It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes it takes a thousand words to understand a picture.
These pictures look simple enough, a happy young couple at the beach in an earlier time, but for me these pictures evoke memories that should not be mine, memories that belong to those young people. The young people are my parents, Stanley and Henrietta Silver, and the memories the photos invoke in me are those of stories told so often and so well that the memories feel like my own.
To understand these pictures you need to understand their context. The photos were taken in Wildwood, New Jersey around 1930, many years before I was born. My grandmother Pauline operated a boardinghouse in Wildwood during the summer months.
To understand these pictures you need to know that my parents and grandparents lived in a row house in an intensely urban environment, no grass, no trees, no air conditioning. My grandmother worked hard all summer so her family could leave the city for the fun, the freedom and the comfort of the Jersey shore.
I do not speak here of the Jersey shore of the similarly named television show. I speak of the Jersey shore in the days before casinos. In pictures the beaches look crowded and they are, but compared to Philadelphia’s less affluent neighborhoods this was wide-open space. I listened for years to my parents and my older cousins tell stories about Wildwood. For the young people in that picture it was the beach, looking good in a bathing suit, the boardwalk, maybe a quick smooch under the boardwalk. My entire extended family would spend their weekends there reveling in the cool breezes and each other’s company. They spent their days on the beach or on the boardwalk and they went to photo studios to have their pictures taken in their beach attire.
My grandmother gave up the boardinghouse before I was born, but my family continued to cool off at the Jersey shore for years to come. A few of my cousins rented cottages in the town of Brigantine. On weekends the entire Silver clan would migrate to Brigantine. These were small cottages, but somehow there was room for everyone. I remember the ocean and the boardwalk, catching crabs and eating salt-water taffy. Sooner or later someone would dump a crab pot on the kitchen floor. Crabs, kids and grownups would scatter, jumping on the furniture until someone corralled the crabs and they were boiled and eaten.
My family doesn’t go “down the shore” anymore. My generation grew up, went to college and moved around the country and the world in search of jobs, love, and adventure. We meet at weddings and funerals and remember those times. Now there is talk of a family reunion, maybe down the shore.