To the Editor:
My pop was an avid saltwater jetty fisherman. Recently, I completed the repairs to his old “fishing shed.” A simple project that took 30 years of sweeping around memories to build up the courage.
As I mourned his death in 1992, I became obsessed, restocking his tackle box and repairing his rods and reels. I repurposed an old broken boat rod into a gaff. The gaff was the inspiration for a fishing trip in 1993 to Pop’s favorite jetty at Higbee Beach.
Swimming was prohibited at Higbee, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, as low tide can reveal 100-year-old railroad tracks and remnants of World War II gun batteries. In the early 1990s, it was a secluded, white, grainy beach stretching 1.5 miles with only two points of entry. It was hard to find, with no road signs showing direction.
What follows was my last fishing trip to the Higbee Beach jetty: Early morning, in the summer of 1993, I drove to Higbee Beach, unaware the parking area was closed. To gain access to the beach leading to the jetty, I then drove to Sunset Beach.
I had a backpack full of gear, two rods, rock shoes, ball cap, sunglasses, and my gaff. I began the 1.5 mile walk along the water’s edge. In the distance, I could see the top of the jetties. The beach was empty except for the silhouette of two people. As I approached the silhouette, I saw a young, naked couple… naked?
Without looking back, I completed the last three-quarter mile walk to the jetty. It was the beginning of a beautiful summer day. Fate was on my side. No one else attempted the 1.5 mile journey. Alone, I fished the jetty for four hours. Each time I got a bite, I heard my pop whispering in my ear. With the last piece of bait gone, my mourning process had completed its circle. I had fished the Higbee jetty for the last time.
Happy, sad, knowing I would never return, I wiped a tear from my eye. I packed up my gear, cinched up my backpack, with rods and gaff slung over my shoulder. I stepped off the jetty to begin the long sandy trek to my car.
As I approached the halfway point in my excursion across the sand, I saw several boats anchored in the surf. The two silhouettes I saw earlier on my way to the jetty had erupted into a gathering of silhouettes. The beach was alive with a crowd of stripped down, bare-skinned, naked people.
I was looking at naked people scattered on the beach. Naked people lying on the sand. Naked people playing in the sand. Naked people lying in the water. Naked people sloshing in the water. Naked people jumping off their boats into the water. I saw people of different shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. Each one… completely naked.
In unison, naked people stopped playing, sloshing, laying, and jumping. The light, grainy sand became thick and heavy on my feet. The crowd of faces turned, with 100 eyes staring in my direction. No longer was I a simple fisherman walking along the beach. I was the “prophet of the bay,” with rods and gaff as the sea of naked people parted to allow the “bearded man covered in cloth” walk on by.
Pop was smiling, knowing he had set me up, when I heard his faint whisper in my ear: “Keep your sunglasses on. The rumors are true. Higbee is a nudist beach.”