PROF. SHERRY TRACHTMAN
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN FINE ARTS
In the 1950’s and 60’s, my grandparents had a beach house on the Jersey Shore in a quiet family-oriented town with big Victorian hotels and penny arcades along the wide boardwalk. On weekends, we somehow packed 12+ family members into the 4 small bedrooms. Before breakfast, the men loaded the car with our heavy wood and canvas beach chairs and umbrellas. Popa drove the 2 short blocks and backed up to the boardwalk to unload. Forming a line, my uncles and Dad would pass our equipment over the fence and onto the sand to set up our family encampment. After everyone ate (usually in shifts in the tiny kitchen), the family walked to the beach in a caravan of strollers and wagons toting food hampers, toys and kids, to claim our space for the day.
To keep me from toddling off too far (like into the ocean), my mother attached my carriage harness (a 50’s version of a car-seat strap) to a chair on a short rope. Tempted by the interesting foods and folks in the adjacent family groups, I soon learned how to walk on the sand. Kids then could safely be given the freedom to visit neighbors in the beach-blanket community, and according to family lore, I’d put on my mother’s sunglasses, exclaim, “Dark in here”, and head off to other enclaves 5 feet away, to sample their Armenian or Italian tidbits.
By the time I was five, I could walk behind my Dad, stepping in his footprints to avoid the hottest sand, and help carry back all the ice creams. I could walk to the trash cans near the boardwalk, to the ocean’s edge with my pail and shovel, and to the life guard stands to compete for a seat underneath. The life guards stood up often with lost, crying kids on their shoulders and blew their whistles to alert the families. No kid wanted to miss that show! These exciting early childhood summers started my journey as a life-long explorer.
Hilary Clinton wisely taught us that it takes a village to raise kids, and the Jersey Shore beaches of the mid 20th Century were little villages of 3 generation families who watched out for each other. The art department at NOVA, Alexandria is a little village, too. We may not be enjoying surf and sand, but we are a community, do have fun while learning, and there are often interesting international foods to try.