The Dream by Jamie Kirkpatrick


I dreamed I went to Florida. One freezing, dark minute, I was on my way to BWI in a sudden snow squall, the next I was on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico wondering if SPF 15 would be a good place to start. There was a palm tree or two, a beach with blue-green water and downy soft sand, and a delicious concoction in my hand. I said to my wife, “Please don’t wake me up.”

Dreams come and go, but this one went on a week. There was hardly ever a cloud in the sky. The weather—good from the get-go—improved every day. We saw old friends and made new ones. We ate from the sea. We rode bikes. One evening, we went to a concert to hear the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (on its first US tour in 35 years) and violin prodigy Nicola Benedetti—google her; you can thank me later. There was a round of golf on a course redesigned by Jack Nicklaus, a minimal but obligatory amount of shopping, a nap or two (usually with the sound track of the sea in the background), and—most blessed of all—the gift of time together sans cell phones, FaceBook, lost keys, post-nasal drip, or any of the other petty dramas of daily living back in the “real world.”

Now remember: this was a dream.

In this dream, I lost twenty-five pounds. I broke par. I swam with a dolphin. There were two adjoining seats at every bar, each delicious meal was free, and I never felt a bit crunchy the morning after. My wife did not get a nasty cold. Nicky Benedetti winked at me.

Some people don’t dream in color, but I do. This one was tinted with soft pastel tones—pink, coral, aqua, and turquoise—with some dazzling notes of emerald and sapphire thrown in for good measure. There was bright bougainvillea everywhere, orchids dripped from the palm trees, and the air was scented with frangipani or was it just a touch of garlic? We found perfect sea shells along the shoreline. We rescued a baby turtle who distinctly said “I love you!” in Italian. The almond croissants at the local coffee shop were sugar-free and to-die-for. The front page photo in the newspaper showed President (Michelle) Obama signing a bill, passed unanimously by both houses of Congress, that would provide comprehensive health care to all Americans under a single-payer system. The American Express bill got lost in the mail.

At one point, I woke up and told my wife about what was happening. She laughed and said, “Honey: turtles might be able to speak Italian, but a single payer system? You must be dreaming!” I went back to sleep.

But maybe that old wizard Prospero was right all along: we really are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little lives are rounded with a sleep. If so, then maybe—just maybe—what passes for waking is only ephemera and one day turtles will speak Italian and all our other dreams will come true.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

All Things Being Equal by Jamie Kirkpatrick


We just passed the vernal equinox, that moment of celestial equilibrium when daylight and darkness make an almost perfect pair, the sun crosses the equator and climbs back into the northern hemisphere, and the earth spins on into spring. I don’t know about you, but I say it’s about time!

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that there is a time for this and a time for that, in fact, a time for every purpose under heaven. For my wife and me, it was time to go to Florida for a few days of sun, sand, and blue water. We left Baltimore in a snow squall; we arrived here to find clear skies, cool breezes, and conch fritters. I love conch fritters!

OK, so maybe we were just a tad impatient. But spring on the Eastern Shore can be a fickle friend. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were basking in 70-degree weather. Then winter boomeranged, and we were sent back to January like bad children banished to the principal’s office. So Kat and I bolted south to jumpstart spring, and I won’t lie: I didn’t pack any socks. (More on socks later.)

The vernal equinox has been noteworthy to humans for millennia. It’s a central theme in Greek mythology: Persephone, reluctant bride of Hades, returns from the underworld about this time every year bringing with her the fertility of spring. Not to be outdone by their Greek neighbors, the Persians and Babylonians used the vernal equinox as the beginning of their new years. Makes sense. (However, for those of us who profess allegiance to the Julian calendar, the 16th Century reforms necessitated by the recalculation of the earth’s annual journey around the sun resulted in adding about three-quarters of an hour to the calendar every four years; that must be very confusing for Persephone’s timetable!)

Many religions give a respectful nod in the direction of the vernal equinox. Pagans have always marked it as a cardinal point on their Wheel of the Year. In the Jewish tradition, Passover is celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox while Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after that same event. And there are more profane celebrations, too, like World Storytelling Day and World Astrology Day (both commemorated on March 21) and, closer to home, the annual Burning of the Socks festival enjoyed by boaters in Annapolis. (Now you know why I didn’t pack any socks!)

In addition to making spring a meteorological formality, the vernal equinox also reminds me of the important of balance in our lives. It’s all-too-easy to fall out of balance; the littlest pebble on the road of life—a dysfunctional tv remote, for example (hypothetically speaking, of course)—can knock us out of alignment and put us in the shop for some costly repairs. It would be awfully easy to blame these spur-of-the-moment hiccups on remote celestial events, but I bet that humbler human issues play a more pivotal role. But I digress…

So Turn! Turn! Turn! and remember: there really is a purpose to everything under heaven.

Now go burn all your socks.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Standing in Love by Jamie Kirkpatrick



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Back in the 1880s, a German-American anthropologist named Franz Boaz was traveling through northern Canada studying the Inuit peoples. Among his many observations, he noted that the Inuit had multiple words—perhaps more than fifty!—for “snow.” (Among them: ‘aqilokoq’ for “softly falling snow” or—my favorite—‘piegnartoq’ for “snow that is good for driving the sled.”) While more than a century later anthropologists and linguists continue to debate the exact number of Inuit words for snow, the concept of multiple words for a seemingly uncomplicated noun can stand on its own two snowshoes: people need more than one word to describe the important things in their lives.

Back in ancient Greece, there were six words for love: eros (passion or sexual love); philia (deep, longstanding friendship); ludus (playful—puppy—love); philautia (love of self); agape (love for everyone; selfless love); and pragma (deep, abiding love). While love of any kind is worth a good muse, it’s this last form of love—pragma—that interests me most today.

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm contends that most of us make a big deal about falling in love but tend to overlook standing in love. Passion and puppies make for easy love targets, but it’s far more difficult to nurture love’s more complicated forms and grow them into something deeper and more lasting. Married couples know this all-too-well. If Eros depends on pheromones, pragma is rooted in deeper soil: compassion, compromise, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness. To put it another way, pragma is more about giving than receiving, more about getting over yourself than about giving into your own selfish needs. Since more than a third of marriages in the United States end in divorce, pragma may be a better plot to till than eros, the stuff that gets us into marriage in the first place.

Love is a lot more than never having to say you’re sorry. In fact, it’s damn hard work. It’s easy enough in romantic candlelight or wine glow, but when you shine reality’s harsh spotlight on love, things look a bit different. There are bills to pay, chores to do; somebody needs to unload the dishwasher, fold the laundry, or take out the trash. Resentments can accumulate. That’s where pragma comes in.

Pragma can be a difficult houseguest because, by definition, pragma’s visit is more than a three-day affair. In order to actually arrive at some meaningful measure of pragma, one must be willing to make a life-long commitment. When smitten by eros or ludus, that may sound simple enough, but to truly stand in love, you have to see the dangers that lurk in shallow water and be willing to risk the storms of the open sea. Or, to paraphrase Captain Brody in “Jaws,” you may need a bigger boat.

There’s an old African proverb that lives somewhere in the back of my mind. It goes like this: “If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk with someone else.” I think that’s a pretty good summation of Greek pragma.

Maybe an Inuit would put it this way: pragma is the good kind of snow for driving the sled.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Padraig by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 7.14.07 AMWe’re closing in on that one day in the year when you’re either Irish or pretending to be; when you wear something green even if it’s not your color; when even teetotalers take a sip of something a bit stronger than their usual fare. My real Irish friends refer to St. Patrick’s Day as “amateur hour,” but I believe they’re secretly proud of the fact that for one day each year, everybody wants to be like them

In case you happen to be the one person in the world who doesn’t know this, Padraig—St. Patrick as we more commonly call him—is the primary patron saint of Ireland. He was actually born in Scotland in 387 but at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped and sold as a slave to an Irish chieftain named Milchu who happened to be a Druid priest. It was while tending Milchu’s sheep that young Padraig encountered an angel who turned his heart toward God. The rest, as they say, is history.

Somewhere, somehow, I fit into all this. My surname—Kirkpatrick—means Padraig’s church and my own family’s origins are in Scotland, near Dumbarton, the place of the good saint’s birth. My seven times great grandfather—James Kirkpatrick (I’m not making this stuff up)—was my direct ancestor who arrived in America in 1763. He found his way to western Pennsylvania where he was the last settler attacked by Indians. Presumably he survived the encounter or you wouldn’t be reading this.

It’s unlikely that Great (x7) Grandfather Kirkpatrick came to America directly from Scotland. We think he was part of the largely undocumented wave of immigrants known as the Scots-Irish, Presbyterians originally from Scotland who emigrated to Ulster (Northern Ireland) in the early 17th Century to avoid being forced into the Church of England during the reign of Charles I. Eventually, these Scots-Irish re-emigrated to America where the promise of religious freedom was greater. The rest, as they say, is my history.

But back to Padraig. Saintly as he may well have been, he has certainly become the stuff of legends. Like: he used the lowly shamrock to illustrate a parable about the Holy Trinity. Like: he banished all the snakes from Ireland (never mind there never were snakes in Ireland). Like: he walked throughout Ireland with a staff made of ash which he thrust into the ground wherever he preached. In one village, so the story goes, it took so long for his message to get through to the hardheaded locals that the staff actually took root and became a tree. (That town is now known as Aspatria, the ash of Padraig.) All that may or may not be history, but it’s awfully good blarney.

Which brings us to March 17: St. Patrick’s Day, the supposed day of Padraig’s death in 461. I don’t think one should take all this “history” too seriously. There are lots of theories about the real Padraig including one called the “Two Padraigs Theory” which suggests that many of the works attributed to Padraig were really accomplished by Palladius, a bishop sent by Pope Celestine to minister to Irish Christians in 431, a year or two before Padraig arrived on the scene. But I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. In fact, if I were you, I’d find something green to wear and at least for a day, be Irish.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Spring Fever by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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Here we are on the last day of February and for a few days last week, it was beginning to smell like spring. It has been an uncommonly mild winter and while I sincerely believe in global warming and climate change, I’m not above being thankful for Persephone’s imminent arrival. I’ve already played several rounds of golf out at the club (in shorts, no less!) and rechristened the porch with morning coffee and evening cocktails. We even took down the Christmas tree. Furthermore, I’m given to understand that since there has been no winter kill this year, 2017 will be the Year of Good Crabs around the Bay. It seems like we’ve traded Richard III’s winter of discontent for Pope’s hope springs eternal—a really good deal by any standard. Life is good over here in the Land of Pleasant Living.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to plant any vegetables or throw down any grass seed just yet; March will still be it’s dysfunctional lion and lamb self and even good old April may have a surprise or two up its foolish sleeve. But we’re over the hump. Punxsutawney Phil, that feisty little rodent who hit the snooze button four weeks ago, will soon be waking up for good. Closer to home, in fact just over my neighbor’s fence, croci and daffodils are poking their heads out of the ground in wary disbelief. The geese fled town a week ago and just in the last four days, the ospreys moved back in, two weeks ahead of schedule. They know things we don’t and that’s good enough for me.

More harbingers abound. Yesterday, a robin took a bath in my front yard and a friend saw a red-wing blackbird out by Lynch The forsythia in front of Stephne Manor is in blooming yellow, the flowering crab apple in Fountain Square is bright pink, and there are tiny green leaves on the weeping willow by the pond. There was even a sheen of pollen on the windshield of the car yesterday morning. If all that is not proof enough, last night, I saw a man at the bar in The Kitchen order a gin and tonic…but then I realized I was looking in the mirror.

Farther afield, baseballs are getting whacked all over Florida and Arizona. (Speaking of dysfunction, Cubs fans are thinking about a repeat instead of their perennial disappointment; climate change must be real!). Down in New Orleans, folks are in full Mardi Gras mode. Meanwhile, over in Augusta, Georgia, they’re getting ready for the azaleas to bloom and for that golf tournament that’s unlike any other. (When you hear that theme song, you know spring has really sprung!)

I know that in a few short months, we’ll be grousing about the heat and humidity, but for now, I say it’s OK to revel in spring, even if it’s just the faux variety. The coming of spring means the great cosmic mandala is still turning, that the circle is unbroken, and there is wholeness in life.

After all we’ve been through lately—you know what I’m talking about—that’s enough to keep me going for the next few months.

The Journey by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Last week, my wife and I celebrated our fifth anniversary in Chestertown. I know that’s a drop in the historical bucket around here and that many Kent County families have roots going back several generations, but even so, we feel we have a stake in the game. We have gotten to know a lot of good people in and around Chestertown, but we still have a lot to learn about the history of this place. Since February is Black History Month, I thought it might be a good time to learn more about our town’s racial journey.

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 8.11.15 AMKent County is the smallest county in Maryland. According to the 2010 census, just over 20,000 people live here and about 15% of that population identify as African American. If my math is remotely accurate, that’s more than 3,000 people of color living between the Sassafras and Chester Rivers. (By way of comparison, the African American population of Queen Anne’s County is roughly 7% of that county’s population; in Cecil County, our northern neighbor, African Americans make up just over 6% of the population. While some of that disparity is likely the result of “infill” by white retirees to Queen Anne’s County and an influx of white munitions workers from West Virginia into Cecil County in the aftermath of World War I, nevertheless, the current disparity in the respective percentages of African Americans living in these three counties is notable.)

At the turn of the 20th Century, African American life in Chestertown centered around the waterfront, primarily on South Water Street, Cannon Street (where I live today), and Scott’s Point. That’s where the jobs for African Americans were—in sawmills, canneries, a fertilizer plant, a basket factory, and even an ice cream parlor owned by an African American woman. Further up Cannon Street, there were two barber shops, a beauty salon, a convenience store, a restaurant, an electrical shop, a tavern, a candy store, and a gas station all owned and operated by African Americans. Sumner Hall, one of only two existing African American G.A.R. buildings in the United States, still stands around the corner on Queen Street; it was built by black Civil War veterans, many of whom were former slaves. Recently restored by a group of private benefactors, it contains a small museum as well as educational and entertainment space. Janes United Methodist Church, at the corner of Cross and Cannon Streets, was founded in 1831 and along with Bethel A.M.E. church, still ministers to many African Americans today. And remember the Uptown Club, Charlie Graves’ dance hall at the corner of Calvert and College Avenues? In its heyday, it hosted the likes of B.B. King, Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Patti LaBelle, and Otis Redding. Sadly, the building fell into disrepair in the 1980s and was eventually razed as part of an affordable housing initiative.

Despite the significance and size of the African American population in Kent County today, it’s important to remember that Jim Crow is not long gone. The Lyceum, grandaddy of The Garfield Theater, had a separate entrance, separate stairway, and back-of-the-balcony-only seating for African Americans until the early 1960s. H. Rap Brown, Chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, made an incendiary speech in Chestertown in 1967, speaking from the hood of a car at the corner of High and Cross Streets. (Brown was on his way to Cambridge, scene of bad rioting. A police tape of his speech helped convert Spiro Agnew, then Governor of Maryland, into the harsh conservative who would become Richard Nixon’s running mate a year later. Rap Brown was eventually indicted in Dorchester County for incitement to riot, but his trial had to be moved off the Eastern Shore.) Kent County High School was among the last high schools in Maryland to desegregate. (Part of the reason for the delay was the construction of the new high school in Worton which opened in 1969; the county’s elementary and middle schools were integrated a few years earlier.)

Things, thankfully, have changed since then and they will continue to change. Progress is sometimes a slow dance: two steps forward, an occasional step back. But no doubt about it: we’ve come a long way. The public school system is fully integrated and students and faculties at all levels work productively together every day. The same kind of collaboration is evident in other enterprises and services in town. The arts bring a lot of folks together: the annual Jazz Festival in Wilmer Park and the Blues Concert Series at The Garfield are supported and enjoyed by everyone.

While it’s surely important to remember the past, it’s more important to envision a bright future. Some journeys are short; others take a little longer. Ours is on-going. As Arthur Ashe knew full well, “Success is not a destination; the doing is often more important than the outcome.”

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

A Beauty All Its Own by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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We are a river town. From its headwaters in Delaware, our Chester meanders ever south and west for 43 tranquil miles, flowing past farms and fields, ever broadening, as it takes on more and more water from its tributaries, until it finally empties into the Bay just past Eastern Neck Island. What and where would we be without it?

Fortunately, that’s a question we don’t have to answer, at least for a few more centuries. That said, we take the Chester for granted at our own peril. Stewards of the river abound, but keeping the Chester healthy and thriving is a full-time job for everyone, not theirs alone. We all have a stake in the game. Agriculture, wildlife (fish, fowl, and game), and a variety of native habitats all spin a fine ecological web in which we humans play the greatest part. Nutrient over-enrichment, high levels of bacteria, storm runoff, and low dissolved oxygen levels are among the threats to our river’s health and sustainability; they are human problems that require human solutions. This must be the work of a river town.

But whose work is it? Town government? The business community? The College? Yes, yes, and yes. Yours and mine, too. I recently got a chance to read the draft report (never completed) of the disbanded Chestertown Revitalization Task Force that sought solutions to some of these problems. Although the purview of the Task Force was far wider than just the river and town waterfront, it seemed to me they were starting down the right track before the effort derailed. “Chestertown’s strongest physical asset is the Chester River,” the report states. Green infrastructure, appropriately regulated commercial development, improved public access and connectivity, thoughtful maintenance of historic character, and a creatively revitalized marina are all important themes in the symphony that is a healthy river. Where those initiatives currently reside today is a good question; like so many other important initiatives, they seem to be floating away downstream either for lack of money or political will. Whatever the reasons, it would be a shame if all the Task Force’s hard work and good thought simply evaporated, leaving the river and its stewards to keep fighting the good fight with one hand tied behind their back.

I started thinking about all this when I asked a friend of mine to render the Chester Watershed as an abstract painting. I wanted to see what our river looked like through her artist eyes. I love the finished work (a photo of her painting accompanies this Musing) because it blends the river, its tributaries, and its littoral into a fugue of harmonic tones. All too often we try to discern things only in black and white or we search for a realistic rendering that reveals any given subject in precise but finite detail. But a river isn’t like that. It moves with the wind and tide; it changes with the season; it thrives or fails as a result of its interactions with the humans who live and work beside it.

Rivers are works in constant progress and ours is no exception. It has a beauty all its own. That great philosopher, Winnie-the-Pooh, knew a thing or two about rivers: “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” That seems about right, but I’d like to think that when our river gets “there,” it will be the best river it can be.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Artist credit: Nicole Modica Seifert from Alexandria, VA

Wake Me Up by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 8.09.24 AMTo say that I was a little out of my comfort zone would be more than an alternative fact. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I might as well have set my watch back a day or two. But everybody kept telling me “Just have fun!” and “It’s for a good cause!” so I took another breath, swallowed my discomfort, and kept on dancing.

Dancing With The Stars is a bi-annual event that supports The Horizon in Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties. For six weeks every summer, kids strengthen their academic skills, develop self-confidence, get some swimming instruction, and learn to become better citizens. With goals like those, a little personal discomfort seemed worth the risk.

The “stars” of the program are just plain-old folks like me with little or no dancing prowess. Fortunately for us, we are partnered with good dancers who know what they’re doing, but—as in my case—not necessarily what they’re getting themselves into. I was lucky enough to have Jennifer Tosten as my partner; she runs Jennifer’s School of Dance on High Street, although she may be thinking twice about that career now. Let’s just say, she had a lot of heavy lifting to do!

I have a fair number of Scottish genes, so I thought it might be fun to indulge my DNA with a little Highland flinging. We picked a tune—Wake Me Up—which was originally a George Michael (Wham!) hit, but our version was a cover of that song performed by The Red Hot Chili Pipers and no, that is not a typo. I thought it might go well with my kilt. When I told my wife about our number, she had one question: “You are going to wear underwear this time…aren’t you?”

Jennifer and I began rehearsing just after Christmas, five weeks before the event took place (on February 4) at The Kent County Community Center in Worton. Ten couples squared off for the coveted trophy—a giant disco ball. A whole host of volunteers worked long hours to transform The Community Center into the legendary Moulin Rouge, Paris’ most renowned cabaret where the can-can first lifted its petticoats and kicked up its heels way back in 1840. What our Scottish number had to do with the Moulin Rouge, I have no idea; I guess I hoped no one would notice or care.

Jen and I had an extra little surprise up on sleeve—or maybe in our sporran. I am a bagpiper so we figured to add a little spice to our routine with a soulful rendition of Amazing Grace before we began reeling and flinging. (We figured at the very least that would wake folks up!) That seemed like a good idea at the time but as the day drew closer, it just added another grace note of anxiety to my performance—as if I needed any more surrounding my dancing debut.

The weeks leading up to the big night flew by. When my body wasn’t spinning, my head was with choreography, step counts, and trying to remember which component came after the one before. I desperately tried to get to a place where I didn’t have to think, a place where my feet, arms, and hands did what I wanted them to do without counting and thinking. I almost made it.

I’ll spare you all the gory details. Let’s just say that we did have fun and that it was for a good cause. Last I heard, we (all the dancing couples) raised more than $53,000 for the Horizon Center, a new record! As for me, I admit I was happy when it was all over and I bet Jennifer was as well. And, with regard to the question that’s on everyone’s mind, let’s just say there were no surprises and everything is still in fine working condition, thank you very much!

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

What Lies Ahead by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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I have no idea what lies ahead. I wish I did but absent a crystal ball or fast-forwarding device, I’m as clueless as the next guy or gal. Am I worried? Scared? At a loss about what to do? Absolutely. Wait a minute… We are talking about Valentine’s Day, aren’t we?

I never put much stock in VD as it’s known in calendar circles and doctors’ offices. It always seemed like one of those Hallmark inventions, like National Croissant Day (yesterday) or National Baked Alaska Day (tomorrow). (If you must know, today—January 31—is National Backward Day, or Day Backward National if you prefer.) Some events on the calendar claim a higher calling: like Kraut and Frankfurter Week (second week of February) or National Umbrella Month (appropriately March) or even The Year of the Rooster (especially appropriate this year).

But Valentine’s Day, as you undoubtedly know, always falls on February 14 which also just happens to be—in an odd twist of fate—Singles Awareness Day. (Really, it is; I’m not making this stuff up!) Moreover, as the romantics among us know, it honors (among other things) St. Valentine who performed weddings for Roman soldiers who were forbidden to marry, a woefully misguided policy (akin to that other famous Wall, the one built by Hadrian) which ultimately led to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. But what made matters worse for Signor Valentine, however, was that he also ministered to Christians during the darkest days of their persecution. That godly habit landed the unfortunate Valentine in prison where he continued to minister to other prisoners and even healed the gravely ill daughter of his jailor, Asterius. One would have thought this would have earned the poor guy some time off for good behavior but remember, we’re talking about Rome, so for his “crimes,” Valentine was executed but not before he could write a note to Asterius’ daughter which he signed “Your Valentine.” Hmmm; I wonder if Hallmark is aware of that…

Anyway, despite its decidedly unsentimental roots, Valentine’s Day took on a more romantic veneer as early as the 14th Century, the high water mark of courtly love. By the 18th Century, it was being celebrated with flowers, candy, and greeting cards. But it wasn’t until 1910 when an 18-year old boy named Joyce Clyde Hall stepped off a train in Kansas City armed with a couple of shoeboxes of postcards he intended to peddle that Valentines Day as we know it became a day worth celebrating. It only took a few years until Joyce and his brother Rollie were making their mark (so to speak) in the postcard business, but on January 11 (National Step in the Puddle and Splash Your Friends Day),1915 their business went up—literally—in smoke. The fire ruined all their inventory and the Hall brothers were forced to start over. No more postcards this time—sales were declining and folks wanted more privacy in their communications. The obvious answer? Greeting cards with envelopes and the first ones to come off the revamped Hallmark production line were just in time for—you guessed it!—Valentine’s Day.

The rest, as they say, is history. But history is a one-day-at-a-time affair and although it has certainly proven kind to the Brothers Hall and their numerous descendants, it can leave the rest of us on tenterhooks. Sure, it’s partly the what-do-I get-her-this-year feeling that arrives in early February (please remember that Freelance Writers Appreciation Week is February 5-11 this year), but it’s also the general angst and fear that accompanies any kind of pivotal change that leaves us all a bit breathless.

We are still talking about Valentine’s Day, aren’t we?

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

(A note to my readers: this essay marks the 52nd consecutive week of “Musings” in The Chestertown Spy. It’s been a good year—thanks for musing right along with me!)