The Beachcomber

Summer of ’69

By ERIC ENGLUND | May 24, 2019

Long Beach Island — Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I’d always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life

Oh, yeah
Back in the summer of sixty-nine, oh

 

When I first heard Bryan Adams sing those lyrics in 1985, my thoughts immediately turned to Long Beach Island. While 1969 was a year with many headline-grabbing events, it was significant for me in the fact that was the year I graduatred from Leonia High School in Bergen County, plus 1969 was the first full summer I spent on Long Beach Island.

Late August 1963 was my first trek to the Island, as my family rented a place known as “B-Bunk” on East 26th Street in Barnegat Light. For the next five summers, Augusts were spent on that street.

Prior to 1963, we rarely went to the Jersey Shore. Our home was just a few minutes away from the George Washington Bridge, so we would take day trips to such places as Jones Beach and Fire Island in New York.

How did we discover LBI? Quite a few members of my parents’ inner social circle were renting on East 26th Street and other areas of Barnegat Light, and they told us we should definitely check it out. So we packed up the car and headed out on that Saturday morning in August 1963, not realizing what a focal point of my life this area would become.

In those Barnegat Light days, I was a real beach boy. Nothing made me happier than spending a sun-splashed afternoon in the ocean, dodging waves and then body-surfing them in. Friends would say I spent so much time in the ocean, they expected me one day to grow fins.

For night life, there was the teen record hop on Friday nights at the Surf City Firehouse. I’d usually go when friends from town would visit. We’d go stag – just like at the dances we had in Leonia. Those dances gave me a musical education, as they would play some tunes from the late 1950s and early 1960s that I knew, but only as cover versions from British Invasion bands.

There were also night-time activities at the LBI Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, where they might have a singer or a movie.

But when the calendar changed to 1969, I quickly found out LBI life was not going to be the same – and for the better. My family bought a house on Bayview in Loveladies, meaning the Island was now going to be a true home away from home. Three years later, it served as a full-time home, at least for a while, as we kissed the North Jersey suburbs good-bye and moved to LBI year ’round.

But that first full summer meant some changes – like getting a job. I got one that didn’t require an awful lot of energy, working as an attendant at the Loveladies Harbor beach parking lot. I would sit on a beach chair, a radio by my side and an umbrella overhead, making sure that people parking there would show their Loveladies Harbor ID card.

The summer wasn’t totally without some manual labor. A lot of homeowners were looking for people to help weed out their gardens, so I gave it a shot. But I also made one big mistake: I was under an impression that I wasn’t allergic to poison ivy, so I cleared out a neighbor’s poison ivy patch. As Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character would say after taking a lame swipe at the Predator, “bad idea.”

Three days later, I was at a doctor’s office with arms and legs that looked like something out of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” For the next few days, all I could do was sit in a chair for the gauze pad treatments.

And while I did have a driver’s license, I preferred to take my bicycle and concentrate on areas closer to home. Sitting in traffic on Long Beach Boulevard at night was not very appealing to me then, and not much more appealing today.

When looking at the news events of that year, I sure remember all of us gathering that Sunday afternoon of July 20 watching the lunar landing. We were rapt with attention, and very proud to be Americans, when we heard those words of Neil Armstrong, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But the major news networks also had a big, scandalous story to handle as reports about Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick were surfacing. We picked the wrong weekend to invite family friends who were like John Birch Society conservatives and absolutely hated the Kennedys. They sure had a lot to rail about.

The next month it was all about Woodstock, and while I liked most of the music and the bands playing, I don’t think I would have enjoyed all that chaos, first with the miles-long traffic jams and later with the rain and the mud. It probably would have made this summer Islander very homesick. And the combination of very little sleep and wearing drenched clothes would have made me a candidate for an industrial-strength flu.

I enjoyed the Island for the simpler pleasures, such as waking up and hearing the roaring surf in the distance. Or sitting outside in the afternoon, when a hot day gave way to cooling sea breezes. And then at night, sitting on the beach, being alone in your thoughts, listening to the very calming rhythm of the waves.

When summer ended, it was time to begin my new educational venture as a freshman at Edward Williams College, a two-year school affiliated with Fairleigh Dickinson University, from where I would graduate in 1973.  And naturally, when summer turned to fall, it was time to give all my attention to what was probably my best feel-good story of the year – the Amazing Mets.

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