The second lives of beach tags

    My mom sold her house yesterday so, for the past few weeks, she’s been packing, donating and selling 25 years worth of stuff.

    One of the last things to come out of the attic was our old beach bag – a turquoise, hard plastic mesh thing that she probably bought at the old Jamesway on Route 9 outside of Stone Harbor.

    The bag itself was empty, but still pinned to the side were three 1998 Avalon beach tags. 

    When I told her that I took one, she said “oh that’s okay. I’ve got a whole box of them…somewhere,” then waved her hand at the stack of boxes in the family room.

    Given how much stuff she didn’t take to her new home, I was surprised the beach tags made the cut. But she’s not the only one who holds onto these small tokens that allowed us so many summers of beach access. Beach tags have a way of taking on a second life.

    A lot of people keep them for the memories, converting them into something to remind them of great times down the shore. Such was the case for Alan Hancock. When they sold the family home in Avalon, one of his aunts took the old beach tags in the house and turned them into Christmas ornaments. “She gave one to everyone in the family, with the year of the tag marking some significance,” said Hancock. He, for example, was given the tag from the year he got married.

    Marie Horne has been going down the shore for over 70 years, and has collected 55 years of beach tags. “She has them on her beach hat and staple beach bag,” says Christine Perez-O’Rourke, her granddaughter. “For her, those badges signify her great memories spent at the shore with her family, from the time she spent raising her four girls with my grandpa until now when she spends her summer days watching her 13 grandchildren enjoy the same beaches.”

    Then there’s those who save beach tags to prove their street cred. Stacey Krauss keeps her tags for Manasquan on her beach bag until “they are too worn out or rusty to be safely carried around.” She says that, for a life long shore resident, it makes an “I’m a local” statement when surrounded on the beach by Bennys (that’s the northern beach-equivalent of our Shoobies, except they’re referring to New York and Northern NJ visitors). She still keeps them after they rust off the bag, and plans to put them in a 3D picture frame with a picture of her and her mother on the beach as a gift.

    And then there’s practical reasons to keep beach tags on your bag. “Sometimes the seasonal tags from past years are useful at fooling the beach tag checkers, but they’ve gotten wise to it and now design them with different shapes and colors,” says Beth Hespe, who vacations in Stone Harbor. 

    I have a few beach tags still pinned to my regular beach bag, which is from an old Phillies giveaway (it features Veteran’s Stadium). At first, I was just too lazy to take them off. Now I leave them on for the same reason Krauss does: to show I’ve been here a while. 

    But I don’t think I’ll add the 1998 pin to the bag. The pin is already rusted. No, that’ll stay on my desk, a nice reminder of the shore when I’m locked in my office while working on a bright sunny day.

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