He couldn't swim, but beach trip led to taking plunge

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The date is forever sealed in my mind: Saturday, Aug. 16, 1981.

My friend Gary and I had I set off Friday on a weekend adventure. Our game plan was to meet two of my old college buddies in Philly, then head to the South Jersey beach Saturday morning. I was hungry for a road trip, although I'd never been a water person and could not even swim.

During the car conversation on the turnpike, the sore subject of relationships came up. For at least five years, I had vowed to never again commit to a relationship. But somewhere on the road in Eastern Pennsylvania, I blurted out, "If I met the right girl tomorrow, I would marry her." Gary looked somewhat bewildered by the out-of-character statement.

We safely arrived in Philly that afternoon,, met up with Kent and Rich, and the four of us set sail in two cars Saturday morning for our Wildwood adventure. I began to anticipate a nice day in the sun when ...

BEEP-BEEP!

Rich was driving several hundred feet behind us on the Atlantic City Expressway, and that was not the sound of his Dodge Dart horn.

BEEP!

"Howie, slow down, those girls were honking at us!"

"What are you talking about?"

I looked to the right of my blue Toyota Corolla and saw a light blue Toyota Celica in the lane next to us. I noticed three female occupants, including an attractive driver with long blond hair who was smiling and waving.

Gary rolled down his window and, somehow, despite the wind and road noise learned that they, too, were going to Wildwood.

For the next 45 minutes, we continued down the roadway, occasionally passing each other.

"Hey man, I get the driver!" I started joking with Gary, half-staking a claim.

"No," he countered. "I get the driver -- I saw her first!"

I insisted, "No, I get the driver. You can have the little sister in the back seat!"

Upon arriving in Wildwood, we met the three attractive, statuesque, blond girls: Debbie (the delectable driver), Diane (the pretty shotgun passenger) and Chris (the little sister in the back seat). We had a nice little group to spend the day with and headed to the boardwalk and beach.

When the rest of the group made the inevitable trek to the ocean, I was having enough fun to join them, even though I had no clue about surviving in the water. As I waded deeper into the heavy waves, one of my friends yelled, "Hey, Howie, be careful -- you know you can't swim!"

I reluctantly retreated to the beach to enjoy the sights and sounds of Wildwood. When the rest of the group exited the water, beach location amnesia set in on them.

Rich concocted a brilliant idea to reconnect with me. He attempted to flap his hands in a way that I sometimes did, producing an odd sound combining rapid contact with the fingertips and palms of one's hand. As it was my unique talent, he explained that I would notice it.

Chris looked at him nonchalantly, said "You mean like this?" and magically choreographed the freaky motion and imitated the sound.

Kent, usually mind-mannered and reserved, grabbed Chris by the arm and led her across the beach in search of me. Once successful, he excitingly pointed out the similarities of Chris' and my own hand flapping.

The rest of the day consisted of innocent light fun. It was a great day, but as we walked the three lovely ladies to their car near sunset, I realized that we would probably never see them again.

Just before they drove off, Chris suggested that we all exchange addresses and keep in touch. I remember thinking sarcastically, "Yeah, OK, this is going to happen."

I looked at the addresses. They were from Woodbury, N.J., wherever that was.

I returned home, burying my mini-vacation in the back of my mind. After about a week, I opened the mailbox to find a letter postmarked Woodbury, N.J. It was from Chris!

We became pen pals. After two months of intense letter writing (emails and Facebook will never hold a candle to a great handwritten letter), we finally spoke on the phone. The first phone call lasted four hours.

Fast forward one year and five days later to a wedding reception on Aug. 21, 1982. Gary, one of the groomsmen, retells a story in an entertaining and elegant manner. I can recall few of his specific quotes but this:

"... and he ended up marrying the little sister in the back seat."

Howard Ehlichman of Wilkins, a Port Authority dispatcher, can be reached at hrehrlichman@gmail.com.


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