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Gayle Hedrington

A nostalgic visit to Cape May, NJ, August, 2009

My grandmother (who was really a close friend of the family) owned one of those big white houses with green shutters and wrap-around porches in Cape May. One porch was on the first floor and the other on the second. 
The apartment on the third floor didn't have a porch, and I never liked it when “grand mom” assigned us to it, although it had a kitchen table by a window that faced Cape May Point. I would stare out the window at the lighthouse, eating a crusty hard roll loaded with cold butter and dipped in hot coffee. I always drank coffee, even at the age of seven. My sister now works at the lighthouse, and ironically, I’ve never had the time to tour the structure. The house sat across the street from the ocean and we would go out to the screened-in porch, sit in the green rocking chairs with tall backs, and see dolphins jumping out of the water, and at night we'd watch the full moon move slowly across the sky. Although Cape May is now the place where the "in crowd" gathers, it was not always so. As a kid, I longed to go to the cool places, Seaside, Wildwood, or Atlantic City. All of my friends went to those places, but we went to quiet Cape May. No amusement ride piers, just a “Franks” arcade. In fact, Frank ran the place back in those days. I remember him making change so we could play Ski Ball. Whenever I visit Cape May, I still go to Franks and play Ski Ball, still a bargain at only 25 cents a game. Although Cape May’s Boardwalk hasn’t change much, its downtown evolved from Washington Street to Washington Mall, decorated now with horse drawn carriages, trolley tours, ice cream parlors, outdoor cafes, and souvenir shops. My father would drive the family up Washington Street to go to Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, followed by a trip to the bakery. 
Porkchop enjoying some boat time.
My sister’s cottage is in The Villas, two blocks from the Bay. The beach on the bay reminds me of Cape May in the 1950s. It is scattered with giant horseshoe crab shells, pieces of brick from houses washed away long ago, Cape May Diamonds, and of course, my favorite heart shaped stones. In the 50s my brother Stacy and I would walk on the beach at Second Street and head towards the lighthouse. We would walk on the jetty, which extended far into the sea. We explored all the cracks and crevices, picking up shells, fishing lures, and driftwood. We would walk further-on to what we had heard was a World War II bunker. Our imaginations conjured stories of how the bunker was used. Since then, it has emerged from the erosion and is fully visible, resting on stilts.As the bunker has slowly risen from the sea, the concrete ship Atlantis has continued to sink into the bay at Sunset Beach. Our family would go see the sun drop into the bay behind the Atlantis. Back then, it was fully visible, and had a sign on it for an insurance company, but now it is almost gone and a shadow of its former self.I still love Cape May beaches, and on the night of the Full Sturgeon Moon in August, my sister, grandson, and I went behind Convention Hall and waited for the high tide to start receding. The moon illuminated the beach, highlighting the foamy wave crests as I threw a bottle with a message in it out to the fate of the sea. We watched the bottle as it traveled over the waves and down along the beach, until it left our view. It was moving along with the currents as the moon, and Cape May itself, flowed from one phase to another. 


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