|The Morgan Sea View Motel
Author: Dill Wilson PM
The history of the family owned Morgan Sea View Motel At Summer Beach as seen through the third generation son's eyes.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family - Words: 17,121 - Published: 03-28-11 - id: 2902974
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Morgan Sea View Motel
The roots of the Morgan Sea View Motel can be traced back to 1887 when my maternal great grandfather Arthur Carson built the luxurious Sea View Hotel on Summer Beach.
The Carson family has been a big part of the town's history all the way back to the time when Summer started out as a fishing village and shipbuilding town in the late 1700s. In the early days, the area was best known for its picturesque forests and meadowlands. It's hard for me to imagine that Summer was actually a major farming community a couple of hundred years ago.
My mother's family made its money both in shipbuilding and fishing. A Jack Carson was a famous sea captain who built a huge house on the tip of what came to be known as Carson's Ledge. His son, Matthew Carson, owned the Carson Shipyards that once ate up nearly two blocks of the beach front.
Summer's downtown is located nearly three miles from the coast and most of the original residents settled there. The beach front was reserved for the fishermen and boat yards until an influx of recreational seekers sparked interest in a tourism industry. It took several generations for Summer to evolve into a vacation spot as wealthy families from the larger cities began migrating away from the city life. That's when people with money constructed mansions and summer cottages along the quaint coast.
A trolley system was built from the downtown to the beach in the 1890s and, by then, several hotels had opened on the ocean, including my great grandfather's Sea View.
An 1898 hurricane wrecked much of the beach front but that didn't deter community leaders (including one Theodore Carson) from naming the area its own district (known as Summer Beach) that same year. The village's fire district was established a few years later.
A lighthouse station off of the north point was opened in 1899 and rebuilt as Summer's Light in 1934, complete with a station keeper's house and launch way. The landmark structure remained active until 1972 and has been privately owned since the mid 1970s. The first keeper was my great uncle Benjamin F. Carson who served in the post for nearly thirty years.
Village leaders at the turn of the century looked for new and innovative ways to attract visitors to the beachfront. A "boardwalk" was constructed along the small road that ran parallel to the shore and a playhouse was built in 1904 to house community theatre productions, talent shows, and out of town plays. A children's playground was erected a few years later and a large bandstand was placed on the beach. Later, a Coney Island-type amusement park was built where the Carson Ship Yard once stood. By then, a new electric car system and a railway extension had made its way to the beach front to replace the fading trolley system.
A major fire in 1916 destroyed several buildings, including the grand OceanView Mansion House, but a roller skating ring and Carnival House Ballroom were built as replacements.
In the 1930s, as part of FDR's New Deal work projects, a wall was built along the beach and a public bathhouse was constructed. A clock tower was added to the bandstand and a large wharf was constructed where a large fish company once stood, allowing novice fisherman to practice their hobby without worrying about a boat.
Summer Beach (also known to some as Summer's Beach) successfully established itself as a favorite retreat and vacation spot for families who came to the ocean to "bathe". A movie theatre, bowling alley, and vaudeville house opened along with penny arcades all in an effort to attract folks to the beautiful ocean view and Summer's sandy beach.
The automobile became a primary source of transportation by this era and a major part of Americana was hopping into the car and driving the family to a vacation getaway or even for a one day escape. A drive along the New England coast line might include a stop at Summer's Beach for lunch or a dip in the ocean. Drive in diners and motels began popping up at Summer Beach and summer cottages were built in droves to help satisfy the increasing number of vacationers finding their way to the beach. Sea View Boulevard was widened in order to handle the increase in traffic.
*** *** ***
My grandfather Thomas Carson assumed management responsibilities of the Sea View Hotel from his father in 1912 and maintained the business as one of the beach's premiere attractions, complete with a well known dining room and an indoor swimming pool. Thomas Carson is remembered as a popular and well liked hotel manager and an active supporter of the beach front community.
"The family's home base was New York City," my mother recalls. "Daddy and my Uncle Jonathan ran the family business interests from there and my mother was a well known socialite, but Daddy loved getting out of New York for the Sea View whenever he could. My mother never liked Summer's Beach and that caused friction between my parents."
My mother, Evelyn "Evie" Carson, was born in 1921 and spent her summers at the grand Sea View Hotel. Her older brother, my Uncle Bob, worked his summers as a waiter and my father, Harris Morgan, came to Summer's Beach for the first time in 1935 to work as dishwasher at the hotel.
"My brother worked at the beach before me and my father put me on the train as a 15 year old to get me out of the city during the depression," my father said in a family video history I filmed in the early 1990s. "There was still enough money around during the depression to keep Summer's Beach going and a job was a good thing to have at any age back then."
Young Harris Morgan fell in love with the Sea View the moment he stepped off the train.
"It was a truly amazing hotel," he says. "A huge winding front stairwell. Large balconies to sit and watch the ocean. Brass railings. Gated elevators. Huge pillars in the lobby. Fireplaces in nearly every room. Plush furniture. Attractive wallpaper. Marble front counter. High ceilings. A large fancy dining room."
There was plenty to draw tourists to Summer Beach.
"The Carnival House Ballroom was my favorite place on the boardwalk," remembers my mother. "It was the place to go on Saturday nights in the 1930's. Well known bands would play live music and there were concessions and a beautiful dance hall on the second floor. It was pure glamour and young people from towns 10 or 15 miles away would come to dance."
My Aunt Sandy was equally impressed with the large building. "The dance floor was beautiful and the boys so handsome and well dressed," my mother's kid sister reflected in my 1991 family history video. "On hot nights, the windows on the ocean side were opened and wonderful breezes passed over the dance floor. You didn't have to go with a boy – there was always someone there to dance with."
We have family photographs of my mom and Aunt Sandy standing in front of the ball room as teenagers and their beauty is hard to deny. Aunt Sandy also spent plenty of her time at the Summer Playhouse in her youth.
'That's where I learned to act and it's where I fell in love with the theatre," she says, some sixty years beyond those youthful days of summer in Summer.
"Summer Beach was a great place to summer," my mother says with a contented smile. "There was always something to do and all of us, except mother of course, loved getting out of the city."
My parents met for the first time in 1935 when young Harris began his career at the charming Sea View Hotel. He says it was hard not to notice "The Carson Girls" as my mother and aunt were known on Summer Beach.
"Not only were they the hotel owner's daughter, but they were two of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen in my life," says my dad.
"My mother was aghast that I was flirting with a dishwasher but I thought your father was cute and anything I could do to get a rise out of your grandmother was fine with me." My mother still laughs when she thinks back on that romantic summer of 1935.
My father became friends with my Uncle Bob, then eighteen, partly to spend time with the waiter's pretty kid sister Evie. It was Bob who gave my dad the nickname "Huck", claiming "Harris" was too formal.
A snapshot of my grandfather, Uncle Bob, Huck, Evie, and Aunt Sandy standing in front of the Sea View in 1936 remains one of the family's most cherished possessions.
My grandfather was approaching his 25th year of leadership at the Sea View Hotel in 1936 when a great fire completely destroyed the luxury hotel and killed two people, just one week after that beloved photograph was taken My mother, aunt and Grandmother were in Maine that weekend and Uncle Bob and my father both escaped the blaze unharmed, but hotel owner Thomas Carson perished in the tragedy.
"My father went down with the Sea View like a Captain going down with his ship," my mother says. "Several people tried to get him to leave the burning building, but he insisted on helping guests escape."
"I saw him running up the front stairwell into a sea of smoke and he never came back," my father reports. "He was a hero."
My grandmother, Virginia Barnett Carson, had no interest in rebuilding the hotel, but she reluctantly agreed to put a house on the site in 1937 for the family to use during the summers.
"We couldn't imagine not returning to Summer after daddy died," my mother says. "We wanted to be where he loved to be."
Nana also allowed her brother in law Jonathan to build a soda shop in front of the house the following summer which gave my then twenty year old Uncle Bob a summer job while he finished college at Yale.
Young Huck also continued to spend his summers at the beach, working for The Blue Sea Inn in 1937 before joining Uncle Bob at the soda shop in 1938. There's a great photograph of Bob and Huck standing behind the counter of "Bob's Soda Shoppe" in 1939, grinning with their arms draped over each other's shoulders, two handsome young and confident men with the world in front of them.
"Bobby and Huck were the best of friends and I bet they would have become business partners had things worked out differently," says my Aunt Sandy.
By then, my parents were officially dating, much to the consternation of my grandmother who felt my mother could do a lot better than some commoner from the tenements of Boston. Still, my grandmother helped finance my father's college studies at Rhode Island University while my mother attended Smith College for Women in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Uncle Bob graduated from Yale in 1939 and Nana expected him to help guide the family interests from New York, following in the footsteps of his late great father.
"I think Bobby's heart was set on opening a new restaurant at Summer Beach," theorizes Aunt Sandy. "He was much more at home in Summer than he was in New York."
"My mother and brother argued for months about what was best for him and the family," recalls my mother. "Bobby was torn between his loyalty and obligation to his mother and what he wanted for himself."
Perhaps as an escape, Uncle Bob enlisted in the Army in 1940 which abruptly settled the issue. "Bobby knew it was only a matter of time before the United States got drawn into World War II and he wanted to be already trained when it happened," explains my mom. "It also got my mother off his back, of course."
Huck, Evie and Aunt Sandy managed the Ice Cream Shoppe for the next two summers and my father joined the United States Navy two weeks after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. My parents were married on New Year's Day 1942 and my sister Betty was most likely conceived that night. Two weeks later, Seaman Recruit Harris "Huck" Morgan shipped out to the South Pacific and wouldn't return for three long years.
My mother and Aunt lived in the beach house and ran Bob's Ice Cream Shoppe during the war years, with my Aunt spending most of her nights on stage at the Summer Playhouse.
'It was a great place to learn the craft of acting," she says all these years later. "I met up with some wonderful young people who went on to have some remarkable careers and I made connections that helped me in my own path. I know it is distasteful to say this, but the war years were the best years of my life!"
Uncle Bob's eighteen year old girl friend Audrey Lewinstein became baby Betty's nanny during the war, living with Bob's sisters in the house behind the ice cream Shoppe.
Captain Robert L. "Bob" Carson was killed in action when his B-52 bomber was shot down over Germany in early 1944.
"It seemed so unfair to bury a father and a brother within an eight year span, but families all across the country were losing loved ones in the war and we knew it was our patriotic duty to carry on," says my mom. "We kept the ice cream shop going in Bobby's honor."
My father finally returned when the war ended in 1945, taking over at the Ice Cream Shoppe for my mother who soon became pregnant with my sister Diane. My father's return allowed Aunt Sandy to pursue her acting career full time and she soon ended up on Broadway and eventually made her way to Hollywood.
Bob's girlfriend and Betty's former Nanny Audrey remained a close friend of the family. We called her "Auntie Aud".
"Bobby was the love of my life and those years living with your mom and aunt were the happiest days of my young life," says Audrey, who later married a Boston lawyer and established her own successful real estate agency. "I can still remember playing with baby Betty on the shores of Summer Beach."
*** *** ***
My father didn't think Bob's Ice Cream Shoppe had a lasting future and convinced a stubborn and reluctant Nana that a motel could be a more profitable family business at Summer Beach.
"Food places were a dime a dozen," my father says. "Plenty of hotels, inns, motels and cottages too, but never enough to room everybody coming to Summer Beach in the baby boom generation that followed the war."
Bob's Ice Cream Shoppe was razed and a new motel was built on the site of the former Carson Sea View Hotel.
The motel, which opened for the 1947 season, originally consisted of a small office built off (with access to) the front of the house (that was modernized into a year round home). Two separate yellow stucco motel buildings each with six rooms were built in front of the office, one to the right (the south wing), and one to the left (the north wing).
A large court yard graced the front of the property between the two wings and an in ground outdoor pool was installed behind the south wing building. There were a few parking spots in the court yard, and a dirt parking lot was put in behind the north wing. The back portion of the property featured a small green lawn with swings, gliders, and a barbeque pit, an idyllic setting for the weary travelers according to my father.
I asked Huck why he didn't build the wings facing the ocean.
"Because I didn't want my view blocked from the office!" he answered. "We put in the court yard and a porch on the front of the office so folks could sit and watch the ocean. The rooms were for sleeping."
Nana refused to allow the Carson name to be associated with a seedy type of business like a motel, so my parents called the new place "The Morgan Sea View Motel"
A large painting of the original Carson Sea View Hotel hung in the motel office along with several photographs of the defunct Ice Cream Shoppe.
My sister Betty was five years old when the motel opened and she remembers the new smell of the place.
"It smelled of pine and paint," she recalls. "I remember daddy taking me into the pool and I remember the big old cash register that used to be in the office. There was also one of those old fashion coke machines on the front porch for years."
In the early days, my parents ran the place nearly single-handedly. There was a doorbell on the front of the office and my father would get out of bed to check in late arriving guests. A sign on the outside of the office read "Greetings from your hosts, Huck and Evie Morgan."
My mother, to the horror of Nana, was the motel's first maid and washed the linen in the washing machine in the house, which is where my family lived year round. Nana stopped spending her summers at Summer all together and wintered in Florida.
There is a family photograph of my parents standing in front of the brand new motel with young Betty clutching my father's hand and my mother holding Baby Diane. You can see the excitement and pride on my parents face as they began their new career at Summer Beach. They were an attractive and eager couple with the world in front of them.
Audrey Lewinstein returned for a few summers in the late 1940s to help out with the family business.
"Your father was the perfect man to run a motel," she assures me. "Huck was always cheerful and a great people person who would go out of his way to make sure guests were happy and comfortable. Evie never complained and did everything she could to help the business succeed. They were a great team and wonderful hosts."
Huck's basic philosophy from the beginning was to let guests feel like they were at home.
"Make people feel appreciated, comfortable and welcomed and they'll be sure to come back," was his oft-repeated motto.
And he was right because we had a number of regulars who returned year after year, generation after generation.
My father did little things to help give the Morgan Sea View Motel a homey feel. To this day, there are speakers in the roofs of the original twelve rooms. In the early days, Huck would pipe in music (or a Red Sox game) into the rooms from the radio in the office.
Before each room got its own telephone, my father would personally deliver any phone message he received. He refused to install air conditioners for the first twenty five years the place was open.
"Open the window and let the ocean cool you down," was his expert advice.
He waited even longer before he put in the first space heaters.
"There are plenty of blankets in every room," was his response to a complainer.
In the early days, checking in was nothing more than filling out an index card registration form and getting a personal tour of the premises by "Your Host, Huck Morgan". A wake up call was one of my parents knocking on the door. If the wake up request was too early, my father was known to hand the guest a wind-up alarm clock! There were also plenty of extra cots and rollaway beds available to be dragged into a room for overflow family members.
What I remember most about my dad – and my sisters confirm it – is that he truly loved what he did. He treated each and every guest who checked in like a long lost friend or relative and he had a knack of remembering everybody who came back for a subsequent visit.
Huck rarely got annoyed, angry or insulted by a guest. He was perfectly willing to let picky people inspect the room to make sure it was clean before checking in and he never took offense when folks questioned him about the motel.
The Sea View was all about family. One of Huck's kids was always hanging around the office and customers liked seeing the children milling about. For the longest time, the only television on the property was in the motel office and guests would make their way in to check out a baseball game or favorite television show. For years, my sister Diane ran a small lemonade stand in the court yard.
The Sea View subscribed to a no pets policy, mostly because it was just to hard cleaning up after them and the damage they potentially caused, but my father kept a couple of dog cages stored behind the house and he never stopped folks from keeping dogs in the car overnight as long as they were well behaved and not a danger to other guests.
"We always prided ourselves on being a caring family business," my mother says. "We wanted families who stayed here to feel like they belonged here."
One of Huck's favorite (but saddest) stories is about Billy Collins and his family who used to spend a week at the Sea View every August. Billy was only two or three years old when his family started coming and he became an instant hit with my family and the rest of the staff.
I was too young to remember but the rest of the family never forgot him. "He was cheerful, funny, helpful and very friendly, talking up a storm with everyone he met," Betty says forty years later.
Poor Billy was stricken with childhood cancer when he was eight and underwent experimental chemotherapy treatment. The Collins family came back the following year when Billy was nine, but when their car pulled into the courtyard, it was obvious that the kid wasn't doing well.
"He was sitting up in the car, but his head was bowed downward and he didn't even look up when I called out to him," my father recalls with a sad sigh. "That's when I realized that little Bill was dying."
My family did everything possible to help make the Collins' stay comfortable. Billy didn't get to the beach much, but his 12 year old sister Angela kept him company in the room. My sisters would spell Angela so she could enjoy the beach and my father brought Billy into the office on a couple of occasions. My mother or one of my sisters was constantly bringing stuff back from the boulevard for Billy's entertainment and enjoyment. He didn't have much of an appetite but he appreciated the gestures.
"They were the most courageous family I've ever met," my sister Betty says all these years later. "They were positive and happy and refused to let Billy's illness ruin the vacation."
When they checked out at the end of the week, the Collins family had smiles on their faces having enjoyed a great week together at Summer Beach and the Sea View Motel. Billy died three months later, but the Collins' kept coming back to our motel and my parents donated regularly to the Jimmy Fund charity in Billy's name. Angela, now in her fifties, still stays at the Sea View with her own family and we always put her up in "Billy's room".
Of course, not every couple was Ozzie and Harriett and not every kid was Beaver Cleaver. I was playing with a Frisbee in the court yard one day when I was six or seven. Some kid waiting for his parents to check out came over and offered to play with me, but he purposely sailed the yellow Frisbee over my head and onto the motel roof with his first throw. He laughed and ran to his station wagon, leaving me behind to stare at my poor stranded Frisbee on the roof.
"You have to understand that everybody is weird in one way or another," theorizes Huck. "Even the nicest of people have strange quirks or different cultural upbringings. I learned from the start never to judge anybody and to always accept folks as they are. We've had our share of nut jobs over the years, but I think I can safely say that everybody I've met here has had some sort of redeeming characteristic."
Huck is deservingly saluted for making the Sea View the popular success it is, but my mother did her part in making the motel a welcoming place. She decorated the courtyard with plants, flowers and artifacts, most famously pink flamingos and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary. There's still a four-foot tall ceramic flamingo perched atop the office roof that was placed there circa 1956!
My mom picked out the wallpaper and paintings for the rooms whenever remodeling was in order. Most of the rooms have beach or nautical themes (pirates, dolphins, Sailors, fisherman, sailing boats, the beach, the sand, lighthouses, etc.).
My mother enjoyed a sense of history and an appreciation of what came before. She remembered The Carson Sea View Hotel and Bob's Ice Cream Shoppe with fondness and made sure photographs of those two businesses remained in the motel. She's saved every piece of correspondence sent to the motel and several albums can be found in the office with photos of guests and correspondence received from them.
It was my mother's idea to display lost and found items almost as if they were museum pieces. An old teddy bear was left behind in the early days and my mother placed it on a shelf in the office with a sign "Waiting for my owner". From that moment on, any item left behind was placed in the lost and found display, always with the hope that it would be claimed later. Nothing pleased my mother more than to have some little girl get her lost doll returned.
I remember finding a thirty year old class ring when we were replacing an air conditioner in Unit 22. It belonged to a Tammy Lonbarge from a Percy High School. It took Mom nearly two weeks of research but she was able to track down the original owner in Ohio and get her ring back to her!
My mother didn't involve herself in the hiring and firing of staff but she was not shy about dismissing someone if she felt that person was not meeting Sea View standards and Huck never second guessed her decision, even when she insisted that some problematic staffer he was about to can be kept onboard.
My parents worked as a team to ensure the Sea View remained a successful enterprise and they trusted each other's judgment when it came to what was best for the motel.
"From day one, we wanted to prove to my mother that opening the Morgan Sea View Motel was a smart and profitable decision," says my mom. "This place became our lives."
Huck belonged to several motel associations and would rent a truck whenever he heard of a motel or hotel closing within a 1,000 mile radius of Summer Beach. He'd head out in search of replacement bed frames, mattresses, dressers, televisions and linen. I recall several all night rides accompanying my dad to some auction or sell off. He built a shack next to the house and stuffed it with extra furniture.
The pool involved a lot of work and hassle, but my father knew it was a big drawing card, even with the ocean eighty yards away.
"The kids splashed around in that thing until they were completely exhausted, then slept like babies tuckered out from all that swimming," he laughs. "There's nothing better than slipping into clean crisp motel bed sheets and having the best night's sleep they've ever had. Parents really appreciate that."
The Sea View also ran a "swimmer's club" for a few years, allowing local kids to use the pool for swimming lessons.
My mother recalls the time in the mid 1960s when she found a couple of men sitting in the bottom of the pool testing their deep sea diving scuba equipment!
Huck hung a sign that read, 'This is our OOL - notice that there is no P in it - please keep it that way," for a few years, but my mother finally make him take it down saying it was in poor taste. Years later, I saw a girl sitting in a lawn chair wearing an "I Pee in Pools" tee shirt and I couldn't help but shake my head at how we had completely turned as a society.
There were countless signs warning guests about undue skylarking, fooling around and unsafe pool practices and my mother would periodically stop by the pool to check on tomfoolery, but that didn't stop a kid named Tommy Todd from nearly killing himself in our pool.
Tommy was showing off by diving from the edge of the pool even though several signs warned against such practices. Tommy had the bright idea to dive backwards from the concrete edge and attempted a picture-perfect back dive, pushing himself high into the air, rotating himself upside down preparing to pierce the water like an arrow. But he crashed head first into the side of the pool and tumbled into the water unconscious with a fractured skull, sinking to the bottom of the pool like a rock with a trail of red blood flowing out of his head like a kite string.
It was my mother who heard the screams of Todd's sister and made the heroic dive to pull the drowning kid to the surface.
For years after that, Tommy would joke, 'Hey, it's the lady who saved my life!' whenever the Todd family returned for a Summer Beach vacation at the Morgan Sea View Motel.
One time early on, an appreciative guest told Huck, "This place is a real jewel." My father was so taken by the compliment that he adopted that as the Sea View's slogan, even going so far as to put "The Jewel of Summer Beach" on the letterhead and on a sign over the office door, which remains today.
Huck believed that word of mouth was the best advertisement he could provide.
"If folks are happy with their stay here, they'll tell others," he'd say over and over again. "Let's make sure everybody who stays here is happy."
*** *** ***
Betty was nearly sixteen when I was born and Diane was twelve. I was an "opps" baby whom my parents named Carson Robert Morgan to give my aging Nana some satisfaction in keeping the Carson family name going. I was proud of the distinction, but it made for some annoyance growing up having to listen to "Are you related to…..?" time and time again. Most of my friends called me "Car" while my folks often referred to me as "Robbie".
Betty started working at the motel when I was born to help my mother out.
"It was just a twelve unit motel and it was still frequented by families, so it wasn't that bad," Betty says. "I had grown up watching mom and it became second nature to me."
Huck was like a football coach rallying the team when it came to the maids that worked at the Sea View Motel over the years, and he treated Betty and Diane the same as the other girls who worked for him.
"Housekeeping is one of America's most thankless jobs," he'd tell every girl he interviewed for a maid position. "Just like teachers and nurses, housekeepers are more givers than receivers."
And then he'd launch into his standard speech that captured his philosophy of working at the motel. "Young lady, providing a clean and safe environment is the most important thing any of us do here at the Sea View. Our loyal guests want the peace of mind of a clean and acceptable room. We want folks to feel as though they're the first ones to have stayed in that room."
"Daddy was very demanding of the quality of work the maids performed," my sister Diane confirms. "But he was fair and respectful to the staff."
Huck went back and forth over the years when it came to a uniform policy for the housekeepers.
"Your father remembered the fancy uniforms at the Sea View Hotel and he tried to carry on that tradition here," my mother explains. "Image has always mattered to him."
"I never liked having our girls show up in street clothes or whatever they happen to roll out of bed wearing that morning," he complained. "That lack of professionalism sends a compromised message to the guests and makes it difficult for folks to track down an employee when they need assistance."
Huck hated unkempt and sloppy workers, claiming the reputation of the motel went out the window when a shabby looking maid was on duty.
"Uniforms promote a clean and professional environment and I liked having the girls wear them," he says. "I paid for the uniforms and we cleaned them for free, so I never understood what all the griping was about."
The Sea View's uniform policy often created strife and complaints among the girls of every era.
"There was constant disagreement about style and accessories, such as aprons, belts, pins or scarves," recalls my mother. "We could never develop a consistent systematic uniformity among the staff, even when I designed the uniforms myself. If one girl was given leeway, others would always have petty objections."
When Huck would give in and allow girls to wear street clothes, the problem of proper attire would rear its ugly head.
"You'd have girls with loose halter tops exposing their tits every time they bent over or short skirts that revealed half their ass," says my sister Diane.
Huck tried to compromise and did away with uniforms from time to time as long as the girls wore basic acceptable clothing like black pants and white blouses, but that policy usually created wardrobe controversies as well.
"You can never get four girls to agree on anything," Diane laughs. "Especially clothes!"
I didn't have as many problems later on because I let the staff wear nylon jogging uniforms or hospital scrubs which usually worked out okay.
Although Huck was demanding of his housekeeping staff when it came to cleanliness and appearance, he was also extremely loyal and supportive and defended the housekeepers whenever a problem arose.
A sign that read "Please Feel Free to Tip The Maid" hung behind the check out counter from the very first day the motel opened.
"Will leaving a buck on the table kill you?" was Huck's attitude. "These girls make peanuts as it is. They clean and re-supply dozens of rooms a shift. They work hard. They provide a security presence for the guests. They bring towels and linen upon demand. They gladly bring whatever is asked of them. They're on call for every request. Don't they deserve a few extra cents for all that they do? Who else is going to pick up the trash? Even dear old Mom back home has her limits, but our girls clean up whatever is left behind. They are dedicated to ensure the guest's stay is enjoyable. Why shouldn't they be tipped?"
"Someone left me a hundred dollar bill once which was quite a lovely surprise," Betty says with a happy smile. 'But I can't count the number of times when nothing was left behind too."
"I've cleaned shit, piss and puke," Diane adds. "I've found used condoms, feminine napkins, and god knows what else. Let me tell you something, a maid deserves to be tipped for what she has to go through every day. Some people are clean and neat, but most people are slobs who don't give a second thought about the mess they leave behind."
"All I know is that Huck is the best boss I ever worked for," former housekeeper Bonnie O'Brien told me years after she stopped working for us. I bumped into her in one of the Summer night spots and we reminisced about old times. "He was fair, he was consistent, and he always backed us up. He made us feel like we were part of the Morgan family working at the Sea View."
"We did the best we could with our responsibilities," Diane says. "We had to push around those huge cleaning carts from door to door. I didn't like the new north wing because it had floors to it. We restocked the towels and toiletries, changed the sheets and re-made the beds, dusted, cleaned the sinks, toilets and showers, and vacuumed the floor. Daddy was a stickler for making sure the rooms were cleaned right and we learned what was expected of us pretty quickly. I was surprised by how exhausting the job could be. I was sore all over and the job completely drained me, but I never complained because I knew how important the Sea View was to Mom and Dad and I was proud to be a part of the team."
I fell in love with and had occasional flings with more than my fair share of maids and I respected and admired them for their professionalism and their dedication to the job.
Cheryl had an uncanny knack for knowing when a room needed clean linens and towels even before the guest asked. She also remembered the names of every guest who checked in.
Emily was the smartest maid who ever worked at the Sea View. She designed the maid carts so that they were easy to use and the supplies most used were readily accessible. For years after she left, the maid carts were referred to as "Emily's carts"
Lisa had a lovely singing voice and could be heard humming, whistling and singing songs as she worked.
Unfortunately, not every maid made the grade working at the Sea View. I remember a messed up girl named Melody who only lasted about three days. She left the rooms in poor condition and was clueless when it came to the expectations of the job. Once, a family checking in found a vacuum cleaner standing in the middle of the room. Another guest complained that his bathroom floor was covered in water and there was no toilet paper.
Melody burst out in tears when my father called her into the office to inform her he had to let her go, but he helped her land another job at the fudge store down the boulevard.
*** *** ***
I took growing up in the back of a motel on the ocean front for granted. It was a way of life for me and I never thought about how unique a situation it was for me to be by the ocean 24/7/365. I met people from all walks of life from every part of the country. I was never afraid of strangers and I learned to talk to people from the time I was five years old. I remember one time when I was about ten, an elderly couple was sitting on the porch outside the office and we started talking. The husband said that Paul Revere was one of his ancestors! Another time, a kid swimming in the pool said he was one of the Kennedys.
The Sea View was the only place I knew. I lived there. I played there. I hung out there. Eventually, of course, I worked there. The best part was being by the ocean. I loved the sea and it never occurred to me how lucky I was to be able to step outside and look at the Atlantic every morning.
Summer was busy and fun, but my favorite time of year was the off season when the beach was deserted and very few people walked the boardwalk. Whenever a storm slammed the beach, I would stand on the sea wall by the fishing wharf and dare the surf to reach me. Huck called me a "wall nut" because I was an avid ocean storm watcher who loved to watch, hear and feel the power of waves pounding the wall.
There was nothing more exhilarating than close encounters with the ocean and dodging the surf as it shot over the wall during storms. I usually got soaked, but the spectacular display by Mother Nature was worth it. Spray sometimes shot 30 feet in the air during big storms and, if it was high tide and the wind was right, the ocean would spill over the wall and flood across Sea View Boulevard.
Snow rarely lasted on the beach, but it was fun to run across the frozen beach sand or icy snow when it did stick. As warm as it got at the beach in the summer, it definitely got just as cold in the winter. There were a few nights in the dead of January with a Northeaster' blowing up the boulevard when we didn't dare step outside.
We watched the SeaFare Hotel and Restaurant burn to the ground on a cold winter's night in 1985. The water from the fire hoses froze on contact and there wasn't much the firefighters could do except make sure neighboring structures didn't suffer a similar fate.
I was the adopted son of every business on the boulevard by the time I was six years old. I could stroll into any store and be greeted with a "Hiya Cal," or "Hello Young Robbie!" or a "Hey, how's Huck doin' today?" I was a well known face and developed a first name relationship with the cops who walked the boulevard beat. Every life guard knew me and I had unfettered access to tattoo parlors, bars, taverns, and night clubs whenever I wanted, even as a teen.
The year round residents formed what we called "The Winter's Club" during the off season, frequently getting together in various businesses to kibitz, socialize and enjoy the quietness of the boulevard without thousands of visitors and vacationers crowding the place. It was a chance to get to know neighbors and co-owners in a calm and relaxed atmosphere without the rush of the summer demands and we'd even help each other out with off-season projects
Larry Dawson was my best friend growing up. His dad ran a year round restaurant on Third Street called Sands and Pepper and we were only a year apart in age. The Morgans got a free meal at the restaurant in exchange for letting visiting Dawson relatives stay at the Sea View free of charge. But there weren't too many kids my age that lived year round at the beach. Most families ran seasonal businesses and left the area at season's end and many of the people I knew were older folks, so it was perfectly normal for me to hang out with a middle aged drugstore clerk during a boring afternoon in February.
*** *** ***
Betty stopped working at the motel when she married Frank McDonald and moved to Summer Village in 1965, but Diane kept working until she wed Chet Hennessy in 1969.
My grandmother accused my parents of taking advantage of slave labor by making their daughters work their summers at the motel, but it gave both girls a strong work ethic and kept the Sea View a true family business.
My memories of my grandmother are of a well dressed and proper woman who was opinionated and demanding. It struck me as odd that she never stayed at the house or at the motel when she visited, always taking a room at the luxurious Summer House a few blocks down the boardwalk.
"My mother felt her family had failed her," my mother says. "I married beneath me and ran a motel, which might as well have been a brothel in my mother's eyes. My sister became an actress, a profession with no redeeming value according to my mother."
"Your grandmother was strict, controlling and extremely rigid," Huck reveals. "She had a certain way of doing things and if you weren't on board with what she wanted, you were in for a rough ride."
"Nana tried hard," my sister Betty says with affection. "She was all about tea parties, art museums and the opera. She was always cultivating Diane and me – we spent every February vacation with Nana in New York and Christmas break usually included a vacation to Europe. I loved those little jaunts, but it wasn't who we were."
"I think Ma regretted letting your father build the motel in the first place," theorizes Aunt Sandy. "The family was divided by a clash of two worlds – New York sophistication versus the tackiness of Summer's Beach. Evie was never going to leave Huck or give up the motel and Nana felt she lost the battle of what the family was supposed to be all about."
Nana died suddenly in 1966 which came as quite a shock to everybody.
"We were left with this feeling of guilt for somehow not living up to all of her expectations and dreams," says Aunt Sandy. "But we were also freed from the burdens she placed upon us."
My mother's Uncle Jonathan wasn't as stiff and controlling as his late sister in law and gave my parents leeway in the motel's operation. He was serious about the success of Carson Enterprises and was always looking for ways to bring in more revenue. It was Uncle Jonathan who proposed expanding the motel to generate profit, so in 1967 a new three floor 16-unit north wing was built behind the original north wing with parking spots, laundry machines for the linen, and storage on the ground floor. Extensions were also built off both sides of the original office building adding four more units referred to as the West Wing The Sea View Motel now had thirty two units to rent and telephone service was finally added to all units.
"With Uncle Jonathan's support, we knew we were in business to stay and that made it a whole lot more fun," says my mother.
Although the Carson family had money, my parents were frugal managing the Sea View Motel.
"My mother took delight in having to bail us out in the early years and she always had an 'I told you so' attitude when we experienced hard times," complains my mother. "Our goal every year was to turn a profit from the business we took in".
By the time the new north wing opened, I was old enough to help out around the place. I was constantly shadowing my father and learning on the job. I became an expert on unclogging toilets, fixing leaky faucets, patching plaster, painting walls, fixing door jams, replacing smashed window panes, and performing all sorts of odd jobs. I could clean a room in a heartbeat and I was checking folks in by the time I was ten years old. I became my father's apprentice and right hand man, spending so much time with him in the workplace that I began calling him Huck too.
The motel seemed to be in a perpetual process of a slow room-by-room renovation. Each off season involved some project, usually done by Huck and me.
In 1972, the outdoor swimming pool gave way to a new south wing with another 16 units and a parking garage. The motel became a year round business during this expansion as air conditioners and space heaters were added to all 48 units. Huck relented and wired the place for cable television which finally brought the Sea View into the modern era as the snowy UHF and VHF channels disappeared forever.
We began accepting major credit cards around this time, although my father wouldn't transition into the computer age for another twenty years and we never did go to the electronic key system.
"There's something personal about being handed a key to a room," Huck insisted. "Who wants to swipe a damn card through a slot like some secret agent man?"
*** *** ***
I was entering high school when the Sea View hit the big time which meant more work and hours for me as additional staff was hired to satisfy the demands and requirements of running a year round 48 unit motel. My sisters periodically came back in part time roles to help out.
I grew up fast as a teenager at the Sea View. I was educated by the many stories I heard from maids and guests alike, not to mention the stuff I experienced first hand.
People don't realize that motel walls are not as thick as Fort Knox. Many guests also forget that they aren't the only people around when they engage in loud conversations in public spaces. On some nights, one can hear every word, flush, yell, grunt, moan, curse, fight, whistle, song, and laugh being exchanged. I remember sitting in the office one night listening to three adult children on the porch outside arguing for over an hour about their father's will. I've overheard more than my fair share of fights, arguments, and disagreements over the years. I've heard kids being yelled at, teenagers debating, mothers crying, and fathers swearing
I've heard more than I wanted to hear and seen more than I wanted to see. There have been times when I doubted the integrity of humanity having witnessed some of the worse behaviors in people, but I've usually been saved by an anonymous hero who restores my faith with an unexpected display of courage, compassion or character.
As I grew older, of course, some of that innocence disappeared for me. I had been sexualized by my encounters with various maids over the years and I experienced the awkwardness of having to deal with peers and friends of mine at the motel during high school.
I knew class mate Steve DeMarlo drove a brown sports car with a noticeable dent in the front fender. One night, I saw the car parked in the lot and assumed Steve was enjoying some extra curricular activity in one of our rooms. He was dating the all American girl Kathy Middleton at the time, a girl I admired and respected. I couldn't believe she had allowed herself to be brought to a motel room and was actually relieved when I saw Steve drunkenly stumble out of the room with some older hag, although I felt bad knowing that Steve had cheated on the sweet Kathy.
I was called upon several times at a young age to intervene in awkward situations in my parent's absence. One night, some drunken guest somehow managed to get the door to the wrong room opened with his key and stumbled upon a young couple in a compromising situation. The guy dropped his key and was crawling around the floor trying to pick it up while the woman screamed. It was embarrassing for me, a fifteen year old, to try to calm the hysterical woman and keep the boyfriend from punching out the drunk's lights.
On another strange night, a woman stumbled into the office after midnight smelling of alcohol. She had seven dollars on her and said she had no credit card. I was trying to figure out a way I could give her a room because she didn't look in shape to be going anywhere and I was hesitant to call the cops on her just for being a drunk looking for a motel room.
I let her ramble and it sounded like she had already paid for a motel room, but she couldn't remember where. I called several motels along the boulevard and described her but no one recognized her. She finally pulled out her room key from her bra and I saw that she had checked in to The Oceanfront a few blocks down the street. I escorted her there knowing she might not make it otherwise and turned her over to the Oceanfront guy, hopeful that she'd be able to sleep off whatever it was she had been drinking.
One night, I checked in Mr. Davis into a room. He was a hockey coach in the winter league I played in and he didn't recognize me, but I knew who he was. And I knew the young woman he was with wasn't his wife either, but I didn't say anything as I handed him the key.
I had a group of drunk girls moon me from the balcony one night. Another time, I watched some girl accept a dare and run from her room to the coke machine and back stark naked. I've had to ask amorous couples to please close the curtains to their room while engaging in carnival activities. I once evicted a man for bringing a horse into his room. Several guests staying in Room Three over the years insist they have either seen or heard ghosts. Huck says it might be his father in law Thomas who perished in the original Sea View Hotel Fire on the same lot.
Being in the motel business can be strange but I still haven't seen it all even after all these years. This line of work has worn me out from time to time, but I know tomorrow always brings the potential for a new and perhaps even crazier story or experience!
Living and working at the Sea View Motel afforded me the opportunity to potentially fall in love practically every time Huck hired a new housekeeper or a pretty guest checked in.
Rules of romance, love and even sex are often suspended during the summer months of life at Summer Beach. Housekeepers are on their own away from home, eager to live in the fast lane and have fun when they aren't cleaning rooms. Unaccompanied guests are geared for a summer romance from the moment they check into their room. Sometimes, all I had to do was walk along the beach until I came upon a young lady or group of girls. One hello and I was half way home to a date on the boulevard that evening.
I was fortunate enough to get the handsome gene from Huck and I stayed in shape by jogging along the beach and swimming in the ocean. I was perpetually tanned.
My learned people skills that came from growing up at the Sea View also gave me an advantage. I was a polite, positive, cheerful and pleasant individual. Luckily, I had also been raised with some core values and morals so I rarely took advantage of vulnerable women. All of my conquests were by mutual consent, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I had become sexualized in the environment I was brought up in.
Laurie is the first maid to have a memorable presence in my life. I can still see her in my mind's eye coming come down the stairs with an armful of linen, smiling at me like I was someone important. She was nineteen, I was twelve, and she taught me my first important lesson in socialization skills with the fairer sex.
"Look me in the eyes, not in the chest, Car," she advised after she caught me taking a peek at her breasts when she was in a bikini one day. "Women will always feel respected if you look them in the eyes."
Eighteen year old Maid Marilyn gave me my first kiss when I thirteen. She yanked me into Unit Six as I passed by, closed the door and planted a long lip lock on me.
"I've been dying to do that for days," she teasingly announced.
"Why?" I asked with naïve surprise.
"Because you are an absolute cutie pie," she answered with a laugh. "Trust me Robbie, you are going to break some hearts along the way."
"But I'm a nice guy," I protested. "I would never hurt anybody."
"Maybe not on purpose," Marilyn replied. "But it will happen."
I lost my virginity when I was fourteen. One night I walked nineteen year old maid Patty Howard back to the dive of a cottage she was sharing with three other girls a few blocks off the boulevard. She invited me into her tiny room and before I knew it we were both naked on her bed. I was confused when she wouldn't let me stay, telling me some guy she met at the clam shack might be by later on.
"Why did you do it with me then?" I asked with shattered disappointment.
"Because I wanted to," she answered with annoyance. "Just enjoy the memory and don't worry about it."
Summer romance became part hobby, part sport, part challenge and part habit for me during my glory years.
"You're like a kid in a candy store every time the summer season arrives," my sister Diane said, shaking her head with disapproval.
Huck made me stop fraternizing with Sea View housekeepers once I was given more managerial responsibilities, saying it raised an ethical conflict of interest to be seducing women who worked for me, but there were still plenty of other women on the beach for short term romances.
Strangely, as I became older, the women seemed to stay younger and I found myself turned off by the immaturity of youth, tattoos and body piercing. My romantic pool turned to divorcees, Miss Lonelyhearts and other women who were closer to my age. Yet, although I've had numerous conquests, partners, affairs and one night stands over the years, I still ended up a lonely person who rarely established a lasting relationship of any note.
Having said all that, I enjoyed some meaningful non-sexual experiences with some nice young women over the years and I was always nice to the fairer sex, even when there was no chance for romance.
Erin St. Martin checked into the Sea View with her family when we were both twelve years old. Her father was in a wheelchair and Huck asked me to help Erin and her mom bring the luggage into Unit 11, which was just outside the office. I accidentally dropped a lawn chair on Erin's toe and that's how we officially met!
Her dad spent most of his time on the motel porch, or at the bandstand, or on the fishing wharf, and Erin's mom got a bad case of sunburn on the second day and didn't want to spend much time on the beach, so Erin faced a week on her own and my mother ordered me to "show that poor girl a nice time."
She was very pretty in a girl next door sort of way but extremely shy too and it took a while for me to gain her trust and confidence. I gave her a tour of the boulevard and we did all the usual activities that most vacationers partake in – miniature golf, go carts, the penny arcades, cotton candy, candy apples, hot dogs, and ice cream cones.
By the second day, Erin decided that I wasn't a whack job and she figured she could trust me. We spent an entire day on the beach making a huge three level sand castle with twelve towers and a moat. We were the hit of the beach and had about ten little kids helping us.
My mother had her in for dinner one night and I accompanied Erin and her folks out on another night. We also took her dad deep sea fishing which was a lot of fun.
In many ways, Erin was my first girlfriend even though all we really did was hold hands and get our pictures taken in one of those arcade booths. What I remember most about her was her laugh and her stories about living in a small town in Vermont. Her dad had been injured in a tractor accident and the family ended up selling the farm they lived on, moving into a small house nearer to town. Erin spent most of her time at the town library and that's probably why she was so shy. She lived with her head buried in books all the time. She had never been to the ocean before and I told her the history of Summer and the long legacy of the Carson family. We visited the house that had once belonged to the Sea Captain Jack Carson and toured the lighthouse where Station keeper Benjamin Carson was once stationed.
Our time together was full of youthful innocence and common shared experiences but I never heard from her after she left at the end of the week. Erin St. Martin was my first love. My perfect love. My purist love. I never forgot her and I thought about her often over the years. Bizarrely, she was probably the most normal opposite sex relationship I ever experienced.
I fell in love with Linda Woods when I was 15. She worked in the Clam Shop a few storefronts down the boardwalk and I ate more fish that summer than I had in my entire life! We'd sit at one of the picnic tables on the deck every night long after the place closed talking about all sorts of stuff. She was three years older than me and had just graduated from high school in Connecticut, but she treated me as a peer and she loved listening to my stories about living at Summer Beach. We went to the movies a few times and watched the fire works together every Sunday night, but our relationship was surprisingly tame considering how madly in love I was with her and given the fact that she told me some of her most personal secrets and dreams. I ended up knowing more about Linda than I did about most of the women I slept with and for that reason she was my most intimate relationship, even though we never did anything more than make out.
Joanie Sullivan managed Rosie's Fudge Shop for nearly twenty years. We met when I was in my early twenties and we enjoyed a strangely flirtatious platonic relationship for nearly two decades. She had a boyfriend who lived in Florida and she spent the off season with him, but he rarely came to Summer Beach and I was sort of Joanie's surrogate same time next year boyfriend even though we never actually slept together. Joanie took great delight in rating and ranking the women I was with, although none of them seemed to meet her approval.
The Fudge Shop was eventually sold and Joanie stopped coming to Summer's Beach.
"I would have stayed if you had asked me," she said on the day she left for good. Her remark stunned me because it had never occurred to me that I could have asked. I wondered why it was that I never made a commitment to any woman in my life.
*** *** ***
Huck trusted me at a young age and he would leave me in charge for hours when he had other things to do. My first call to action came when I was about fourteen. I was the only one around when a six year old boy came into the office crying.
"My mommy went to take a bath and she can't get out," the kid reported through his tears.
The image of a dead naked lady in the bathtub flashed through my mind as I led the kid back to the room, but I heard the mother pounding on the bathroom door when I entered. The door was jammed stuck and I wondered if I'd find a naked woman behind the door when I got it open! After much struggling, I finally opened the damn thing but I had broken the jam and the guests didn't have much privacy in there until my father was able to repair the damages. I have to admit I was a little disappointed that the woman was wrapped in a towel when I opened the door, but it was still embarrassing for all concerned.
One of the few times Huck second guessed my judgment was when I was about sixteen after I let an attractive but down on her luck hippie type photographer named Desiree stay for a night without charge in exchange for some shots of the motel.
"How much does a roll of film cost, Robbie?" My father wanted to know. "Three dollars?"
Desiree shot an entire roll and promised to send us the prints but when months went by without any word, Huck chalked up the experience as a failed random act of kindness on my part.
"I can't blame you for wanting to help the gal out," Huck said with a shrug. "She was awfully pretty."
Two years later, my dad and I were sitting in the motel office when an elderly man stepped through the door with a large manila envelope in his hand.
"I believe this belongs to you," he said, placing the envelope on the counter. It was addressed to me with the Sea View's proper address, handwritten with artsy flair.
Huck opened the envelope and pulled out twenty four stunning photographs of the Sea View Motel. There were amazing shots of the motel from the ocean and a few shots of the ocean from the motel, both at sunrise and sunset. Desiree had captured an animated shot of a family checking in to the motel and got a few lively shots of the maids working. She took a photograph of me talking with my mother near the laundry room as well of a few shots of Huck fixing a window in Unit 10. She also got a beautiful shot of the neon Sea View Motel sign lit up at night. The final photograph was of Desiree, a self portrait taken through the mirror in her room.
"These were found in my grand daughter's belongs after she died," the old man explained. "It's taken me this long to settle the estate and close all the loops. I wanted to personally deliver this to you, but I live in North Carolina and it took me a while to find the time to get up here."
"Desiree's dead?" I asked with the disbelief of youth.
"Car accident," he confirmed with wet eyes and a sad glaze. "Her name was actually Denise."
Huck shook the man's hand with gratitude, patted him on the back and offered him a room for the night free of charge. "Denise stayed in Room Five when she was here," he told the old man. "It's available tonight."
We framed several of the photos and hung them on the office walls and in some of the units and my father never questioned my judgment again. I kept Desiree's surreal self portrait in my room for years.
Of course, my father wasn't immune to his own moments of kindness and there are dozens of stories of his generosity over the years. One time a lady in a beat up old station wagon pulled into the parking lot with two kids in the back seat. The car croaked on the spot and the woman sobbed in the driver's seat.
"I barely have enough money for an overnight stay and a meal for my children," she whimpered. "I wanted them to see the ocean. How can I afford to get the car fixed and stay?"
My father checked the lady and her kids into the motel, had the car towed to a gas station, and paid for the repairs himself.
"I hope you enjoyed your stay at the Sea View and will come back again someday," he told the appreciative woman when she checked out the next day.
The woman eventually remarried and got her life back together. She returned to the Sea View several times over the years with her new husband and kids and always left impressive tips for the maids.
*** *** ***
Summer's Beach remained a family vacations spot into the 1970s with deep sea fishing, miniature golf, and a go-cart course the big attractions, but noticeable changes were taking place. The roller skating rink, Carnival House Ballroom and the Vaudeville House were all razed to make room for new hotels and restaurants. The Summer Beach Amusement Park was falling upon hard times and eventually closed, replaced by a water slide park and a new fire station.
Many of the summer cottages were being bought by private owners and turned into year round family homes. Some of the older mom and pop type motels and cabins were torn down and replaced with modern hotels run by corporations, but my father never worried about the fate of the Sea View no matter how many new motels were built.
"Variety is always good for the soul," he said. "Vacationers can find whatever they're looking for at Summer Beach, from the luxury places to the hole in the wall dumps. People are always going to need a place to stay and if they want the unique charm of the Sea View, we'll be here."
Huck had faith in those travelers with a "scotch soul" which referred to those folks who liked staying in Mom-and-Pop establishments. Even with the expansion, the Morgan Sea View Motel remained a quaint business and we were proud of our identity and tradition. Couples I remembered as young newlyweds were now middle aged and their children, once young pups, were now in their twenties, but they happily returned to the Sea View.
My father had faith in the people who stayed at our establishment. "A motel is more than just somewhere to lay your head at night," he said. "It's a place where your mind reflects upon the events of the day and where you can be comfortable in a home away from home."
"The Sea View is a place of rest and safety, a place to take a break from the real world for a little while," my mother agreed. "We're the jewel of Summer Beach."
I inherited that sense of pride and responsibility as I followed in my parents footsteps as a curator with the Morgan Sea View Motel. I valued and respected every person who checked into the motel, I enjoyed meeting every person who stayed with us, and I was determined to make their stay memorable enough that they would want to return.
There were dozens of hotels, inns, and motels at Summer Beach for folks to choose from, and we Morgans knew the only edge we had over any of them was our friendly customer service and our welcoming presence as operators of the Sea View.
*** *** ***
Summer Beach began evolving from a family vacation attraction to a college party spot in the 1980s. I was assigned to the late night office shift as more problems started to develop with rowdy crowds and drinking young people along the boulevard. The Sea View started getting younger (usually unmarried) couples as our cliental and, especially during the off season, inquires about hourly rates. I began having more than my fair share of encounters with disgruntled husbands, boyfriends and probably even private detectives and I learned how to be discreet unless law or bodily harm was in play.
We began to notice a slow change in the make up of some of our guests. We still got a majority of families as our main business, but we also saw more traveling workers and mysterious "I wonder what they're doing" types, especially during the off season. Sometimes, the maids and I would take bets on which guests were having an affair.
I knew times had changed the night two nineteen year olds jumped off a south wing balcony onto the office roof and yelled at people sitting in the court yard area below. Another time, I had to knock on the door of Unit 22 at 4 a.m. to calm down a loud party. A large unkempt man came to the door in a pair of under shorts and a tank top tee shirt, responding with "Why Should I?" to everything I said. He finally closed the door in my face but the noise stopped.
Huck started asking for IDs when young couples checked into the motel.
"Do you parents know where you are?" he'd ask, but some kids got wise and would send in older people to check in for them.
The maids would hold contests to see how many beer cans were left behind in the rooms during the party era. I think the one room record was something like 78 cans.
When I was about twenty, my parents left me in charge of the Sea View for several weeks while they took a vacation in Colorado. It was in the off season, early October and there wasn't much business, partly because it had been raining for the past several days. I only had one maid on duty, a girl a few years older than me named Beverly.
Bev only had two or three rooms to clean. A business guy was in Unit 3 and an older couple was staying in Unit 6. I had checked in a sad looking woman the night before into Unit 10. I noticed that the lady's car was still in the court yard when Beverly began her cleaning rounds the following morning. We figured maybe she had gone shopping on the boulevard or was taking a walk on the stormy beach, but Bev said there was a 'Do Not Disturb' sign hanging on the door.
Beverly had already cleaned the other two rooms so I told her to wait an hour or so and check Unit 10 again. She reported the sign was still there an hour later, so I called the room but didn't get an answer.
"Maybe she forgot to take the sign in when she left," I suggested, and Beverly shrugged in reply.
We both went to the room and I knocked loudly on the door several times.
"You sure she didn't check out?" Beverly asked.
I shook my head no and gestured to the sedan in the court yard. "That's her car."
We glanced at one another with uncertainty. Slowly, I pulled out my pass key, unlocked the door and gently pushed the door open.
"Hello?" I tentatively called.
The room was dark with the shades closed. Squinting in the darkness, I saw two feet on the bed.
"Sorry," I said, assuming the lady was still sleeping. I started to leave, but my sixth sense told me something was wrong. The feet had not moved and I didn't hear any breathing. I flicked on the light switch and a horrified Beverly screamed behind me.
The woman was obviously dead. There was a gun beside her and blood covered her midsection, soaking the bed spread. What truly freaked me out was that she had dressed herself in a wedding gown.
"Go call the cops," I ordered Beverly who yelped with fright as she ran to the office.
I glanced at the bed table and noticed what I assumed was a suicide note. It was the first time I had seen a dead person and I must have stared at her for five minutes until the cops arrived, wondering why she had done such a tragic final act.
We didn't rent out Unit 10 again for several months out of respect for the poor soul who had died there. "Plenty of lonely people come to motels looking for answers or hoping for help," Huck told me after the lady in Unit 10 episode. "Transients pass through year-round. Drifters show up without enough money for gas and food to get where they're going. Others beg for work. I once had a woman trade me an expensive necklace for a room for the night." My mother told me that Huck had quietly provided a room "In Jesus' name" to a needy person on several occasions. "He used to joke to me that the Morgan Sea View was a mission in disguise."
*** *** ***
My father made the final change to the Sea View in 1980 when he decided to tear down the original house behind the office and build a new second story home over the office that would allow the family to see the ocean. The structure included storage space and some studio units facing the rear on the first floor to be used by staff or to be rented out to workers elsewhere on the beachfront. The second and third floor was our new house overlooking the entire motel complex with plenty of windows and glass facing the ocean. A balcony ran along the front, linking the south wing with the north wing and giving guests a place to sit. Parking occupied the rest of the lot in the rear, leaving no room for additional expansion.
With all the additions over the years, my sister Betty said the Sea View looks like a jig saw puzzle thrown together. "You have the original motel dwarfed inside this huge high new complex that encases the entire campus like a football stadium."
We were saddened when Great Uncle Jonathan passed away just as the last expansion got underway.
"Uncle Jonathan was the best thing that happened to the Sea View and I'm not sure if we would have survived without his support all these years," says my mother.
For a rich guy, I remember Jonathan as a humorous, good natured and down to earth fellow who liked to buy candy apples on the boulevard and fish off the wharf.
"He was a lot like my father and nothing like my mother," says Aunt Sandy. "He brought dignity and justice to the way the family ran its businesses."
Jonathan's grandson Richard "Dick" Carson was the new manager of the Carson Family business interests. Dick generally left us alone at the Sea View but there was always a nervous apprehension whenever he checked in with us because we sensed he had a different mindset when it came to Summer Beach and the Sea View Motel.
"The Sea View is the last of the family's local interests," Huck told me not long after Jonathan died. "Most of the family holdings are stocks, bonds and corporate investments. I don't think Dick sees the motel as something worth keeping for the long haul."
Huck hated the subject of motel security. From the start, he saw the Sea View as family friendly and safe and he never wanted to do anything to make guests feel like there was a reason to be afraid.
"Christ, in the early days folks didn't even bother locking their rooms half the time," Huck says with fond nostalgia.
But as society changed and the beach front became more challenging, The Sea View did have to start taking some precautions, although Huck tried to keep them as subtle and unnoticeable as possible. The first major undertaking was installing a safe in the motel office to protect the cash, and Dick Carson put a lot of pressure on my parents to beef up security when he took over for his grandfather Jonathan.
"Dick was looking at insurance premium costs and the threat of lawsuits," says my mother. "He wanted to have bars on the windows and cameras in every room but we thought that sort of stuff sent the wrong message to our guests."
"It is the responsibility of the owner not only to provide lodging to its customers but to also provide security and protection against criminal attack," Dick wrote in a letter to my parents dated March 23, 1981. "Our guests are at risk because criminals often look at lodgings as attractive targets filled with unsuspecting potential victims, most of who will leave town soon after being robbed or victimized. We must operate by exercise reasonable care in identifying potential crime risks and taking appropriate measures to prevent those crimes from happening."
Dick tried to push all sorts of rules and restrictions upon my parents, but they refused to go overboard in following his demands.
"That guy wanted us to hire security guards, install cameras and alarms, put bullet proof glass in the office, have a gun under the counter, and do background checks on all our employees," Huck says, shaking his head. "I'll close this place before I turn it into a fortress."
"We installed a couple of mirrors in blind spot areas," my mother says. "There's not much shrubbery around here for people to hide behind. We joined the Neighborhood Crime Watch Association. We installed double locks on the inside of each room. We keep track of all our keys and have 'Do not duplicate' restrictions on them. We put additional lighting in the public areas and parking spots. We sent you and most of the regular staff to defensive skills classes and to security training with the Police. Everybody knows what to do if there is an intruder. We are always out and about. There's a buzzer under the counter that instantly notifies the Police. I think that's good enough for a place that wants to remain guest friendly."
*** *** ***
I knew from the time I was fifteen years old that the Morgan Sea View Motel was my destiny. I was a Summer Beach regular, well known by everybody who ran businesses on the boulevard. The Sea View was a member of the local chamber of commerce and we were involved in the political issues that involved the beach business district. My most famous crusade was trying to get the tee shirt merchants to stop openly displaying obscene merchandise which was offensive to the family vacationer.
I moved into one of the studio units in the early 1980s and occupied the house in later years when my parents wintered in Florida.
Aunt Sandy retired from her Hollywood career and returned to Summer Beach as Resident Artist at the Summer Playhouse where she directed and starred in most productions. I got a kick out of razzing her whenever I'd see her pop up on some old late night movie or television rerun. She mostly played murderous scorned lovers or the other woman, although occasionally she'd be someone's mom or the leading lady's best friend.
"When I started getting cast as the middle aged housewife, I knew it was time to pack my bags and come home," she says with a laugh. "At least in the theatre, I can play everything from a 12 year old girl to a 98 year old great grandmother."
I'd occasionally meet some B-list celebrity who did a week's run at the playhouse as a favor to my aunt and I'd get an autographed flossy to hang in the motel office. Guests got a thrill seeing some television personality on the wall of the Sea View.
I did my best to continue the traditions and philosophies of my father who turned over more and more of the daily management of the motel to me. Customer Service was my mantra and I was hard on maids who left behind a stained towel, dirty carpet, or sand in the bathtub. I embraced Huck's philosophy of a personable mom-and-pop motel that pays attention to the guest is better than the nameless corporate joints any day of the week.
I hired a college kid to paint a huge mural of Summer Beach on the wall behind the check in counter and I installed a computerized system for checking guests in and out. I also added spa bathtubs to the four units in the west wing as an extra perk, but otherwise the place remained the same as my parent's original vision.
The first hire I made on my own was a forty-six year old maid named Debbie, who I liked from the moment she walked into the office for an interview.
"I stayed here once about twenty years ago," she revealed after we chatted for a while, but I didn't remember her. "My marriage was falling apart," she explained with a sad smile. "My husband and I and our son stayed here sort of as a swan song to our relationship."
"It's okay," she assured me. "Staying here was a sanctuary from the emotional storm we were in and it was the last real time we were together as a family. You know, the anonymity of motels makes them safe escapes. No one knows you or why you're there and no one has any expectation of you other than you pay you bill in the morning."
I nodded with agreement.
"But what I remember most about being here was how nice everybody was to us," Debbie said. "The maid who cleaned our room was friendly. The couple running the place was warm and inviting."
"My parents," I said. "They're still around, in the summer anyway."
"There was a gentle presence that I remember most about that stay," Debbie said. "It was peaceful and cozy. I remember the last morning we were here, there was a hazy sunrise and the ocean air drifted in through the open window. I savored the last few hours of my marriage. Somehow I am glad that we had come here. It was comforting."
I hired her without a second thought and she was a great maid for the four years she worked with us.
Of course, not all my hires went off without a hitch. Rosa worked with us for several summers, a quiet and unassuming girl who did her job and got along with the other girls. She was funny, quick with a joke, and she stood up for herself and the other maids when problems arose. She was also supportive and helped out when other girls were running behind.
Rose put on weight during her third summer and there were plenty of rumors flying around, but I didn't say anything to her about her condition. The following May, twenty year old Rosa returned, this time with an eight month old baby in her arms, leaving me with a moral dilemma
Rosa placed the baby on the counter and I found myself playing patty-cake with her.
"She's quiet," Rosa assured me. "No fussing."
"Who's going to watch her when you're working, Rosa?"
She looked at me with pleading eyes. "I'm hoping for some help."
"Where's the father?"
Her eyes watered up. "He's not in the picture right now."
The child was cute and everybody on the staff immediately fell in love with her beautiful blue eyes and innocent sweet smile.
Some of the girls, including my mother and my sister Diane, signed on to help watch after little Lori and I agreed to give the situation a chance. Rosa and the baby took one of the studio staff rooms which quickly became cluttered with diaper bags, a stroller, playpen, crib, a backpack and other baby accessories.
Rosa spent every waking moment with the baby when she wasn't working, rarely leaving the motel unless she was taking the child to the beach or playground. She never asked for charity and did her best to pay for all of the baby's needs.
It didn't take long to figure out that the Rosa's situation was not going to work out. She was exhausted, staff was resentful, there were scheduling snafus with the baby, and everybody was getting stressed out no matter how much of a happy face spin we tried to put on. I even watched after the baby.
Rosa did the best job she could under the circumstances but living and working in a motel alone with an eight month old baby was nuts at best, abusive at worse. It wasn't fair for little Lori to be passed along from person to person like a teddy bear.
A young man appeared in the office a few weeks into the season and asked for Rosa and the baby. I knew he was Lori's father and I hesitated for a moment, trying to figure out what was the right thing to do. The guy, who wasn't much older than Rosa, was obviously trying to make an impression. He was ridiculously overdressed and had greased back his long hair into a pony tail.
"You promise not to make any trouble?" I asked.
He nodded. "I've already caused too much trouble."
I found Rosa to in Unit 29 and told her about the visitor. Her face expressed a mixture of happiness, confusion, regret, uncertainty and worry all in the span of seven seconds.
I brought her to the office and stayed in case the situation turned ugly. The guy begged for Rosa to come home with the baby but she refused. I tried not to ease drop, but overheard Rosa using words like 'immature", "humiliated", "betrayed" and "unconvinced." I gathered the boyfriend had cheated on her.
"All I can do is ask, Rosa," the guy said with a sad sigh. "That's all I can do."
He looked tearful as he left the office and I had to admit I felt sorry for the guy.
"He seemed to handle that well," I told Rosa.
"Too little too late," she sighed. But then she gave me a small smile. "Do you think he deserves a second chance, Car?"
"He did come looking for you," I said. "And he looked sincere from where I was standing. Every baby deserves a father, Rosa The Sea View is a great place and the ocean is wonderful for Lori, but I don't think this is the way to be raising a baby."
"I came to Summer Beach when I was sixteen because I wanted to travel and see a little bit of the world," Rosa told me. "I stayed out of trouble, worked hard, saved money and enjoyed being here. He was my high school sweetheart. A romantic Christmas weekend together and presto, I'm pregnant. He said he'd marry me but I knew it would never work out. I knew there were other girls. He wasn't ready to settle down."
"Maybe he's ready now," I offered.
"He said he'd wait for an hour at the bandstand," Rosa said. "Should I go talk to him again?"
She rubbed her finger along the edge of the counter while she gave it some thought.
"The people here have been so kind to me," she said. She kissed me on the cheek and left the office. I watched her take Baby Lori from one of the girls, cross the court yard and skip across the boulevard on her way to the bandstand. I knew Huck would be proud of me for that my stance on that one
*** *** ***
Summer's Beach experienced a bit of an identity crisis as the 1990s rolled along. More and more condominiums were replacing the old cottages and a move was afoot to change the name of the beach to "Summer By The Sea" to give the place a more refined, wealthy appeal. Owners of businesses along the boulevard knew our bread and butter still came from the family vacationer and the young crowds and we fought to keep that reputation alive. Whale watching, the new water park, and a skateboard park were all added to the beach venue in an effort to keep the vacationer returning, although the go-carts were long gone by then.
I knew things would never be the same when Burger King and Crispy Creame Donuts both opened on the boulevard!
I was beginning to experience my own identity crisis as well. I was in my mid forties and never had a lasting relationship. There were days – especially in the dead of a lonely winter – when I wondered if I had wasted my life staying loyal to the Sea View Motel instead of exploring the world, going to college, enlisting in the service, learning a different trade, or doing something else with my life. I was nothing more than a middle aged beach bum.
I was the de facto person in charge as my parents spent the off season in Florida but both my sisters were older than me and felt they knew just as much if not more than I when it came to what was best for the business. We had confrontations when it came to decisions regarding the motel's operations. Betty and Diane were willing to adapt to the times while I hated change.
My sisters wanted to redesign the house section of the motel into six or eight motel rooms, arguing that my parents only spent about three and a half months out of the year at Summer Beach and that the space was being wasted, even though I lived there in the winter. I wanted to hop on my motorcycle and wheel out of Summer Beach, never to return. Let me sisters do what they wanted with the motel and see if I cared!
Of course I did care – probably too much – and that's why I could never leave. I owed it to Huck and Evie to make sure their dream motel continued in the tradition they established back in 1947.
One April morning during the height of my mid life crisis, I noticed a woman standing in the courtyard admiring the motel campus. I hadn't seen her in more than thirty years, but I knew from watching through the office window that it was Erin St. Martin, my one and only original love. She was wearing a blue woman's business suit and had a briefcase in her hand.
I was usually a smooth and calm operator, but my heart was pounding in my chest like I was twelve again as I stepped out of the office.
She was visibly surprised when she saw me. "Robbie?"
I nodded with a relieved smile.
"I didn't imagine it possible that you would still be here," she said.
"I was waiting for you." I was surprised by my admission.
She laughed with noticeable embarrassment. "I see you changed a few things." She gestured to the new south wing and the house addition over the office, both of which hadn't been built the last time she was at Summer Beach.
"It's still basically the same place," I assured her. "What are you doing here?" I couldn't mask my tickled surprise and happy excitement.
"I'm interviewing for the manager's job at The Sea Point Hotel."
Erin St. Martin had a job interview at the swanky and upscale Sea Point Hotel?
"That's Jayson Pruitt's place. Tell him you know Huck and me. That should help."
She smiled with appreciation. "My ex-husband and I ran an inn in Vermont for many years, but I've been out of the game for a while," she explained. "I can use all the good references I can get!"
"What happened to the Inn?"
"We sold it when we split up. Then my mother died and I moved in with my father to take care of him. He passed away a couple of months ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Thanks. What about your folks?"
"They winter in Florida," I replied. "They're back in the summer."
"Great." She smiled at me.
"It'd be terrific if you got the job, Erin."
"Wish me luck." She glanced at her watch. "I'd better head over there. Don't want to be late for my interview!"
As soon as she was out of sight, I trotted into the office and called Jayson Pruitt, a guy ten years younger than me. We served on one of the beach community committees together and he was a nice guy, so I gave him my highest recommendation in his consideration of Erin St. Martin.
I don't know if Jayson did it as a favor to me, but he hired Erin St. Martin as his new manager. She moved to Summer Beach a few weeks later and we slowly got to know one another again.
Erin was in no hurry to get involved, still recovering from her own failed marriage and aware of my long history of sexual conquests.
"We're not twelve anymore, Robbie."
"I feel like I'm twelve when I'm with you," I said. "I'm not lying when I tell you I've been waiting for you all this time."
"Let's see if you can have a sustainable courtship with me first, Robbie," Erin suggested. "If you're still interested in me after three or four months, we'll see where we stand."
"You're actually dating this girl?" Diane asked with stunned disbelief. "Don't you usually skip all that and cut right to the chase?"
"This one's different," I admitted, but both my sisters remained cynical and kept waiting for me to cheat on or dump Erin.
"Robbie, you're incapable of staying faithful to one woman," Betty reminded me.
"What happened to you?"
"Middle age," I mumbled.
Erin and I didn't even kiss each other good night for the first three months. We finally got intimate nearly eight months after Erin started her job. She didn't move in with me at the Sea View for almost another year, but I didn't mind waiting because I knew she was the one. Not once from the moment she appeared in the Sea View Motel courtyard that April morning did I think about being with anyone else.
"Who would have thought I would be both the cause and the cure for all your sexual tribulations?" Erin likes to joke.
*** *** ***
My mother is still a sprite hostess well into her eighties. She and Huck fly back from Florida in time for Memorial Day and spend the summer at the Sea View through the Labor Day holiday.
Mom sits on the front porch of the west wing and greets guests with a smile, remembering folks who have been coming to the Sea View for fifty years, encouraging the housekeepers in their various chores, and waving hello to people passing by on the boulevard.
Unfortunately, Huck is progressing through various stages of dementia as he continues to age into his later eighties. In the beginning, it was easy to monitor and manage Huck's condition even though it was sad to see our father slowly fade and lose control of his faculties. With each passing summer, however, it has become increasingly difficult to keep Huck calm and occupied. We found that giving him simple tasks – watering the plants, repeatedly washing the office windows, sorting receipts in the office – keeps him content and occupied.
"Your father just wants to feel important and useful," my mother insists.
Mom keeps an eye on Huck as he meanders around the motel campus. He has wandered down the boulevard on a few occasions, but we usually find him safe and sound chatting with some old friend at one of the other businesses, but we make sure the doors are locked at night to keep Huck hunkered down inside the motel residence.
"Daddy seems to be stuck somewhere around 1967," my sister Diane observes. "He can't remember who any of the current staff is, but he can tell you who our maids were in the ninety-sixties, that's for sure. He might not always know who we are either, but he remembers Evie, Sandy and Audrey with a smile."
All one has to do is ask Huck, "Hey, tell us about Nana" and then listen as Huck tells the story of the Sea View Motel all over again, in vivid detail.
During the summer season, Betty covers the office in the morning and Diane takes the afternoon shift, with me responsible for nights But Betty is in her sixties and Diane not much behind and I don't know how much longer they will be able – or interested - in contributing to the daily operation of the business.
I do have a plan B, of course. Erin can quit her job at the Sea Point and run the Sea View with me as Mrs. Morgan, just as Huck's Mrs. Morgan ran the Sea View with him.
We recently found out that my parents signed an agreement with Nana in 1947 that gives half the ownership of the Sea View to the Carson Family Trust. Dick Carson is an unsentimental businessman who watches the bottom line. My sisters and I call him "The Dick" because he has no appreciation for the motel's history that can be traced all the way back to the original Sea View Hotel in 1887.
We don't think The Dick will do anything while our parents are alive, but we're concerned that he'll try to sell the property once Huck and Evie are gone. We will fight to keep the motel in the family because we know that the Morgan Sea View Motel still has plenty of life left in it and the next generation is determined to keep it going.
It is, after all, The Jewel of Summer Beach!