My hometown: A former Jersey girl's reflections on Hurricane Sandy

When news first broke about Hurricane Sandy, I felt almost as though I couldn’t comment on it. After all, I haven’t lived in New Jersey for a long time - nine years, if you count from 2003, when I moved to Maryland for college. What could I say that would have any relevance? Then I started to see the photos, read the Facebook status updates and news stories about the devastation at the Jersey Shore. I glanced at one local news site and read that Brick Township had been particularly hard hit, with a house rumored to have floated into the Mantoloking Bridge and structural fires breaking out around the town. Casino Pier in Seaside had been washed away (that link has good photos; apologies that they’re in a story about MTV’s “Jersey Shore”). Route 35 in Bay Head was completely flooded.

The Mantoloking Bridge

To someone who isn’t from Ocean County, New Jersey, these names might not mean much. But Brick Township is where I grew up; for a significant portion of my life, the Jersey Shore was my home. The thought of so much of it being destroyed was surreal and incredibly sad.

For the past week, I’ve found myself occasionally lost in memories of the years I lived at the Jersey Shore. The long afternoons spent playing in the waves and getting sandy and sunburnt while boogie boarding at Brick Beach III. Secretly picking out which beautiful beachfront houses I would buy if I ever had the money. Summers during high school when I worked as a badge checker at Jenkinson’s boardwalk in Pt. Pleasant, slapping bracelets on loud-mouthed Bennys who made the trek from New York to spend a day at the shore. Trips to Long Beach Island and the excitement of getting to play mini golf and go on the rides at Fantasy Island. Getting a taste of freedom when I was finally allowed to walk the Seaside boardwalk at night with friends.

Brick Beach III

I remembered the many nights I drove home from work or a friend’s house down Rte. 35 in Bay Head, one of my favorite drives. The road runs parallel to the ocean, a block away from the beach, and was badly flooded during the hurricane. It takes you to the boardwalk in either direction - Point Pleasant to the north; Seaside to the south, and to the Bay Head train station if you want to catch a train to New York City, a trip I made many times. Most of my jobs during my teenage years were located somewhere along that road. It became in some weird way a constant in my existence. Even when I came home from college for summer or holiday breaks, I would drive down 35 because it was in that familiar setting that I did some of my best thinking.

Ironically, my thoughts on those drives often revolved around my determination to leave New Jersey, Brick specifically. By the time I graduated high school, I was hell bent on moving out of the Garden State and never coming back, except for visits. My attitude toward my hometown has softened over the years - it was a nice place to grow up and I appreciate its charms far more now than I did when I lived there. I’ve been living in Asia for nearly three years and have made a life for myself that I love, but it is still heartbreaking to see so many places from my childhood destroyed or washed away, and to know how many people have lost their homes.

Route 35

No doubt the shore will be rebuilt over time. The boardwalks will be repaired, new and improved rides will take the place of the old ones. Homes will be salvaged. People will still flock to the Jersey Shore for the summer. But I can’t help feeling sad that, should I have children someday and want to show them where I grew up, many of the places I loved as a kid either aren't there anymore or won’t be quite the same.

It's been encouraging and heartwarming to see, via social media, the outpouring of love and charity by people across the shore area as they help one another begin the recovery process. It always seems to be the case that in the face of devastation, the best of human nature appears, which is bittersweet. My thoughts will continue to be with everyone at the Jersey Shore and I look forward to one day visiting and seeing it restored to its full beauty.

I am removed from what's happening at the Jersey Shore right now, but not so removed that the images of the devastation, and the thought of all of the people who lost their lives and their homes, don't bring tears to my eyes. Perhaps this blog post is my small way of acknowledging what has happened to my hometown and the surrounding area, and saying that although I don't live there anymore, I do feel the loss.

I'll end this with a song from Bruce Springsteen that has been running through my head for the past week, and will always make me think of the Jersey Shore as it was when I was growing up there.

All photos courtesy Jersey Shore Hurricane News