The Newark-Jersey Shore Connection

by Harry T. Roman


Every morning, on my way to work, I pass over the Garden State Parkway, marveling how it is packed solid in both directions. This morning I am sitting on the bridge at a red light, reflecting about that busy road, as the chilly Autumn air forces me to turn the heater on.

Some of my cousins bemoan the fact that I never come to see them, even though they live “just down the shore”. I tell them that driving down the shore is no longer the fun it used to be, with traffic and crazy drivers on the Garden State Parkway-especially during the summer. But there was a time back in the 50s and early 60s when it wasn’t bad at all. You could get on at exit 148 at Bloomfield Avenue and make it all the way down to my Aunt Angie’s house in the Red Bank/Oceanport area at exit 109 in about 45 minutes flat. Try that today. It takes you that long to go from Bloomfield Avenue to the Union toll plaza.

Oh-oh, there’s that dizzy memory feeling coming upon me again! As the haze clears, I start to make out a hot July morning sometime in the late 1950s. It’s North 4th Street in Newark……early.


“All right, you guys get the car loaded and your stuff ready!”

“Car’s ready to go Pop. All we need are the sandwiches and other eats.”

“Put the cooler in the trunk and double-check to make sure we all have towels and a change of clothes packed.”

Then off we would head in the old blue and white ’54 Chevy down to Aunt Angie’s house for a rendezvous with other family members. From there we would ride out to Sea Bright and Frank Eel’s beach house for a fun day of riding waves and devouring a cooler-full of goodies. How different it was from my old Newark neighborhood-with lots of open space and that wonderful smell of the ocean. And of course there was that indescribable smell of restaurants and eateries along the beach areas.

I used to think how lucky kids were that lived down the shore. They could swim all summer while we had to sweat it out on hot asphalt streets and sleep in warm houses, with maybe a big window fan trying to keep us cool. It always got cool and breezy down the shore at night-natural air conditioning. Today, with all the traffic and vacationers, I imagine that brings its own brand of hell to a shore neighborhood. But back in the 1950s, the thought of the shore made a Newark kid’s head swirl with adventure and possibilities.

It seems the kids in my neighborhood had their own special parts of the shore for vacationing. Ralphie loved Long Branch. Tommy and his family went to Lakewood. Nickie and Mike liked Asbury Park and Seaside. We mostly hit the Sea Bright area; but sometimes we would try some other places like Seaside, Ortley and Bradley Beach, and once in while, all the way down to Wildwood or Atlantic City—a big treat for us. Folks had their own private places to get away from the Newark heat and humidity. They had aunts and uncles or grandparents who moved down the shore, and like us, a place for the family to rendezvous.

We would leave Newark at about 7:30, pick up rolls and buns, be at Aunt Angie’s at about 8:30, have breakfast and be on the beach at Sea Bright by about 9:45. Today most of Sea Bright is a wall that prevents the ocean from taking the town, but back then, there was a nice beach beyond the sea wall. It was our place to have fun and see how much sand we could collect in our bathing suits!

I can still feel the waves lapping at my legs, and the tickly sensation of the sand rushing out between your toes. It was glorious. The bi-planes flying low over the water with all sorts of banners trailing behind. The smell of suntan lotion, radio music from all around, vendors selling ice cream on the beach, sand castles, and girls in bikinis—holy cow! Today, they hardly wear anything at all. I couldn’t go on the beach now. I’d have a heart-attack.

Always got some degree of sunburn, no matter how much I tried to prevent it. Nothing beats the year my Aunt Fanny and I tried cocoa butter. We got fried so bad we both had the chills later that night at Aunt Angie’s. We couldn’t even eat dinner we felt so bad. Here it was 85 degrees outside and we were shivering. That is the closest I ever came to sun poisoning.

Dad was the same way with the sun. He even got sunburned through this outrageous blue robe he wore on the beach every season. It matched our old blue beach umbrella. He topped that robe off with a crimson corduroy hat. I never got lost. I just looked for his outfit and sure enough I knew where the family encampment was. Mom with her sallow skin seemed to be immune to sunburn. She just got darker and darker. I used to kid her that she had rhino-hide for skin. Me and my two sisters got my Dad’s fair skin and sunburn was a constant threat-but who cared with all that bubbly green water and fun around us.

Aunt Angie always had her favorite leopard skin bathing suit and white bathing cap on as we caroused in the waves, laughing and gulping water by the gallons. I remember one incident in particular when a large wave came upon us without warning and we did our best to ride it in. There was no chance for any of us. I felt myself get flipped completely over as the wave crashed just behind me. When I washed up on the beach I looked north and there was Dad laughing and strewn in a heap, Uncle Tuti and his hairy chest covered in sand - wondering what the heck had just happened, and Aunt Angie wobbly-legged walking around in the receding water with her bathing cap turned over her eyes, laughing and calling for help. I must have had 10 pounds of sand in my bathing suit. I won’t ever forget that scene. Looked like the remains of a shipwreck comedy.

After a day of riding waves and getting beaten up by the surf, we headed back to Aunt Angie’s house, got cleaned up and had a barbecue. Everyone had came down that morning with plates of food and goodies for the end of the day feast. I am licking my lips now thinking of those great Italian dishes, topped off with boiled corn and dessert. Gee we ate good!

After that, as night fell, we piled back in the car and promptly fell asleep. Next thing we knew, Dad was waking us up to unload the car. Great days, great memories, and back safe and snug in our Newark house. Another weekend adventure.


“Come’on Pal, get your butt moving! The light is green.”

I am jolted back from my sleep, or should I say memory, as my fellow driving citizen from behind sends his love and affection out to me. We are such a vocal group we “Joisey” folks. So colorful in the way we bid a fine good morning to each other. I naturally flip him the universal sign of love and brotherhood. He understands and acknowledges his affection with a horn blast to wake the dead.

Yes, the light is indeed green, so I accelerate past it and bid the Parkway goodbye until I cross it again later in the day, still finding it packed in both directions. It has become the road that never sleeps. But back in the 1950s for a brief time it was a magical road to fun and adventure, down the shore, at Aunt Angie’s warm and loving home.

Her smile and big hugs, I cannot forget…..nor those family food fests and laughter. When she and Aunt Fannie were around, I was immune from my Dad’s strict ways. There is a little part of Aunt Angie and the shore inside me. Like Newark, it is part of the security blanket I return to every now and then when I feel the world getting a little too close for comfort.

My older cousins sometimes still call me “Baby Harry”, even though my wide 230 pound frame looks more like that of a defensive back than anything resembling a baby. Aunt Angie named me that, decades ago, to distinguish me from my Dad in family conversations. I remember yet the smell of her kitchen and the beautiful copper pans and decorative curios she had on the walls; and those fireplaces around the Holidays---well I cannot even begin to describe how comfy and cozy they were.

If I smell salt air, it’s Aunt Angie’s smiling face I see. She is gone now, but not the familial love that still surrounds me and my other first cousins. Believe me there are a gaggle of us, thirty in all. We remember her infectious laugh, twinkling eyes, and heart of gold.

But she really isn’t that far from me. All I have to do is look at her daughters, my cousins Dee and Janet, and I see Aunt Angie again, and feel the warmth.

That’s what family is all about. They are always with you.


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: