This past holiday weekend was a special time of making new memories and revisiting old ones. Part of the family gathered at the Ocean Grove, New Jersey beach home of our oldest son and his wife. Watching the weather forecasts for the last few weeks which have been consistent in their prognostications of rain, we were in agreement that rain at the shore was ok if the alternative was not going.. So glad that was our plan because the weather turned out to be warm and beautiful. How many times in life do we waste time focusing on the possible bad things that just might happen.
When my maternal grandparents were forced to move from Ithaca, New York to New York City – grandfather was the attorney for the Lehigh Valley railroad and when the government took over the railroad at the start of World War 1, he lost his main client. A New York City law firm offered him a partnership if he would move to New York and join them. My grandparents already had extended family in New York City so the move was a fairly smooth transition. They started a tradition of spending some part of their summers in Spring Lake, New Jersey. The place they stayed was the Colonial Hotel (now called the Ocean House).
My grandfather died in 1946. Grandmother continued to spend summers in Spring Lake and my cousin Franny and I were invited to each spend a week with her in what was probably the summer after his death. I was a young preteen, a mixture of self confidence and awkwardness. I had no problem taking the train from New York by myself after having been escorted to my train seat by my parents and warned not to speak to strangers. I was very comfortable on trains. We had no car and were frequent users of the Long Island train on our many trips to New York City to visit family. I knew grandmother would be at the station in Spring Lake when the train arrived. And I had lots to read on the train to keep me occupied.
Ocean Grove is about ten minutes by car from Spring Lake. Our son Jerry had found and researched the Colonial Hotel where he knew from family history, his great grandparents had spent their summers . On Saturday afternoon, we all drove to Spring Lake. I was grateful to have such loving family support as I traveled back in time to my teenage years.
When we pulled up in front of Ocean House I knew that in spite of the name change and the change to the building color that son Jerry’s research had paid off. When we climbed the stairs, crossed the lovely wraparound porch and entered the hotel I felt an almost overpowering familiarity. This small family hotel still projects the warmth and charm that perhaps in my week of visiting when I was about 60 to 70 years younger than the rest of the guests, I failed to appreciate.
One feature of this building that I remember loving was its beautiful wide and winding wood staircase. As a young preteen I had a tendency to bounce down the stairs. Grandmother reminded to be more ladylike. Now with the family I walked around the first floor – there were so many treasures in the furniture, the pictures , the artifacts – I felt like the inside of the hotel was so true to my memory. (Though the big wide screen TV in one of the lovely sitting rooms was a bit jarring).
We walked from the hotel down to the Lake. It was such a beautiful day and more memories came flooding back. Across the lake was the imposing St. Catharine and St. Margaret Church that I attended with my grandmother, so different from the Spanish mission style church that was my childhood parish home.
When we returned to Ocean Grove I got my computer and googled information on the Colonial. I learned that the staircase that I admired had been purchased from the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia. The hotel was actually built around this amazing architectural piece. And the part of the staircase that was not used in the hotel construction now resides in the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Also my googling showed several “old” pictures of the Colonial – all in the off white original color that I remembered. The final piece of the memory puzzle was now in place!
These past few days of our family gathering have also been a time of sharing, walking the beach, playing scrabble, going in the ocean ( briefly- the temperature was 62), eating yummy meals. And it was for me a time of remembering. Remembering is particularly powerful when we are supported by love!
There can be a tendency as we age to spend too much time in the past. I favor a mixture of not forgetting the past, of enjoying the present, and of planning for the future!