Tag Archives: South Jersey

SOJOURN – A journal devoted to the history, culture, and geography of South Jersey

South Jersey Culture & History Center Logo

In my last entry (which was rather a rant), I commented that my part of New Jersey has been slow to develop an identity, slow to achieve recognition, possibly lacking in self/civic awareness. I’m pleased to announce that this is changing! We are now blessed with a fine academic journal, produced by the South Jersey Heritage and Culture Center at Stockton University.

Sojourn describes itself as a collaborative effort. The presiding genius is Dr. Thomas Kinsella, Professor of British Literature at Stockton University, who supervises an editing internship program for Literature and History majors. Papers are solicited from local historians and other authors. (Academic credentials are not required.) Students edit and format the work. The result is impressively professional. A wealth of maps, portrait reproductions and photographs (both historic and contemporary) make for a high level of visual appeal.

The most recent issue is themed around the American Revolution. Fourteen articles cover aspects of that conflict. I was particularly interested in “When Mad Anthony Came to South Jersey: Civilian Experience during the American Revolution” by retired Stockton University Professor Claude Epstein. He discusses how the military actions in South Jersey stressed and distressed a population that was relatively poor and dispersed. He describes the Revolution in New Jersey as “more of a local civil war with multiple sides.” Not the simple narrative of valiant patriots battling evil Tories that some of us were taught in school!

I checked Sojourn’s “Call for Articles” to consider if I might want to contribute. I’ve lived here 40+ years, which makes me an old timer. Unfortunately, there’s no humor category! I plan to offer my article “Sex clubs, convenience stores and ‘The Wawa Way’” (see blog post dated July 9, 2014). Think I can talk them into it?? I could probably manage to add a few footnotes, if necessary.

Copies of Sojourn are available in the bookstore at Stockton University’s Campus Center, on Amazon.com and at a few local outlets. It would make a nice gift for anyone interested in local history, or having some connection to Stockton University.

Cover image of SoJourn 3.1

The Use and Abuse of Fiction – personal opinion

Why write fiction about real events? Why make up stories about World War II, or Ireland or the Great Depression? Why not stick to imagined worlds, like JK Rowling’s delightful, magic permeated version of England?

Consider the wild popularity of the “Humans of New York” Facebook site. There are SO MANY tales to be told. Why not tell them, as is done with Holocaust survivors and military veterans (to name a few) in oral history projects? I offer The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline as an example of a book written about events that, I believe, have been extensively documented. More about it below.

Sometimes the truth is just too painfully awful to bear.

  • Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals, who participated in the battle for school desegregation as a high schooler, is a non-fiction account so harrowing I couldn’t read it.
  • The truth behind Beloved by Toni Morrison is even worse than that portrayed in the book/movie, in which an enslaved woman kills her child to keep him from slavery.

Fiction represents a selection of what is (or isn’t) “meaningful” or important about an era or event. I’m convinced that “meaning” is assigned, not inherent. The meaning that an author assigns to an event may be very different from what participants experienced. If the people are available (or left records), I would rather listen to real voices than read a fictionalized account.

I think fiction represents a consensus (of sorts) on what we are going to remember, emphasize and/or construe about events.

Fiction has its conventions. Usually major characters stay alive for most of the book. I was truly shocked when Vikram Seth killed off a major character in the middle of The Golden Gate. That’s what happens in life, not in novels!

Stephen Dunn (poet and professor) says that southern New Jersey (where I live) “hasn’t been imagined yet”. Very little fiction or poetry about this region has been written. To me, that means there’s no consensus about what we will or won’t discuss about South Jersey. Fiction sets boundaries. No one has decided what South Jersey means.

Means to whom? Our local poet? We the residents? Scholars somewhere else? (Will South Jersey Studies be invented one day?) We will surely choose to keep the sun and sand. What about the past? How long will it take to digest Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson? Will we study slaveholders or the underground railroad?

So how did Peter H Davies, author of The Welsh Girl, (a novel about WWII) decide what (and who) to keep and who to discard? Why did he include ONE historical figure (Rudolf Hess) in this work of fiction?

Maybe studying history is just TOO MUCH WORK, too intellectually challenging. The Orphan Train was selected as a Common Reading (for a college, with the emphasis on the Freshmen) because it was “accessible”. Translate that to mean not too long, not too complicated… (I found it didactic.) Serious study of the events and historical period was apparently not considered. (I get it, but are we underestimating student intelligence?)

I was surprised, when I checked, to find out that I split my reading almost 50/50 between fiction and non-fiction. I thought I was leaning more towards fiction.

I very much enjoy “fantasy” fiction, but I would guess it’s a small fraction of what I read, maybe 10%. I LOVE a good alternative world.

My point? Does anyone else have a problem with fictionalized accounts of real events? Do you worry that you might be misled? That an author might be biased? How should fiction be incorporated into education? If a book pops into your mind when you consider this, I’d particularly like to hear about it.

Harley Dawn – South Jersey’s finest diner

And now for something completely different! A restaurant review!

First, the genre… It’s a diner!

Diners are very important to New Jersey folks like me. I live on Route 30 – diners to the east of me, diners to the west of me! Where did I go the morning after the derecho in 2012, when my power was out and trees were down all over? The local diner, of course. It was mobbed. So few places had electric service. I stood in line with all the people from the east of me, longing for coffee and scrambled eggs. Diners are the cultural glue of South Jersey. By the time I left, I had the information I needed about the storm and our rather dire situation.

I feel a special connection to the Harley Dawn diner. Owners April and David Emmons called me to discuss green design and alternative energy possibilities when they were planning their re-build. (Diners, by and large, are not energy efficient. Some operate in structures that are old and sketchily maintained.) April and David set high standards and labored diligently through design and construction. And what a great eatery they have built! It looks sharp and incorporates excellent energy technology.

But of course, what matters most is the food! It’s great! They advertise “green, local and sustainable”. On that list, “local” is what most appeals to me. For goodness sake, this is the Garden State! I love our farms and farm stands. Like most diners, the menu at Harley Dawn is extensive and covers just about everything. Lots of comfort food.

My husband argues that before I start posting about Harley Dawn, further research is needed. I mean, we only tried two of the many flavors of homemade ice cream! Surely we need to sample the meatloaf? Yes, a few more visits are in order, but I have no reservations about recommending Harley Dawn now. Today! Join me?

Sex clubs, convenience stores and “The Wawa Way” by Howard Stoeckel

This is the story behind MY Wawa in Galloway Township, NJ. The one in the Cologne neighborhood.

I recently posted a link to a friend’s comments on “The Wawa Way”. (Read it if you never heard of Wawa.) The book was published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this chain of convenience stores.

I’m a Wawa regular (if not exactly an addict), and a few weeks ago my morning coffee was free, in celebration of said anniversary. And “The Wawa Way” (subtitled “How a Funny Name and 6 Core Values Revolutionized Convenience”) appeared beside the checkouts. I grabbed a copy for a birthday gift.

Moving through the line, I heard the young man working at the register try to convince a customer that the very Wawa in which we stood had been RIGHT HERE for 50 years! I got the giggles and walked out laughing. I know the real story.

I think the oldest Wawa in our area dates back to 1975. It’s a tiny store (no gas pumps, no bathrooms) in a town four miles down the road. Yes, it’s still there, unchanged, with just eight parking spots.

In 1980, I took a job with the county public health agency, supervising (among other things) food service sanitation. I shortly realized the restaurant inspectors were snickering about certain facilities. One was a “health club” that seemed to operate on a “clothing optional” basis. The proprietor greeted inspectors without a stitch on. The club was called the “Avant Gard”. Their food service was impeccable. No food related hazard to public health was found on the premises.

One day a local resident got a surprise. A relative from a few states away called to taunt “You’ve got a sex club in your town!” Say what?? The relative sent a clipping advertising party space, fantasy rooms, adult fun, etc. Yes, it was the Avant Gard. We aren’t so far from Atlantic City (at that time the only legal gambling venue on the east coast) which may have generated the demand for these services. But they were carefully NOT advertised locally.

There followed a mighty tempest in our Township. How had this happened? Who issued a business permit? What defines a health club? The proprietor claimed that sex is healthy… Public debate accelerated, leading to the memorable statement by an elected official, “We don’t want kinky sex in Galloway Township!”

The Avant Gard couldn’t take the heat. The health/sex club closed, and the building became a corporate training location.

I moved to my present home in Galloway, near the intersection of Route 30 and Tilton Road, in 1993. Around that time, a small Wawa appeared there, across from the corporate training location. “It’s a sign!” we said. We were meant to move here, and enjoy Wawa coffee.

A few years passed and “our” Wawa outgrew its location. It moved, in a much expanded version, across the street to the former location of Galloway’s one and only sex club.

Does any other Wawa have such an interesting land use history? I doubt it!

I like Wawa for its coffee, and because somebody there has a sense of humor. I sent them a copy of this post. They thanked me cheerfully, and gave me a twenty dollar gift certificate.