It seemed like our summer hummed along without much news, but things were happening.
Our daughter, Therese, is set to begin her junior year in college. Or she will be when she gets her car packed. It feels like she just arrived for summer break, and although I will miss her, we did grab some good moments together between her work in Ocean City and her flying out the door to visit friends.
I was exactly the same as a college student. I spent a lot of time at the local pizzeria with friends. It was delicious fare, a block away and, when I was at school in the Midwest, I dreamed of it. I came home every summer to enjoy family and friends, the beaches, and working full-time at Great Adventure (it was not yet Six Flags).
I worked all day selling foot-long hot dogs, chili or cheese, or both, right in front of a live country-music bandstand whose playlist consisted of “Take This Job and Shove It,” and “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille.” It seemed to me 20 minutes could not go by without hearing those well-loved ’70s classics.
You know how you remember where you were when a tragedy occurs?
I was pulling night duty at the foot-long stand in August, 1977 when the news came around that Elvis Presley had died. Years of prescription drug abuse had compromised his health, and he died suddenly at his Graceland estate at the age of 42.
There must have been a radio in the kitchen. The whole park knew about it in minutes. Sadly, the live country band did not deviate from its careworn, overdone playlist to honor Elvis.
The next summer I worked at the park again, at Fountain Fish, selling fried fish sandwiches and fries. They would have fried the Cokes if they could. It was right up close to the newest roller coaster, the Lightnin’ Loops. It was the first in the park that flipped its riders upside down. Because I had a free pass, I took that ride. Once.
Amusement rides amped up steadily as the years flew by, and my son the daredevil would cut ads out of the paper for the newest, most “spectacular” coasters climbing, twisting and flipping the free and the brave at faster and faster speeds. If your feet were not strapped in, your brain detected you were freefalling in space, and my son called that more exciting. I called it a stupid way to die.
The next year, a brand-new Wawa opened just a mile from home, and I spent my last summer before graduation slicing head cheese and making blood-and-tongue loaf sandwiches, while keeping both feet on the ground.
Whenever I got frustrated with journalism, I would remember the summer of Wawa and tell myself I could always go back to slicing head cheese. It wasn’t the worst job I ever had.
I was once a butcher’s assistant at the A&P, working in a refrigerator with three union meat cutters, stuffing chicken parts into plastic bags. Now, those guys had a twisted sense of fun. But that’s another story.
And speaking of decluttering, (weren’t we?), I now have three trash bags on the upstairs landing. They were collected by Therese so that she can get rid of old clothes and old trash from her room before motoring off to Virginia.
I could not be prouder. I have asked, cajoled, threatened and begged her to pick up the floor in her room, with no visible sign that she heard me.
Now, in anticipation of her last year of college, she’s finally doing it—maturing. What happened to my little girl who didn’t like anyone to tell her what to do? She’s turning 21 soon, and will be able to legally drink if she wants to. But she’s older than a lot of her friends, so she will be even more mature when they catch up. Meanwhile, she can pretend to be taking her first drink when we take her out to celebrate her majority.
“Mom, I have been to Canada,” she reminds me. It may not be her first time, but it will be her first legal cocktail in New Jersey, and that is special indeed.
Our grandson, Ben, turned two this month, and his party will be on the rooftop of his parents’ new apartment house in Brooklyn.
A new toddler and a new adult. It’s been a very good summer for us.