Heaven forbid, wool bathing suits
When I mention to my son Doug that I’m once again writing about something “back then,” he gives me that “what again” smile. I once again remind him that the column is named “Then and Now.” Sometimes it simply has to be a “then” column.
My thoughts about “then” began when I was watching a commercial that showed a young mother with husband and two children in tow on a beach purchasing whatever product being advertised. She had a beautiful figure and was wearing a regular one-piece bathing suit. I blinked; I couldn’t believe that in this day and age she was wearing a plain ordinary swimsuit. This brought thoughts of my early days as a youngster in the 1930s.
Synthetic materials didn’t exist then and bathing suits were almost always made of wool. You heard me, wool! Even cotton suits were almost never manufactured, and when wet you’d see right through the material. Heaven forbid. My sister Jeanne and my cousins Dorothy, Ruth and Eleanor would all stand close to the waters edge on the Atlantic City beach and cringe until we could get in the water and get those horribly uncomfortable suits wet.
Once wet, wool suits weren’t all that bad. Or perhaps we just got used to the constant itch? Being on the beach and happy helped a lot with the discomfort. In the 1930s, Atlantic City’s boardwalk was a bevy of toy and gift shops with many wonderful places to eat. Many of the stores and restaurants had wide open fronts and you’d see and smell the goodies as they cooked.
I always wanted one of Jeff’s Hot Roast Beef sandwiches Jeff’s had this “gismo” — I guess you would call it — that stood about six or seven feet tall and held a half dozen or more huge beef roasts. They turned as they cooked and the drippings fell into a tray below. Once done they sliced the beef, using large rolls similar to but bigger than hamburger rolls
Jeff’s restaurant then added a huge thick slice of raw Burmuda onion and a ton of the beef. The top of the bun was dipped in the meat dripping and placed on top. Nearby, there were hot dog and donuts stands, where you could look through the front window and watch the donuts being dropped into oil, turned and then dusted with sugar. The smell was just plain wonderful.
My favorite sit down restaurant was a large one called Childs as I recall. Forgive me, it was a long time ago. One of the chefs stood in the front window and made homemade English muffins. Until you’ve tasted one that’s “homemade” you haven’t had an English muffin. The rest of their menu was equally delicious.
Memories of those days at the “shore,” as it’s called back East, brings to mind summers before the Great Depression. My sister Jeanne, my grandmother Stokes, great-aunt Tillie and my mother spent July and August in Wildwood, N.J. We resided in the first floor of a white, two-story house that stood with only a few others at the south end of the boardwalk, about a mile from the busy part of the city.
The people who rented the second floor had a son my age with a small two- wheel bicycle. He tried to teach me to ride it. I kept falling off. The weekend they left to go back to the city, there sat that bike. I got brave, got on, and wow, I found out how to ride that two-wheel, all of my seven-year-old feet pumping those wheels. I was so proud of myself.
My Godmother, my aunt Mabel as I called her, wore a size five shoe and had given Jeanne and I some of her castoffs. I remember my sister and I playing house or grownup or something little girls do as we pranced through the sand behind that white house in those high heeled shoes. Then there were the wonderful meals Aunt Tillie and my grandmother made that were special treats.
Vacationing near the ocean, this Philly gal learned those summer months to eat and fish, good, fresh, beautiful fish filets with fried potatoes and New Jersey’s very famous tomatoes. Sadly, that particular type tomato is no longer grown. They were so big, one slice almost filled up a plate! Those early 1930s days left me with a lot of really wonderful memories, for which this old lady is very grateful.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org