Three Sisters and a Hometown Tour
The drive from Cape May to Atlantic Highlands took us through many familiar towns: Point Pleasant, Ocean, Deal, Asbury Park, Long Branch, Sea Bright and Highlands until we finally reached our host's home. Along the way, we noticed how much of the shore development was new. Hurricane Sandy had decimated most of the old homes and beach clubs lining the shore. They have been replaced by more modern construction and, seemingly, many more homes than I remembered.
The seawall has been repaired and the bridge rebuilt near Highlands along with a new entrance to Sandy Hook State Park. The ocean is very close to the land here. There are only a few hundred yards of property between the ocean and the river, so the strong storm surge brought by Hurricane Sandy was a sobering thought. This whole area must have been underwater.
Once over the bridge, some familiarity emerged. Bahr's Restaurant still stands as does Twin Lights Lighthouse on the hill. The town in upper Highlands looks the same, though the lower areas around the main street, as I later found out, were badly damaged. More development along the highway removed some familiar landmarks - Stewart's Root Beer stand is now a gas station and the former Clearwater Swim Club is now a baseball field. I tell myself places need to evolve- even my hometown.
So much to tell about the places we used to know, yet the most important part of this trip is not the places but the people. In this case, three sisters and their husbands who extended such gracious hospitality they could be honestly mistaken for Southerners!
When they heard we were having difficulty finding a campsite, Beth and Paul offered to host us in their home - a pretty brave move considering we had not seen them in thirty years! And once there, we were treated as family. Cathy, Beth and I had a band when we were in high school. Two guitars, a tambourine, and five voices interweaving harmonies to original compositions as well as "covers" of popular folk songs. It was such a fun time in our lives and it was almost as much fun to reminisce.
Cathy and her husband Rich along with Beth and her husband Paul welcomed us with pizza and lots of memories. Cathy and Beth's younger sister Margaret also joined in the celebration, adding to the stories and fun. We met her husband, Tony, later in our visit and found him to be a charming musician with an affable manner and deep appreciation for the guitar.
Thirty years melted away as we sat and talked, played music, and shared stories. Funny how good friends are always good friends no matter how long between visits nor how far the miles between us.
The ladies acted as our tour guides "ubering" us around town to see all the changes and those precious things that have stayed the same. The stone bridge where Jim and I often walked while courting remains a stately structure of brownstone with a smooth concrete arch. The curved staircase just as dramatic as it always was. The harbor, where we hung out with all our friends, is now rebuilt after hurricane Sandy and sports a new restaurant where the bait shop used to stand. The ferry service to New York has all but overtaken the parking areas.
That is a new development since we left. The ferry service terminals can be found throughout the area. That means more and more city-dwellers are becoming residents in the once sleepy coastal town. Not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely overwhelming in its impact on the locals. We took time out of our tour to have lunch at a local eatery simply called "The Diner". It was a good stop. Fresh coleslaw, good sandwiches, and coffee refueled us for the continuing tour.
Driving out to Sandy Hook State Park was a treat. It was always a lovely beach, but now the very tip of the peninsula, once an army base, is now open to the public. Having decommissioned the fort, the state extended bike trails and beach access throughout the area. There remains a Coast Guard facility and many old buildings from the fort days. Several have been turned into museums featuring WWII period furnishings. Some are falling down, waiting for repairs or someone to lease them. The little white chapel is still there. Cathy, Beth and I sang folk mass there every week for a couple of years while the fort was still in operation. We laughed, telling some of those stories, like trying to get there in a blizzard driving a tiny car without snow tires!
We drove up the steep streets to the high school and Twin Lights Lighthouse. We marveled at the thought of our high school bus climbing those steep streets in all weather. The streets are narrow and the busses still use one road up and a different road down so as not to meet other vehicles.
When we arrived at Twin Lights Lighthouse, Jim promptly climbed to the top of the north tower. The rest of us toured the museum and gift shop before he found us. Once I knew he had made the climb, the gauntlet had been set and I swallowed hard, opened the creaky wooden door and started up the steel spiral staircase. It is quite narrow and a bit intimidating, then it shrinks to even smaller ladder-like steps near the top. I took a deep breath at the landing and then started climbing again not daring to look down! It is really only a few steps from the landing to the lightroom, and I pulled myself to the door and out onto the catwalk.
The view from the light room was spectacular. Overlooking the town, the bridge, Sandy Hook and the Atlantic Ocean, it is a stunning location. The two lights provided navigation for ships along the New Jersey coast beginning in 1862. The two lights are not identical. One was a stationary light while the other blinked, so mariners could distinguish them from other nearby lighthouses. They stand 200 feet above sea level on the Navesink Highlands. The lights are no longer functional but stand proudly just the same. Our high school's athletic field is next to the parking lot. Who would think to build a school with a million dollar view?! Jim commented that it was hard to pay attention to the teacher's lectures when he could see the surf was up through the classroom windows!
We wound our way up Ocean Boulevard that overlooks the bay with views all the way to Manhattan. At its highest point, Mt. Mitchell, there is a park and memorial to the 911 victims who lived in this area. Walking the timeline to the statue in the center and looking beyond to the Manhattan skyline reminded me how close we lived to New York. My dad commuted there to work daily. Just like these people did.
Driving through the nearby towns we admired the handsome bridges, bays, and rivers. It is a lovely area. What used to be private property all along the river is now part of the County Park system, replete with hiking trails, kayak access, and event spaces. I think we will have to come back ready to bike and kayak the whole area next time!
Our visit was over much too soon. Jim and I agreed we needed to return for a longer stay next time. We took the RV out to refuel in preparation for tomorrow's early morning departure. In New Jersey, you don't pump your own gas. There are attendants who help, and we had a very nice lady help Jim with the diesel fuel. As we drove away, she blew him a kiss - now that is service with a smile!
Our visit ended with an evening of music and memories. We asked Paul to recommend a local breakfast spot on our way out of town and he suggested the Yellow Rose Diner in Keyport. It turned out to be perfect! A place that looks and tastes the part of a hometown diner with a great menu and service to match. There seemed to be a familiarity with the patrons and staff as they greeted one another. What a great way to cap our journey down memory lane!