A mostly true story about 24 hours on, around and under the boardwalk

By Geoff Vernon  |  Illustration by Patti Shreeve
From the October 2014 issue

confessiontownie1 Confessions of a Townie - Delaware Beach LifeAs the sky above the pitch-black sea gradually paled from indigo to violet, the twinkling lights of the fishing boats crawled along the horizon and out to sea. I stirred from beneath the damp and tattered beach blanket, and gazed upon the still sleeping face of my lovely Allison, her sweet countenance framed by the long black hair that cascaded across her shoulder.

We were under the boardwalk near the Henlopen Hotel, and had selected this accommodation from long experience, knowing that it was less likely to have been used as a facility for less sanitary functions than the sections closer to Rehoboth Avenue. After ruminating on this romantic observation, I kissed her awake, and our day had begun. 

It was 1964, and Allison was to turn 18 on Sept. 1, two days after this early Sunday morning (I would follow in October). Our pretext for spending this night together was that Allison was at a sleepover with her best friend Nancy on Olive Avenue; this seemed a minor infraction in that we were only two blocks away.

We emerged from our cocoon and the dank recesses beneath the boards, rubbing the sand and the effects of the Pabst Blue Ribbon from our eyes. As we clambered from the beach to the promenade above, we observed no other living soul in view. These were quieter, simpler times, and the early morning neoprene-clad cyclists and iPod-wearing runners were still decades away.

We sauntered leisurely southward, knowing it would be suspicious for Allison to arrive back at her house on Delaware Avenue too early from her “sleepover.” As we approached Maryland Avenue, it occurred to me that our friend and classmate Frank from Rehoboth High School might be in residence.

“Do you think we should disturb him this early?” inquired Allison, dubiously.

“Ah, the beach groomers will be at it soon and wake him up, anyway. Let’s rattle his cage.”

So we returned once more to the subterranean world from whence we had recently come.

Sure enough, the tattered, occupied sleeping bag and scattered personal articles that denoted a more permanent residence than our more transient situation implied, indicated that indeed Mr. Frank Holson was at home and receiving visitors (it will be noted that he did not share our squeamishness at some aspects of his more central location).

“Holson, up and at ’em. Daylight in the swamp!”

“Vernon, Jesus Christ! You sound more like your old man all the time. What time is it?”

“Half-past the monkey’s ass. Time for a morning swim and a little breakfast,” I replied.

“Hey, Murph,” Frank said, calling Allison by her sur-nickname.

“What do you see in the big-eared Bozo?”

“Well, he takes me to all the nicest hotels. Just under them, rather than in them.”

As the first red sliver of sun peeked across the horizon, we rather tentatively made our way toward the sea. As was our custom in those days, we almost always had on a swimmable garment, Allison with a swimsuit under a nice cover up, Frank and I with shirts over all-purpose shorts.

The waves lapped at our toes in a bay-like fashion, typical in late August, at that serene time of day. The water was warm, soothing and invigorating at the same time, and soon we were experiencing that rapture of the sea that erases all the excesses and afflictions of previous debauchery.

After a rejuvenating swim, we returned to a barely awakening boardwalk and the prospect of a light breakfast. At Frank’s offer of a slice of “hardly touched, half-eaten pizza” that he had retrieved from a trash receptacle late last night, we demurred and observed that we could wait until lunch time.

“So what are you guys up to for the rest of the day?” inquired Frank, as he tidied up his quarters.

“Well, first we have to have Allison put in an appearance at home, then we’re going to hit the beach for a while. How about you?”

“I’m supposed to work the Bucket later this afternoon. I guess I’ll just cool it ’til then.” The Bloody Bucket was a bootleg liquor joint just across the canal outside Rehoboth.

“Maybe we’ll catch up with you later out there,” I said, as Allison and I headed off toward Delaware Avenue.

When we reached the arcade at the corner of her street, Allison and I parted company briefly, promising to meet on the beach in front of Funland in about an hour.

As I gazed out upon a beach scene rapidly coming to life, I thought how in a little over a week or so this same vista would become almost completely devoid of activity. Fifty years ago, when Labor Day arrived, it was as if someone had pulled a switch. The streets would empty, the shops would board up their facades, and the locals would once again have the run of their little town by the sea for another nine months. And Pocahontas (as my mother would refer to Allison because of her long dark tresses) would be off to North Carolina for her freshman year at Catawba College.

I was not relishing the prospect of being 500 miles away from my first love. In a week I would be making my way to the University of Delaware and would not be reunited with my passion until Christmas, an eternity to a heart-struck teenager.

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