It ain’t over till it’s over
We went every August to the same rowhouse on Bellevue Avenue in Atlantic City. Back then, it was truly a residential city, with stucco and brick rowhouses lining each block.
I’m here today, as a lawyer.
I say this because every year, as soon as July ends, commercials for fall clothes appear on TV, with back-to-school ads.
I say, slow your roll.
Don’t skip August.
Milk it for everything it’s worth.
Enjoy every drop of sunshine.
Have a beer.
Take a walk.
Plan a vacation.
There’s still time.
That’s never been more true, because God knows what back-to-school means these days.
But we don’t have to discuss that now.
And certainly not here.
I just want to plead for August.
Because when I was growing up, our summer vacation was always the last two weeks of the month and it was the best part of every year.
We went every August to the same rowhouse on Bellevue Avenue in Atlantic City. Back then, it was truly a residential city, with stucco and brick rowhouses lining each block. The streets were narrow, and the sidewalks spattered with gum. Cars parked along the curb, and the water in the gutter was gritty. There was no grass or trees. There was concrete.
It was South-Philly-by-the-Sea.
The rowhouse was owned by my Aunt Jackie and Uncle Cam, who weren’t really relatives but came to feel that way. We rented two bedrooms on their second floor and shared a hallway bathroom. We took showers outside in an outdoor stall; I showered with Mother Mary, my brother with my father.
The Flying Scottolines didn’t mind a little togetherness.
We’re nudies from way back.
At the end of our block was Sol Perr’s, a mom-and-pop grocery store, and Mr. Perr knew us. He always gave my brother waxed candy in the shape of lips and little fake Coke bottles filled with brown liquid.
My mother would send us to the corner before dinner to get Italian bread, Coke, and cigarettes.
At night the grown-ups played pinochle, drank coffee, and smoked cigarettes. Uncle Cam had one arm, but it never bothered him. He played pinochle with zest, using the slot of a Reynolds Wrap box to hold his cards.
Every day we went to the beach, bringing hoagies for lunch, which came from a deli on Florida Avenue. They were delicious.
Everything tastes better with sand.
We made drip sandcastles, dug for sand crabs, and played in the tide pools, where the water was bath-warm. We made suntan lotion by mixing baby oil with wine vinegar, so we attracted flies.
In the afternoon, the ice cream man would come by in an all-white outfit, bent from the big white freezer on his back, saying, “Fudgy Wudgy, ice cream, and ices.”
The siren song of bomb pops.
At night, we watched the old Italian men outside the Hotel Roma play morra, a finger game I never understood, which involves shouting and on occasion, fisticuffs. We went to the Boardwalk for vanilla-and-chocolate swirl in stale cones, rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl, and blue-and-pink cotton candy, which I’m pretty sure is a superfood.
I would peel my father’s back at night.
The bedrooms had no air conditioners, but we were never hot. A cool, briny breeze wafted through the windows. The mattresses were soft, and the bedspreads were tufted chenille. Now hipsters buy them, as ironic bedspreads.
But I miss them.
Bottom line, we went to a place that was hardly idyllic, on little or no money, and my memories are shrouded in cigarette smoke.
In other words, it was perfect.
When Francesca was little, I had even less money than my parents, so we didn’t take vacation in August. We took day trips to Ventnor, doing all of the above except nonsmoking and with store-bought suntan lotion. And we swam at a public pool in Belmont Hills, where we ate ice cream sandwiches from a vending machine.
I remember those days.
She does, too.
There’s no price on these memories.
You cannot buy that time.
You cannot begin to duplicate those Augusts, a lifetime of Augusts.
Hold on to summer, as long as you can.
Look for Lisa’s best-selling historical novel, “Eternal,” in stores now. Also look for Francesca’s critically acclaimed debut novel, “Ghosts of Harvard,” now in paperback.