Writing Contest Entries
GOOD MORNING, STONE HARBOR, GOOD NIGHT.
Stone Harbor is home to some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I’ve been enjoying them for nearly 25 years, as long I’ve been visiting my in-laws on this island.
I’ve been sheltering at my in-laws’ in Stone Harbor since mid-March. It’s a quiet time to be in south Jersey. It’s cold here. Windy. You’re reminded why most people don’t come year-round.
And yet. There’s something special about the island on the off-season, maybe particularly so during self-quarantine. As long as I could, every day, no matter how cold, windy, or wet, I walked on the beaches, until they closed. The beach has been especially cold and windy, and for my first few weeks here it was mostly just me and a lot of seagulls and some horseshoe crabs. Occasionally another person or two, bundled up, waving, from a distance. My long walks from the Windrift to Nuns’ Beach, even in harsh conditions, have offered the rare, necessary daily respite from an otherwise very isolated 24/7 shelter with my family members.
The days and nights, the weeks now turning to months, all run together now. There’s little noise—the occasional neighbor’s car engine, a landscaper’s power mower, a fierce wind, a flock of gulls. No shuffle of footsteps across the sidewalks toward the beach. No children’s laughter, nor tears, no neighbors bidding good day with the sun beaming down. No Fudgie Wudgy cart with its teenage driver shouting ICE CREEEEAAAAAAMMMM. No blare of sirens at 12 noon alerting beachgoers that it’s time for lunch or a fresh sunscreen application.
The hours have become a blur and without my iPhone or FitBit on hand, I guess at the time. Except time has become a concept that feels internal. I know it’s morning when the sun rises, and, if not too cloudy a day, the light from the west enters the bedroom window where I am sleeping. Good morning, Stone Harbor. On days I have insomnia, awoken with gnawing existential angst, the wonder of what this day will bring different from the previous, I watch the sunrise. I take iPhone photos when I get to witness this magic. They don’t capture the colors I can take in from the upper deck of the house. Orange. Yellow. Pink. Rose. Colors that don’t even have names I know. Azure? Periwinkle? The sunrise here is one I’ve witnessed hundreds if not thousands of times, and it still feels like a hopeful new start every time. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, wondering if the world has changed while we sleep. I look out the window over the deck, to a midnight blue sky that looks like I could be at the Planetarium, or lost in a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I practice yoga here, alone. My mat is set up facing the ocean view where the sun rises so I can do literal sun salutations in the mornings.
The sunsets are even more colorful. Every night I try to walk the four blocks across the island to the bay to watch it. Maybe once or twice there’s been one other person, at least 6 to 10 feet away, observing the scene as well. Mostly it’s just my wife and me, maybe our son or daughter if we can cajole them to leave the house after dinner. And the seagulls and other birds that have gathered to call out to each other. Cacaw! Cacaw! Were they always this loud or is it that I’ve been deprived of noise for so many weeks now that my hearing is more heightened to the voices? It’s windy, cold, solitary on the bay in March. Maybe like how the birds experience the sunset, but from far above. Most nights, the colors are similar to the night before and yet somehow entirely new too. I don’t need to look at the clock to know that when the sun finally disappears, it’s oh, about 7:28? Like the birds, I know the night has begun. Without the atmospheric noise that marks high-season Stone Harbor in July and August, the island’s quiet landscapes have taken center stage.
I wave to the neighbors who pass by, those sheltering here on the island with us for these weeks and weeks. I know few of them by name but recognize their faces, giving a mutual nod hello as if we are in a secret club trying to survive this wild unprecedented time together. Maybe I’ll meet them again here, later this year. At Springer’s or Fred’s. Building sand castles or eyeing the waves. Maybe they too are watching every sunrise and sunset religiously, doing their own sun salutations, acknowledging quiet certainties among such vast unknowns.
By Elizabeth Wallace, Adult (In Chronological Age Anyway)
By Dennis Mc Guckin
Like me, a Guinness starts its life rebelling down below
Angry adolescent demons fighting in the snow
Troubled bubbles battling restraints and spurned ambition
Stop the dreaming, grow up boy, assume a safe position
Swirling clouds like childhood dreams some cling there still within
Alas, the others rise escaping ‘fore they e’en begin!
Life is in the dreaming. So, my Guinness and I do
Watching all life’s tears and cheers boiling in the brew
Eventually, we settle and accept God’s plan for us
Two old rebels dressed for work and waiting for the bus
In the glass just look. You’ll see the similarity
The Guinness wearing its black suit and white on top.
The Keeper of Memories
We knew Mom was dying. The Cancer doctor told us last summer’s Stone Harbor vacation would be her last so my sister and I did it up big. We stayed for two weeks in July in the house we had been renting for years near the Bird Sanctuary. The grandchildren came and we took lots of pictures, made a video and went to all her special places; Polly’s, the point, town and crabbing. We cooked with Mom and documented everything so we could make a cook book, and we did. We said yes when the realtor asked if we wanted the place again next year just because we always said yes.
Back home, the year was terrible as we watched mom’s health quickly decline but as July approached she was still with us. There were no more treatments to try. She was only a shell of herself by this point. There was just one more thing she wanted before she died. She wanted to go to Stone Harbor. Everyone said it was a bad idea for various, sensible reasons. My sister and I decided to do it anyway.
The three hour drive to get there was difficult but my sister did it. I rented a wheel chair in Cape May Courthouse so we could take her for walks and get her to the beach. I even found wheel chair accessible beaches which I didn’t know Stone Harbor had. Every early evening we took her for walks through the courts because that was where she went as a child and I think it brought her happy memories. The side walks were too bumpy and caused too much pain so we pushed that wheel chair on the street. Some mornings were spent sitting on the pier jutting out towards the ocean nibbling on a Donna’s donut.
This may sound like it was a wonderful, last vacation. It wasn’t! Mom was awful! She complained and grumbled about everything and we just couldn’t do anything to please her. The pain was taking over. We didn’t know what to do so we decided to take her home early.
Once the decision to leave was made, a huge weight was lifted from everyone. Our sense of humor reappeared and we even found ourselves laughing at some of Mom’s bizarre comments and behaviors. Mom even laughed at herself. To this day, my sister and I still laugh when we think back to that last Stone Harbor trip. We made it back to PA and she left us soon after that.
Eight years later, I think of my mom a lot but it’s when I return to Stone Harbor that I feel she is really with me. When I hear my son tell his daughter the best time to go to the Point or when they all come back stinking of bunker from crabbing, I feel her presence. Stone Harbor is more than a nice vacation town. It’s a keeper of memories. Family memories that are often forgotten until you return each year. My sister and I still go every year with our kids and grandkids. We stay in different houses and Stone Harbor has changed a lot. Polly’s and Hennys are gone as is my mom but the old memories are there and the new ones are yet to be made.
The Grand Old Lady of the Shore
My great grandfather built a cottage on 86th, one of the first hundred on the island. It was a two story Victorian with a basement, walk-in attic and a porch around three sides of the house. On that block were only this house, the sister cottage next door, and the famous cement house.
His descendants enjoyed annual visits, including my grandmother, and as of 1932, my father. The drive from Norristown to Stone Harbor was frustration for my father, with infinite stops at roadside stands seeking Jersey corn, Jersey tomatoes, Jersey cantaloupes, Jersey everything. Eventually Uncle Charlie’s Model A would rattle into Stone Harbor. The photos are remarkable. Uncle Charlie clowning on the beach in his black “union” bathing suit. The adult women after they removed their bathing caps revealing wildly curled, bleached hair. Young cousins piled together, sand clinging to their skin, windswept hair, sunburned raccoon cheeks, and smiles. There is nobody else on the beach.
The kids were sent to the beach after breakfast. They returned with the noon whistle for lunch, and soon after were back on the beach. Rainy days meant games of Monopoly. On days when the black flies or green heads were bad, they wore pajamas to the beach, sometimes reduced to ducking beneath the waves to evade them. Great Aunt Elizabeth, a Quaker, insisted on formal language at the table. “Wouldst thou pass the salt?” Years later, she witnessed a tidal wave from the house. She said there was a boardwalk, then a wave came over it, and the boardwalk was gone. She died in the early 1960’s, before my birth, but sometimes I would stand in that bedroom, looking out the same window, imagining a boardwalk, a wave, and a terrible storm.
There are generations of front porch photos with kids shielding their eyes from the sun. The “keep your eyes closed until I count to three” trick was futile; the sun would blaze through eyelids. “One, two three, WINCE!”
The house was a time capsule with a musty, warm-wood scent. Tables, chairs, woven reed rugs, a vacuum-tube radio that didn’t work, beds, dishware, pictures on the wall; all original, all in their original locations. The clawfoot tub, stove, sinks, lighting fixtures, window shades, outdoor shower, and basement changing rooms were all original as well.
An aunt planted Bunny Ear cactus in the yard. They spread. Decades after her death, clusters could be spotted in neighboring yards. In 2019, we found one at my parents’ place across the street. It lives on, unkillable, on our kitchen counter.
The family cottage was simple, and without adornment, but the First Avenue Victorian homes were grand structures, with elaborate ornamentation. One by one these Grand Old Ladies of the Shore fell. Charming homes, razed to the naked sand in a day, are the ghosts of an era. Surviving photographs show imposing, imperial structures, absent any warmth, stilting the bright memories their walls held.
Eventually, in the 1990’s, the family cottage was sold. We knew it would be reduced to sand, front porch and all. My parents by then owned a cottage within sight of the family cottage. If there are photos of the razing I don’t want to see them. I feel them. I envision the bucket of an excavator tearing through the attic. The peak crumbles, the window shatters, and the interior is unnaturally exposed. I never see beyond that.
I spent my summer youth there, playing with boats and rubbing my chest raw catching waves on an inflatable raft. My grandmother taught me how to make ball castles; a sand mound with a spiral path for a ball to go round and round. Her shovel? A clamshell. Years later, I made them with my family. My children are teenagers now, but ball castles draw the attention of little ones, so as long as I have a shovel or a shell, I have playmates on the beach.
Memories continue to be formed, and extend beyond buildings. Over the years, loved ones have been lost, and added, and annual Stone Harbor treks continue. When I first visit the beach, I allow the water to touch only my toes, and in that moment I connect generationally. 86th Street water….86th Street sand. Before me, an ocean unending, behind me, change. The same view my ancestors had. My children, fifth generation visitors, never saw the family cottage. But they can build a ball castle. They played with their grandparents on the beach. They know the feel of sand in their hair, a crashing wave, a drying sun, and the wonderful stiffness of wind-dried clothing. They know raccoon-cheek sunburns, beach smiles, and whether they sense it or not, they connect, in all those simple experiences, to their ancestors.
(16 and UP!)
A MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (A Memoir)
Stone Harbor has been a part of my life even before I was born. I first journeyed to Stone Harbor when my mother was pregnant with me in 1972. We have visited every year since without fail and now as property owners my children have the joy of experiencing the shore as I did growing up. The beach has always been a destination of joy, a source of peace, and as it turns out, a magical place that brought two families together.
In the summer of 1980, just before I turned 8-years old, my older brother and I each wrote notes, put them in bottles and threw them into the Stone Harbor surf. Each note included our address in Hershey, Pennsylvania and entitled the finder to “one free Hershey bar.” We will never know exactly how it happened, but my bottle stayed in the ocean a couple of days and then washed ashore a few miles away in Avalon. As fate would have it, my bottle was picked up by a retiree named Elynor from Philadelphia and a friendship of 30 years was born.
It started out with a simple letter and small return package with the promised Hershey bar, but it didn’t end there. For the next four years the correspondence continued with Christmas cards and letters. Then in 1984, after 4 years of writing, we finally had the opportunity to meet in person. Despite being avid beach goers, neither family happened to be on Seven Mile Island at the same time. Instead, Elynor and her family came to Hershey and visited us. We spent time touring Hershey and even took Elynor through the Hershey plant where my dad was working as the plant manager. The employee newspaper, “The Chocolate Press,” even featured an article on our connection and included a photo of us with the Chairman of the Board and President of the Hershey Company.
PHOTO FROM THE CHOCOLATE PRESS
From this point forward, the correspondence continued and even expanded to include my sister, brother, parents, and their respective families. Over the years we learned many interesting facts about our message-in-a-bottle recipient. Elynor worked for the Federal Government for 25 years. She was crowned “Ms. Senior Pennsylvania” in 1983 and was 1st runner up in the regional competition held in Atlantic City in 1984.
Over the next 20 years as life took its twists and turns one thing remained constant – we stayed in touch with Elynor; Christmas cards, notes about our families, graduation and wedding announcements, and even one of Elynor’s favorite chocolate cake recipes made its way between our post boxes. Over this period we never met again in person. Having lived away from the East Coast for some time (but never missing summer in Stone Harbor) I decided it was time to visit our good friend. On our way home from Stone Harbor in 2005, 25 years after sending my message in a bottle, my wife and I brought our 1-year-old son to meet Elynor at her home in New Jersey. We spent an afternoon catching up and upon leaving I marveled at the path that brought us together.
ELYNOR & SHANE IN 2005
In 2010 Elynor passed away at the age of 92. Not long after, a package arrived in the mail from Elynor’s family. It was an album that contained every bit of correspondence we had ever sent her: pictures, Christmas cards, letters, and even a copy of the newspaper article from 1984. We added the items we had saved from Elynor and completed the album that represented 30 years of friendship all born out of a message-in-a-bottle that was tossed into the surf in Stone Harbor, New Jersey by a hopeful young boy.
In case you were wondering what happened to my brother’s bottle. In December 1980, 5 months after throwing the bottle in the ocean, my brother received a letter postmarked from Germany. The response acknowledged the note in the bottle, but contained no return address (or request for a Hershey bar) and was simply signed “Father Christmas.”
Mark Brace (Adult)
Do you Remember?
As school season rapidly approaches, I thought I’d write this post befitting of a tribute to what has become a staple for over 100 years. THE most revered writing implement of it’s time was and still is, The Ticonderoga Number 2 pencil.
It has its origin in New Jersey, by the way.
Do you remember the school supplies purchased for you every year ? The new box of pencils your mother bought you signified the end of summer and the start of school work. Mixed feelings, prevailed, for sure. The first day of school with a new teacher and some trepidation, you sat in your desk as you rapidly cracked open a virgin box of pencils. Enthusiastically, you hurried to the blackboard as the pencil sharpener was attached to the wall adjacent to it. As you inserted the pencil into the sharpener and quickly turned the crank, the smell of machined wood started filling the air. Oh how glorious that smell as I have now taken you back and cued your olfactory senses from the past !! Your memory ‘smiles’ as you read this post. You never dared sharpen that pencil too much ! You take the pencil out of the sharpener and check the tip. A bit more, you think, so the lead tip has a nice sharp point on it. The hexagonal shape of the pencil enabled you to grip it against the resistance of the sharpening gears in the pencil sharpener.
As I write this, I can’t help but think how The Ticonderoga Number 2 Pencil is a lot like life. It starts out with long usefulness ahead of it. As it is used and time goes on, the tip dulls and has to be re-tooled and resharpened… just like our skill sets have to be resharpened from time to time throughout our lives. This takes place repeatedly as more life is behind than in front of it. At the end of its useful life cycle its remainder is recycled back to earth.
As another life force, a tree, gave it purpose, so do our lives get our purpose from another life force. We too perform until which time we cannot as mitochondria ceases and we too get recycled back to earth.
So……do you remember ? The feel of the hexagonal pencil, the smell of wood shavings, the anxiety of the first day of school ?
Jersey Boy, Author
From First Visit to Full-time: A Stone Harbor Recollection
On one of our early dates, Ralph Pfeifer brought me to Stone Harbor over the July 4th weekend to visit and to celebrate my 25th birthday. Although I grew up in central New Jersey, I had never heard of the town until Ralph and I first met. In contrast, he had been coming to Stone Harbor since 1952, when he was four years old. Now he planned to show me the shore town he and his family knew and loved. It was 1974. And it was the weekend my memories of Stone Harbor began, amid the people who would become my own family and the house we now call home.
As we drove down the Garden State Parkway that Wednesday before the holiday weekend, I watched as the landscape opened up to wetlands and marshes, with herring gulls flying overhead and laughing gulls making their riotous noise over the Great Egg Harbor bridge. As we turned off Exit 10 and headed east, the pungent marsh fragrance filled my senses. Great egrets stood stock still along the wetlands flanking the causeway, looking for dinner. A blue heron landed along the roadside. I breathed in the salt air and relaxed as I had when I was a child, anticipating a day at the beach.
We drove through town slowly, watching the shoppers clustered along the sidewalks or heading toward the beach. Ralph turned left onto Second Avenue, then made a right onto 92nd Street, pulling up and parking in front of a stone-front ranch surrounded by a farm-style wooden fence painted barn red. “This the house we used to pass when we rented here in the 50s, and we always thought it had the nicest lawn in town. Of course, most homes didn’t have lawns then,” he laughed, “so this one stood out. Aunt Ginny and Uncle Frank bought the house in 1970.” Their home had become a gathering spot for her sisters, their husbands, and their kids, and it was where we were staying for the weekend.
I was introduced to Ginny and Frank, and said “hello” to his mom and dad and his sister, Gay, who were already there. Gay and I hadn’t met before. We just stared at each other. “I think I know you!” Gay said. I was puzzled for a minute. “Sayreville High School,” she continued, “Spanish class, right? La Bamba? You were one of the students in my class!” And then the light bulb went off for me, and we laughed.
Gay had been a senior at Douglass College, a Spanish major doing her student teaching at my high school. We realized she had been a student teacher my senior year. She played guitar, and one way she figured out she could engage the bored high school seniors she was assigned to, who were more anxious to graduate than to study, was for her to play and sing songs in Spanish, like La Bamba. It had worked, for me at least. “I still have that post card you sent to me,” I told her, “When you took the trip to Europe after graduation. Salutaciones de España, you wrote. It was a photograph of the Christopher Columbus monument in Madrid.”
She laughed and couldn’t believe I still had the postcard, but I had saved it along with various others before I even met Ralph. “This is a good omen,” I thought.
Then I was shown to the “blue bedroom,” where I dropped my bags. The walls and furniture were painted a sky blue, the beds covered with blue, lime green, and white flowered quilts. A rattan white chair with lime green cushions sat next to a handmade white wooden bookcase with louvered center doors. It had been made by a previous beau of Ginny’s and had withstood the years well, even though their relationship had not. The books were all classics; Heritage Press editions like Les Miserables, The Virginian, and Fathers and Sons—all in hard slipcases. I was charmed.
After dinner that night, Ralph and I walked to a three-story shop on Third Avenue, called Springer’s, for ice cream cones. The line to the store snaked around past other shops on the street and around the corner. “Don’t worry, the line moves fast,” he told me.
As we waited, Ralph went on, “I remember when ice cream cones here were15 cents for a single or 25 cents for a double. Now they’re over a dollar!” The line did move quickly, and as Ralph and I ate our cones—lemon ice cream, his favorite—we walked back to the house through town along 96th Street. It was even more crowded now, with shoppers tanned and happy from a day at the beach. Ralph told me about the Gulf station that used to be at 96th and Third, the old Shelter Haven Hotel that was on the opposite corner, and the Park and Harbor Movie Theaters.
We spent our vacation days lolling on the beach with his family, lined up in the sand in well-used beach chairs. Ralph and I swam and floated and body surfed for hours, while his family worked on their tans. I was amazed by the pale, softly textured sand—so different from the coarse and pebbly beaches I knew from my childhood visits to northern New Jersey shore towns, like Seaside Heights.
That July 4th, around noon, the lifeguards up and down the beach stood up on their stands and waved people over. “What’s wrong?” I asked Ralph. “Nothing,” he said, smiling. “You’ll see.” Then the lifeguards and the crowd burst into song:
God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her,
Through the night with the light from above….
We smiled at each other and sang along.
That evening, Ralph and I took the rusty old bikes in Ginny and Frank’s garage to ride down to the Point, where the fireworks could be seen. We laid back in the dunes and oohed and ahhed at the sounds and colors with the rest of the crowd. With the last barrage of lights and noise, Ralph said, “We’d better hurry back. We don’t have lights on the bikes, and the police are really strict about that.”
We hustled back, but that story was just a ruse to get me back to the house on time for the surprise his family had planned. Ralph ushered me in the back door to the kitchen, where his family had crowded in to cheer and sing “Happy Birthday,” holding glasses of champagne and a Sara Lee carrot cake, aflame with 25 candles. That became an annual tradition when we visited, which we did often over the years.
Ralph and I married in 1977 and started our own family, eventually buying the Stone Harbor house from Ginny and Frank in 2000. As our own retirements approached, we decided to remodel, keeping its prairie style character. No second story, no stairs to sleeping areas, just one concession—a stairway to the upper deck—a nod to the ever-present breezes Ralph remembered at the big yellow house on 93rd Street, where we had rented for a few summers. We kept the blue bedroom sky blue and kept the bookcase and classic volumes. We kept some of the knotty pine paneled walls in what Ginny and Frank had called “the drinking room,” now our TV room, and the Tennessee strip stone facade and fireplace, with its attached and matching stone barbecue on the reverse side.
Ralph and I often stroll, hand-in-hand, along the clear, curved, and sunlight horizon, on the same softly textured sand I remember from my first trip here. We watch sandpipers running frantically back and forth along the tide line searching for food, sometimes flinging themselves en mass into the sky if we get too close. And this house, our full-time home, has now been in the family for 50 years. It’s aged well, like our life together, and wears a vintage home plaque on the front porch. It is our haven and remains a gathering place for our children, our siblings, their families, and our friends.
Although our clan has diminished with some and grown with others, July 4th is still celebrated in Stone Harbor. We watch the fireworks go off over the ocean these days. Although now there are too many candles to put on my cake, I always get that “surprise”—but now it’s an ice cream cake from Springers.— Gail M. Pfeifer
STONE HARBOR, THE SEASHORE AT ITS BEST
From the time we are children to when we grow old,
Stone Harbor becomes the place we so dearly hold!
Memories of both a sunny day or cool night,
Bring to our nostalgic minds some special delight!
Not just fun, but places and people set apart.
Certain beaches and buildings remain in our heart….
Some may come to see our famous Bird Sanctuary,
Then discover so much more to make them tarry:
The Wings and Water Festival at the Wetlands;
The classic movie theater restored by new hands;
Our prized Museum formed by those who love our town;
The annual 4th of July fireworks countdown!
Reflect on a gorgeous bay sunset, magnified,
An exquisite sunrise, at a rising beach tide!
Think tiny white lights that adorn 96th Street,
Inviting us to shop or have something to eat!
Impossible to resist, a walk on the beach,
Peer at fine houses, gaze at the ocean in reach.
Heeding ones likes, leads to fishing, water skiing,
Body surfing, bike riding, or just porch sitting!
Who doesn’t love that giant blue water tower?
Just its distant sighting has strong drawing power!
What about Springers—a flavor, a job, a date?
No better place to cool off or just congregate.
The Villa Maria, Nun’s Beach, beside the shore—
Who has not swam, surfed or spied there; ah, but no more!
How about the Yacht Club— dances, parties, a race,
Sailing lessons, kids’ midnight swim, a warm embrace?
The Women’s Civic Club—meetings, dances and fun;
Remember the shows, weddings, parties, so well done.
Who hasn’t had their picture taken as a love note,
By the Beach Patrol Guard House, a stand or lifeboat?
Think about the town “Courts,” the “Playgrounds” and those “Piers,”
The “Baby Parades,” “Festivals of Light,” “Turkey Trots,”
Even the yearly Sidewalk Sale or Art and Craft Show.
For each person there’s one memory not to let go!
We each have come to remember, will always recall—
Our exploits, taste of crab and the cry of a seagull!
Quaintness and charisma: tender thought, compelling word,*
To describe what we have felt, perceived and heard!
Who cannot give our Stone Harbor most generous praise—
Our Borough, our Shore, our Island Home—now and always!
By Diane Hanley* *
- Words suggested by Bob Smith in “Working in Paradise,” found in the SEVEN MILE TIMES (Year 29, Volume 2)
- * ADULT Diane grew up in Stone Harbor in the 50’s and 60’s and has returned many summers ever since.
To Whom it May Concern: The above poem was written with love in an Apple “Pages” Document. If you cannot open it, it is also pasted below and can be transferred to any format you desire. I ONLY have an Apple computer. Sorry. But I sure don’t apologize for my poem. It went through 5 drafts and I had SO much fun writing it—all the memories of almost 70 years since I first began visiting Stone Harbor as a child (my grandfather was one of the first policeman here). In 1954 my parents opened our store. My brothers and I grew up here on this idyllic island! I have returned many many summers over my lifetime since I graduated from Middle Township High School. I became a teacher in Arlington, VA, not so far away and am now a retiree in Florida, but I plan on being back again this summer!
Sincerely, Diane Wonik Hanley
An Island of Possibility
As a child, my sister and I developed a tradition of ringing in the New Year in Stone Harbor. Every December 31st, we would pile into the backseat of an SUV piloted by our grandparents and drive to their house at the heart of the island. We would eat dinner at Henny’s, making good use of the “HAPPY NEW YEAR” hats and noisemakers that adorned the tables. We would stop by the Fudge Kitchen and Hoy’s, stocking up on goodies that would ensure a sugar high long enough to propel us towards midnight. We would lounge on the couches in the family room and watch the ball drop, snuggling under blankets to ward off the winter chill that seeped through the walls.
These memories have long been some of my favorite of Stone Harbor, in part due to their uniqueness. For many, Stone Harbor is a manifestation of summertime, remembered far more often as a bustling resort than as a sleepy shore town. Their version of the island comes alive in the taste of a Springer’s ice cream cone or in the sight of a sea of orange umbrellas dotting the sand, in the sound of a bicycle bell or in the smell of freshly baked sticky buns from the Bread and Cheese Cupboard. They remember Stone Harbor as that quintessential summer getaway, a place where the days are long and the nights are magical. It’s the seashore, at its very, very best.
This perception, of course, is hardly wrong; I’ve been visiting this town for nearly every summer of my lifetime and I, too, have a lengthy bucket list of items that constitute the perfect Stone Harbor Summer. Club 18 mini-golf. A stack of pancakes at Uncle Bill’s. A bike ride across the island and a hoagie from Wawa. An evening on the deck of our family’s home, watching the sunset illuminate that iconic water tower. Still, there was something special about experiencing these beaches absent of seasonal hoi polloi, of stripping away the towels and umbrellas and instead soaking in the vast, gray horizon. It was a reminder of what, for me, Stone Harbor has always been about, regardless of the season: possibility.
Growing up, Stone Harbor acquired an almost mythical aura in my eyes, in part due to the opportunities it presented. Whenever I visited, I enjoyed a life that was unlike any I lived elsewhere; I was granted levels of independence that would be unthinkable back home, and I was encouraged to revel in the rest and relaxation that the town embraced because, at the end of the day, we would always have tomorrow. I suppose it’s not surprising that starting the year in Stone Harbor made sense to me. At a time designated for looking forward, for dreaming big, it felt right to spend it on the shores that made me believe that everything was possible.
It’s been many years since I’ve welcomed January 1st down at the shore, and things have changed. My grandfather passed away. I’ve moved to a new city and pursued new opportunities. But those days live on in my heart, sharpening into focus whenever I consider the future’s infinite potential, and reminding me that any new ventures into the unknown are the simply the continuation of steps first pondered in the comforting glow of Stone Harbor’s coastline.
-Tim Croner (age 28)
She Sends the Dolphins
My Nana was unforgettable. Her giggle, which never failed to escape her lips even on the day she died, unmistakably let you know she was in the room. Her perseverance, strength and positivity are her legacy that continues to be an inspiration to all who knew her.
She was a Jersey girl, born and raised on the shore. Even if she wanted to deny it, after 70+ years in Milwaukee, her accent (especially the addition of the “w” in “cwofee”) would always give her away. My Papa was the son of a Mexican immigrant and like most young men at the time, enlisted in the Army to fight in WWII. His military commitment would take him to Iceland for training and then to Europe, following General Patton (miraculously surviving after fighting on the beaches of Normandy). Immediately before he traveled overseas, there was a random stop in a small New Jersey town.
Their first encounter was that of an epic fairy tale – a beautiful young girl meets the gaze of a handsome traveling soldier, giving way to love at first sight. They dance the night away; unfortunately, the minutes of this fateful night tick by with the understanding that the rising sun the next morning would bring only disappointment and a tearful good-bye.
All was not lost – for five long years, they kept that bond alive by writing to each other from across the globe. They held those letters so dear that the first time anyone could read them was once both had passed away. After sending money back to the states to purchase an engagement ring, they married once my Papa returned from the war unscathed. She bravely took his name and left her family…and her beloved Jersey shore.
With the world being much bigger than it is now, their trips back to New Jersey were few and far between. Nana courageously built a new life with her husband’s family, three children and many friends, but life was not easy. Their oldest child contracted polio and was bedridden for years. Money was extremely tight – my father often tells the story of the Christmas where they chose between small presents or a Christmas tree. Interracial marriages were not readily accepted in that time in our history. And yet, she remained grateful and optimistic – the epitome of grace.
I had never been to New Jersey, nor did I have any desire to; I was happily land-locked in the Midwest for 20 years. To me, the ocean was dirty and scary and, outside of knowing my Nana, the only knowledge I had of the people who lived there revolved around sketchy MTV shows. When my in-laws informed us they had purchased a home in Stone Harbor in 2012, my husband and I exchanged doubtful glances. New Jersey? THAT’S where you want a second home? But the deed was done – inevitably, they asked us to visit and we cautiously agreed, taking our three-year old daughter with us in 2013.
Ever since the moment we passed the majestic water tower downtown and set foot on the pristine beaches, we have understood the magic that is Stone Harbor. We now return every year as we continue to build treasured memories and traditions. Our daughters have grown up beautifully tan while running in the sand, standing in line while anticipating that first cool and creamy bite of Springer’s ice cream and basking in the glittery glory while shopping at Bad Kitty. It has been a blessing to see them experience the true joy and wonder of being a child in a beach-front town.
Stone Harbor has become the place where I, the girl who hated the water, am the most at peace. I believe it’s because there is Jersey Girl in my blood. I hear my Nana’s whispers in the rush of the waves and I can feel her presence in the warm sun. Each day we get to spend on the beach, I turn my eyes to the horizon, eager to catch a glimpse of the dolphins. They were elusive to us before she passed away, but each year since, I have seen their sleek bodies dancing in the waves. She sends the dolphins to tell me “I love you…welcome back home.”
Elizabeth Gabbianelli, proud granddaughter of Kathleen “Jardot” Schlemm
The First Day of Summer
It was a normal June night, it was starting to get dark. My brothers and I were playing wiffle ball in the back yard. When suddenly, my mom opened the sliding glass door with a screech. ”Do you guys want to go to Stone Harbor?” she asked as my dad came out of the house. “What kind of a question is that?!” I asked “Of course!” we responded.
We quickly cleaned up what we were playing and ran down the basement to get our suitcases. My mom could tell how ecstatic we were to finally go down the shore. My brother, Billy, was already darting into his room to start packing. I hurriedly packed my bags and ran out the door to catch up with Billy. We got to the car and realized that my twin Ryan had already settled into his seat. We grabbed a drink as we let my dad pack the car. We didn’t argue much about who was sitting where because we were going to Stone Harbor!
Before we knew it we could smell the bay! We rolled down our windows and let the breeze carry our hair in the wind. We knew we were close because my Mom turned the Beach Boys on the radio. I sat silently in my seat waiting to see the water tower. We turned the corner and…
¨I see the water tower!” I screamed first.
¨I see the water tower!¨ my Mom yelled second.
My two brothers sighed in disappointment that they were not first to spot it this year.
As we were passing Fudge Kitchen, the Movie Theater, and Hoys it brought back so many memories from last year and the year before that. I turned the corner and could see my Uncle Bob and cousin, Bobby, on the deck. My brothers and I were already unbuckling our seatbelts.
¨Wait! ¨ my Dad told us as he parked the car.
As soon as we got out of the car my cousins, Madeline and Anna, waited at the steps jumping up and down with excitement. We ran to them as fast as we could, ignoring the fact that we had to unpack the car. We helped unpack our bags and inflated our air mattresses. It was already 9:45 but we were far from tired. Suddenly, the front door swung open and my Grandmom and Grandpop were there with their arms out. We went out to help our grandparents get their luggage in their room and stole a few caramel candies.
“All right” my aunt said slowly “I think it is time for bed” “Ok” all six of us told our parents as we slowly crept up the stairs. We brushed our teeth and slowly settled into our beds. We could still hear the parents talking and laughing. We sat up all night talking about e fun things we would do, like going to go to the beach and getting the best ice cream in the world…Springers.
We finally drifted off to sleep knowing that this was going to be the best summer ever!
The Last Watch
The wooden steps creaked and groaned under the Keeper’s weight. For 20 years, first as a surfman and the past 10 as keeper, he had spent his days and nights within the wooden walls of Tatham Lifesaving Station. Tonight, he would work his last shift. Reaching the top of the ladder, he opened the hatch and found a young member of the crew with his eyes on the water.
“Hello, sir. Is there a problem?” said the surfman on watch, reaching out his hand. “No problem, just came up to take one last look.” The Keeper grasped the hand and pulled himself through.
“Of course sir. Although I’d be running from the night watch as quickly as I could, not coming back to it.” The Keeper chuckled.
“Not me, son, I love this time of night,” he paused, “Say, why don’t you go downstairs, warm yourself up for a bit.” “Are you sure, sir?” The Keeper looked out onto the sea for a moment, “Yes, I could use a minute alone.” The surfman shrugged and began to climb down the ladder, closing the hatch as he descended.
Though he had been Keeper of the station for 10 years, it felt like forever since he had been in the tower. Breathing in the salt air, he stroked his graying beard and took a pipe out of the pocket of his weathered oilskin. He lit it, thinking back on the grounded ships and frightened sailors that had marked the passage of the years on the Seven Mile Island.
He took a step towards the window and felt the cool ocean air on his craggy face. The breeze embraced him like an old friend, enveloping him in the clear cold scent of the sea. The Atlantic churned with fury and passion tonight, showing her joy at the arrival of an old adversary here to watch over her for one last night.
The Keeper had spent many years on the shores of this island, struggling to pull men and women from the jaws of death. He had fought the ocean time and time again, yet he had never forgotten the beauty and the power that lived within her waters. His admiration for the sea had never faded.
But there still was a job that must be done. He grabbed the set of binoculars and raised them to his eyes. No ship lights, but he caught a flash of lightning far out at sea. He uttered a prayer for any ship caught in that storm. It was too far from shore, if they went down, they could only beg for mercy.
He brought his gaze back to the island, looking passed the waving grasses on the dunes to scan the beach. As he scanned the sand and surf, he tried to remember how many times he had walked it, but it was far more than he could count.
Turning his head, he now saw the flickering lights of the new town, Stone Harbor. Once just a few small cottages extending off the rail line, it now boasted a highway, a fire department, and a schoolhouse. The lights were fewer now, of course, the tourists had all caught the last train home as the summer ended. But the few lights still glowing in the night marked the little town’s place on the island.
Now he faced west, looking over the vast marsh that spread all the way back to the mainland. The sun had long since sunk into the bay, but he could still make out the pine trees of the Cape. Whenever he looked on the bay, he was reminded of a childhood spent rowing through the inlets, fishing and crabbing. Now, he looked forward to a retirement where he could relive those carefree days of his youth.
However, he still had a watch to complete. So he turned to look over Hereford Inlet to the south. Seeing no boats in the water there, he placed the binoculars down, content with his search.
He was going to miss this. The night air, the moon and stars aiding him in the watch, the sea moving slowly past the island. It made him feel alive, made him feel whole. He loved this job, loved the ocean, loved this island. But years of protecting and serving had left him tired; he was ready to take his leave, and so he did.
“Goodbye,” he whispered into the wind. He opened his mouth to speak again but no words came out. There was nothing left to say.
Suddenly, another flash of lightning and crack of thunder came from across the sea. The Keeper smiled, acknowledging the Atlantic’s fond farewell.
Then the hatch opened, and up popped the young surfman. “Everything all right here sir?” he asked. The Keeper turned away once more and looked back out upon the dark waters. “Yes, my boy, yes it is.”
Bobby Woltjen Age 16
The beach is within my reach
Whenever I go to the beach,
I feel like everything is within my reach
The shells, the ocean, and the sand
Finally, I feel free!
Cassandra, age 10
My Stone Harbor
I like shells.
The sea is right next to them.
I swim in it.
I love to go to Bad Kitty.
I like Bad Kitty’s hair wraps.
Bianca Gabbianelli, age 6
I was sound asleep in our cozy condo at the Leeward. My family was about halfway through our Stone Harbor vacation, and another exciting day was about to dawn. I’m sure that, in my dreams, I was planning how to spend another glorious day in the gem-of-a-town.
Suddenly, I heard noises coming from my parents’ room, and not long after, a light was flicked on in the kitchen. I was vaguely aware of someone approaching me… it was my dad.
“Girls, time to get up,” he called softly to me and my sister, who were sleeping on an air mattress in the living-room. I turned over and stretched, then glanced at the microwave clock. It read 5:48, to be exact.
5:48! What was my dad thinking, getting us all up after a not-so-good night’s sleep, at such an hour! However, as the fog cleared from my head, I remembered that, the day before, we had all agreed to go and watch the sunrise on the beach. I reluctantly swung myself out of bed at this knowledge, though I can’t say that a reason for such an early rise made anything better for me. The last time we had vacationed at Stone Harbor, we had attempted to watch a sunrise, and, although there were a few streaks of color that had been painted across the sky, there was nothing quite so special about it.
Nevertheless, we quickly got ready; by 6 o’clock, we were trotting down the sidewalk, and within five minutes, we were walking up the little, sandy ramp that led us out onto the beach. Almost immediately, I began to feel less grumpy as I gazed at the smooth, silky expense of sand before me, untrodden, for now. As we continued to approach the ocean, slowly, reverently picking our way across the sand, I glanced down at the many brittle, strikingly unique shards of shells that the ocean had tossed from her arms during last evening’s high tide. Something inside me welled with a growing excitement as we neared the ocean.
But then I glanced up at the sky. It was an odd shade of blue, looking almost like it does during a cloudless day, but dimmer, for there was no sun to be seen. In fact, the moon could still be seen high in the sky. No sunrise yet. What were we waiting for? Would this long wait be worth it?
We paced to and fro on the beach, searching for shells, chasing daring seagulls, and taking pictures of the waves. They crashed stormily onto the sand, echoing my impatient feelings. We passed horseshoe crabs, some dead and washed up pretty far, and others wiggling back towards the ocean from small, sandy puddles. The very ocean itself seemed to be urgently waiting for something… a change.
The change that came was immediate and stunning. One moment, the sky was a pasty blue, showing nothing but the sad-looking moon. The next moment, a brilliant light shot forth from over the horizon, and lit the sky up in a swirl of colors. The few, stringy clouds that had sailed listlessly across the sky were now accentuated across the sky in puffs of blush, fiery orange, and magenta. The sun’s rays blazed brilliantly on the sand, illuminating all of the shell fragments, and making the ceaseless waves summer like walls of sparkling crystals. The moon vanished, and in a moment, the sea was awake. Seagulls flew past the flaming sun, making a perfect picture. All the sights absolutely took my breath away.
I smiled to myself as the lovely breeze blew my hair, and began to blow the sacred sunrise away. Had it been worth it?
- Madison Austin (age 15)