A Washington D.C. Reporter Reflects on Childhood in New Jersey

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - OCTOBER 28: A man walks down the empty boarwalk as Hurricane Sandy approaches on October 28, 2012 in Atla
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - OCTOBER 28: A man walks down the empty boarwalk as Hurricane Sandy approaches on October 28, 2012 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered Atlantic City's 12 casinos to shut down and surrounding states have also declared a state of emergency. Sandy, which has already claimed over 50 lives in the Caribbean, is expected to hit the New Jersey coastline sometime on Monday bring heavy winds and floodwaters. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Forgive me for all the cruel things I have said about New Jersey. It is a great state that deserves admiration and assistance, in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

I grew up in Long Branch, NJ, one of the shore towns which suffered great destruction. I was unhappy, and blamed that on the city. That was wrong -- my unhappiness was caused by the growing pains all humans experience.

If anything, Long Branch gave me a toughness I have needed to survive in the challenging worlds of reporting, politics and business. Every day, as I go to work at the White House or some other locale (which I have covered since l968), I say to myself, "Pretty good for a punk kid from Long Branch!"

Long Branch is a hard working, fascinating melting pot. Many of the residents are first or second generation Americans. When I grew up, the majority population was Italian. They were soon joined by Hispanics, Jews (including Syrian and New York Jews who bought expensive mansions), blacks and others. All of them built up their lives from hard backgrounds. Many had small businesses, and ran the best ethnic restaurants in the United States! Several worked in Fort Monmouth, when it was open, and some were persecuted (unfairly) during the Army McCarthy hearings. Others worked at the beautiful Monmouth Park Race Track, or the stately Monmouth University (once home to millionaires and presidents).

But the vast majority of the businesses centered around the beaches, the ocean and the boardwalk. Now, some of that is gone. The ocean is there, of course, with its mighty power and beauty. But sections of the beaches, boardwalks, restaurants, stores and amusement areas will have to be rebuilt.

I recently returned to Long Branch High School for my 50th High School Reunion. Those of us who survived are in our sixties. We have all been blessed with full lives. Sadly, about 58 of our classmates have died. The new High School is modern and well equipped, with provisions for the most advanced classes in science, communications and other subjects. The new students have many advantages over their immigrant relatives. But now, nature has given them new challenges. Long Branchers will have to show how tough, and compassionate, they can be.

Connie Lawn, (now) from Washington D.C. and Virginia