My brother called me for a ride home from his friend’s house at the end of the Crest this morning. Being the nice sister that I am, I agreed to drive down to the other end of the island on a busy Saturday morning in the middle of July to pick him up and bring him home. Having updated my iPod the night before and feeling in a somewhat nostalgic mood, I decided I would take a street I normally avoid because of the heavy traffic and the nonstop lights that add on another ten minutes to the drive—Atlantic Avenue.
I like taking Atlantic Ave in the winter, when the streets aren’t crowded and the lights are steady yellows, but I usually avoid it in the summer. It’s a little discouraging though, as a few of my favorite places sit on Atlantic Ave, or near it.
I left my house in the beginning of North Wildwood with the windows rolled down and a good song on the radio. I was ready for my drive, and it started off well—not too crowded on the road. It was actually quite nice, and the slowly moving traffic flow gave me the opportunity to see a few places that brought me back to my childhood.
I was about halfway through North Wildwood when the light turned red on 17th street. I turned to my left and looked down the block towards Surf Ave and saw Samuel’s Pancake House on the corner, with crowds swarming the front doors and lines of people wrapping around the side of the building halfway down the block to where my car was stopped. I remembered those crowds on summer Saturday mornings, and I remembered running around frantically trying to serve orange juice and pancakes to seven tables simultaneously.
Samuel’s was my first waitressing job, and I worked there throughout high school. It seemed like I was just a baby when I started working there, and I suppose I was. But even still, those mornings and those crowds and those people were real, and I spent a good deal of my summers at that place. I still think about those mornings and those fond memories whenever I drive by, and I think I always will.
It was smooth sailing until I hit another red light on Magnolia Avenue in Wildwood. I looked again to my left, and saw Notre Dame de la Mer Parish. It used to be St. Ann’s Parish when I was younger, and I’ll always know it as that. As I scanned the span of the building and noticed the sun reflecting off the domes of the roof, memories of church came flooding back—first communions, christenings, graduations, funerals, holiday masses, choir practices, special events. That church has been my home parish since birth. It’s been my family’s since before that. I smile every time I drive by, knowing that one day my own children will share in some of those events and traditions with me.
I noticed the car in front of me start to move forward when the light turned green, and I tapped my gas pedal. As I continued my drive down Atlantic Ave through Wildwood, I remembered the Halloween bazaars I attended as a kid on Cedar Ave. I remembered all those nights I spent with my grandmother in the Information Center up on the boardwalk, watching her work and plan for years, as I passed Schellenger Ave and looked towards the boardwalk. I passed Fox Park and remembered being so excited to watch my cool, older cousin’s softball games when she played for Wildwood High School. And I drove passed the new convention center, remembering stories my parents tell me of the old one and how they first met when they were kids, selling sodas at the concession stands.
But then my next memory came to me when I ventured into the Crest and saw the baseball fields on Aster Road, and I thought of all the mornings and nights I spent practicing on the fields when I played softball for Greater Wildwood Little League. I thought about the game when I pitched 12 straight strikeouts for Belasco’s Plumbing and Heating. And I thought of the night my team won the championship game. I thought about the field and the people, and the events of that night all the way to my brother’s friend’s house near Diamond Beach.
I watched my brother shut the front door of the house and walk down the steps to my car. Then I thought about all of his own memories he must have of home on the island, and all of the memories my older brothers and my other younger brother must have. Five kids in my family, all four years apart, all having different ties to the island and different meanings and feelings when we hear someone say Wildwood. Then I though of my parents, and how many ties they have to the island, and their parents before them, and how every time I ask my parents if they would ever leave the island, they say, “Our hearts are here.” Then I really came to a realization, and I thought about it the whole drive home.
There are no barriers that separate North Wildwood from Wildwood from Wildwood Crest. Those are invisible. I grew up on this island—the whole thing. My life is this island. And it’s not just the geography of this island that determines the Wildwoods. It’s the people. It’s the people I’ve met throughout my childhood that have had such an influence and impact regardless of what street they lived on. It’s the people in the community that come together as a family under any circumstances.
That’s the thing about the Wildwoods. That’s what separates us from perhaps anywhere else. It’s the people. It’s that special bond we all have because our island is so small, and our lives are so intricately weaved together. And sometimes that may be a bad thing, but most of the time it’s special. Sometimes you can’t find that bond anywhere else. And trust me, I’ve been looking during my years at college. Maybe my parents are right after all. Maybe my heart is here, and will always be.