Tradition occasionally bends down the Shore, but you need a pretty good reason to break it. What would you want to change? After a year of deadlines and data and not knowing what worry lurks next, here’s the escape key, a week of no surprises, its commitments as light as the sea breeze, its rhythms as sure as the tide.
It was the summer of 1969 when Leonard and Ann Giunta first drove from West Chester as a newly married couple, with their baby, Andrew, to spend some time at the South Jersey shore. Now—August 2010—they’ve got seven grown children, most with their own kids, and they still come every year. They’re a huge pack now, 16 adults and 14 kids. It’s always the first week in August, lately in Avalon, though there were years in Stone Harbor and, they still smile and remember, 1970s Wildwood.
The biggest rental house they could find in 2009 was a tight fit with 10 bedrooms, so now the family has broken into two divisions, like an expanding sports league, filling two immense houses on 15th Street, on the exclusive block where the addresses all have “East” in them: the block closest to the beach. Each of the houses rents for something like $5,000 a week. The split-up is a twist on tradition, but it will have to do. It’s a big expense for Len Giunta, now 69, but he works hard and does well, and this week spent smothered by family is how he takes his winnings.
It’s a hot, hot Saturday, just after noon. Andy, 42, and Edsel, 30, are hauling provisions for the week—cases of Gatorade, water, snacks—up the stairs to the second floor of what we’ll call the main house, where Len and Ann, these days “Poppy” and “Granna,” are stationed. If you’ve ever wondered what those crowded-together, supersized Shore houses look like inside, here’s the mystery unveiled: They’re filled with zillions of little bedrooms, usually spread over three floors. Everything seems new, but not new-new. Once-new. The kitchen/dining area is on the second floor, so you can take a coffee or beer out to the porch and, from certain angles, see the water.
“I can’t wait to have a baby, so I can opt out of the unloading,” Edsel says, mock-complaining as he hauls more food upstairs. He’s the only one of the seven adult Giunta siblings (four girls, three boys) who isn’t married. Two of the four sisters, Mary and Susie, are at the Shore very pregnant this year (Susie with her first). Matt Giunta and his wife, Kate, have brought their three-month-old girl, Gianna. Edsel is here with his girlfriend, Stacey, but Len won’t let them bunk together—part of having traditions is having rules—so Edsel is sharing a room with Father Michael Collins. Father Collins watched the kids grow up, as a priest at Archmere Academy in Delaware, where the boys went to play football, and he has presided over all the Giunta siblings’ weddings. He’s usually a guest for Shore week.
Jenna arrives in the kitchen with Alia, a three-year-old with Shirley Temple curls who’s scored the week’s first boo-boo—fell in the garage and scraped her chin.