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As Long as We Remember...

July 23, 2004

Time and tide wait for no man

Joe Volz

I have walked the sugary beaches of Australia, the cobalt sands of Tahiti and the forever sunny shores of Spain over the past half century.

But always I keep coming back to a Delaware hamlet on the Atlantic that I first discovered in the 1960s. It's called Rehoboth Beach.

Rehoboth is not some far off exotic land but it has an attraction that those other beaches can never have. It is a modest town of two-story houses and shops and a mile-long boardwalk dotted with hot dog stands, salt water taffy shops and a few small rides for the kids.

Call it a family community. Generations of families have been making what is now about a three-hour ride from Frederick.

For me, is an archive holding an ocean of memories.

It is where I have returned at various stages of my life, as it ebbed and flowed just as surely as the tide caressing the sand. So, I come to visit my memories - the good ones and the bad.

Perhaps, you have your own Rehoboth - a place that holds the secrets of your life.

Here are mine.

Although the beaches, thanks to man-made jetties, have not surrendered to the tides, time's fine line has etched out a discernible mark on me. I am no longer the bronzed muscled young man who once visited. Now I am a white beard, a man whom the pretty skimpily-clad young women ignore. I am an invisible man.

That first time, almost 40 years ago my young wife, Helga and I brought our toddler, Chris, to Rehoboth. We stayed in a tiny room about a mile from the beach. That was all we could afford. I remember an exuberant fearless boy of two running right into the water on his first visit to the ocean. He loved it - even though spitting skies intruded.

We bought a hot air balloon and when Chris tired of that and wanted to go for a walk, we tied the red balloon to a parking meter. Naturally, it was gone when we returned.

It was a happy time for our little family.

We came back a few times after but then the years slipped by and my next visit 20 years later was filled with sadness.

My wife had died. I came back with my friend, Jim Griffin, and we stayed at a little brick motel with the word "colonial" in the name - everything was colonial in Delaware which bragged that it was the first state to enter the union.

Chris was off visiting relatives.

I knew I could not bring back those happy years. Jim tried his best to console me. A new generation of happy young families now inhabited the beach. We left early.

But time moved on and in the 1990s I returned with a new bride, Kate, and I brought my parents. It was a happy time again, walking the boardwalk, which had not changed. The old salt water taffy stand, Dolle's, was still there. And there was the aroma beloved by generations of beach lovers emanating from Trasher's french fries stand. The fries were served in a paper cup and if you were a connoisseur you would squirt some vinegar in, leaving the ketchup for the uninformed.

The boardwalk crowded with young families pushing strollers. But it was to be the last summer for my father who died that winter at the age of 92.

And then two years ago, Kate and I brought two grandsons to a beachfront hotel. We could, at long last, afford an ocean view. The 12-year-old was much more interested in viewing a 16-year-old high school girl who worked at an ice cream stand. Ocean views were for old folks.

He was vain enough to think that she was interested in him and not his considerable business.

We played skee ball and miniature golf and the boys rode the merry-go-round. The perpetual search for the brass ring continued for a new generation. A new cycle of life was beginning. It brought back bittersweet memories of bringing Helga and my own son there.

Now, I am back to watch new generations of parents, digging sand castles while toddlers watch. Castles that, like a man's dreams, will be quickly swept away.

Kate is off in the Midwest visiting her father and I am on my first solo vacation in decades.

What is different now from that first visit 40 years ago? Perhaps, people don't stay at the beach that long, a weekend or so. There are too many places to visit. Faraway exotic places like Australia and even Tahiti. People can get there faster and more cheaply, too.

And the younger generation finds it absolutely necessary to bring cell phones and boom boxes to Rehoboth. Whom do they call? Is there no time anymore just to relax and watch the seagulls dive into the ocean?

The young men and women who serve up the salt water taffy and cotton candy speak with foreign accents. Many are from Ireland or Eastern Europe. The native Americans find better paying jobs somewhere else.

The town fathers have been smart enough to limit growth. At Rehoboth, progress is not the most important product.

Perhaps the Frederick City and County officials who are in love with developers might get some hints of the advantages of slow growth, very slow growth, from the people of Rehoboth. All you have to do is drive a few miles down Route 1 from Rehoboth to see "growth" run amuck in Ocean City, where developers have turned the place into a small version of Miami Beach, blocking off a view of the beach with beachfront high rise monstrosities.

No doubt, the ocean will keep rolling in and stopped short of the Rehoboth boardwalk for years to come, maybe for centuries, until it claims back the land it has just lent us for a while.

But that will be after all of us here today are long gone. Time and tide wait for no man.

E-mail Joe Volz at

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