Summer Tents in Ocean Grove
For as long as I can remember—even longer--Ocean Grove, New Jersey has been my favorite spot on the planet. There’s a picture of me in a stroller on the boardwalk there at a month old and I always viewed the school year as nine months to endure between magical summers at the beach. My family moved a lot when I was growing up, but every summer for me was in Ocean Grove. My grandparents had started going there decades before I was even born.
We lived in a tent for the summer, one of 114 still maintained by the Camp Meeting Association that founded and runs the town. It sounds crazy, but the front room was a tent and it was hooked up to a small cabin with a room-and-a-half. I spent 30 summers in our tent. While we always had plumbing, we didn’t get hot water until the summer I turned 14. It didn’t matter much because we were outside all the time and there was always so much to do. Part of the magic was that I got to spend summers with my grandparents and part of it was the Camp Meeting put on all kinds of programs that made it a great place for kids… and there were lots of kids. When we ran out of things to do in Ocean Grove, we could also walk the boardwalk to neighboring Asbury Park for miniature golf, fireworks, and other diversions.
I got my first job ever as an umbrella boy in OG during the summer of 1970. It was the best job I ever had even though it paid just $15 a week plus tips when I started. Tips were good enough that I opened my first bank account there too (and I didn’t complain about being “forced” me to spend 39 hours a week on the beach). When I wasn’t working on the beach, there were hours and hours of beach volleyball. There were other activities that kept us out of trouble in the evenings and along the way played a key role in my personal faith journey. Labor Day became the saddest day of the year as we had to leave it all behind for another season.
Friendships made in those years have lasted a lifetime and our neighbors in the tent were like an extended family. My kids today still think of my “extra” parents as their “extra” grandparents.
Now, it’s both wonderful and a bit surreal that I get to live in the same small town. My house is on the street I used to walk on to the beach every day. In fact, I live across the street from my first boss’s house, the place I’d go every morning to pick up the change before opening the umbrella stand. My kids grew up as friends with the great-grandson of my first boss. The son of another good friend from back in the day hangs out with my oldest son.
Another strange twist of fate is that I’ve served as President of the Camp Meeting for a few years. That’s one of those volunteer jobs that is nearly a full-time gig, but it’s a great way of saying thanks for all those who made the programs possible for me when I was growing up. And, it gives me an excuse to tell everybody what a great place Ocean Grove really is. If you find yourself at the Jersey Shore, you should really stop by and see for yourself.
Thanks to the NOAA Website for the vintage images above