The Catt Box

 

Ocean City, Maryland

 

 

I do not have a lot of good memories of my childhood, but that's another story....however, I do have some great memories of our family's yearly vacation spot....Ocean City, Maryland. To this day, I have never been to a beach that I enjoyed better, and I have been to some pretty amazing beaches. 

When you're a kid, time is forever...everything lasts so long. And anticipating a trip to Ocean City was so exciting...like it would never get here. It was bad enough waiting for the school year to end....then we'd have to wait for the week that we would all be in Ocean City. And we would never be 'just us, as a family'....and for that I am now glad...but my parents always wanted to invite along another family. My parents were always easier to be around when other people were near....they had to be. We loved that. It was like stepping out of our world for a while and slipping into a TV sitcom for a week.

 

  

In December 1968

Starting from left:  Cindy, Catt (holding The Princess Christy), and Alan

 

We would be so excited about the trip..., me, Cindy, and my brother Alan. This was all we would talk about. My brother was home for a month during the summers and he and I were so close, and so much alike. Summers were wonderful, for me... I got to see my brother for a whole month, I was away from all the cruelty of the school kids, mom and dad were at work and we pretty much had the house to ourselves, and then there was that wonderful trip to Ocean City. That was a lot for me to look forward to. It was also exciting to find out who would accompany us on our vacation. We always hated it when it was my mom's long-time friend 'Mean-woman'. We never liked her or her kids. And her husband, 'Mean-man', was always, well, mean to us....always annoying us. 

But on a good year, we would have a ball with the family that went along with us. And it's those years I want to think about. I don't remember hearing all of the planning and details of the trip....that wasn't the sort of thing that interested us....we just talked about Frontier Town, which was on the out-skirts of Ocean City...and The Jolly Roger Park....and the Boardwalk.....the Mid-way, which was the carnival that lasted all summer, and it was at the end of the eight mile long Boardwalk. Dad would give us each $2.00 a day to spend however we wanted. We were pretty much on our own when we were there. Things would be so different today. The world wasn't as vicious back then. 

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A very treasured moment.

The day would finally come...we were on our way. Dad was not a pleasant person to be around on 'trip day'...he and mom would bicker while loading the car. That's what dad did on every holiday, every family thing...well, pretty much anytime we were around him. Nothing made him happy. He didn't seem to be as excited as we were....but we were thrilled to be on our way and on that day, we weren't scared of him. Nothing could bust our bubble.

And that trip was so long....about three and a half hours from our house, plus the traffic, if any. And there were frequent trips to the rest rooms along the way...mom and dad drank a lot of coffee on the way there. But I always loved hitting that famous turn at Glasgow, Delaware...the right hand turn that said that you were really on your way. 

When we arrived we rolled the windows all the way down...we just had to smell that wonderful salty air...we had to listen to the radios and the general sounds of 'life at the beach'....young tanned, half naked people were everywhere. And the summers I really like to remember was in the late sixties. The hippies were the most interesting things we had ever seen. We come from a tiny little town called Perryville, Maryland....we never saw too many hippies there.

My sister Cindy and I would have begged, borrowed or stolen a pair of bell-bottomed blue jeans....we wanted a pair more than anything else. And there was a new kind of store now....they were called 'Head Shops', or, as we understood them, 'Hippie Stores'.....and we would go in there and just look around. We loved the smell of burning incense...well, that's what we always thought it was. We would watch the 'lava lamps' with wonderment....the black lights and the posters...the tie-dye clothing, love- beads, leather pursers, exotic candles, and gadgets that we never did figure out. And there was always that strange sweet smell that wafted out from the Head Shops.....couldn't put your finger on it.....

There was one of these such stores right across from the apartment house where we stayed every year. We would sit outside on the porch on rainy days and just watch the hippies go in and out of the store...envying them for their freedom, and their blue jeans. Alan had to have his hair super-short in those days and he was envying the long hair on the men.

 Cindy was just admiring the men....she was always much more 'boy crazy' than I ever was. I was just fascinated with the hippies and their whole 'being'. They had such interesting lives...and they were always in the news....they were the 'hot topic' for conversation in mom's beauty shop, too....everyone was talking about the 'hippies'....the communes, the long hair, the 'dirty' way they all dressed, their stand against 'the establishment'......the sexual freedom and 'shacking up' together instead of getting legally married. I loved to just watch them. I don't remember ever wanting to really 'be' one of them, but they were entertaining.

We would finally pull up into a parking spot in front of the apartment house...I remember that I loved to lean out of the window a little and listen to the tires of our car driving slowly atop the gravel....cracking and grinding....I could smell and feel the heat from the car, the gravel, the air...and it was a lazy kind of comfort. The heat was suffocating and the sun was so hot. At last....the engine was turned off and doors were opening and slamming shut and I could feel the excited knot in my stomach...I thought I would surely bust out of pure joy of finally being there. We could see the Boardwalk from where we parked the car...and the throngs of people walking to and fro...and I just wanted to get lost with them.

Dad would start unloading the car and mom and Ms. 'Whoever for that year' would go on into the apartment and begin to put things away. We were not allowed to go anywhere....not yet...but we would pester everyone to the point where they would pay us to leave....and off to the Boardwalk we'd go. We always stayed at the same apartment house, just within yards of the Boardwalk....mom and dad owned the apartment building and each year we'd stay on a different floor....there were three apartments. And we were on the most 'happening' end of the Boardwalk, too. The opposite end was mostly hotels and condominiums....more barren area. But we were in the very best place to be......the place to be.

And nothing could compare with going up the slant of the sidewalk and then reaching the wooden Boardwalk itself.....it was 'nirvana'.....there it was, all the familiar places and sounds....bells were ringing from a new winner at one of the game booths....the smell of fresh cotton candy made your mouth water....the smell of the air....we had to just stop and breath it in. We could not see the surf from where we were standing....the beach was very long and even on it's busiest days, you could always find a place on the beach.....

There were the proverbial gift shops with 'sea-shell-anythings'.....what couldn't  be made with sea-shells? And the miles of tee-shirt stands.....there was no end to those stores. We loved the food, too...and we would always head to the right of the Boardwalk towards the most exciting places....we'd walk past all the games and look at the huge stuffed animals that we all wanted, but never could win. But our focus was on the food...and one of the first stops was the booth where you could buy those wonderful 'Boardwalk French fries', as we would call them....they were fried in peanut oil...and that was the big advertisement on the sign above the booth...and the minute you got close enough to the place you could feel the heat from the fryers...and smell the oil. And the whole time we would be standing in line we could could hear the 'pops' and 'bell-ringing' from more winners of stuffed toys. 

If you stood close enough to anyone you could also smell the Coppertone® that everyone used as suntan lotion. Everyone was wearing a white tee-shirt with some kind of a saying on it, and sun glasses. I was never fond of sunglasses....and I'm still not, they hurt my nose, but they looked so cool. Every year I'd buy a pair and every year I just couldn't wear them....and I wanted to look cool so bad.

Ocean City was so big, back then....I mean, it's a big place anyway, but when you're a kid, it's even bigger....and our wide-eyed wonderment would just take it all in...we couldn't get anywhere fast enough....never had enough money, never had enough time, never was old enough, not enough hours in the day, not enough days at Ocean City. It was always such a whirl-wind time when we were there....it took a few days just for it all to sink in....that we were really there. 

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A typical day at the beach for us....except that usually we had a crowd around us, asking questions and taking pictures. Another reason we always had a pool at home, so we could swim in private.

We never wanted the day to end. Mom and dad would go and play Bingo until very late at night, and us kids had the run of the Boardwalk. I don't remember there being any curfew....but I do remember that late at night the three of us kids sat on the Boardwalk bench outside of The Purple Moose, which at that time was one of the most 'happening' bars to be at....we'd watch the drunks go in and come out....watch a scuffle or two....listen to the conversations...and make a pact between us that when we were old enough, we'd go in. That was the big goal...go to The Purple Moose one day....and get bell-bottom blue jeans.

I am happy to tell you that when I was 30 years old, Les and I went to Ocean City, when we still lived in Maryland, and we went to The Purple Moose and had a drink together.....I can die now.

I don't think we ever got much sleep there in Ocean City....time was precious and short-lived....there was much to do. I can remember getting badly sun-burned every year.....you would think that we would learn about sun protection....but no one paid any attention to it. We would be burned to the point of blisters, and just wore a shirt the next day and was right back out in the sun. We wanted to spend more time on the Boardwalk than at the beach anyway. It was exciting just to go into the shops and look around....mess with all the stuff. 

Things started to slow down a little by our second or third day there...time lasted a little bit longer  we wanted it to last longer. I don't ever remember a bored moment there....relaxing moments, but never bored. There was always something going on somewhere....street entertainers...not like in New York City, of course, but street entertainers nevertheless. And I always enjoyed listening to the ones that sang.....you could always find a 'hippie girl' sitting 'Indian style' on the fringes of the Boardwalk....in the sand, and there would always be a gathering of people around her. A guy or two would have an acoustic guitar, maybe someone with a tambourine....and the girl would be singing in Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez fashion....deep, throaty vocals with lots of vibrato...or wispy, airy vocals that sounded like an angel, reaching a pitch that I think only a dog could hear....but beautiful, just the same. 

Her eyes would always be closed and she would sway to the 'internal beat' that she kept....wind blowing in her hair....head band on her head....long hair, usually blonde, parted in the middle, love beads, 'Buffalo sandals' with the leather ring for the big toe, and a wonderful pair of bell-bottom blue jeans on. There were three things I wanted in those moments....her voice, her clothes, and to figure out what that sweet smell was....always wafting from small groups of people....what was that?

Then there would be the 'blind guy'.....the one with the banjo and the tin cup taped on the end of it....and my brother would always 'test' the guy ....just to see if he was really blind. I don't think Alan ever believed he was blind. Alan was harmless, but annoying, and I'm sure that the man was 'onto' him. But late at night Alan would spook my sister Cindy by telling her that he actually saw the blind man's eyes...and that he was really Satan...there to take Cindy back to hell with him....she'd be so upset. Cindy was too easy for her own good. We could tell her anything and she'd believe it. To this day Cindy is somewhat neurotic...and we probably share some of the blame for that...she made it so tempting.

We would also see whatever 'fad' was on the market that year...some little gizmo for folks to show off with...the ever-popular 'clackers'...maybe a 'hoola hoop' or two. This was long before skate-boards and roller-skates and other annoying things to constantly dodge and look out for. Small crowds would gather to watch the 'masters' at their best, and cheer them on. Word of mouth is the best advertisement....if something was popular, you couldn't find it in the stores....and those would be the things that everyone wanted. 

Ocean City was filled with people who didn't live there....summer jobs, summer run-aways, summer vacation, summer homes. You never knew who you were going to meet and where they may be coming from. It was like a week-long one-night-stand....."live for today, 'cause you'll be gone tomorrow..." and we lived every moment to our fullest. We'd meet someone on the beach for a day and never see them again. The only familiar faces were the vendors at the booths...they were always there. 

Even when we were being punished, we were never bored. One time we were restricted to just the porch...couldn't go anywhere for a few hours....Alan found a way to entertain us. It was the year that we had the very top apartment.....waaaaaaay up there. Alan had a fishing rod and he attached his wallet to the fishing line, and left a $1 bill sticking out of the wallet. He lowered it onto the street and let it sit there in full view of passers by....and when they saw it and went to reach for it, Alan would snatch it up in the air, laughing like crazy at them.  

Sometimes he'd let them get within inches of the wallet and scoot it along the sidewalk slowly. A lot of people were not amused. At one point, Alan was lowering the 'bait' again and Jeff, the kid whose family was with us that year, told Alan to "hit the old lady with the big hair.....hit her hair with it...."  We could only see the tops of people's heads, from that high up. Of course, the 'old lady' was my mom....but her hair sure was big because back then they wore it like that....and the 'choice do' for that year was 'the Beehive'....like the Pope's hat, or something. Mom was not amused, either, but dad sure was....he was impressed with the prank and talked about it for years. 

 

In December 1969

Starting left: "The Princess Christy", Mom, Alan, Catt, Cindy (in front)

 

We were eventually 'let loose' and went back out to the Boardwalk. I can still remember what it was like to just walk past the little stores and sidewalk vendors....that place was so lit up at night that you could feel the heat from the light bulbs as you walked past. It would be so hot and humid....and once in a while you could walk in front of a vent or a fan...something that would blow air onto you...and you just wanted to stand there and take it all in. 

The smell of fresh pop-corn and butter was heavy in the air....and you no sooner walked past that booth and another smell would take over....candy, hot dogs, French fries, etc. And there were always the sounds of summer music everywhere.....songs that still put me back in Ocean City, Maryland every time I hear them....songs from The Hollies, The Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension, etc. No matter where you went, someone was playing the best music of the day...music that would be forever linked to those summers....those smells....and that beach.

Having a limited amount of money made it hard to figure out what to do. We loved the junk food...but we also wanted to buy things that we could take back with us. We had to be 'wise' with our money. Yeah, right! The first day or two, the money slipped through our fingers with such speed and desperation that it left us with a barely audible whimper. We didn't see it coming....we didn't know what hit us. It was 9:15 in the morning...and the whole day was ahead of us.....all we had to show for it was the taste in our mouths of our first 'sugar injection'.  

Now we had to find ways to eat all day and enjoy looking around. Mom and dad always bought lots of salt water taffy and we'd load our pockets up with it....that way we could save our own money by not having to buy it ourselves. However, the genius plan melted, right along with the taffy that stuck to the paper and rendered itself worthless to us. 

The money......sure, we tried to 'hit dad up' for advancements for the next day....and sometimes he'd give in...and other times we'd have to sell him our first born child, three ribs, and a pint of blood. Other times you just  couldn't budge him. Then we would get to the desperate begging stage....promising work...chores....we'd have to barter with him about car washes and waxes...lawn care, extra stuff like that. But, if he had gambled and won anything...if he had an exceptionally good day, and he was liquored up enough, we could get a little extra money...then it was off to the Boardwalk for another 'spend-fest'. Things haven't changed much for us through the years...only now we do the begging with banks, credit cards and loan companies.

Oh, and 'Boardwalk pizza'....my personal favorite, right up there with the soft pretzel. I'm a bread freak and soft pretzels were in that family of foods. But is there anything better than Boardwalk pizza? Something about that taste....can't get it anywhere else. All of that wonderful 'Boardwalk food' that was loaded with enough sugar to keep us jacked-up on a 'jet-puffed' sugar high for days. 

Another favorite pass-time was the Haunted House ride. It was right on the Boardwalk....just a huge stationary house that we would tour while riding in little wooden carts...like a train. I think it cost maybe 30˘ back then, and it was me and Alan's favorite thing to do....we'd get in that old, dark wooden cart and ....ride through those old, dark wooden doors, and enter The Twilight Zone. We knew every turn, every corner, every sight, but it was still a thrill. The cart would creak and squeak and rattle and we'd go to the 'points of destination' and certain lights would be 'tripped' and sounds would be prompted and displays would 'do their thing'.....and each time we'd see them we wanted a closer look at the layers of paint on the dummies and water-stained wall-paper on the walls...the props that surrounded the main attraction....

One year Alan decided that it would be fun for he and I to get out of the cart and stay in the house....so we did. We had a ball. We would jump out and scare the people and walk around the place in the dark. We had to hold hands because there were lots of wires and cables and strange turns and inclines.....I don't know why it never occurred to us that we would be caught...but we were. We were made to get back into an empty cart that they sent through....and told never to do that again....blah, blah, blah, 'safety', blah, blah, blah, 'insurance', blah, blah, blah, 'injuries', blah, blah, blah, 'rules and responsibilities'.....something about respect, parents, the possibility of 'never being allowed to come here again'....oh, no...not that... we heard that one for sure. Alan and I decided to cool off for the rest of the vacation and didn't re-enter the haunted house again that year. 

We got into all sorts of neat things....and going down to the pier and catching 'Horse-shoe crabs' was one of them. My brother handled those ugly things more than my sister and I did....they looked like something from a science-fiction movie. We got the bright idea that we could sell them and make money. An elderly man had watched us all day ....gathering and collecting the hideous things and felt sorry for us....he purchased three of them and gave us each a dollar for our efforts....and it was back to the Boardwalk for us......we were rich!!

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Here we are....'the big game hunters'.

Days at the beach were nice....I loved to swim...loved to build things in the sand....'ever-the-creator' of 'sand things'......that was my favorite part. We especially enjoyed the days when the waves were more aggressive. I can still taste the salty water. I also loved  watching the people. Alan and I got a big kick out of making fun of people....not to where they could hear us....but come on....you know how it is....some folks are just unbelievable. You never knew what you were going to see, and when you're a kid, everything is really funny.

the_hair_hats.jpg (18065 bytes)Mom and Ms. 'Whoever for that year' not only had those 'Beehive' hair sculptures, but they would wear these feather-like or flower-like scarf things on their heads to 'protect' the sculpture. We didn't know whether to laugh, die of embarrassment, or get as far away from them as possible. And it must have taken them an hour to 'prepare' themselves for sitting under an umbrella. First there was the blanket / chair / cooler arrangement. Once that was under control they had to re-position the umbrella because dad never got it right....ever. Then came the bottles of lotion....one for each body part....and something else for lips, noses, and mom's good leg, because she would get sun-poisoning so easily. Then came the coffee, cigarettes, the make-shift ashtray, the glass of ice-tea, the aspirin for the headache that was now present, the box of tissues, and the novel that mom was reading. 

And all of mom's friends were also avid readers, so, everyone came to the beach to read. And right when you think they are settled and happy....no...now dad had to make one of many trips to the Boardwalk to get something to eat....or something that they forgot. So, he usually just took the 8mm camera with him to film other women. His entire trip was spent packing, unpacking, lifting, carrying, fetching things from the Boardwalk, and looking at women through the lens of an 8mm camera. Sometimes he'd take the Polaroid camera and take pictures of complete strangers....women we do not know...I have a book of pictures of people that we don't know.....and rolls of film on bikini-clad women...breast shots and butts, butts, butts. And you could drink alcoholic beverages right on the beach, back then.....and dad loaded up the cooler and drank all day.

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See.....we have no clue as to who these women are.

The sad day of departure always came too soon. Back to the bickering between mom and dad....back to the hot car...back into our own world. We were only allowed to be in this one for a week at a time...once a year. These were the last few summers of my innocent youth....the summers I remember most....the summers I remember best. These were the summers of Charles Manson, Woodstock, the Vietnam war, and "Mrs. Robinson". The Supremes gave us "Love Child" in 1968....and during that year a gallon of milk only cost $1.21 and gasoline was 34˘ a gallon...and the world's first heart transplant took place. 

Another summer in Ocean City was 1969....The Fifth Dimension were singing "Aquarius" and Tommy Roe gave us "Dizzy"....and 1970 brought us more understanding of the world we were in, and a little of it followed us into our vacation. I was drifting away from 'bubble-gum' music and getting my first taste of Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad. Four students were killed at Kent State University and my generation was getting restless. Cindy and Alan were experimenting with smoking cigarettes and we were beginning to look a little more like the hippies. We had bell-bottom blue jeans.

 

Back row: starting with the left...Me (in the cool brown Poncho), Alan, and Cindy.... Front row: Dad, Mom, and baby sister Princess Christy.  December 1970 at my aunt's house.

You couldn't get away from the war that was raging on in Vietnam and the riots and protesting that went along with it in our own country. I stood on the Boardwalk one day and heard hippies heckling soldiers as they walked by. I had never seen a soldier being disrespected before...and I didn't understand it. It scared and confused me. Why were the soldiers treated like the bad guys? I was beginning to grow up and lose my wide-eyed innocence ....joy and excitement were now replaced by confusion and worry. 

I no longer headed to the infamous Boardwalk without a care or worry in the world....now I had to be careful...there were murders and rapes and kidnappings. We were beginning to understand about drugs and that people would try to get you to take them. And that's when we finally realized what that strange smell was....pot. We were more serious about the world, about ourselves...and we no longer just 'blended in' with the crowds.... living our lives as giggling children racing to the nearest carnival ride.....or laughing as we tried on a silly hat or as we scared each other with a rubber snake. We were now beginning to feel like prey. 

Fears and the world have grown worse during the years, for all of us, but my wonderful memories of Ocean City, Maryland are safe and sound on film, in pictures, and in my mind.....my never-forgotten world of when I could just be a kid at the beach. 

Copyright © July 15, 2000 Cathy Palmer-Scruggs / Catt Alexander

 

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The "Princess" Christy with her 'trailer hair' and tacky make-up. I don't know what it is about the names Chris, Christy, Christina, or Christine, but almost every one I meet ends up having that 'Princess-complex'.....they are all the same.

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