The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Labor Days in Ocean City
by Paul Phillips
September 2016

There were two kinds of people living in Ocean City when I was growing up there on Second Street in the late forties through mid-sixties. There were the ones who were so happy when all of the Summer people went home because they had their town back and then there were the ones like I, who loved the summertime and every single thing that went along with it and went into deep mourning on Labor Day. I remember how overnight the whole feeling of the town would change. One sunny day the stores and restaurants would all be open and there would be people and cars everywhere and the next sunny day there would be a line of cars on Philadelphia Avenue going west across the bridge, back home for another year and looking forward to the next Summer vacation in Ocean City. As the lines of traffic left town, the shopkeepers and the merchants would be rubbing "Babbo" (a scouring powder) on the inside of their glass windows or boarding up, preparing for the possibility of coming bad weather and making it a little less interesting and a little more difficult for an unwelcome someone to enter a seasonally abandoned building. Along the streets the parking meters would be taken down, leaving only the pipes sticking in the ground like lonely pickets in a fence. Within a couple of days the town would be abandoned except for us locals. Those first days in school would be awful because it still looked and felt like summer outside and it was hot in the school room and we had to wear long pants and shoes and sit in those desks, my heart and mind were in the ocean or having fun with those interesting summertime people.

When I was growing up, we had winter living quarters and summer living quarters. The reader can translate to mean 'really small apartment' and 'minute apartment.' My dad Jimmy, who was a self educated man and what I learned later to call a real free spirit would have used a blow torch to heat our house in the Winter if he could have made it work because it was cheap to operate, so we lived in a very small apartment in the back of our house from September through May. Springtime was the time to get ready for the season. Dad would force me to be his helper. Dad always did his own repairs and improvements because it cost less money that way. I was so resentful then but when I had houses of my own I thanked his wonderful memory so many times for those lessons in carpentry, plumbing, painting and electricity. Dad didn't do any of it too well but for me it was useful lessons each time. Those experiences helped me to see that I could do just about anything I made my mind up to do. I could ask questions of people with more experience or get a book, but there was nothing to fear. One of my favorite memories of perennial occurrences took place in the Fall when my mom, Ida would summon us all to the basement where Dad would be opening Oysters. The three of us would sit on stools with open mouths and dad would put delicious cold, raw, salty oysters in our mouths right out of the shell like on an assembly line. I'm sure he must have eaten some too but I can see the picture now, like a bunch of baby birds in the nest with our mouths open wide. I would eat those little red crabs that would sometimes be stowed away within the oyster shell, no one else would touch them so I felt like a celebrity because the rest of my family just stared at me chewing up a little crab.

Living on Second Street meant that I was a block away from my school. When I started at the Ocean City School which is the building were City Hall is now, all twelve grades were housed there. Basically the elementary school was on the first floor and the upper classes were upstairs. This close proximity allowed many of us to go home for our lunch hour, although when we got a bit older it was more fun to stay at school and eat in the cafeteria and then play in the school yard until classes started again. I could walk the entire block from my house to school elevated on seat height concrete fencing without ever having to let my feet touch the sidewalk. Other than the trip to see the Wye Oak, Maryland’s oldest tree, now lost, there are two memories that stand out from elementary school field trips. One of the things that our teacher wanted us to be aware of was how our parents made their livings and also how our tax monies were used, or just what the city government’s role in maintaining a town was.

One of our field trips was to the “waste water treatment facility.” Of course none of us really knew what that term meant then, but we learned fast, it just sounded like a good time to go on a field trip. Just imagine how awful it was for all of us to tour the facility where the sewage was treated, we all were gagging and not happy about being there, but we had a better understanding that not every job is always enjoyable. I remember thinking how awful it would be to have to work in that stink in order to earn a living. Our other field trip was really only memorable for me as it relates to the trouble I got into from the assignment at the trip’s conclusion. We were to choose a business and draw it on paper. For some reason I chose to draw the Syl-Mar shop, which was a clothing store owned by Al and Bea Berger. I had drawn the facade of the store showing the display windows. The only problem was that I had also made the naked manikins anatomically correct, that probably would be overlooked in today’s world but I got into deep trouble over it and I still cannot forgive that red-headed girl who told on me.

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