A time when no one was a stranger at Fenwick Island

There’s little that brings bigger smiles to us here at BoomerCafé than the good memories of our childhoods. And for us, nothing’s better than if they’re our own. Which brings us to BoomerCafé’s publisher and co-founder David Henderson, who still remembers a place where no one was a stranger.

Don’t ask me how our minds work as we get older. All I know is that I tend to remember more in my mind’s-eye, and that helps to fit all the many pieces, people, places, times, and events of my life into some kind of meaning. I would like to think it’s mostly true … I certainly hope so. Maybe it’s partly a perception or reflection of times past.

At any rate, it was a postcard I found that my mother had sent to me in the 1960s that released a flood of memories about Fenwick Island, Delaware, the place where my mother, sister, and I would spend a week or two each summer long ago. Relatives and family friends would join us. And, what I remember most is that it was a good time.

Fenwick_Motel

A postcard photo of the Fenwick Motel.

We always stayed at the Fenwick Motel, located on the ocean side of the Coastal Highway. Fenwick Island was then a sparsely populated village on the border of Maryland and Delaware, between Ocean City, Maryland, to the south, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to the north.

No one in those days was a stranger at Fenwick Island. During the days, we would ride inflated car inner tubes in the rough surf, often getting ground into the sand by large waves.

The beach at Fenwick Island, Delaware.

The beach at Fenwick Island, Delaware.

My sister, Elizabeth, also remembers …

“It was so exciting! The senator from Wyoming and his kids were there at the same time … every year. Sand everywhere! Our annual trip to the beach … the weekend after Labor Day. I remember you would get chigger bites on the walk to the lighthouse.”

By night, people would light bonfires from driftwood, and would all gather around to laugh, tell stories, and watch the sparks from the wood fire fly into the night sky.

My mother would point out the stars of Orion, a formation that I believe secretly held special meaning for her. I look at Orion now on clear nights and think of her.

The shoreline then had large sand dunes covered with wild grasses. Sand dunes that had lasted through the ages until construction projects to build more houses and motels disrupted the natural protection … and, the dunes became little more than ripples of sand down to the beach.

Every few miles along the coastline were remnants of World War II -– tall watch towers, part of the coastal defenses.

Old shoreline defenses from World War II.

Old shoreline defenses from World War II.

The local residents told stories of how German submarine crews occasionally would send a few crew members ashore in rubber boats to buy medicine and food. Sure, local residents were apprehensive, but the German seamen were courteous, spoke English, paid for their food and medicine in dollars, and politely thanked merchants as they left in darkness to return to their subs.

Over the years, I have met others who had visited Fenwick Island in their youth, and we all remembered it fondly as a magical place in our memories.

3 Comments

  1. Such delightful summer memories of a place and time in childhood. It brought bak my own memories of going to the ocean with my family on the coast of Southern Maine. Then in the late 60’s I met a woman who would become my wife and I shared her family trips to those other beaches you spoke about, Ocean City, Maryland, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and yes, Fenwick island as well. I even remember the Fenwick Motel. Today it looks nothing like it did, and I am not sure that is a good thing. I often think of those times and how much I so loved them. Thank you David for such you a wonderful post.

    1. Wonderful essay on youth-filled memories of times gone by, David, and their impact on us today, i.e. gazing at Orion and thinking of your mom. I’ve explored the shoreline defenses of WW II but never knew that German u-boat crew members came ashore to purchase food and medicine. Just another reaffirmation of how strange is the world in which we live.

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