Until I Am By James Dissette


James Dissette is the founder of monthly community newspapers in Oregon, Michigan and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He is the 1971 winner of the Sophie Kerr Award for Creative Writing, and most recently published Fierce Blessings, a collection of poems in 2008. He is a partner at Chester River Press and recently designed their current publication, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as translated by Alexander Pope and is currently working on his book, A Hungry Moon. He is a contributing editor for the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy

Vincestock: Remembering a Friend and Celebrating Life


Editor’s Note: Chestertown and Spy special friend Vince Raimond would have turned 95 years old today. In honor of his memory, we have reposted Jim Dissette’s story of the first annual “Vincestock” from last year.

For those of us who knew Vince Raimond, Saturday’s First Annual Vincestock gathering was a sweet way to remember an old friend and to renew acquaintances with his large constellation of family and friends.

The evening progressed toward a sunset Solstice toast with an amazing assortment of music from Tom McHugh’s blues harp to Karen Sommerville’s acapella, along with anecdotes and a poignant story about rediscovering his long lost family as told by his daughter, Checkie.

I knew Vince from my earliest days in Chestertown. In 1968 he was my girlfriend’s landlord —wasn’t he everyone’s landlord one time or another? But I knew him most as the person who introduced me to a lifelong love for the theatre arts. I’d wager to say that Chestertown would not have the presence it does today for the performing arts. He and his wife Leslie launched, curated and nursed a fledgling theatre group along for 30 years and his spirit is still present in the Garfield’s performances.

Vince was not an “all things to all people” kind of guy. Part of his charisma was his strong set of values, and he’d announce his take on life at the drop of a hat. Agree or disagree you always knew where he stood, and if he was a friend, I knew it never to waver.

One summer, I think 1969, I was looking for part-time work, Vince hired me to do some copywriting for a brochure advertising some of his real-estate properties. And as I was an english and creative writing major at Washington College, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to flex my poetic muscles, such as they were, and embroidered each property description with an over-abundance of adjectives hinting at colonial charm where none existed, breathtaking value where there was little more than a “starter house”, and impeccable landscaping where there might have been one withered rose-bush. I proudly turned my copy in at the end of the week and awaited his glee. He sat at his desk in a short sleeved shirt looking like a Roman wrestler on vacation from the Coliseum. In fact, the first time I saw Vince I thought, “Damn, Spartacus lives in Chestertown.”

He looked up from my copy sheets, shrugged and said, “Dissette, these are just houses.” And so began my interest in non-fiction.

What struck me most about Saturday’s gathering was how our matrix of friendships, new or generationally, link us to each other in unexpected and long-lasting ways. With stories and celebration, we not only pay tribute to a friend who is no longer with us, but rekindle the qualities that most attracted us to that person and by sharing them keep that person among us, not as a shadow of the lost, but internalized as someone who breathes and walks among us.

You’re still with us, Vince.




Finding Voices: “The Way We Worked” at Sumner Hall


I visited Sumner Hall the other day to look at the new Smithsonian exhibit, “The Way We Worked” and its allied display, “The Black Labor Experience in Kent County: Free and Enslaved; Founders and Soldiers; Tools of the Trades and Contemporary Work Stories.

I wanted a break from the interminable news about chemical warfare, battle armadas and the ever-widening divisions between countries, political groups, ethnicities and the kaleidoscope of social classifications that make up the human race.

It was quiet that afternoon in the small building on Queen Street as I walked among the artifacts on the first floor, looking at tools of the trade and read about the lives of some of Kent County African Americans who had succeeded as ex-slaves to build businesses and lives, many within a few hundred feet of Sumner Hall’s location on Queen Street.

I tried to imagine even the faintest outline of the black experience in America. It’s easy to read history or watch documentaries about the past, but easier for that experience to lack a connection to the core of our empathy. If we have it at all. After all, what has the past have to do with us? But a continuum of time and its events is still part of the whole and the voice of the American and world narrative is still being spoken—at least today—in every human activity from Johannesburg to Cincinnati.

It’s there in ‘imagining’ that for me a kind of discordance begins. It starts with the geophysical, sitting in a building restored to honor free blacks and slaves who fought and died for the North during the Civil War, on a block of town that for generations had been the home of African American families, a town that held slave auctions overlooking a river often teeming with sailboats. I doubt a black man or woman in the 18th century would delight as much seeing a white sail on the horizon. We are a long way from the kidnappings in Senegal and the depravity of the middle passage. Or are we? If 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation human bondage is no longer the coin of the realm, its consequences—the constant re-igniting of discrimination against “the other”—still poisons us.

But what is the dissonance, the clattering of voices—not only ours, but the ones we inherited—that keep me listening as if to locate by some magical sonar a clear narrative about the things that divide us and make our lives smaller by suffocating us with prejudice, fear and disdain?

I see my father sitting at a desk in the corner of the room but it’s 50 years ago. He is in his Navy Captain’s uniform and I hear laughter around him as he tells a racist joke. The party fades, the laughter dissolves.

The two exhibits at Sumner Hall are related but different in their scope. The first floor personalizes the black work experience with names and excerpts of historical records of their lives. The second floor is a lens pulled back to a panoramic shot of the wider American work experience. Here, a labyrinth of photo panels has been set up, each panel depicting people at work—black, white, Asian, men, women—all doing their jobs: women switchboard operators and train mechanics, astronauts, watermen. While it is impossible to overlook the photograph of an African-American waiter entering a train dining car filled with well-dressed white passengers, it does not close my self-enquiry.


The Smithsonian, by deftly widening the scope shared work, has invited local organizations to share in some of the historical heavy lifting, at least as far as the sharper focus on the African American experience and although the stories reveal many successes of overcoming harsh indignities it should not be lost upon us that, like a good photographic image, negative space defines it.

And there is my father, sitting at his desk behind one of the Smithsonian panels. It is 1965, 20 years after submarine combat in the Pacific and he is opening a letter, reading it, thinking about it. “It’s from one of my torpedoman, thanking me for saving his life. One of the best damn black torpedo man’s mate in the g’dam Navy,” he says. But ‘black’ is not the word he uses.

I’m confused. Praise, derision, and contempt are a bewildering choir of messages. How do we unlearn the voices within us? And where did they come from?

Like a primitive abacus, the brain calculates and classifies the differences: other, not other, good, bad, less than, equal. The book of natural selection and adaption explaining the difference in skin color and nutritional metabolism, tribalism, and in-group trust. The human genome project even points back as far as the Pleistocene era as a marker for human discrimination between the loved in-group and the feared out-group. We have to look no farther than the recent immigration ban to feel the ancient sting of fear of otherness.

For the two exhibits at Sumner Hall to work synchronously, to walk back and forth in our minds between a 19th-century ex-slave and a white woman astronaut—Sally Ride is displayed—is to enter the cardinal inquiry. For a few minutes we can begin to sense that in our endeavor to survive we are the same, building things with our hands, working as mechanics and farmers, physicians and taxi drivers, whatever it takes to get along, to succeed, to advance, Walt Whitman’s universal man.I walk through the gauntlet of the Smithsonian installation and stare into the faces of people at work. They are us. Working to live.

It is 1954, my father, mother and I are driving to Florida. At a rest stop, there is an African American, old to my 6 years. On his bicycle, he has all his worldly possessions wrapped in cloth. My father gets out of the car, talks to the man for some minutes, reaches into his pocket and gives the man some money. He returns, says the man migrates to Florida every year in his bicycle.

Tomorrow he will tell a racist joke but for a moment I saw an act of kindness override his inherited attitude. It gets complicated like that and it’s up to us sort through and re-evaluate our own biases and open our minds to the understanding that we are all passengers. Otherwise, we continue to throw fuel onto the burning cross.

The Smithsonian and Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience exhibit give us a place to have this kind of meditation. It’s a serious gift and Sumner Hall is the perfect place to unwrap it.

“The Way We Worked” exhibit will be at Sumner Hall through May 20th. For the many lectures, exhibits, musical performance and dramatic performances related to the event, go here.

Benchworks, The Peoples Bank, Silver Hill Farm, Phoenix Initiatives, Chesapeake Bank and Trust, The Finishing Touch, Grasmick Lumber and Shrewsbury Church are sponsors of these events. Without this kind of community and local business support, exhibits like these would never give us the opportunity to discover our shared passage of life, the commonality rather than the differences.

I remind everyone that Sumner Hall is now a self-funding private non-profit. We must work together to keep its doors open. For more information, please go here



Profiles in Recovery: Vincent Douglas


It took Vincent Douglas a near-death experience to reevaluate his life and while that event would rock most of us into a self-assessment mode, for Douglas it required a life or death decision: did he want to die as a heroin addict or work toward a life of recovery.

The Spy caught up with the 28-year-old at the A.F. Whitsitt Center’s Recovery in Motion (RIM) 18 months after making his decision to live and talked with us about his pathway to a new life and his dedication as a peer counselor to carry a message of hope to others suffering from addiction.

Reflecting on his past, Douglas says, “I didn’t sign up for the lifestyle I lived. It happened and now I use that as a tool to help others. When I came here, I had nothing, I was nothing, so I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

As a peer counselor at RIM, his experience as an addict paired with his own recovery program opens the door for communicating with those suffering from the disease of addiction. Speaking a common language is the centerpiece of establishing trust in a peer recovery environment.

Recovery in Motion (RIM) “Offers a wide range of services that provide our community with the tools to increase their well-being.  Support includes  individual & group counseling, behavioral health education/prevention, peer support and care coordination to assist persons in recovery with behavior and addiction issues.”


This video is approximately 7 minutes in length.  More about A.F. Whitsitt Center in Kent County may be found here.


Spy Moment: WKHS Rocking Out for Support


This week Kent County High School’s radio station WKHS 90.5 FM has been counting down to play Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” the first song the student radio station aired forty-three years ago.

The 43rd anniversary countdown, conceived as a fundraising event, offers music selected from each decade of the station’s operation. Friday will wrap up the weeklong segment of the ongoing radiothon with this decade’s music along with their signature tune,”Rocket Man.”

Station Manager Chris Singleton gave the Spy a tour on Tuesday and discussed the need for community support during an era of uncertain financial support while pointing out the need for overhauling the interior ‘temporary’ walls along with replacing the long degraded sound-baffling materials and outdated equipment. “As you can see, over the years the original material has decomposed and even the baffling we replaced it with has deteriorated,” he says.

WKHS is one of the most powerful student radio stations in the country, boasting 17,500 watts for a clear signal as far as sixty miles away. For forty-three years the station has been an educational platform for students and a labor of love for volunteers who provide on-air talent during the evening.

Between 35 and 50 students are involved in the station at any given time. “It requires some complex scheduling,” Singleton says. “These are still classes with period buzzers so there’s a lot of rotation going on to stay on the air. But one of the things I like to instill in the students is that it’s like going to work. You can’t be late and you can’t skip it.”

WKHS 90 FM will continue the fund drive throughout the summer. Have a story about your time at Kent County High School? Call, share and make a pledge.

And if you have never come across the fun and eclectic broadcast station, you’ve either just moved here or never turn on your radio. It’s a treat. High school students at their best.

Gabriel Warner is seen DJing at the beginning of the video.

This video is approximately six minutes in length To make a pledge call 410-778-4249 or 410-778-8100, 9 AM to2 PMM daily. For online donations go here.


Cliff’s Schoolhouse Looks For New Owner


Somewhere out there, someone is needing to own and curate a little bit of Eastern Shore history.

How about a mint-condition 135-year-old school complete with a pot-bellied stove, lesson assignments on the blackboard and the sounds of children playing “Red Rover” and “Simon Says” echoing down the decades?

Local non-profit Preservation, Inc. hopes to find a new owner for Cliff’s Schoolhouse, Kent County’s only existing one-room school. Preservation Inc. was the driving force behind saving the GAR Charles Sumner Hall.

Built in 1878, the quintessential “little red school house” on Quaker Neck Landing near Pomona was one of several small schoolhouses serving children of local farming and watermen through seven grades. In its day, the schoolhouse would rely on neighbors for water, the older children trekking buckets to and from local houses

In its day, the schoolhouse would rely on neighbors for water and emergency care if a student fell ill and twice a year the site for community social events.

Some years before her death in 2003, Thelma Vansant reminisced about her first teaching job at Cliff’s School in 1928 writing “We had few materials furnished. I bought extra crayons, colored paper, and pencils. We often made do or improvised.” Despite the hardships—cold winters, impassable muddy roads—Vansant said “the first big thrill of my first year was to have my six little first grade boys reading by Christmas. The older children joined in helping the younger ones.”

Since its closure in 1939, the gable-roofed, single room structure has been owned, managed, and renovated by several non-profit groups. Currently, Port of Chester Questers, with assistance from the Retired Teachers Association, manage the historical one-room building, opening it weekly to the public, and caretaking the grounds.

Preservation Inc., a driving force behind saving Sumner Hall GAR building from demolition, will make a presentation to the County Commissioners at Tuesday night’s meeting with the hope that the county might consider becoming the schoolhouse’s new proprietor. Terms are negotiable.

“The yearly taxes and maintenance fees run about $2,000 a year,” says Chris Havemeyer, founder of Preservation, Inc.


For serious inquiries, call 410-778-1399


Mid-Shore Health Future: The Risks of Repealing the ACA on the Shore with Jeananne Sciabarra


On Thursday, Jeananne Sciabarra, Executive Director of Consumer Health First spoke at the Democratic Club of Kent County about the implications of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.”

Founded in 2006 as the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform, the organization transitioned into CHF in 2016 with the same mission: to work collaboratively to promote health equity through access to comprehensive, high-quality and affordable health care for all Marylanders.

While the impact of repealing and replacing ACA with the currently proposed American Health Care Act (ACHA) would cause profound changes to healthcare nationwide, Sciabarra focused on what Marylanders, and specifically Congressional District, 1 would lose.

Talking about the rollback of Medicaid expansion, Sciabarra said that “the bottom line is that will push back the matching (between state and federal) to 50-50 which is going to make it extremely expensive for Maryland to continue that provision.” She added that on top of that, a block grant per capita system for each person enrolled in Medicaid would force the state to decide who doesn’t get services.

Also, in regard to hospitals, Sciabarra noted that Maryland has a unique rate-setting system that provides services at the same rate anywhere in the state and that during the expansion of Medicaid, uninsured costs went down $311 million between 2013-2015, and that with set amounts or “global budgets” hospitals were incentivized to participate in wellness programs to help people stay healthy and out of the hospital. A rollback of those kinds of programs would have a “catastrophic” effect on people not covered in the health exchange, especially older people.

The district’s uninsured rate has gone from 8.3% to 4.1% since the ACA was implemented. This 4.2 percentage point drop in the uninsured rate could be reversed if the ACA is entirely or partially repealed.

401,400 individuals in the district who now have health insurance that covers preventative services like cancer screenings and flu shots without any co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles stand to lose this access if the Republican Congress eliminates ACA provisions requiring health insurers to cover essential preventative services without cost-sharing.

445,400 individuals in the district with employer-sponsored health insurance are at risk of losing important consumer protections like the prohibition on annual and lifetime limits, protection against unfair policy recession, and coverage of pre-existing health conditions if the ACA is entirely or partially repealed.

15,800 individuals in the district who have purchased high-quality marketplace coverage now stand to lose their coverage if the Republican Congress dismantles the Marketplaces.

11,800 individuals in the district who received financial assistance to purchase Marketplace coverage in 2016 are now at risk of coverage becoming unaffordable if the Republican Congress eliminates the premium tax credits.

8400 individuals in the district who are receiving cost-sharing reductions to lower out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance, are now at risk of healthcare becoming unaffordable is the Republican Congress eliminates cost-sharing reductions.

32,900 individuals in the district who are covered by the ACA’s Medicaid expansion now stand to lose coverage if the Republican Congress eliminates the Medicaid expansion.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information about Consumer Health First please go here. Sources: US Department of Health and Human Services, Urban Institute, Families USA, The Commonwealth Fund, National Women’s Law Center.

New Series: The One Thing

Bill Drazga, with many ukuleles.

Bill Drazga, with many ukuleles.

The Spy decided to take advantage of a warm day by visiting some of Chestertown’s shops and asking “What’s the one thing people should know about your business today.”

Our first stop in this new series was Music Life on High Street where we ran into Bill Drazga who was in the middle of stringing a violin.

So, what’s the one thing people should know, Bill?

Short pause. Lightbulb and widening smile.

“The one thing would be that we are about to head into our Spring semester at Music Life at the Eastern Shore School of Music and we invite any, all ages, with an interest in any instrument to come in and find out more about our classes and even take an evaluation lesson to determine the right instructor for them.”

Sounds good to us.

Check out musiclifedelmarva.com or call 410-778-7010 to find out more.

Sweet: Figg’s Ordinary Opens March 15


If you are one of those people whose eyes cross when you hear the words “gluten-free”, keep them closed and have someone guide you to Figg’s Ordinary because on March 15 Ingrid Hansen will introduce you to a gluten-free and refined sugar-free world abundant with gourmet fare.

The custom-designed bakery and store joining the enclave of Old Mill Shops at 200 South Cross St. will be open 6 days a week and serve gluten-free and refined sugar-free breakfast and lunch.

“Breakfast menu offerings include quiche, various warm grains, and house made yogurts. The lunch menu features salads, soups, sandwiches, and a selection of pastries,” Hansen says.

Ingrid Hansen talks with guests at her Figg's Ordinary Sneak Peak last week. The bakery will open March 15.

Ingrid Hansen talks with guests at her Figg’s Ordinary Sneak Peak last week. The bakery will open March 15.

Figg’s Opening Menu offers examples of delights to come: a Protein Powerhouse salad with choices of romaine or kale, hardboiled egg, roasted chickpeas or got feta cheese, plus fresh carrots and sprouted pumpkin, sunflower, hemp and flax seeds, topped with shaved coconut; or a Guacamole by way of Morocco Sandwich with plain or buckwheat focaccia bread, mashed avocado, lemon juice, chopped hardboiled egg with splash of pepper and harissa.

All items will be available for take-out and custom orders will be welcomed, and ingredients are listed for every menu item.  Many vegan options will also be available and all ingredients are locally grown.

Figg’s Ordinary — formerly the Old Mill Bakery and Café—has been completely renovated as a sleek glass and stainless steel open kitchen and bakery (Hansen also does interior design). Several round tables and quirky-cool chairs from the Naval Academy make for a cozy dining area and outdoor tables will be added this spring.

Many in the community remember Ingrid Hansen from 2015's Saturday Market and are excited she is opening a permanent bakery and store.

Many in the community remember Ingrid Hansen from 2015’s Saturday Market and are excited she is opening a permanent bakery and store.

Hansen isn’t new to Chestertown. She and her wife, Lynn, have been splitting their time between DC suburbs and Chestertown for the last two decades, originally attracted to the Eastern Shore for its access to horseback riding.

“We really consider Chestertown our home. It’s the place we chose to raise our two girls, Claire and Lorentz. Claire graduated from Washington College in 2014 and Lauren is a senior at the University of Chicago. They think of Chestertown as home.”

The newly-minted restaurateur has not always been involved in the food industry. With an academic background as an art historian, her own gallery in DC, plus an MBA that led her into international trading, a restaurant seemed like an unlikely part of her trajectory.

Figg's Ordinary will be a Zero-Waste site and suggest customers bring their own refillable cups. They can also buy one of local artist/potter Marilee Schumann's special Figg's cups.

Figg’s Ordinary will be a Zero-Waste site and suggest that customers bring their own refillable cups or they can use one of local artist/potter Marilee Schumann’s special Figg’s cups.

“When the recession hit in 2008, the art gallery world struggled and I decided to get out.”

It was about this time that Hansen decided to experiment with gluten-free baking.

“I’ve been baking since I was 12, throwing yeast all over the place, so I decided to try something different and I discovered how much better I felt when I cut out gluten and refined sugar. Also, my daughter Lorentz seemed to have some sort of food allergies that couldn’t be pinpointed, so we tried gluten-free with her and it made a world of difference,” she said.

Noting that the standard American diet uses white flour, refined sugar and processed food stripped of most nutritional value, Hansen hopes that people don’t get hung up on the notion that gluten-free products are bland because that’s far from the case.

Gluten intolerance has been on the medical radar for some time, most notably as celiac disease which affects about 1% of the population. Millions of others, however, may benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets, citing depression, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, skin problems, painful inflammation in their joints, bloating and abdominal pains as possible indications of gluten sensitivity.

David Johnson, former chef at Kent Center and Culinary Institute of America graduate will be assisting Hansen in the new bakery.

David Johnson, former chef at Kent Center and Culinary Institute of America graduate will be assisting Hansen in the new bakery.

In 2015, Hansen tried another experiment—to sell her gluten-free and refined sugar-free goods at Chestertown’s Saturday Market. It was a surprise success and the encouragement from the community to open a permanent bakery and store.

“I was amazed at the number of people at Saturday Market who were well-informed about food allergies and aware of their dietary needs or just curious about healthier eating,” she says.”

Figg’s Ordinary joins a growing number of health-related businesses that may become a new facet in defining Chestertown’s strength’s and opportunities.

“There’s an increasing number of health practitioners in Kent County. From acupuncturists and yoga instructors to herbal therapies and nutritionists, and I think we will see it grow. There are more plans afoot for collaboration between businesses and room for others to join.”

Hansen also wants to strengthen the community’s health network by participating in hospital nutrition programs and with other organizations.

What’s next?

“I’m going to try going wheat-free and see how that goes, ” she says. “But what really gives me joy is working with people and introducing them to a new food experience. See you on March 15.”

And how did she arrive at the name, Figg’s? The Spy thinks you should go in and ask her.

207 S. Cross Street Suite #102
Chestertown, Maryland
 (410) 693-188
Facebook: Figg’s Ordinary

Wednesday-Monday  7:00 am – 3:00 pm

Closed Tuesdays