Harmony on High Street – Legacy Day 2017

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1923 Model T was the oldest car in Legacy Day 2017 parade.

Now in its fourth year, Legacy Day in Chestertown has become one of the town’s signature events. Organized by the Historical Society of Kent County with numerous local sponsors, this year’s Legacy Day honored African-American teachers and celebrated Kent County’s African-American history and culture.

Soulfied Village provided the music.

Saturday night, August 19, the block of High Street facing Fountain Park was closed to traffic – and open to dancing to the sounds of Soulfied Village, a nine-member Centreville-based band, and to records spun by DJ Stansbury.

Across the street from the park, the Kent County Historical Society’s Bordley Center was open for visitors to view displays honoring the African-American teachers and educators in the county’s schools during the segregation era. The exhibit will remain open for several weeks.  The window display alone is worth stopping by for.  Some thirty of the teachers and family members featured in the exhibit were in attendance – some from as far away as Georgia.

Retired music teacher Mary Clark (in yellow) sways with the music.

Saturday’s events began with a genealogy workshop, led by Jeanette Sherbondy and Amanda Tuttle-Smith of the Historical Society, at Kent County Public Library. A  luncheon for the teachers took place at Janes United Methodist Church, followed by a public concert by the men’s choir of Janes Church.

The evening’s Legacy Day celebration began with a parade down High Street. Lauretta Freeman, the Legacy Day Grand Marshal, led the parade in a vintage Buick convertible. The remainder of the teachers, appropriately riding in a school bus, followed close behind. They dismounted to take their place of honor opposite the bandstand.

Rev. Ellsworth Tolliver greets Grand Marshal Lauretta Freeman. Alan Johnson driving.

Tolliver, himself a former teacher, announced each teacher’s name and subject or grade taught.  And each name was received with applause and cheers from the audience, many of whom remembered these teachers from their own school days.

As the rest of the parade rolled by, Tolliver introduced the various entries – from classic cars to marching units to dancing groups – with wit and style. And then Soulfied Village took over and the evening’s festivities began in earnest.

A number of service organizations were on hand to provide food and drinks for the large crowd.  Offerings included barbecue ribs, fried fish, hot dogs and hamburgers. The Historical Society teamed up with the Garfield Center for beer and wine sales.The Garfield Center for the Arts and the Kent County Democrats each had a booth.

Other venders were set up in Fountain Park, interspersed with families picnicking and enjoying the seasonable weather. The Kent County Democrats had a voter registration booth, and artists Alan Johnson and Samuel Moore had a joint exhibit. Other venders offered toys, jewelry, clothing – even cupcakes.

As with previous Legacy Day celebrations, the atmosphere was congenial and celebratory, which, a week after Charlottesville, gives hope for the future.   There were no disturbances.  The crowd, estimated at over a thousand, was diverse in all aspects – all races, all ages – from infants to grandparents, from all walks of life, some in jeans and t-shirts, some dressed up, all having a good time, dancing, talking, eating, and just enjoying the evening.

The festivities continued till 10 p.m., when the band concluded its last set and packed up just before a brief shower moved in.

Legacy Day 2017 was sponsored by the Historical Society of Kent County, in partnership with the Hedgelawn Foundation, Garfield Center for the Arts, C. V. Starr Center, Kent County Arts Council, and Music in the Park, a program of the Town of Chestertown, along with a host of other contributors.  Now we look forward to Legacy Day 2018!

Photo Gallery below.  Photography by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

The school bus arrives carrying the teacher honorees, representatives, and family members.

The Parade

Buffalo Soldiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Longing for Love by George Merrill

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The tragic clash in Charlottesville recently and the president’s disappointing equivocation about its perpetrators is one more toxin added to the already poisoned atmosphere in which Americans live daily.

I’ve seen selfless service and goodness exercised in public life: Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Wiesel, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dag Hammarskjold and Shimon Peres – to name a few. These are the men and women I’d want my children to emulate. They’re strong and loving people. They care. My concern is that today’s young people are being fed a steady diet of cynicism through sensationalistic media outlets, which, by the way, Americans devour voraciously.

I believe our national discontent indicates a deep hunger for inspired leadership, for authenticity and for the hope that can lift us up and help us live the greatest challenge to our existence: how to love one another. Loving one another is the ultimate challenge in life. Everything else is secondary. Inspiration and hope are available, but today you have to look hard. It’s like panning for gold in a streambed. The constantly moving water stirs up dirt and obscures the gold.

How shall we “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land,” is a challenge as relevant today as it was over two thousand years ago when the grieving psalmist, longing for his true home, first spoke these words.

Thomas Merton is a name well known in and out of religious circles. Seven Story Mountain, his autobiography written in 1948, concerned his conversion to Catholicism and his eventual entrance into the Trappist community. The story fascinated believers and non-believers alike. I read it as a teen-ager and I remember little of it. I do recall the feeling that it temporarily awakened in me. It was that feeling all of us have had at one time or another. It’s when on a dark night, we watch the stars and a feeling of awe becomes visceral, working itself up from deep within us and lodging in our throats. Merton’s spiritual vision extended beyond the banks of conventional religion to excite people’s imagination about the awe inspiring wonders of spiritual awareness.

I was surprised to read not long ago about how, years after he wrote it, Merton began to critically examine his own motives in writing it. He had uneasy feelings about it’s tone which he regarded as condescending, giving the impression that the cloistered life of the monk was the ideal spiritual path to follow.

What amazed me was how a spiritual giant like Merton who could “speak with the tongues of men and of angels,” still retained a fearless openness, curiosity and transparency. He was able to take a hard look at himself and what he was about. In one sense, his own spiritual growth process spoke even more loudly about living a life of spiritual depth, perhaps even more than did his thoughts he wrote about earlier. He was not dogmatic and hardwired to defend ideas he once held. He enjoyed enough of the spirit of wisdom to understand that spirituality is a process of constant change, not static “beliefs” that demand unquestioned loyalty.

Years later he said of his book, “this is the work of a man I have never even heard of.” He knew his spirit still missed something and he still hungered.

In 1958 he had an experience that again changed his life, but this change, in my estimation, is the most profound.

He was still writing and had been in Louisville Kentucky to meet his publisher. Merton was walking though a shopping district at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets. He became acutely aware of all the people around him. He was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that he loved them all. In his words: “ . . . they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness.” He recognized “the secret beauty of their heart.” He described them as shining brilliantly like the sun.” He goes on to say: “If only we could see each other that way all the time; there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

Big problem? Not in my book. That’s a more excellent way than shooting each other, driving cars into crowds and bombing innocents in market places.

I know we hunger for a vision of ourselves and our nation that inspires and lift us up. Witnessing to love is the most compelling vision of all.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Food Friday: Cool Beans!

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We are still a few weeks away from Labor Day. Despite the constant heat it feels a little bit like fall is on its way. Maybe it is all the back-to-school sales. Maybe it is just wishful thinking. I have seen leaves falling in the back yard. They are probably just as exhausted and as exasperated with the weather as I am. I’m still avoiding the heat in the kitchen. I have a new Tana French mystery I would like to read, rather than wending my way around the kitchen, making something for dinner.

A perfect summer meal is something that you can prepare once, enjoy mightily, and then serve another couple of times. Poor Mr. Friday. Last night we had tuna salad-filled peppers, with a pasta dish and a green salad on the side. (Shades of my childhood!) Lucky me though – there’s enough left over for a couple of lunches. Luke the wonder dog and I can go sit out on the back porch after lunch. He enjoys soaking up the solar energy with his black coat. You’ll find me tucked back in a shadowy corner, sneaking in another chapter of The Trespasser before I head back into the Spy offices. We don’t get out for lunch much, and tuna is a step up from our usual peanut butter crackers.

Garden report: I pulled out the leggy tomato plants last weekend. They didn’t fare well when we were on vacation, and were looking very sad and droopy. And quite frankly, I was fighting a losing battle with the birds, who insisted on first dibs. I will concede that the birds deserved the blueberries that they stripped from the bushes – they being early risers where I am not. But the tomatoes were different. I had gauzy Italianate visions of fresh tomatoes and creamy burrata dinners, with tasty wine and the attentive Mr. Friday. These fantasies were dashed by the birds who were peckish, destructive and selfish. Back to the farm stand I will go for some red, ripe, intact tomatoes.

The containers that held my tomato dreams are now home to the new herb farm. Basil, parsley, rosemary, mint and a few cheerfully yellow marigolds. There are three basil plants, soon to be the basil bushes (I hope), supplying elements of interest to salads for the next month, and then forming the basis for clever warm meals come fall. I do not know if the birds have an appetite for these particular herbs. I hope not.

We are having house guests this weekend, and they are folks we haven’t seen for a long time. I’ve been getting ready in so many odd ways. Do you think they will notice that I weeded the window boxes? Or that I touched up the paint on the wall near the recycling basket? More importantly, I have laid in a supply of wine and nibbles. Which is more to the point, I think. Today I am going to do a little prep work so we have lots of time to enjoy each other, and lots of time to eat and drink and talk our heads off. I’m thinking a nice cool bean salad at dinner, that can be broken out at lunch again on Sunday. They are driving down from Connecticut, so we want to make it worth their drive time, and introduce them to a few flavors of the south. http://gardenandgun.com/recipe/chef-david-bancrofts-butterbean-salad/?

But Mark Bittman, one of oury household gods, has something even easier: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/05/mark-bittmans-green-beans-with-crisp-shallots.html I can handle a little blanching and sautéing on a summer morning. This is a meal I can prepare in advance, and by the bushel, so we will be well-supplied for the weekend.

I am going to get a little crafty, and in honor of the solar eclipse on Monday I will be baking some homemade moon pies. Thanks, Garden & Gun for all your help this week! I will be waddling a little more than usual when walking Luke the wonder dog! http://gardenandgun.com/recipe/anatomy-of-a-classic-do-it-yourself-moon-pies/

“After luncheon the sun, conscious that it was Saturday, would blaze an hour longer in the zenith…”
― Marcel Proust

All Welcome at the Community Feast!

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Brandon, David Ryan (pastor both First United Methodist Church & Christ United Methodist Church), Cheryl Hoopes (coordinator for the weekly dinners)

Have you been to the Monday Community Dinner at First United Methodist Church in Chestertown? You’re invited. You’re missing a real treat if you haven’t been yet.  The food is quite good.  It’s all fresh and prepared that afternoon by community volunteers. And it’s free, yes, that’s right, free – though donations are accepted.

The church is the big red brick one on the hill with white trim and columns and a tall steeple.  There’s lots of convenient parking on Park, Mill, or Calvert Streets.  Use the side entrance to the church and come down the stairs to the basement.  Tables will be already setup with napkins and silverware.  They use real plates and utensils – no paper unless you request one of the take-out boxes, which are recyclable.  Dinner is served starting at 5:30. Reservations are not needed but we recommend you get there by at least 6 p.m. to avoid having any of your favorite items run out.

First United Church – facing High St. on the corner of Mill Street.   For the community dinner go in the side door on Mill St. then down stairs on the right

Begun by the Rev. David Ryan in September 2016, the Monday dinners regularly serve between 75 and 100 community members, most of them regulars. The cafeteria-style meals feature a generous choice of main courses, desserts, and beverages. There is a dinner every Monday, even if it’s a holiday, Ryan said.

The church kitchen is spacious and Spic-and-Span clean.

Voluntary donations help support the meal, which Ryan estimates costs $2 to $3 a serving. Even many of the low-income diners chip in a dollar or two, while others sometimes donate as much as they’d pay in a restaurant. And the “customers” represent all ages and income levels. Ryan said the donations jar typically yields $75-150 toward the cost of the meal.

150 ears of “cooler corn” with a crockpot of melted butter to dip them in. Picked that day and donated by Redman Farms

Much of the food is donated to the church from local farms and gardens, restaurants, and grocery stores. The first time we went, J.R.’s Lemon Leaf Café provided mashed potatoes while some of the vegetables came from the Kent County Middle School garden, and Redman Farms had donated 150 ears of corn on the cob.

The corn, by the way, was “cooler corn.”  We had seen coolers full of corn at picnics and reunions before but had never realized it had a recipe.  We just thought that corn was cooked in the regular way on the stove then put in the cooler.  But no, it turns out you cook the corn right in the cooler!  Who knew?  You just fill a clean hard-sided cooler (no styrofoam, please) with corn.  Pour in boiling water.  Close the cooler.  Load it in the car.  By the time you get to the party, the corn is ready. And the cooler will keep it warm for hours.  A quick Google search will reveal lots of recipes, reviews, and discussions of cooler corn.  Ours was delicious!

During the school year, the Washington College dining hall donates surplus food. Restaurants and schools often donate food that was prepared but not served.  In most cases, the food would have been thrown out if not for the church dinner.  College students also help with the preparation and serving when classes are in session. Emmanuel Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown also help with preparation, especially when Pastor Ryan is out of town. Other volunteers set tables, work the cafeteria-style serving line, wash dishes, and make sure everything runs smoothly.  All were clearly having a good time.

This family had four generations with them at the dinner.

David Ryan, pastor of the two Methodist churches, cooks and helps with cleanup, too.

Preparation begins early in the afternoon, around 1:00 pm when Pastor Ryan and parishioner Cheryl Hoopes arrive.  They begin the prep and setup, see what is in the pantry and do all the other things included in planning and preparing a dinner for a hundred people.  Ryan joins in the cooking. Cheryl Hoopes, who coordinates volunteers, said that Ryan’s previous parish also had a regular dinner, but the church women wouldn’t allow him to help with the cooking. One of the reasons he started one in Chestertown was so he could get in the kitchen!  And he’s a good cook.  Just ask his wife!

Recent menus have included roast pork, stuffed peppers, corn on the cob, sauerkraut, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, applesauce, with a selection of cookies, cupcakes, and pies for dessert. Beverages included water and iced tea.

There is a  long dessert table each week.  And next to the dessert table is the take-home table with bread and vegetables and other items that anyone may pick up as you leave.  Some are from people’s gardens; others are items near their expiration dates donated by groceries or bakeries. If you prefer, you can get your meal in a recyclable take away box. The recyclable boxes, Ryan said, are a little more expensive than the more common styrofoam boxes, but he felt that being environmentally responsible was more important than saving a few cents. Only a few people opt to just get a takeaway box and leave right away.  Some eat at the church then fill up a box for a family member at home.

While many people sit with friends or family members — there are three- and four-generation families who come regularly — it’s also a good place to make new acquaintances. One volunteer brings his four grandchildren – all under the age of 10 – and the kids help on the clean-up crew. Ryan said the dinner has been an opportunity to meet many people who aren’t members of his congregation, including many from the immediate neighborhood of the church. Now many of them stop and talk to him on the street.

Come and join in.  Any Monday at 5:30 pm.  Perhaps you’ll become a regular or a volunteer, too.  Tell ’em the Spy sent you!

Photos by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

                                                                         Some of the “regulars.”

Cans bought or donated and ready to go.

Cupboards and drawers are all carefully labeled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take-Home Tables

Take-Home Table – Vegetables, often grown in local gardens and assorted other food items often donated by local groceries and bakeries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Profiles in Spirituality: Unitarian Universalism with the Mid-Shore’s Reverend Sue Browning

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According to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s own data, the U.U. Church currently has just under 200,000 members in the entire United States, and about two hundred of them attend church in Kent County or Talbot County on any given Sunday.

In comparison, the Episcopal Church, another relatively small denomination, has about 3,500 active members in the same region, while the Catholic faith comes close to having 7,000 adherents.

These numbers may suggest that the Unitarians represent a tiny part of the religious fabric on the Delmarva, but those statistics do not account for the extremely high level of activism these small congregations — one in Kent and the other Talbot County — participate in during the year in their communities. In fact, when one factors in contributions that the U.U. Church make locally in such critical areas of concern for social justice, immigration, and the environment, one then can one see the full impact of the Unitarian Universalists on the Mid-Shore.

And one person who sees that impact on an almost daily basis is the Reverend Sue Browning, who is in the unique role of being the minister of both the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton as well as the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River in Kent County.

The Spy sat down with Rev. Browning to talk a bit about Unitarian Universalism as a faith, which is liberal by nature and characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” In other words, Unitarian Universalist members do not accept a creed per se but are unified by a shared search for spiritual growth.

We also talked to Sue about the important role that faith, unconventional as it may be in the U.U. Church, plays in the life of its members, the spiritual dimensions of aging, and the need to exercise one’s compassion and gratitude like a muscle which will only gets stronger with time.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Mid-Shore Unitarian Universalist Churches, please go here for Chestertown and here for Easton

 

 

 

Saddle Shoes and The Kingdom of Heaven by George Merrill

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Getting to the right place for the wrong reasons is more the rule than an exception.

For a long time my parents were uncertain which church to affiliate with. My father had been raised Methodist, and my mother Dutch Reformed. Neither was an active churchgoer but – as many middle class people – they thought their children could use the respectability of some religious affiliation. Proximity I think finally clinched their decision: the Church of the Ascension was much closer to our house than either the Methodist or the Dutch Reformed Church. The parish was an easy walk from home so there was no need for transportation. My religious journey began not with aspirations to greater piety but for proximity and convenience. I was baptized there. I was ten at the time, considerably older than the typical baptismal candidate.

I had little sense of what baptism was about. The rite assured that I would become an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. At my age, these theological formulations went over my head and I remember my baptism now only because of the relief I felt that my suit and especially my saddle shoes remained dry during the ritual. Prior to the baptism, my parents bought me a glen plaid suit and the shoes for the occasion. I was a clotheshorse and eager to wear my new clothes. The solemnity of the occasion was of secondary importance to me if I was aware of it at all.  Dressing up was first priority– a shallow motivation to be sure – but I was nevertheless respectfully clothed to claim whatever my new status was as a child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Even during the baptism my worldly desires dominated.

During the baptism, my head was slightly inclined over the baptismal font in preparation for the priest to pour water on top of my head. This was done three times in the name of the “Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”  I could think only of how to protect my saddle shoes from any cascading water. Fr. Rogers was skilled at this maneuver so the shoes remained dry while I received my new inheritance. For all the wrong reasons I was initiated into a spiritual community, which grew in importance as I became older and more aware.  I would say, the choice of that parish also turned out to be a good call, even as my parents, or me for that matter, had little if any sense of the implications that belonging to this community carried.

How many decisions do we make or in which we enthusiastically participate during our lives without having any idea of what’s really going on?  It’s probably most of them. Those decisions cause no great harm. A fortuitous outcome of many of mine has led me to believe there is an overarching reality that redeems us even as we muddle through life. To see such grace at work during our lives requires a hard look at the erratic course a life follows.

Voting, marriage, and buying a first home are three decisions I imagine most of us make while poorly informed. Studying up on your candidate, engaging in pre-marital counseling or contracting for a house inspection can offer some assurances that we’re acting with our eyes open. However wide our eyes may be opened, there are always surprises. Many blindside us but some are welcomed.

Scientists deal with this reality regularly. In investigating one phenomenon, they invariably discover something radically new and altogether different.

One day, scientist Perry Spencer of Raytheon was fiddling around with a microwave emitting magnetron used in radar when he felt an odd sensation in his pocket. He felt something sizzling. A chocolate bar in his pocket had begun melting. By a fluke he discovered what we know as today’s microwave ovens.

Navy engineer Richard James was experimenting to find ways to stabilize delicate instruments on ships that were always rolling and pitching at sea. What he inadvertently stumbled upon is what delights the heart of every child; the ubiquitous “Slinky.” Three hundred million sold worldwide.

There’s a spiritual message in this. It’s a dead-end to insist we have to get it right.  There’s a piece of scripture that has suggested this but only because it has been misinterpreted. “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” Know anyone who is up to that? If you do they will probably bore you to death. The English word ‘perfect’ is an inadequate rendition of a word that at its root means ‘compassionate.’ As human beings we are not challenged to “get it right” but to be compassionate, a far more challenging ideal. Aspirations to perfection lay an enormous burden on you and me. Perfectionists can drive themselves and everyone around them nuts.

The election of Ascension to be my spiritual home and the baptism that followed it was hardly the result of high-minded piety or idealism. It’s nevertheless where the full story began. I became a part of a nurturing community through my turbulent adolescence, aware of the healing power words and music while I discovered some of the timeless tools by which I could attempt to plumb the mysteries of God and of my own soul.

And all I knew when all this began was that my parents were delighted not to have to drive us to church and the saddle shoes remained dry during my initiation into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Delmarva Review: Clues to John Barth’s Genius: Jimmies, Jazz, and Scheherazade by John Lewis

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John Barth wanted to be a jazz musician. He played drums in a combo—with his twin sister, Jill, on piano—that gigged around Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and after high school graduation in 1947, he high-tailed it to New York City to study at Juilliard. “It was an absolutely clear and unambiguous experience to learn that what I had hoped was a pre-professional talent was, instead, a pretty good amateur flair,” he told me, over crab cakes at Easton’s Tidewater Inn. “This was the big band era, and I was studying orchestration. I was a drummer, but I didn’t want to spend my life on the road. Being an arranger sounded more respectable.”

Barth had hoped to emulate Billy Strayhorn and Pete Rugolo, his heroes. “But I knew from the first week at Juilliard that the young woman on my left and the young man on my right were going to be the professional musicians of their generation,” he recalled, “and I was going to have to look for something else to do.”

Barth actually has the angular and craggy appearance of a jazz musician, a look that’s accentuated by a closely clipped, white beard and the occasional beret atop his bald pate. But his personality is infused with professorial confidence and sharp wit, a testament to his rapport with the fiction muse he tapped after transferring to Johns Hopkins and finding “something else to do.”

“It was the opposite of what happened at Juilliard,” he said. “When I stumbled into fiction, I had the unequivocal feeling that this was my true calling: all I had to do was learn it from scratch.”

Barth felt the Cambridge education system left him largely unschooled. In fact, he has said “nothing since kindergarten prepared me for [college]” and noted that, despite being on the academic track in high school, his career counseling amounted to a 10-minute talk with the phys ed teacher.

I’ve heard folks question how a “backwater” like Dorchester County produced such a keen intellect, and—if you ignore the inherent snobbery of such a comment and consider Barth’s claim that his formal education was lacking—it is a mystery. Lord knows what it was like between the Depression and World War II, when Barth called Cambridge home. But he obviously got something vital from the Shore that informed his writing and worldview. And, it turns out it was

the perfect incubator for an autodidact with a pen- chant for brilliant meandering. In fact, meandering is something of a refined art in that part of the world, and it’s key to getting at the essence of Barth’s particular type of genius.

Meandering permeates just about everything in Dorchester County—from the unhurried and digressive conversations taking place on the street and in country stores to the flatness of the landscape itself, which is characterized by its tangle of curving roads and bending shoreline intersected by cuts and creeks and other bodies of water that rise and fall with the moon.

Coupled with the flatness, such undulating and fluid geography is endlessly fascinating, though it can be downright disorienting, and it’s no wonder Barth had to look beyond the horizon to his “navigation stars” for direction. Barth told me he considers Scheherazade—the female storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights—one of his “principal navigation stars.”

“With her life ever on the line, only as good as her next piece, Scheherazade remains for me the most piquant emblem of the storyteller’s lot,” says Barth.

These days, Barth, whose noted books include The Sot-Weed Factor, The Tidewater Tales, Giles Goat Boy, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, and the Scheherazade- inspired The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories, is now a navigation star in his own right. He gets mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce and is considered one of the greatest figures in world literature. He’s swooped in and out of the mainstream, won the National Book Award (for Chimera in 1973), and influenced the likes of David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Lethem. He’s actually achieved adjective status— Barth-ian, or Barth-like is synonymous with intelligent, metafictive, postmodern literature.

Thinking a map might be useful in navigating around Barth’s hometown, I was in luck: the Cambridge library has put together a Barth walking tour. With commentary from the author himself, a map directs pilgrims to sites of interest, which include his boyhood home on Aurora Street, his grandparents’ house on the corner of Maryland Avenue, and, according to Barth’s comments, “East Cambridge Elementary school, where I once got paddled for writing a naughty poem about our teacher, my introduction to the pleasures and pains of authorship.”

The tour leads down to the river—again, in Barth’s words—“The Choptank rivershore at Aurora Street’s foot, where we kids [including my twin sister, Jill] played year-round, and the Route 50 bridge nearby, where we swam and dived among summer sea nettles.”

More than a baptism, Barth equates his immersion in these waters with life itself. “I never tire of remembering that the salinity of these waters is about the same as that of the amniotic sea that we all first swam in,” he told the Dorchester County Friends of the Library during a 2005 talk. A copy of Barth’s text is on file there.

At the riverfront—which is still accessible, although you’ll have to maneuver around a hospital that’s been built in the intervening years—it’s easy to see what captivated Barth and fired his imagination. From this spot, small waves approach from the horizon to lap against a shoreline that stretches out on both sides. Looking up, you’ll see the Choptank River Bridge leading north to Baltimore and Washington. Looking down, you’ll find teeming life at your feet, an entire ecosystem just below the surface: minnows, patches of sea grasses, jellyfish, and the occasional blue crab.

The Maryland blue crab remains a potent symbol of the region, and it flourished in the bay’s brackish waters when Barth was a boy. In the summertime, the Choptank’s waters were teeming with hard crabs, soft crabs, and peelers— jimmies (males) and sooks (females) alike—scurrying sideways across the river bottom. They not only caught Barth’s eye, they subtly influenced his approach to writing. In fact, Barth tells me he comes at subjects sideways, “as blue crabs incline to do.”

Here, the crab becomes symbolic of postmodern literature, with regards to crafting Barth-ian metafiction in which the storyteller moves sideways through streams of information to systematically and subtly change perspective along a narrative bend. That’s the way Barth thinks, writes, and speaks.

In conversation, he can sound downright annotated, as I learned during lunch. When discussing novellas, for instance, Barth noted, “The market for them is gone.” He added commentary, “an interesting form that was popular from the time it was invented,” along with when (the 18th-century), where (Germany), and who popularized it (Goethe). He opined that it is “a lovely narrative space.”

He then playfully defined a novella as “a work of fiction too long to sell to a magazine and too short to sell to a book publisher.”

And finally, he offered advice: “When you perpetrate one, you usually need to add on a few short stories [in order to sell it].”

An Eastern Shore native would recognize, if not the subject matter, the measured pacing and wry tone of such comments. It’s the same sort of discursive storytelling that’s been going on for generations around potbellied stoves, across shop counters, and on docks and wharves throughout Dorchester. Barth relishes being that sort of meandering storyteller, (not so) plain and (not so) simple.

The locals say he got the storytelling gene from his father, Whitey. At the house where he wrote his first novel, The Floating Opera—it’s part of the walking tour— the current owner was out sweeping the sidewalk when I visited. At the mention of the Barth name, he lit up. “He was a natural storyteller, the best you ever heard,” he said, leaning on his broom. “He was extremely erudite.”

But this guy wasn’t talking about John Barth, who’s known as “Jack” around town; he was talking about Whitey. “If Jack could write as well as his father talked, he’d really be doing something,” he added. “It seems like Jack takes ten pages to tell something that could be told in one.” He set the broom aside and lauded Whitey’s storytelling prowess, noting that he had owned a popular soda fountain, called Whitey’s Candyland, on Race Street. Although the building has been torn down, the location is noted on the walking tour, and Barth recalls that it’s “where we all occasionally helped out but mostly hung out.”

Hanging out, he was exposed to storytelling as a lively and witty art courtesy of Whitey, who also served as judge of the Orphans Court for 44 years, worked with the volunteer fire company, was a devoted American Legion member, and was an in-demand after-dinner speaker at functions throughout the county. “By comparison to his life,” Barth has written, “my own (literary and academic) seems almost reclusively detached, its radius much wider but its roots far less deep.”

Where Whitey burrowed, his son scuttled.

Besides passing along the storytelling gene, Whitey helped expose his son to popular and modernist fiction. Barth devoured the paperbacks his father stocked at the shop, and it was there that he first encountered books by Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and H.P. Lovecraft, along with William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer.

He’d go on to devour books in the Hopkins library, where he shelved classics as a part time job and spent countless hours browsing the stacks and discovering the vastness and diversity of world literature. Like his Cambridge days, it left an indelible mark on his body of work. “If you happen to be a refugee from the Dorchester County tide marshes, as I was and remain,” Barth once told a Washington College audience, “and particularly if you aspire to keep one foot at least ankle deep back in your native bog while the other foot traipses through the wider world, it is well to have such an off-the-cart smorgasbord under your belt, for ballast.”

Barth returned to Cambridge for the unveiling of a historic marker honoring him, and, perhaps most tellingly, he’s set his last few books on the Shore.

His 2008 book, The Development, was comprised of nine related stories set in an Eastern Shore retirement community where “a failed old fart fictionist” (Barth’s words) named George Irving Newett lives. G.I. Newett. You can practically hear Whitey chuckling at that one.

Barth tells me, via email, that his forthcoming book features Newett as its narrator: “The novel’s full title is Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons. Title borrowed from Prospero’s remark in Shakespeare’s Tempest, of course (`Every third thought shall be my grave’); subtitle from the five seasons of the story’s present action (First Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Last Fall) and the corresponding `seasons’ of the narrator’s life.

“After an accidental trip-and-fall head-bang while [Newett and his wife] are touring Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, he experiences a series of five seasonal dreams/visions/hallucinations/whatever that trigger recollections of his boyhood, young manhood, maturity, and later age in `Bridgetown’ and adjacent `Stratford,’ in `Avon County’ on MD’s Eastern Shore.”

Barth, now 81 years old (in 2011), seems intent on coming home, again and again. When asked if this will be his last novel, he writes that “time will tell. Since its completion, I’ve written no further fiction.”

But Barth says he has started writing a piece about his years as a jazz musician— presumably doing so while keeping one foot at least ankle deep in his native bog.

John Lewis is editor at large at Baltimore magazine and teaches writing in the Curatorial Practice MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. This story was published in Volume 4 of the Delmarva Review, in 2011. His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Cambridge, MD with his wife and two children.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Food Friday: Stone Fruit

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Summer vacations are swift-moving bodies of water. They are cool, and refreshing. They eddy and spool around the shallows, then hurtle past, gurgling while you paddle for a leisurely afternoon or two in the dappled sunshine. And then you go home.

We have returned from a week of cooler temperatures at a little mountain house in western North Carolina. Our adventures there were much the same as here: daily trips to the grocery store and to farm stands. Everything was centered on food, but we got a chance to look up from our books, and appreciated the sound of the approaching wind through the tall trees. I sat on the porch one afternoon waiting for a rain shower to move through the little valley. It was delightful to be sitting in someone else’s creaky, listing wicker, instead on being firmly planted in front of my computer.

We were on holiday with our former Pesky Pescaterian daughter and her almost-three toddler son. She no longer shuns meat, but eats it in judgemental moderation now. She is more organic than we are, although we noticed her scarfing down the goldfish with as much enthusiasm as the Young Master. And the Young Master blithely ignored our well-intentioned attempts at serving him organic and virtuous meals by subsisting on a diet of strawberries, bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, and goldfish. He did have cheese pizza once, but only because he was held in such thrall by a parade of passing dump trunks that we could have given him liver and onions. Not that we ever would, of course.

Who knew that large machinery could be so fascinating? And who knew that there was so much construction happening this summer? We certainly managed to pick the best part of the universe as far as our toddler was concerned. On all our forays out of the house we spotted back hoes and excavators, dump trucks and steam rollers, bulldozers and motor graders, crawler loaders and trenchers. My. We all got an education. He was politely dismissive viewing all of the other sights we were so eager to point out to him: cows, goats, horses and acres of Christmas tree farms. He asked repeatedly for ducks, but we weren’t able to find any for him. Luckily there was always another truck on the horizon.

There was an intersection near the grocery store we frequented that was being enlarged. The parade of passing construction trucks was alluring enough to get him into the car seat (willingly) for our daily pilgrimage to the market, where the adults were most interested in dinner and snack fixings. Oh, and wine.

We needed a daily fix of summertime strawberries, blueberries, peaches and cherries. It was stone fruit season, and we couldn’t get enough. I had to break my summer rule about not using the stove for this recipe, but I think you will find it is well worth the momentary discomfort. You can go out on the back porch for a little while, and wait for a summer rain to come sailing through: http://www.bowenappetit.com/2012/07/11/peach-upside-down-cornmeal-skillet-cake-bye-bye-ca/

This is one which garnered the former Pescatarian’s approval, and it does not require a stove at all! Just a sharp knife and a major hunger factor. Have it for dinner or breakfast, after all, you are on vacation: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12558-minty-fruit-salad

Peach Melba does involve a little cooking – you have to poach the peaches – but do it early in the morning. That will leave you more time to watch Jungle Book again tonight. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/peach-melba-recipe-1946359

And we spent some time sitting in Adirondack chairs, watching the delighted future construction foreman playing with his trucks in a gravel bed, while we were sipping cocktails before dinner. This is perhaps the best use of stone fruit we could find, as cool and refreshing as the New River, in which we dipped our toes before squealing about how cold it was. Such delightful first world problems. This cocktail goes very well with goldfish. http://www.bowenappetit.com/2012/07/23/summer-cocktail-cherry-bourbon-fizz/

“There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh.” — James Salter

Legacy Day: Honoring Our History and Our Teachers

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From 1966 Tiger Yearbook – From L-R, Top Row (across the two pages) Miss R. Johnson (English), Mrs. B. Jones (Reading), Mr. L. Moore (Instrumental Music), Mrs. M. Niskey (Mathematics, English), Second Row Miss M. Jordan (Grade 3), Miss J. Macklin (Business Education), Mrs. C. Potts (Grade 1), Miss G. Powell (Physical Education, Health) Third Row Miss C. Malloy (French), Mrs. M. McNair ( Science), Mrs. F. Rideout (Special Education), Miss B. Robinson (Business Education, English)

August 18 and 19, the Historical Society of Kent County presents its fourth annual Legacy Day celebration of “Community, History and Culture.”

This year’s celebration recognizes the role of African American education and teachers in Kent County before the schools were integrated in 1967. As part of the celebration, members of the Historical Society contacted as many of the former teachers as they could, compiling a fascinating narrative of the history of Kent County Education more than 50 years ago. The results of their research were the foundation for the Historical Society’s “History Happy Hour” on August 4, and are summarized in an article by Bill Leary, available at the Historical Society’s Bordley Center at the corner of High and Cross streets in Chestertown.  Come by and pick one up during Legacy Day.

Eloise Johnson – Maryland State Teacher of the Year in 1974

The article goes well back into the early days of African American schools in the county, which were established in 1872, in response to a state law passed earlier that year. There were originally five schools for black children; however, as Leary notes, the black community had established a number of private schools before that date. By 1930, there were 22 schools for black students, many of them one- or two-room schools without plumbing or electricity. In 1916, the original Garnet Elementary School opened on College Avenue in Chestertown, across from Bethel A.M.E. Church. It became Garnet High School in 1923.  In 1950, a new building was constructed across the street,  next to Bethel Church, and was Kent County’s only African American high school until 1967, when all schools were integrated.  Garnet then became an integrated elementary school while both black and white students attended Chestertown High School.

Legendary Garnet principal Elmer T. Hawkins set the tone for education in the black community. Hawkins, a graduate of Morgan State College, served as Garnet’s principal for 41 of the 44 years that the building served as the high school for Kent County’s African-American students.  After integration in 1967, he served as the principal of the integrated Chestertown Middle School until his death in 1973.

Leary’s article drew on interviews from a number of retired teachers and their students and families to give a detailed picture of the place of the schools in the black community during the segregation era. Many of those teachers have agreed to return, several from as far away as Georgia, to take part in this year’s Legacy Day commemoration, which will include a reception honoring their contributions at Sumner Hall at 7 p.m. Friday, August 18.

Lauretta Freeman – 2017 Legacy Day Grand Marshall

The teachers will also ride in the Legacy Day parade at 5 p.m. Saturday, traveling a route from the Dixon Valve parking lot to Fountain Park, where the main celebration, including a concert and street dance, will take place. One of the teachers, Lauretta Freeman, grand marshal of the parade, is quoted widely in Leary’s article.

Master of Ceremonies for Legacy Day is Rev. Ellsworth Tolliver. Live music will be provided by Soulfied Village, with local band members Devone “Tweety” Comegys and Courtney McCloria Parson. Soulfied Village features songs of the Motown Era. T music begins at 6 p.m. and there will be a DJ during band breaks to ensure continuous music. Dancing in the streets is encouraged! Or bring a lawn chair and sit back and enjoy the festivities. High Street will be closed off between Cross and Spring Streets, and there will be vendors offering food and drinks, including a beer truck sponsored by the Historical Society.

There will be two additional Legacy Day activities earlier Saturday. A genealogy workshop at Kent County Public Library at 10 a.m. will give anyone interested in tracing family history the tools for doing their own research. The workshop will be conducted by Jeanette Sherbondy and Amanda Tuttle-Smith of the Historical Society. The workshop, like all Legacy Day activities, is free and open to all.

 

Elementary and high school teachers from 1953/54 school year. Garnet High School Principal Elmer T. Hawkins on right end of the first row

Saturday afternoon, at Janes United Methodist Church, on the corner of Cross and Cannon streets, there will be a concert by the Men’s Choir of Janes Church, honoring the African American teachers in song. The concert is from 1 to 3 p.m.

During the Legacy Day activities, the Bordley Center – on High Street at the intersection with Cross Street – will be open for visitors to view the displays created by the Historical Society. There will also be a silent auction with proceeds benefitting the Historical Society’s Legacy Day fund.

In just four years, Legacy Day has become one of Chestertown’s most popular events, attracting visitors – many of whom are returning home to honor their community’s history and culture – from the entire region. Add on the chance to dance away a summer night to live music, and you’ve got a sure-fire way to enjoy an evening.

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