Friday, June 1, 2012

A Benny Goes Home

I was never a person who used the word “summer’ as a verb.  I heard it used that way the other day at my daughter’s private school and it made me laugh. Perhaps I observe and subsequently judge too much.  Perhaps it’s the clientele at that private school.  Perhaps I am just too nosy and overhear too many conversations.  Whatever the reason, the word seemed dated and pretentious just like its speaker's Lily Pulitzer prints and perfectly clean espadrilles.  It's funny, but I didn't think Stepford, Connecticut really existed. As the political season heats up though, I wonder.

Although I have certainly been in the company of many of people who “summer,” I never quite was comfortable with that sect.  With my working class ethnic roots, I was more of a “going down the shore” kind of gal.  Anyone from New Jersey knows that phrase.  It is as prominent in our lexicons as “the tubes”, “Taylor Ham”, “jimmies”, RC Cola, “rippers” and of course “Bennys”. To those uninitiated to NJ speak, they are, respectively, the Path Trains to NY, a specific brand of pork roll, sprinkles on ice cream, a specific brand of cola, deep fried hot dogs that are cooked until their skin has “ripped,” and the tourists that frequent the shore in the summer.

After all these years, I am not sure if I am a Benny or not now.

According to the website (yes it exists):

The term “Benny” is believed to have come into existence some time in the first half of the 20th century, and was fully entrenched in the local vernacular by the post-war boom of the fifties.  While there is no consolidated record on the meaning of the name, it is commonly believed to reflect the places of origin for those frequenting the coastal area.  Train luggage tags at this time would have routinely been stamped with station stops from departure points, with Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark and New York being the most common sights.  So, it is believed, the term “Benny” emerged as a universal acronym to describe those originating from places north of the Raritan River, and especially New York. June 1, 2012

in the first half of the 20th century, and was fully entrenched in the loca
I never heard the term “Benny” until my family became turncoats and actually moved “down the shore” from Northern NJ in 1979.  Prior to that we were those tourists from the North.  But you switch allegiances pretty quickly when stuck in new found traffic jams just going to buy milk that you previously walked to the neighborhood A & P for. It became quite a movement about that time. I have even seen those low flying planes with beach banners with the phrase “Bennys Go Home.” A derogatory term, yes, but it fades quickly away by August when the tourist dollars are tallied.

That shore holds a special place for me. Those short weeks of a small vacation from the hot pavements of urban NJ were incomparable.  I have traveled the world from Edinburgh, to the British Virgin Islands, to New Delhi and even to Korea, but those vacations were like slide shows. True vacations are  states of mind and there was nothing like that state nor the minds at the Jersey Shore.

Our arrival was heralded with the crackle of white-walled car tires on unpaved sandy roads.  It announced two to three weeks of:  Scorching sand on newly bared feet.  Sand flies.  Sunburns that stung well into the night.   Peeling noses.  Zinc Oxide noses. Murky Atlantic Ocean water.  Flying kites at dusk. Showering outside in attached dressing rooms. Twilight surfers commanding the two-foot waves.  Sun bleached hair.  Jenkinson’s Boardwalk. Seaside. Miniature golf. The Parking Lot called Route 35. Ladies with reflecting visors and black eye cups sprawled out on plastic beach chairs.  Cute boys who could whip their wet longish hair back with just one quick turn of their heads. Life guards who wrote the high tide, low tide and ocean temperature on slate chalkboards on the back of their stands. Several near drowning episodes that you never told your parents about. Trying to body surf (never could get the hang of it).  Riding the waves with rafts that only had a half-life of about a week. Beach umbrellas, towels, beach badges, and other accoutrement you were loaded down with for the morning trot to the beach, leaving the bivouac for lunch,  then hauling everything back at 4:30pm when grilled dinners were the norm. Never eating on the actual beach. Crabbing in Barnegat Bay. Taking handfuls of sand back with me to the city in canning jars to savor a bit of the magic throughout the new school year.

It offered rare moments in my childhood summers when I didn’t watch TV near continuously.  Instead we played board games and were taught poker and gin rummy by my ex-Sailor uncle. My uncle was quite the gambler and we bet with real money. I suspected he let us win. I wish I remembered some of those lessons. But that old gruff exterior hid an infinitely patient side as he also took us to the beach at night to fly his box kite.  I never understood the aerodynamics of a box kite and even now as I Google it, I am amazed how he got that thing to fly.

My entire family along with two aunts, an uncle and a few of my father’s cousins thrown-in stayed in that small house.  And those bungalows were only two to three bedrooms.  Where we all slept, was anyone’s guess.  I do remember a family who rented an adjacent house and had their kids sleep outside.  I thought it was infinitely cool. When I suggested it one year, my mother made her usual comment  “No we are not cannibals!” It was her answer to what she considered aberrant behavior.  She made the same remark when I wanted to get my ears pierced.  I went with my seemingly cannibalistic aunt instead.

I will be selling my Dad's house near the Jersey Shore soon.  I am not sure I will be returning when sold. 

I will be leaving a hell of a lot more than just real estate when all the papers are signed.

Way too many things to fit into a canning jar.

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