My father was a chef. Before World War II, he ran a small restaurant in Jamaica, Queens Borough, NY called Ryan’s Sandwich Shoppe – spelled with two “p’s” and an “e.” I loved taking my school friends there to enjoy an ice cream soda. I felt so important!
After the war my parents were offered summer jobs managing the restaurants in two different private beach clubs located on Long Beach, Long Island. One restaurant was called “The Brentwood Surf Club,” and the other was “The Cliffside Club.” The Surf Club was “restricted” — meaning no one of the “Jewish persuasion” was invited to join. On the other hand, The Cliffside Club was strictly Jewish. The two restaurants were both owned by the same company! They were less than a mile apart. I am not sure about the legality of “restricted” clubs in that era, but restricted clubs were fairly common and tolerated.
My father managed the Surf Club, which was as fancy as you might imagine a private beach club would be. I only visited there a few times. My mother managed the Cliffside Club, which was not quite so fancy — the restaurant was primarily a long, open counter serving mostly sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks. Up until that time my mom had never worked outside the home, but after raising five daughters, cooking hot dogs, hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches was not a challenge for her. I stayed with mom at the Cliffside helping out where I could, making the hamburger patties, and even — at the tender age of 14 — tending the cash register.
There were times when my father had to be on the job earlier than usual because of some function going on at the Surf Club, so the company provided him with a small cottage (we called it "The Shack") that had sleeping cots and bathroom facilities. We didn’t stay overnight often, but for me it was an adventure when we did. I had pictures of Frank Sinatra all over the wall behind my cot.
One morning, after having spent the night in “The Shack,” I decided to go for an early swim. The lifeguards were not yet on duty, but this didn’t bother me because I had braved the ocean several times before with no problems.
I wasn’t really a strong swimmer, but I was enjoying my swim when I suddenly realized I was further out from shore than I intended. I started to make my way back toward the shore but was shocked to find I was fighting a very strong undertow that kept carrying me further out.
My guardian angel was surely with me that day, because one of the lifeguards had arrived early and was patrolling the beach doing clean-up duty before the club opened to swimmers. But he didn’t notice me. I did everything I could to attract his attention — shouted and waved my arms. I think my guardian angel must have finally turned the lifeguard’s head in my direction, because he spotted me and immediately swam to my rescue. He was a very strong swimmer, much more able than I to fight the current. He hauled me to safety with, apparently, little effort.
My hero’s name was Marty.
I was more than a little hysterical when we made it to shore, but Marty was gentle in his lecture to me about never swimming when there was no lifeguard on duty. I was so grateful that all I could do was hug him and promise never again to be so foolish. Then I ran back to "The Shack." Each day for the next few days I looked for Marty so I could properly thank him. Even though I didn’t tell my parents about my escapade, somehow the word got around. I finally asked one of the other lifeguards if he knew where I could find Marty.
“He isn’t here anymore,” he said. “Yeah, with all the hullabaloo about his rescuing you, the Surf Club discovered his mother was Jewish, and they fired him.”