Tag Archives: summer

Love those Wildwood days !

I’ve written before about the Wildwoods, New Jersey. But it’s summer time, and you can never get enough of that Jersey shore town once the bug has bitten you.

The bride and I drove on down last week and stayed overnight at one of our favorite Wildwood Crest beachfront motels, the Olympic Island Beach Resort, and it was a fantastic little getaway as always.

Spent the first afternoon down on the beach for hours, and I can report that the water is really starting to warm up. For me, the ocean water temperature has to be around 70 degrees at a minimum to really enjoy it, and we were actually surprised that it was that warm already.

Often up in the northeast section of the country, the air temps can be hot and muggy, but the water temps remain a bit cool well into July. Not anymore, so be ready for wading into the waves if you head down now.

We soaked up a very sunny and warm afternoon just hanging on the beach, taking advantage of the umbrella rental joint. The young guy who popped in our umbrella was down for the season, staying with a bunch of friends from his Delaware County neighborhood. Ah, to be young and have nothing to do but work and hang down the shore all summer!

After the sun finally burnt us out, we headed back up to the Olympic for a short stint in their nice, warm swimming pool. They have a deep end with a diving board, and it was a chance to get that little kid feeling of diving off a board which doesn’t come along often anymore.

After a little rest and cleanup, we headed out to dinner at Neil’s, the best steakhouse in the Wildwoods. Neil’s is located on Schellenger Avenue, between Atlantic & Pacific, and is well worth the stop. Deb had a delicious prime rib, and I had something called the BBQ Special, and man was it special. A loaded plate of ribs, chicken, and pulled pork with a baked potato and corn on the cob.

We were so full that we cancelled a boardwalk stroll and headed back to the room for some R&R following a long day that took a lot out of us. We both had a tough time falling asleep on a full moon night, so we spent some time just watching out over the beach before finally going in and zonking out.

In the morning, we woke up to yet another sunny, hot one, and so we spent a couple of hours in the pool before we dried off and packed up our car. Before leaving the shore, we headed down to the Olympic’s quaint little breakfast-joint restaurant and fueled up.

But that wasn’t our last food stop. There was the obligatory stop down at 26th & the Boardwalk to pickup a large Sam’s Pizza to take home with us, which later became our dinner that night back in Philly.

Oh, and before we left, we made reservations for later this summer to go back for a few days with our granddaughter, Elysia.

In Wildwood, the four main amusement piers on the boardwalk have more rides than Disney World, and the beach is free here. How can you beat that? It will be yet another chance to enjoy the beach, the boardwalk, the rides, the restaurants.

You just cannot beat the Wildwoods, New Jersey, for a relatively close little vacation stop. And if you’re from far away, make the long trip. It’s well worth it. If you haven’t gone, make plans. You’ll find out why we sing “Love those Wildwood days. Every day’s a holiday, and every night is a Saturday night!”

Sunday or Sabbath?

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A couple of years back, I tried to make each Sunday a chance to post on some topic of Faith, and with this posting I will be going back to that effort.

It’s appropriate to start here on a summer Sunday with a two-part theme: 1) When should you go to Church in the first place?, and 2) Why do many drift away as summer comes?

Let’s start with an effort to answer that first question. These days, many churches celebrate their weekly obligation services of the Mass on Saturday evening, then have a full compliment of Sunday morning services, and some even offer a Sunday evening service.

There are some religious organizations, including Seventh-Day Adventists, who claim that Christians must worship on Saturdays, not on Sundays, because Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, and they believe that at some point through the years the Church arbitrarily changed things to Sundays.

The fact is that Sundays were the day of worship for Christian believers as far back as New Testament times. Many passages of scripture indicate this practice as more desirable, worshiping on ‘The Lord’s Day’, as Sunday was known to them.

As just one of many examples, St. Ignatius of Antioch describes in a letter to the Magnesians written in 110 A.D. as follows:

“Those who were brought up in the ancient order of things [the Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.” 

During the first three centuries, the practice and tradition of consecrating Sunday to the worship of God by the hearing of the Mass and by resting from work first took root, and has remained established ever since, with slight modifications over the years.

Of course, as all know, the obligation to retain a day to honor the Lord comes directly from God’s very Commandments.

In the book of Exodus, we see the terms “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy…the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…in six days the Lord made Heaven and earth…and rested the seventh day.”

The tradition of the Church developed this as the 3rd Commandment, or “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day.”

The Church itself began the tradition of a Saturday evening ‘Vigil Mass’ in order for those who simply could not, due to work or other constraints, make a genuine effort to attend Sunday services. These Saturday evening services are not intended for everyday convenience, or to ‘get it out of the way’.

People should still be going to Church on Sundays, and setting that day aside as a day of rest as much as is possible. However, again the Vigil on Saturday evenings is there as an outlet for those who simply cannot make the Sunday services.

In any event, it is clear that we should all be setting aside a time during our busy week to worship the Lord together as a community, and that includes the summer time.

Many people become more spiritual and involved in the Church as Christmas approaches, and then vow to continue this into the new year. They seem to do well in the early months, and are re-inspired by the coming of Easter in the spring.

But as spring rolls into summer, and the joys of living outside and enjoying more recreational activities takes over, many drift away from regular attendance at Church. This is exactly the time to not drift away.

It is when we are most distracted, when we are lured by worldly things away from the Lord and his house, away from one another as a Church community, that we should fight back against this urge.

Summer time is a great time indeed, but it is nothing more than an excuse to say that because the weather is nicer you cannot find one hour to give specifically to the Lord each week.

All year, through all seasons, attending Mass is a wonderfully refreshing chance to spend an hour in God’s house with others directly worshiping Him, receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist, hearing the Word of God preached, and letting God know that He has a place of importance in our long list of activities in our busy lives.

It’s summer time right now, and it’s also Sunday. Get to Church today.

The Pamplona Encierro

It’s that time of year again, time for the famous ‘Running of the Bulls’ through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. 

This is the highest profile event of an annual 9-day festival of ‘San Fermin‘, which begins each year at noon on July 6th and runs through midnight on July 14th

Saint Fermin is a Catholic saint who is the patron saint of the city of Pamplona. He was said to have been martyred by having his body drug through the streets by bulls. 

The current festival has it’s roots in a secular festival previously held in June, and later moved to September, known as the Sanfermines

The bull runs began in the area as far back as the 13th century. Cattle merchants would come to town for commercial festivals to celebrate the beginning of summer, and bullfights became central to the celebrations. 

The runs custom traces it’s origins back to the process of transporting bulls from their off-site corrals to the bullring for those bullfights. During this process, youngsters would jump in among the bulls as they were being moved in order to show their bravery. The celebration was finally formally established to the month of July in 1592. 

In 1926, Ernest Hemingway introduced his famous novel “The Sun Also Rises” based on the event, and it subsequently exploded in popularity around the world. 

What is now known as the Pamplona Encierro, or The Running of the Bulls, begins at 8am sharp with the firing of a rocket to announce that the bulls have been released from their corral. The narrow streets are blocked off with wood and metal barricades to keep the six bulls and six steers running in a ‘chute’-type style towards a predetermined destination. 

The runners traditionally dress in white shirts and pants with red waistbands and neckerchiefs. There is a tradition that touching one of the bulls during the run brings luck, and many still try this, but it is illegal and the authorities do fine some people. 

There are various outlets for participants to escape should they find themselves in a dangerous predicament. Since records began being kept in 1924, fifteen people have been killed in the event. The most recent to be gored to death by a bull was a 20-year old American tourist in 1995. You want to run next year? 

You only need to be 18-years old, pick out a street to run on, and get into the crowd at the appointed time. There are any number of outlets packaging vacations to the Pamplona area during this time. 

But remember, while it can be exhilarating and is a life-event about which you can brag, the event is inherently dangerous, and foolish or reckless behavior can easily get you hurt. And that’s no bull.

Oh, those Wildwood days!

There is peaceful serenity in the clear blue skies and the fast-rising sun, in the swooping and squawking of the seagulls, in the clatter of bicycle tires along the boardwalk on a typical laid-back summer morning in the Wildwoods.

There is excited chaos in the colorful lights of the amusements, in the smells of the incredible variety of foods, in the dull roar of thousands of conversations taking place among the throngs along the boardwalk on a typical free-wheeling summer night in the Wildwoods.

For my family and me, and for countless others for nearly a century now, summer means “Wildwood Days”, a trip “down the shore”, where every day’s a holiday, and every night is a Saturday night.

The place is known by many names: Wildwood, the Wildwoods, Wildwood-By-The-Sea. There are the old names: Anglesea, Holly Beach, Wildwood Crest.

Today we have the three boroughs that include Wildwood, North Wildwood and the Crest. But whatever name it goes by to you and yours, the place is known by all of us as the epitome of the family summer sun and fun vacation spot.

As a boy, my family had a place on Magnolia Avenue, just about a half-block off the boardwalk, not far from the famous Groff’s Restaurant. It seemed that every night the line would form outside Groff’s for the dinner crowd, stretching all the way down Magnolia away from the boards. We had a small place, usually crowded with parents and kids, aunts and uncles and cousins, and many friends.

After a few years, a few of the aunts and uncles organized and bought a place farther away from the madness, on Leaming Avenue at the far southern end of Wildwood, about 2-3 blocks from the Crest and about five blocks from the boardwalk. It was much farther away from the action, but it was still down the shore, and the new house was bigger with a number of bedrooms and a nice sized backyard.

For most of the 1970’s and even into the 1980’s, this was the Wildwood of my youth. A family shore house filled with uncles rising early to go crabbing and then coming home and playing pinochle on the front porch, aunts cooking up those crabs and many other meals while keeping the conversations flowing on family news, and us cousins running around the house, the streets and the boards.

That’s what we call the boardwalk, “the boards”. Most evenings after some kind of dinner it was time to shower up, get dressed in your best t-shirt and shorts or jeans, and head on up to the boards. In the 70’s, I remember well that my dad would give us five dollars each, and that would be enough for us to get a book of ride tickets, as well as a soda and a slice of pizza.

The ride tickets back in those days would usually be used up on Hunt’s Pier, where all the best rides were located. The “Flyer” roller coaster and the “Golden Nugget” were the highlights. The Flyer was a typical old white wooden roller coaster that clattered and clanged around its main drop and the usual number of twists and turns. It had a huge neon sign at the front that was a boardwalk icon for decades. The Golden Nugget was in the back of the pier, and was itself a roller coaster with a twist in that it incorporated a mine shaft atmosphere.

Hunt’s Pier had a number of other featured attractions as well. There was the “Jungleland” ride, a kind of lazy river adventure trip through the Amazon. The “Keystone Kops” was your typical whip-like car ride inside a darkened hall that featured crazy, colorful characters popping out at you. And then there was the “Pirate Ship”, a full-sized version of an old-time sailing ship complete with an array of crusty, crafty pirates that would have made Jack Sparrow proud.

Some nights you could skip the rides, and instead take in a movie at one of a number of theatres on or near the boardwalk, or you could head to the opposite side of Hunt’s Pier for a round of Skyline Golf, a miniature golf course on the roof of a movie theatre that was another boardwalk icon for decades.

When you got hungry, you had a million choices from Italian food to seafood, from shish kebob to Curley’s Fries, from Kohr’s soft ice cream to funnel cake. But for most of us, there was really only one major food choice to make: Sam’s or Mack’s. Which pizza place was your favorite? As a little kid, I went with the Mack’s tradition, but that all changed sometimes around hitting puberty. Once I actually tried Sam’s, I was hooked, and remain a loyal customer of Sam’s Pizza at 26th & the boardwalk to this day.

Oh, and while walking along “the Boards” for the past forty years you needed to pay attention, because along with the wooden boards there are two concrete pathways, one on either side of the boardwalk, used for a unique conveyance to transport folks up and down the nearly two-mile long boardwalk in easy, inexpensive fashion. Known by many simply from its distinctive megaphone-like warning call: “Watch the tram car, please!”, the Sightseer is a people carrying electric-powered tram that has been a signature to the overall boardwalk experience.

During the days, most of the family would pack up the gear and begin the trek down to the beach. Wildwood has a free bathing beach, and even back in those days before the beach was reconfigured it was still a large beach at most spots. We would be down there digging in the sand and splashing in the water for hours on end, tanning up our bodies and bleaching out our hair as kids as we never would again in our lives.

The beach had its own chorus of sights and sounds that was completely distinctive from the din of the boardwalk. The sound of the seagulls and kids at play, radios playing the tunes of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s coming from various beach blankets. The smells of suntan lotion, not sun block mind you. The hum from the engines of the small planes flying out over the ocean, trailing huge advertising messages behind them of a restaurant offering a dinner special.

There also were two men walking the beach carrying huge boxes over their shoulders, and their distinctive calls were as much a part of the beach scene as the gulls, planes, music and ocean waves. You didn’t have to wait long to hear the cries of “Phiiiiiiladelphia Daaaaily News…..Daaaaily News here!” from a newspaper hawker, or “Heeeey, ice cream here! How about an ice cream sandwich…creamsicle…fudgie, wudgie, wudgie……heeeeey, ice cream here!

Every once in awhile, rather than hitting the beach, we kids would head down to Sportland pool at 23rd & the boardwalk for an afternoon of splashing around in their huge pool. Sportland used to have a big water show spectacular featuring high-divers and other water performers at night, but during the day they opened the pool for public use for a small fee, and here was an opportunity to use a high diving board, something right up a kid’s alley.

These were the features of Wildwood that made most of my childhood memories, but like the famous Starlight Ballroom dance hall of my aunts and uncles generation, many of them no longer exist. Hunt’s Pier gradually died out and gave way to a new generation of piers and rides, and even Skyline Golf and Sportland pool eventually disappeared.

When my own kids were born, money was tight for me and my young family, and our trips down the shore as they grew through the 1980’s were not nearly as frequent as those from my own childhood. But they did get down enough to pickup their own love of the Wildwood scene.

Having my girls down on the Wildwood beach, digging in the sand and riding the amusements, being able to provide them even a taste of that atmosphere, was as much a joy for me as it was a thrill at the time for them.

As they got a little older and we moved into the 1990’s, we took a few trips down for a days at a time, often staying at the Shore Plaza, a hotel located right on the boardwalk in the heart of the action at 26th Street. They had a rooftop pool and restaurant, and the place sat right on top of Sam’s Pizza. So we had it all right there spread out before us: boards, beach, food, fun, pool. What more could a human being want on vacation?

Tragically, a couple of winters ago the Shore Plaza burned down in a spectacular fire that also destroyed the old Sam’s Pizza location. This was a huge blow, the loss of such a landmark, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes by the time the summer season rolled around there was the reborn, bigger and as good as ever, new Sam’s Pizza palace. Thank God, the delicious tradition lives on!

The rides and amusements live on as well. It’s no longer Hunt’s Pier, or the good old secondary amusement piers like Sportland Pier, Marine Pier, Fun Pier, or the Casino Arcade. The amusement piers were all taken over by the Morey family, and the amusement rides and attractions that they have brought to the Wildwoods are spectacular. They are now stretched among what are now known collectively as Morey’s Piers with the nicknames Surfside Pier, Mariner’s Landing and Adventure Pier, and include all manner of modern rides and water parks.

Later this summer, my wife and I will be heading down for a week in Wildwood with some of the kids. Our youngest will be there, now 21 years old, as will my oldest, now 27 years old. She will have her 5 year old with her, our granddaughter, so it will be time for a new generation to experience the shore.

My granddaughter Elysia has been to Wildwood before, but this will be her longest trip, and she is a little older, and this one will really start to form her own memories, so it is extra special. We even hope to have the other daughter, now about to turn 26, down with us for one of the days.

That is what Wildwood and all the memories are really about. Having a great time in a relaxed, fun setting with your family. Wildwood has nightlife, for sure. Clubs, bars, party spots. But the ocean, the boardwalk, the amusements, the restaurants, the pools, the games, the shops; these are the things that truly make the memories. Good, fun, wholesome, All-American times shared with your family and friends.

Time to set aside the troubles of today’s world, the daily grind of work and school, the asphalt jungle of the city and head down for more of those Wildwood days and nights.

I can’t wait to hear the ocean roar, the amusements clamor, the tram car warning, the gulls cawing. I can’t wait to see the beauty of the beach in its nature and in it’s people-watching. I can’t wait for the taste of a refreshing Kohr’s ice cream cone, and of course, Sam’s pizza.

But mostly, I can’t wait to spend time with my family, to see the joy in my granddaughter’s eyes, and to create some more of those memories that we have been collectively creating now in our family for at least four generations. Oh, those Wildwood Days! Wild-wild-wildwood days! Every day’s a holiday, and every night is a Saturday night!