A shore thing
Alarm washed over a swamped and sticky Wildwood boardwalk when a public-address alert reported a 7-year-old-boy had vanished on a muggy evening in July 1968.
The McCarrick, Lannon, McRath, McCloskey, Goetz, and Burns families knew the description before the female voice noted the missing boy wore a white T-shirt with a black Batman logo.
They also knew the blond, blue-eyed boy donned a beach-towel cape and stuck out his tongue when concentrating on his super-hero impression: “Duna-nuna-nuna-nuna…Batman!”
Eventually a sharply dressed couple accompanied the boy to the 15th Avenue lifeguard station in North Wildwood, reuniting him with a host of family that included his mom, brothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins.
“You seem to have more than enough (family),” the well-mannered man quipped.
“Would you mind if we keep Paddy?” joked the beautiful, deeply tanned woman. “We have none of our own.”
You probably guessed I’m the lost Philadelphia-area kid who somehow separated that day from a six-family entourage that crammed about 20 cousins into a tiny Taylor Avenue beach house.
And as the eighth of 10 children I didn’t get the woman’s joke. I literally cried when the neatly manicured couple with perfect teeth left without me — probably to go to a Cape May mansion with a lighted pool hidden behind high gates and lush gardens.
After all, my “new parents” had bought my first GIANT black and white milkshake, a cheeseburger, and french-fries that for once wasn’t half-eaten by my rotten brothers who flocked like thieving Wildwood seagulls.
This event is replayed almost every time my family gets together. It’s invariably coupled with a discussion of the impossible dream shared by all of my brothers and sisters: To grow up a rich, spoiled, only child.
Wildwood to this day represents the magic I felt as a kid whose lone semi-annual trip away from home provided a dream world where I could imagine anything is possible.
But I’d abandoned Wildwood and the Jersey shore for decades during which my wife and kids opted for obligatory Lancaster County vacation spots in Ocean City, Md. and nearby Delaware beaches.
However, I rediscovered it four years ago when I rented half of a North Wildwood duplex from Patty and Joel, my childhood friend who grew up around the corner from me in Collingdale. His 18th Street property has the best neighbors, is only a stones throw from the boardwalk and beach, and the place to be during the annual Irish Weekend bash in September. (See Patrick Burns Irish Weekend video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpnsqloQFYo
It occurred to me while visiting last week that I perhaps like Wildwood because of its Philly-centric-ness. The layout, charm, and allure doesn’t necessarily resonate with Lancaster Countians.
It also occurred to me — since beginning work here in October — that Ephrata residents are not dissimilar to Philly folks. Not surprisingly, The Ephrata Review Editor Andy Fasnacht informed me that Ephrata High School grads once celebrated senior week exclusively in Wildwood.
And why not?
North Wildwood remains family friendly and affordable — no beach-tags required.
Its down-to-earth population includes the four-legged kind who swim and saunter at the trendy dog beach which opened last month on Poplar Avenue.
The first thing you notice about North Wildwood are the Irish and Italians flags everywhere.
Distinctively separated from the garish but irresistible boardwalk on one end and the energetic Irish-bar district on the other, it’s homey, relaxed, and un-tourist-like.
It appears most properties are occupied by owners and renters down for the entire season or on long weekends – something I did with close friends for several summers following our own senior week.
There’s the occasional unicycle-riding leprechaun, saints and Santas and an inordinate number of kilt-wearing, bag-pipe-playing cops (I expected Ephrata Police Chief Harvey to show up at any moment).
I met a throng of thirsty lads from Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums who stopped at the Knights of Columbus ($1.50 bottles) who’d just finished marching the boardwalk playing Celtic tunes.
I also mingled among Mummers from the Duffy String Band who marched in costume in front of our duplex to the boardwalk from their summer clubhouse on 17th Avenue.
The food is great and I didn’t go broke while dining on great Philly family dinners that included Pompeo’s and Little Nicky’s pizza, hoagies from Primo and A & LP Italian Food Center, and of course, legendary Owen’s Pub dinner specials.
Owen’s must sell 1,000 six-inch cheese steaks during its $1.95 Tuesday special (but you better bring cash). Other Owen’s insane specials include Tuesday pasta night, $2.95; Wednesday wing night, six wings for $1.95; and Thursday cheeseburger night, $2.50 with no charge for extras such as lettuce, tomato, and fried onions.
Yes, a seagull bit my mother-in-law’s finger and stole her turkey and cheese sandwich on the beach, the July 4th dog parade was cancelled, my beer cooler tipped over and spilled in front of a co-ed beach volleyball game, my dog Skittles snubbed his nose at the beach fireworks show, I caught no fish, and the kids wanted more time on the rides and water park.
that’s OK, we’ll be back next year to relive the dream.
Ultimately North Wildwood is filled with decent, humble, unpretentious people — my relatives, old and new friends, and a lot of Philadelphia-area parochial school alumni like me.
And speaking of parochial, no offense to Pastor John McLoughlin at Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Ephrata, but Father Rivera at St. Ann Church on Atlantic Avenue is an efficiency expert.
His speedy 35-minute service last Sunday featured a humorous, home-run Homily that referenced the 1927 Yankees and Tommy Lasorda.
You’re up Father John.
Patrick Burns is a staff writer and editor for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4455