This past Wednesday night, my family’s shore house in Ocean City, NJ, burnt down. The house was built 50 years ago when my Grandfather purchased the land and, since then, it’s been a place for four generations of family members to come together. While a bigger and better house will rise from its ashes, having it taken away from us in such a horrific and involuntary way is shocking and upsetting.
My Dad called Wednesday night to share the sad news with me. He had just found out and was beside himself. He was so distraught, at first, I thought he was calling to tell me that someone had died. Thankfully, no one did. And none of our family members were in the house when it caught fire. A neighbor smelled the smoke, called the fire department and it took them over an hour to put out the fire. Wind gusts were 40 miles-per-hour, the fire hydrant on the corner didn’t work and firemen from multiple towns had to come together to tame and extinguish the relentless inferno.
Watching video of the fire in news articles and seeing photos of the aftermath was numbing and surreal. I’ve seen and read numerous news stories about house fires, but I’ve never known someone who’s experienced one. Now I do: me. But I’m not sad for myself. Both my cousin and I feel sad for our parents, my Dad and his sister. They grew up in this house, summer after summer. Their mother – my grandmother, who is now deceased – gave them hugs, kisses and warm meals in this house. Those memories live on, but the house that symbolized them does not.
I said to my Dad tonight that my cousin, Chris, and I had the same thought when we first spoke about this tragedy. I was on the phone with Chris and we knew that Dad and Aunt Linda were driving down to Ocean City to see the house. Chris and I both knew that the moment my father and aunt saw the house, it would be real for them and that they’d be overcome with a level of emotion they haven’t felt since they said goodbye to my grandmother at her funeral. When I told Dad this he said, “You’re right. I got emotional the moment we turned onto our street.” He also told me that it was amplified when one of the firemen unscrewed the address plate off the front of the house and handed it to him. It was a symbol of something wonderful that is now gone.
For me, our house in Ocean City was home to many happy memories. I remember lying in bed with the windows open, listening to Journey for the first time. With my headphones on, the sweet, salty air swept over me as I gazed up at the stars, completely enveloped in the otherworldly vocals of Steve Perry. I also remember playing Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball and Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo for hours on end with my cousins, Jimmy and Chris. When we weren’t at the house, we were on the beach riding waves on our boogie boards, walking up and down the boardwalk hoping to catch the eye of a pretty girl, huddled around the kitchen table dealing UNO cards, or playing flashlight tag when the sun went down.
Our home in Ocean City may be gone, stolen from us by an unexpected and unwelcome fire. However, 50 years of memories live on. That address plate that was handed to my father will be affixed to the new house, the door will open and many more hugs, kisses and warm meals will be served.