The Empty Lot

Since 1972 (and even a little before that), my family has been spending summer at the Jersey Shore.  It started off as a week at the beach and has evolved since then into pretty much a year round residence (at least when we are referring to my parents).  The most recognizable landmark in the area, one that you could always tell your friends who were driving down for a day (this, of course, was way before Google, MapQuest, Waze and all that) was the large Catholic church that sat on the patch of land between Rt 35 S and N.

Our Lady of Peace didn't look much like a church; at least not from the outside.  To me it was a huge dirty sand colored box with two large parking lots on either side.  If I cared to look close enough I could see the cross on top and the statue of Mary on the east side.  But that didn't matter.  All you had to do was tell people that when they saw the Catholic Church there were entering Normandy Beach, NJ.  It didn't matter what religion you were (or if you were religious person at all), the church was a landmark; an icon for the area.

I was only inside it once; for a funeral.  But the parking lot was always full on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.  There were always plenty of cars that parked there when all the spots on the ocean block were taken. (I'm sure it wasn't legal; and I bet the church could have raked in some serious dough by having someone sit out there ask people to pay for parking...who is going to say no when parking on church property?  Wouldn't God smite you if you didn't?)

The first Saturday of June the church held a flea market in the North side parking lot.  It was a favorite annual ritual for me (and pre-birthday celebration) to drive down that Saturday and see what the vendors had to offer.  There were and are other flea markets around, but this one meant something to me.  I could almost always find something there...the silver crab necklace that I wear in the summer, the snow cone/shaved ice maker that I use not to make snow cones, but frosty adult beverages and a "designer" handbag (that obviously was NOT a designer bag) that I fell in love with.  (Sadly, now it has a hole in the bottom of it or I would still be using it.) I looked forward to that flea market every year.  Over the years I knew what to expect and where to find things.  I really did look forward to that first Saturday and knew that I would find SOMETHING in the church parking lot.

The flea market and everything ended in 2012.  Sandy came in and everything changed.  The huge parking lot was used as a staging area.  First by the national guard and other law enforcement who took charge of the island after the horrifying storm in October 2012.  While homes and businesses were being restored or rebuilt, the church just sat there.  I heard that the damage was not too bad inside, but having not seen it for myself, who knows.  Eventually the lot was taken over by the contractors hired to rebuild the highway and "restore the shore."  The small yellow house at the corner of the lot that housed the priest disappeared.  Fences went up around the complex.  Trucks and trailers were locked behind the gates.

It stayed that way for years.  It was a sad reminder of what Sandy wrought.  A reminder that "Restore the Shore" was just a phrase, and not the truth.  (No matter how many ads local government ran; the shore might have been up and running, but it will never be fully restored.)

Which brings me to now:  summer of 2016.  Nearly 4 years after Sandy destroyed this peace of New Jersey that I grew up with and loved.  (And truthfully sometimes hated.)  The church started to come down. Supposedly the stained glass windows came out beforehand.  I would hope any salvageable relics came too, but I don't know that for fact. It came down in horrid hunks; razed by an excavator that left the interior exposed so that it was like peeping to a life sized diorama. If that diorama was behind a chain linked fence that is.

It stayed that way for a couple of weeks.  Then finally one day (last week I believe) it all came down.  Nothing left but rubble.  An iconic building reduced to an empty lot.  A bitter reminder of what Sandy took away from us all.

In the coming months and years, townhouses will be going up in this space.  While they may be lovely, they will never be a landmark.  My heart will still miss that dusty looking building where I never worshiped, but was a sacred space to me.

With the destruction of Our Lady of Peace, my Jersey Shore will never be completely restored.


Popular posts from this blog

Not Guilty

Please Don't Ask Me...

Lowe's LIES