The Story Hall
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The Story Hall

Button’s Murphy

The only reason to purposely go to New Jersey during my growing up summers in Pennsylvania was to go “down the shore” (which is how they speak of the Jersey coast around these parts. )

And my reasons for going “down the shore” were for the surf and for the sunburn.

Once my brother and I were old enough to know how, we would take the train to Thirtieth Street Station in Philly, and then take the bus to Ocean City.

We would walk, carrying our money rolled up in our towels, the few blocks to the beach and set ourselves up not too far away from the water. We would joyously strip off our outer clothes down to our bathing suits and march into the surf. It was heaven. We rode waves and coughed up salt water until our knees turned blue, and then we would lie out and bake in the sun.

White crusty patches would collect on our skins from the salt and I would turn myself like a hot-dog, basting myself with Skol ,(what a unique fragrance — I can still remember!) exposing as much of my skin as possible for those coveted rays.We had “pool tans” in summer — gleaned from the rays inland — but that was nothing to the rich copper hues of a “shore tan”, and we thought, even though we were redheads, that we might someday become as “black” as those handsome kids who spent the summer at ocean homes and whose hair got bleached blond and whose skin got toasty brown — evenly and smoothly tan all over, even on the backs of the knees. Oh, to look like that!

We could get a snack on the boardwalk, and then we would wait the obligatory hour after eating, so as not to get cramps. (.. urban myth or not…we took it seriously.) Then we would play in the water like seals — hours and hours of body surfing and wallowing around in the wonderful stuff.

By the time the sun got low in the sky it was time to worry about catching the bus back home. We would shake out our towels, pull on our shorts and shirts over our wet bathing suits sandy bodies, and set out for the bus station. — — — -

This evening there’s a gawky looking guy standing behind the ticket window, and he’s rubber-stamping things and putting them away, locking them up. He’s turning out the overhead lights.

Two kids come in all damp and red and sandy looking for the last bus.

It is gone, he says, and then realizes these kids are on their way home, they are young, and they look really dumbfounded. It’s clearly a sister, about 12, and her brother about 9 years old. They are standing there really not knowing what to do. The girl is looking in her zip up wallet and trying to find some change. She doesn’t have enough for the phone.

Does he have a phone they can borrow, they want to know. Well…no. But if they give him the number, he can call someone for them and reverse the charges.The kids give him a phone number and he dials the number.

The girl is explaining to her father. Now the gawky guy is talking to their father, saying they have missed the bus, but he says there’s still a train that goes into Philadelphia. Yes, he will loan them some money and tell them how to get to the train and how to get a ticket from the conductor on the train. “Yeah, yeah, fine, fine, okay, good, you bet. Bye.

”In the waiting room, the man sits down with the kids and makes a little map.

This is how you get to the train station, he says.

The ticket counter will be closed, but you can pay on the train. This is the side to stand on.

The train will come — don’t miss it.

When you get on the conductor will come. You can give him this money and explain that you couldn’t get a ticket.

Don’t lose the money.

The train will take you to the station in Philadelphia and your Dad will be there to meet you.

Then the gawky guy gives the girl some folded bills and an empty envelope with the address of the bus station. On the bottom corner it says “Button’s Murphy.””That’s for your Dad,” he says.”What is Button’s Murphy?” asks the girl.

“That’s me,” he says.

Ocean City Beach with Flanders Hotel in Background

We always suffered after we went “down the shore.” We always had painful skin and used tons of Noxzema and slept uncomfortably after washing off the salt and sand.

It was always too hot and humid in the bedroom and in the morning I would examine the lines where my sunburn met the white skin that had been covered up.

In a day or so my sunburn would become un-glamorous peeling flakes.

And then, undaunted and wiser for the adventure, we would go again as soon as we could save up the bus fare.

Here’s to Button’s Murphy, and to my father who very likely sent him a nice chunk of change.

Susan G Holland

Revised from a story by Susan Holland published first at South Jersey Kitchen Garden, a blogspot.com site ©2007

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Susan G Holland

Susan G Holland

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Ever curious, I wonder, I ask, I probe, I learn, I write ;soon a grateful 85 still discovering the brand new day. I moved to New Mexico, a whole new paradigm!