  

I hear my mom say “You’re going to fall!”  

Did I listen?!  Why, no – of course not!  Fall?!  Me?!  Pfft!

And with the waves hitting the sandy white beach to my right, 

and Marty's Playland along with Trimper's Carousel to my left, my little feet would hit that Boardwalk going a hundred miles an hour. 







And boom.

Down I would go.

And it would hurt!  And my knees would be all skinned and I would cry.  Loudly.

I’d collect hugs from Mother & Daddy and hear an “I told you so” or two.  And then we would have to start the hunt for a band aid.  And there was always some kind shop keeper who would have a band aid they would give us.  Along with the use of their bottle of iodine.  Just seeing that bottle would have me screaming like a maniac.  “No No No No.  No No No No.”

Mother saying, “This might burn.  Blow on it, ok?”

MIGHT burn?!  BLOW on it?!  WTF????

Before it was over with I’d be blowing (in between the “No No No No’s), Daddy would be blowing, the shop keeper would be blowing  (surely in hopes the other customers didn’t think he was responsible for the brutal murder of this pitiful child screaming “No No No No.”), sometimes a couple other kind and nosy customers would join in on the blowing.  All blowing on my skinny little bloody knee while it got painted with iodine and plastered over with a huge band aid.

Very pretty.

Did this happen more than once?

Oh yes.

Which was a topic of conversation amongst the family for years.  Guaranteed to bring laughs and guffaws.  And the question was always asked, “Well, why didn’t you think to take your own iodine and band aids?!” 

GOOD question!   

But I think Mother & Daddy always left the house thinking, “surely to God, this child is NOT going to fall again this year.”  



The child was clumsy.  What can I say?

They did, eventually, start remembering to put the iodine and a tin of band aids in the car.

Why that passage at the beginning of this blog reminded me of my clumsiness on the Boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland might elude some of you.  

Then again, maybe not.

There are always memories connected to places we love.  

One memory will stir another memory, and so it goes . . .

 and it doesn't have to have a thing to do with how big a place is, or how much it costs, or if it's on Cape Cod, the French Riviera, or a small resort town in Maryland.

We all find common ground in our memories of what we love best in our lives.

Ocean City, MD is still one of my favorite spots on God's green earth.  Now though, instead of going with my mom and dad, I go with my Donald. 
And, usually, along with the same group of kids I grew up with in Cambridge.  We've been going to Ocean City together for an awful lot of years - eating Thrasher's French Fries, and bringing home boxes of fudge and salt water taffy from Dolle's Candyland, and visiting Laughing Sal who now lives in the Ocean City Museum -  and here's hoping we'll continue for many more years to come.
Best friends and favorite places.
Life is good.

Happy Labor Day, Reds!  As summer comes to a close, do you have a favorite summer memory you want to share? A summer place that lives in your heart?


  1. I grew up on the shore where other people came to vacation each summer . . . so we didn’t go away for summer vacations. One of my best memories, though, is having a summer job in Ocean Grove and staying with my grandmother. [She lived in Ocean Grove and I could walk to and from my job.] I have fond memories of the two of us sitting together in the living room watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on television.

  2. Lovely post Kaye--and wasn't George Colt's excerpt beautiful?

    We stayed with extended family many years in Durant Court (motel) in Hatteras NC. If we got lucky that year, we'd reserved far enough ahead to land the lighthouse keeper's house, which had 3 floors and a cupola on top where we'd play cards. It's all gone now, washed away in a hurricane. but the memories linger!

  3. I'm eight years old, fishing off the Oceanside pier with my father. There is a run of bonito and everyone is landing fish after fish. So many fish, they are a silver clouds passing beneath us -- awesome to watch -- and then they are gone. In a split second, they are all gone. What happened, we all wonder. And then it comes, lazily swimming by underneath us all -- a 15-20 foot hammerhead shark. My father chokes and the pier goes dead silent.

  4. We grew up in a housing project (you know:"the projects"), flimsy apartments where you could practically participate in conversations with your neighbors through the walls. In the summer, our mom often drove us across town to visit our grandparents. They lived in what we kids called "The Garden of Eden". Outdoors there were swings, a wading pool, a sandbox, a picnic table, trees we were encouraged to climb, a few different kinds of berries we were allowed to pick and immediately eat. Indoors, we could find drawing paper, crayons, pencils, coloring books, clay, building blocks, educational toys, books and magazines for kids. A few years back we had to go to a funeral in our hometown and afterwards some of us drove over to the street where our grandparents used to live. That's when we realized their property was barely fifty feet wide and not much longer than that. It is very neatly maintained by the current owners but the beautiful flower gardens lovingly tended by our grandparents are gone. The gardens we remember were probably just little flower patches and we have no idea how they found room for all the outdoor equipment we played on! Their house, by the way, consisted of the three room apartment they lived in on the first floor, and a two toom apartment upstairs they usually rented to young relatives or friends of the family. But that house and property will always be Paradise in our minds!

  5. Charming, Kaye. I adore merry go rounds - thank you for giving us a really nostalgic moment for a Labor Day so fraught with possible war, etc... thelma

  6. Best friends and PRICELESS places... thanks for shraing these memories, Kaye.

    This last week we stayed at a massive old regiment house in an island off the Portland Maine. It was the kind of place I'd have loved as a kid when I wouldn't have minded the shared toilets, the one shower. Now I think of it as camping without the pit toilets.

    There used to be an amusement park on the island, long gone.

  7. Hallie, my husband used to spend 2 weeks on Peaks Island every summer in the 50s. Now we just go when we're taking the mail boat or we have a meal at the Inn.

    Growing up on the coast of Maine we used to take a lot of day trips to the beach. The highlight was a trip to Old Orchard Beach. There was a huge pier out over the water with a dance hall at the end. (It's since burned and has been replaced by a shadow of the former pier.) There was a great merry-go-round and Noah's Ark, a fun house with mirrors and air holes and moving figures. I loved the donkey ride into the "mines" except the donkeys really smelled. Ski ball and bumper cars and a small roller coaster all added to the kid-friendly "Palace Playland." And the beach itself was lovely and, back then, I'd actually go in the water. These days it's too friggen COLD!

    In my early 20s this was a place we'd go to listen to bands and party. Friends had a winter apartment in a motel and we'd all meet there a lot. One evening, winter mind you, we were sitting around a bonfire on the beach and a streaker came up to us, sat down, and joined in the conversation. We all acted like it was no big deal. When he left we looked at each other and asked "Was he really naked???"

    Fun times at OOB.

  8. Kaye, as you know, Ocean City has a special place in my memory locker just as it has in yours. Carol and I took our girls there a million times for weekends and longer vacations. I didn't know you then, but I'll always wonder if we were there at the same time. Maybe we passed each other on the Boardwalk, rode the carousel, stood in line for Thrasher's Fries or Dolle's Fudge at the same time.
    I'd kinda like to think so. Anyway, thanks for putting me in a happy nostalgic mood for the day.

  9. Kaye the extent of your fabulousness is never-ending..oxoo

  10. Too funny, Kaye. And blowing on it never did make it feel better, did it? My mother pulled the same trick.

    We never went anywhere in the summer, except for our grandparents' home, where we went every Sunday afternoon. My grandfather was the sexton for the Catholic cemetery, and they lived in what we thought was a big house adjacent to the cemetery. My mother had a huge family; she's the middle of nine kids, and I always had gobs of cousins to play with every Sunday while she and Grandma and her sisters and sister-in-law cooked the big dinner.

    In the summertime we often went on "nature walks" in the graveyard with Mother's oldest sister, who was awesome, and a Scout leader for her two sons' troops. Then she would let us all roll down the hill, which was one of my favorite parts of the day. Now there's a mausoleum at the bottom, but then it was an open slope, just big enough to thrill little kids.

    Most of Mother's family is musical, especially my grandfather, who had a big band (that I'm sorry I never had a chance to hear), and who played several instruments. So the uncles and cousins would drag out the bass, and the drums, and whatever else was around, and they'd make music for the rest of us. It was grand fun. Who needed the beach? At the end of the meal--usually involving fried chicken--there was always one of my grandpa's cakes, always heart-shaped, and with his trademark coffee buttercream icing. Delish.

  11. Kaye, your writing and spirit are absolutely delightful. A wonderful piece, and reminded me of Sunday walks-er, runs, on Coney Island. The closest memory to my heart is going to the Catskills where my Grandfather co-owned a hotel. My mother would take us on nature walks too, and we picked raspberries in the sun. Then we would walk up the mountain in the hush of the forest, and watch out for snakes(!). I can still see that dark green, dimly lit, of the trees, and feel the triumph of reaching the top, opening to the view ove the valley. Everything was really much smaller than I remember it, but it was magic.
    The place is now a ski resort, Hunter Mountain, and it was such mixed feelings to se the Mounain with the ski trails named after the old trails we walked. Thank you this.

  12. I grew up in the Sullivan County Catskills (the Borsht Belt), so Labor Day meant getting our town back from the tourists. Sad to say they're all gone now, along with the grand hotels.

  13. Love this!

    My grandparents' homes and their "old houses" that we got to tour were parts of the fun of my childhood summers.


  14. I have spent many summer days in Bethany Beach, DE (near Ocean City) and also on Peaks Island (a college friend has a house in the "Evergreen" neighborhood), but my childhood summers were spent at my grandparents in Bloomingburg, NY (just south of the Borscht Belt). And, it was called "The Big House"! The family owned the house for 100 years; we had a party for the place just before my aunt sold it. Loved every minute: outhouses and water from the well, a Victrola, secret stairways and rooms, flypaper, chocolate meringue pie, and my aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins. It was truly wonderful.


  15. hi, everyone - I'm so sorry I didn't get back sooner to check in.

    What fun to read all these memories, and I'm happy so many of you shared them with us.

    And thank you also for the kind words!


  16. Earl, I love the idea that you two saw each other...