Aah, the smell of fresh air blending with the salt of the ocean; there’s nothing quite like it. It makes you feel healthier, invigorates you, and tickles your memories.
Like many folks from Kensington, Wildwood by the Sea was our go-to place to get away from the acrid smell of factory waste, hot asphalt, and the fumes from leaded gas. Each year my mom would scrimp and save as much money as she could from the meager amount my dad gave her to run the house. She would then book a rental in August, with the same lady, Mrs. Bratton, for a one month stay. We were always way back near the bay because that’s where the best prices for rentals were. Mrs. Bratton had a house for rent on Wildwood Avenue. When I was seven or eight, Mrs. Bratton moved to Maple Avenue, where she had a small cottage to rent. It was perfect.
The proliferation of smells began as we approached the city with the five-mile-long beach, Wildwood. It wasn’t the most pleasant smell to start a vacation; even so, it generated enthusiasm for what was to come. The backwater marshes had a particular odor of dying vegetation, saltwater, and decaying sea life. The closer you got, the more the smell increased, mainly because of the fish processing factory on the outskirts of the city.
Fortunately, the ocean breezes kept that smell inland, but the bay had a different aroma to offer. The marsh smell was gone but was replaced by a unique blend of fish and gasoline. You could see the residue from the motorboats floating on the surface of the water, but it never stopped us from swimming or catching crabs. Now it may seem like I’m describing an awful place, but anyone who has visited Wildwood or for that matter the other Jersey beach towns knows that these were part of the Jersey Shore experience.
Besides the boardwalk, one of my favorite Wildwood smells was when we walked passed a bakery near Wildwood Avenue. The smell of the fresh-baked rolls and pastries was heavenly. We often passed it on the way to the beach. The only off boardwalk place that could compete with the bakery was Laura’s Fudge. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. They had every flavor, but my favorites were chocolate and vanilla. There was always a line at Laura’s.
The beach was another blast of smells. There was a particular smell the hot sand emitted, and I cannot explain it. It has to be experienced. As you passed other beachgoers, the scent of baby oil and suntan lotions welcomed you like an old friend you hadn’t seen for a year. The ocean, the magnificent Atlantic Ocean, always smelled fresh to me. During my early years, there was still a tar substance that washed ashore. People said it was from the battered and sunken ships from WW2.
The boardwalk. The wonderful Wildwood boardwalk. No aromas can compete with the explosion of smells one experienced on the boardwalk. It started with the sweet aroma of citronella that came from the shredded paper affixed to a stick, people used to keep the mosquitoes away. As you walked the boards, one smell after the other assailed your olfactory senses. Freshly baked pizza, French fries with malt vinegar, roasting peanuts, saltwater taffy, custard ice cream, Taylor’s Pork Roll cooking on the grill, foot-long hot dogs, Meatball sandwiches, and sausage on the grill all had your mouth-watering within minutes.
Even the amusements had an odor. The tunnel of love’s stale water odor, the bumper cars’ electric smell, and the smell of fear from the Roller Coaster all added to the experience that was Wildwood and to a life long supply of beautiful memories.
Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.