By TONI PISTILLI ZECCARDI
How could I ever forget a memorable week at Calvary Seaside House, in Stone Harbor!
My brother and I were six or seven years old when the crash of the stock market in 1929 wrecked havoc.
We lived in the small town called Nicetown, and rightfully so, but those who lived in the pleasant neighborhood of Polish, Irish, German, and Italian suffered greatly, when the life sustaining industries closed and left hundreds unemployed.
My father, Rocco Pistilli, was an excellent stonemason who fortunately found work at the estate of the very wealthy Pitcairns, who were building a magnificent cathedral at the inducement of our president, hoping to provide help to at least some of the unfortunates.
Pop was paid $35 each week, but it was enough to keep him and his family in quasi-comfort.
Our very kind neighbors, the members of the Calvary Episcopal Church in Germantown, chose to help the Nicetownians with contributions of food and medicine during the trying times, and also the services of a kind and gentle woman, Isabel Krauth, whom we grew to look upon as “Godmother.”
She was a learned nurse who walked daily down to our saddened neighborhood carrying a huge leather bag filled with all those things from A to Z that would serve as healers for our neighbors — medicines, cold syrups, pills, and baby things to ward off the chill.
Calvary Church also allowed the use of a cottage owned by the church in Stone Harbor. Our neighborhood kids were invited to stay for a week at a time, for free! Imagine a trip to wonderland — the New Jersey Shore.
My brother and I were invited to join our friends, although we were expected to pay $3 each since our father was one of the few who still had a job.
We would remember forever our first trip to New Jersey and our very first sight of the beautiful, wide ocean, and waves crashing onto the glistening sand. We had never seen such a glorious sight, nor heard the crushing sound of a giant crest of water racing toward us as we stood in awe.
Settling in at the Calvary Seaside House was another thrill.
The boys slept on the third floor under the giant eaves, and the girls on the second floor, in comfy cots along with Miss Hattie, Godmother’s sister, who led us in our nighttime prayers and whispered, “Now be quiet!”
Early in the morning of our very first day, we gathered in the living room where Godmother passed to us the words of the hymns she had chosen for the day.
I joined in all of them; amazing grace was my favorite. On the way to the dining room, we sang “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and we assumed a straight and tall walk.
Breakfast was cereal, cocoa, toast, and a lot of chatter after we spent the quiet minute in thankful prayer.
Our week had begun with chores; we shared bed making, dusting, and raking. Some of us hung clothes to dry, which were washed by the laundry ladies, and then it was soon lunchtime.
We had “American Food,” grilled cheese sandwiches, hot-dogs and beans, and creamed dried beef on toast. All of these new to my brother and I since my mother clung to her Italian recipes.
Aunt Carrie Pede and Luigena Stanziani were our cooks, and we were grateful for that. Again we gathered around the piano for a hymn of thanksgiving and a prayer for the wellbeing of the children and staff.
And then it was into our bathing suits for a visit to the ocean, only four blocks away.
We had been told that Stone Harbor had the widest beaches in the world, and to us youngsters, it certainly seemed so. There was water as far as one could see, from a light, pale green to dark, sparkly shade.
The lifeguards took special care of the Seaside kids, as we ventured into the tiny waves and into some of the deeper ones. Whistles often blew for the few daring ones, but most of us hung together as the water dashed in over our feet and slowly moved away.
It would take a few days before they would find the courage to venture our further, but it was only under the watchful eyes of the older boys.
Together we all built the tallest sandcastles, and then dug into the wet sand hoping to reach China.
And when we tired of the sand and the water, we would lie on our backs and name the beautiful clouds forming in the sky. The billowing clouds seemed to form into shapes similar to lions, bears, snakes, or a bubble.
After we returned home and finished with our showers, Godmother called us into the parlor where we were each given a nickel with which to buy a treat at the small candy store across the street.
Back then a nickel would buy a twin popsicle, orange or blue, or an ice cream cone, or a box of Cracker Jacks.
After dinner, back at the house, we played checkers while the older girls helped with dinner chores — setting the large table, folding napkins, etc.
Dinner was called and we poured into the dining hall to the sounds of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Our meal always began with grace and a thank you for the day’s blessings.
In these 70 years since the days of the Calvary Seaside House, my husband and I, along with our five children and their extended families, have often been to the Jersey shore and have enjoyed immensely the lovely beaches and the camaraderie of family.
But my fondest memory is that of the days at Seaside House of the Cavalry Church in Stone Harbor.
That has been for me, a glowing pattern for a better life.
Toni Pistilli Zeccardi writes from Ocean City
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