Progging for Memories
I was born in 1918 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and grew up in Ocean City, Maryland. During my childhood, the years I first remember were when I was six or seven years old. I attended school where our present City Hall now stands. The beach and boardwalk were my only playgrounds. Friends and I played on the sand dunes and under the Boardwalk where sometimes the ocean waves would follow us there. I was permitted to play in the ocean if I held onto the long rope lifeline that jetted out from shore. As a child I even walked on that part of the beach that now is our famous Inlet.
Two major events stand out in my memory of those early days in Ocean City. One was the 1925 fire that destroyed the Seaside and Atlantic Hotels and two blocks of the old boardwalk. It seemed like the end of the world to me. In 1933, the terrible hurricane cut the inlet through from the ocean to Sinepuxent Bay.
I can still remember the long excursion trains that came from Baltimore on weekends, crossing over the Sinepuxent Bay on a trestle bridge. The train ended its journey on railroad tracks located right in front of our house on Philadelphia Avenue. It was a child's delight to watch the city people arrive, especially the ladies with their large hats and parasols. I also, remember the "Laughing Sally" mechanical lady owned by Irma and Lloyd Jester. She stood at he entrance to the Fun House. I loved the large wicker pushchairs for coasting down the Boardwalk at a quarter a ride and the brass rings at Trimper's that we tried to grab so that we could get a free ride on the beautiful carousel.
As I see numbers of restaurant and seafood advertisements (mostly for crabs) in today's newspapers and on marquees along Ocean City's highway, it brings back a childhood nostalgic memory of our crab picking days at the resort.
My grandparents, Randolph and Elizabeth Derrickson, were one of two families that had crab businesses in the town. The other family was the Jackson Bunting family. Our family's business started in 1910 and our lives revolved around this business.
In those years, the Sinepuxent Bay was almost in our backyard. The bay was pristine then. Granddad arose very early in the morning, donned his rubber waders and progged (prog: means to search about) the bottom of the bay for the large Maryland Blue Crabs that were so plentiful then. He brought the baskets of crabs to his crab shed where he seasoned and steamed them. When they wee cooled he carried them into a little house that grandmother Elizabeth had set up especially for hand picking crabmeat.
The lumps of crabmeat were large and white. The biters, as we called them were big and always free. My parents and we kids, the Arthur Pusey family, also helped pick crabmeat. That same day, the crabmeat was delivered to a few select hotels. Crab meat was sold by the quart or pint in those days, not by the pound. My grandparents charged 45 cents a quart. Sometimes I was lucky enough to help deliver the crabmeat and was rewarded with a scarce banana or a five-cent piece when I was a little older. Crab cakes and the seasonings for the crabs are good today, but none has ever tasted like those my grandmother Elizabeth made.
In the evenings, Grandmother Elizabeth also made beautiful hooked rugs from old burlap bags. Her artwork featured houses with picket fences and flowers in the yard. Mrs. Samuel Riddle, the co-owner of the Riddle Farm, just outside of Ocean City, and the famous race horses Man O' War, Battleship and War Admiral became a friend of my grandmother's. She was often at the house to look at her handiwork. Mrs. Riddle was a collector of all things "folksy" and folk art was her passion. She bought numerous throw rugs from Elizabeth and of course the Riddle's were never in want of crabmeat if grandmother could help it.
Also, in the evenings after a hard day's work grandfather told tall tales and often played the fiddle for us. One of the tales that he told was of our great grandfather who was a sea captain. He had helped rescue 100 people from a shipwreck up in North Ocean City. He sheltered and housed the survivors and was rewarded with 100 gold pieces from the ships' headquarters in New York City.
Even though the Ocean City of today is nothing like that of yesteryear, I don't mind the growth. Watching the progress has been very interesting.