THOSE WILDWOOD DAYS

Is there any food memory more visceral, more redolent of childhood, than that of eating a melting ice cream sandwich, with a gritty coating of sand, on a hot Jersey beach while sticky rivulets of vanilla ran down your arm? 

            “Fudgy Wudgy Man!”

            We could hear his call before we could spot him on the beach. 

            “Fudgy Wudgys! Creamsickles! Git yer Fudgy Wudgys here!” 

            Dressed in white from head to toe, with a huge aluminum box slung over his shoulder, the Fudgy Wudgy Man would plop the box next to a family who whistled him over to their beach-chair-and-blanket compound under an umbrella. Mothers nearby began rummaging through their totes for change. We hopped from foot to foot in the burning sand, begging my mother to hurry up and find the money, because a line was beginning to form. What if he ran out of popsicles before we got ours?  

            After a meal of frozen fudgy treats and red Kool-Aid, we ran into the ocean to clean up. I hated running through the first few yards of surf because it was fraught with danger and icky stuff. Sharp, broken shells could cut my foot and result in a trip to the lifeguard stand or a ride in the lifeguards’ jeep to the first aid stand (as I grew older, the prospect of such drama was not altogether unappealing). My worst fear was to squish my toes on a jellyfish or an open clam. So, until I could reach my father and the uncles farther out in the waves, I did a mincing, tip-toe dance over the gauntlet of shells and sand crabs and dead jellyfish deposited in the baby waves. 

            Despite my water and icky-stuff fears, playing in the ocean was special because it was the one time that we all, girls and boys, had fun with the men in the family. The ladies (usually my mom, Babcia, Ciocia Katherine, and Ciocia Jo) sat on their beach chairs, guarding their hairdos under kerchiefs or swim caps decorated with festive, cutout flowers. But the men, they were out in the waves, deeper than I would ever venture alone. They taught us to dive under the waves. We raced against them in body surfing contests. We could yell and scream and splash and not once were we told to shut up or calm down.

            I think they planned to exhaust our energy, giving them some peace and quiet for later that day. Their plan sure worked. Is there any sleep sweeter than a long nap after swimming? 

POSTSCRIPT: My parents met during a Wildwood summer. 

            There are a few versions of how my parents met in Wildwood, but my favorite is the one my late father would tell. His story went that my mom was cutting the grass for the landlady who owned the rooming house where my mother was staying with her girlfriend Flossie. My father, whose old car was being repaired, drove by in a nice, newer model vehicle that he had borrowed from a friend. My dad, who valued strong women who would pitch in with the yardwork, was smitten with the young girl behind the lawnmower. My mother, who liked guys with nice cars, was interested, thinking that my father owned the spiffy car. But when he picked her up for their first date, he drove his old, battered jalopy! She decided to go on the date anyway. 

            To think that one’s own existence is owed to a chance meeting and mistaken first impressions! 

            And that’s what Deb Said. 

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