Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: Two vacationers meet on the beach in 1960s Seaside Heights.
Even decades before Seaside Heights, NJ became synonymous with Snooki and the show Jersey Shore, the town was the summer destination for Jersey teens looking to smush and let off steam. It was also the place where my parents met.
Neither of you were from Seaside Heights; in fact, Dad, you lived an hour and a half away, right? What were you doing there when you met?
Mom: I was on vacation with my girlfriend and her parents. They rented a house for two weeks.
Dad: Hanging out with the boys.
You met on the beach. How did that happen?
M: I was on the beach with my girlfriend. We were hanging out in front of the Chatterbox. It was a bar, and the "in" place to go at the time. It was right on the boardwalk, not far from the beach. People would go in and out and drink all day… except my girlfriend and I were only nineteen, so we couldn't drink yet.
Did you ever try to drink anyway?
D: No comment.
M: So, we were on the beach and surrounded by all people our age. A group of guys started talking to us, not your father's friends, but a different group. Your father and his friends walked up because they knew the group of guys we were talking to. We saw each other but didn't say anything. After a while, his friend Pete started a conversation with my girlfriend while your father walked back over to his blanket. Pete asked my friend if she would go out on a date with him. She said yes, but he said it would have to be next weekend because they were leaving that night. My girlfriend said "I'll only go if you bring a guy for my friend." I laughed and played along and said, "I'll go if you bring that guy." I was referring to your father.
Dad, did you hear any of that conversation?
D: No. [smiling coyly]
M: Your father was very good looking. He had very short hair, a dark tan and these huge bright blue eyes. You could see them a mile away.
Did you pick him because he seemed interesting or because he was attractive?
M: I just liked the way he looked. I did it more for my girlfriend, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to go out one night with a good-looking guy.
So dad and his friends left the beach. Then what?
M: Honestly, my girlfriend and I never thought we'd hear from them again. Which was fine. We just figured they were making plans but would never come all the way back. The following weekend was Labor Day, and I really wasn't sure if I'd have time to do anything anyway, because my whole family — your grandmother, grandfather, aunt and uncle — were coming down for the weekend to visit us at the shore house.
So Dad, you came all the way back to Seaside Heights to go out with Mom?
D: Not exactly. The same two guys and I went down to Atlantic City for Labor Day weekend. The place was dead. It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen. Second busiest beach holiday on the Jersey shore, and the town was empty. We went to three bars and nothing was going on. My friends wanted to just cut their losses and go home. I said, "You guys are nuts. There is no way I'm going back and hanging in Trenton for the entire holiday weekend. Let's go somewhere else." No one had any ideas, and by that point, it was about two a.m. I said "Let's head back to Seaside. Maybe we could get a cheap motel room and at least have a beach day tomorrow." I wasn't sure myself, but we were on the Parkway, so we drove down. Went to a bunch of places, no vacancies. Finally, the last place we checked, had one room left. So we all crashed in that room.
The next morning we woke up — it was literally a couple hours later — and we went outside the hotel, and my friend Pete realized the hotel was on the very same street as the house where your mother and her friend are staying. So after breakfast, we went looking for the house.
M: It wasn't exactly easy to find us though. The house we rented was built after all the houses on the block. All the others had numbers in the 1300s. The house we rented was given the number 13. No idea why, it was just how they did it.
D: I figured they'd given us a fake address, until I got to the last house, and sure enough, among all the high numbers, is this number 13. So I knocked on the door. You want to say what happened next, Fran?
M: No, it's funnier when you tell it.
D: So I knock on the door, and your mother answers the door in her bathrobe and hair curlers. She screams and boom! slams the door in my face. I heard her scream from the other side of the door, "Those guys from Trenton are here!"
M: I was getting ready for my family to come visit. I was not expecting your father to be standing at the door. I made my girlfriend go to the door. She told them we were waiting for my parents and we'd be on the beach in a little while. We'd meet up with them after.
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Dad, how long did you wait on the beach?
D: All day. They took forever. But it wasn't like we were waiting specifically for them. We were on the beach; they just happened to eventually show up. Honestly, it was about three or four hours.
M: I didn't do it on purpose. I had to wait for my parents. We eventually got down to the beach and we talked to them all afternoon. We all made a date to go out that night.
D: We went out to the… Beach Club?
M: Beach Comber.
D: No. Beach Club.
M: Surf Bar.
D: Surf Club.
M: That was it.
I'm assuming the date went well?
D: For my friend it did. [Dad makes the "punching fist in the air" sign]
M: Oh, stop!
D: No, it went well.
Did you kiss her?
D: Yeah, I think I did.
M: At the end of the night.
And where did it end from there?
M: Well, it didn't end right away. My girlfriend and his friend had split from us. Her mother had a rule: "If you go out together, you come home together." So I had to wait for her on the porch until she got back. Your father waited with me.
D: I went home after they finally came back.
Did you make plans to see each other again?
And it didn't matter that Mom was from North Jersey and you lived about sixty miles away?
M: Not really. I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I mean, I gave him my phone number but who really can know what's going to happen? It could have been just a summer thing.
D: The distance didn't really bother me because my brother lived a town over from her. So if I went up to visit, I could crash at his house.
What was your first official date?
M: We went to the World's Fair in New York City. It was a week or two after Labor Day.
D: I went to pick her up. That was the first time I met your grandfather.
How'd that go?
D: I drive all the way to her house. I knock on the door and your grandfather answers. He doesn't say anything. I say, "Hello, how are you? Is Frances here?" He looks at me and says, "Who are you?" I say, "I'm Tony. I'm here to take her out." This is all happening through the screen door. He says, "Aren't you the guy from Trenton?" I say that I am and he says, "What's the matter? Aren't there any girls to date where you come from?"
M: He knew who your dad was. He was just giving him a little bit of a hard time. My parents were a little strict.
How strict could they be? They let you go into New York City with a stranger from sixty miles away.
M: Well, I was nineteen at the time. I was considered an adult. Plus, it was the middle of the day.
Was it a good date?
M: Yeah, we had a good time.
D: It was fun. I think it was because we were so enthralled with all the stuff going on at the fair. Kept things moving.
M: I think we both knew we liked each other.
Were either of you skeptical about a long-distance relationship?
D: Not really. It wasn't that far.
M: We kept in touch. We talked on the phone a lot. We wrote letters.
Dad! You wrote letters?
M: Oh yes, you did! You did so.
D: Maybe a couple.
Do you have any of those letters?
M: No, I think I got rid of them.
You got rid of them? You have every greeting card you've ever gotten and you threw out letters from your future husband? I find that hard to believe.
M: I don't know if I still have them. Honest.
Okay, since we're being honest, I've got a confession: I found a box of those letters when I was younger. I read the first page of one of them — it was written by Mom — and I was bored to death. Never read them again.
M: Well, they weren't meant for you.
How long did you date before getting engaged?
M: A year.
Dad, did you ask grandpop first?
D: Yeah, through the screen door.
M: We discussed it and then he told my parents we wanted to get married. They loved him, and they were fine with it. We got engaged on my birthday in November. We were married the following October.
And how long have you been together?
M: It will be forty-five years this October.
D: It's funny what happens when you just don't want to go home.
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