The tires on my grandfather’s blue, 70s-era Volaré station wagon rolled over the gravel-strewn road. Tiny slate-toned rocks crackled like Rice Krispies floating in a cereal bowl. The white noise was relaxing during the five-minute jaunt off the blacktop main road — and civilization — to a small slice of southern New Jersey saltwater heaven called grandpa’s house.
I always sat in the back, on the white vinyl bench seat, staring out the right-side passenger window. I squinted intently, hoping to catch a glimpse of the water. Life-affirming, salt-scented air passed through the window and filled my lungs, and a smile felt permanently etched on my face.
One house removed from the end of this U-shaped street was the quaint, two-bedroom bungalow that grandpa George and grandma Margaret called home. They were retired New York transplants. Being fans of the water (grandpa often fished with dad when they lived nearby), they found solace in this quiet, waterfront property. For me, my brother, Chip, and my sister, Veronica, it was an extension of our home life.
We were fortunate that our parents exposed us to all things nautical at an early age. Before grandpa could turn off the car, I would leap out and sprint to the brick-red-painted bulkhead at the back of the yard. Sitting atop a sturdy piling, I’d gaze at the boats across the way, imagining what it would be like to ply the local waters on them. I’d imagine that someday I would have one, that someday I could live a life on the water in a place like this.
Days spent here were filled by swimming behind that house, fishing off that bulkhead and visiting the local marina to look at boats, trying to memorize every make and model I could. On one trip, mom and dad took a daylong tour of the nearby Viking Yachts plant. All of the exciting things they saw and did at the boatbuilder’s facility consumed the entire dinner conversation that evening.
Grandpa showed us how to tie knots, fish with a bamboo pole and live in the moment — always. His wisdom was vast, and his patience with three high-energy kids was remarkable.
There was a gravel road in Tuckerton, New Jersey, and it led to a slice of saltwater heaven. At least, once upon a time, it did for me.