What Lies Beneath by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Recently I happened upon a shallow pool covered with aster and chrysanthemum blossoms. Someone must have picked or cut the flowers to float them dream-like on the still, dark water. There were a few fallen maple leaves drifting in the mix testifying to the imminent arrival of autumn. I thought to myself, “So beautiful above but I wonder what lies beneath?”

Autumn is my favorite season: the heat and humidity of summer are gone and in their stead, there are warm, drowsy afternoons and open-window nights. There are holidays to anticipate: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas; Downrigging Weekend is around the corner; the fire pit is waiting in front of the porch to welcome and warm First Friday friends. Autumn is so inviting above, but we know all-to-well that a long, cold winter lies just beneath.

Up on the surface of America, if you look closely enough, you can see a few asters and chrysanthemums floating on the water. The stock market keeps going up (although too few people benefit from it) and unemployment keeps going down (although wages remain largely stagnant). Last week, a selfless and kind-hearted Cajun Navy steamed into battered North Carolina to ease the massive suffering caused by Hurricane Florence. The Red Sox are the winningest team in baseball. But poke a stick beneath the surface and you won’t have to go very deep to find a nasty Supreme Court nomination battle, cantankerous mid-term elections, an opioid crisis, crumbling infrastructure, a continental divide over knees and Nikes, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and an ocean of angst caused by a chaotic administration and a broken political system that would leave our Founding Fathers and Mothers dazed and confused. Just like my quiet, little pond in the woods: beauty above, muck below.

I have a friend who won’t go swimming in the ocean because he’s afraid of sharks. He loves the beach, he loves to fish, but he won’t put his toe in the water because he’s afraid of what lies beneath. I understand this. Sharks are scary creatures but statisticians and oddsmakers put your chances of being killed in a shark attack at 1,347,067 to 1. (The odds of being killed in an automobile accident are 84 to 1, but my friend drives his car anyway.) I guess the point is that the things we can’t fathom, all those things that lurk beneath the surface, are writ so large in our imagination that we often fail to appreciate all the colorful flowers that might be floating on top of the water.

I doubt any of this surprises anyone. It’s not uncommon to be afraid of the deep and the dark. When I was a child, I was convinced that an alligator lived under my bed and if—heaven forbid!—I had to get up in the night, it took uncommon courage to make that impossibly long leap across the room. Even when I had my father inspect what lay beneath my bed before I went to sleep, I was dubious when he said that nothing was lying in wait for my little feet. But that was then; this is now. I’m a grownup. There’s nothing under the bed, silly.

Is there?

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

The Shortest Distance by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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High school math is now just a distant memory, but one thing that has stayed with me all these years is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If you want to go directly from point A to point B, walk a straight line. Makes good sense…and yet, I rarely do.

The trouble is the straight line theory has a few holes in it. Mariners, even ones at sea before Columbus set out on his straight-line voyage to India, knew of the phenomenon we now call the Great Circle route. It turns out that the shortest distance between two points on a sphere is not a straight line; it’s an arc. Once the steamship replaced sails, navigators became unhooked from rhumb lines which depended on prevailing winds and fixed compass headings. These days, for any journey outside of equatorial regions or for distances greater than a few hundred nautical miles, it’s faster and cheaper to follow a great circle route. I mean who doesn’t want to save time and fuel? But those economies are not why I have come to view the straight line theory as suspect. Straight lines are suspect because I—and I admit it—am an inveterate meanderer.

It’s healthy to meander. Eons ago, our beautiful river learned to meander on its twenty-three mile journey down to the Bay. I feel the same way today: given the choice or the luxury of time, I’ll take back roads over Interstates any day because you never know who’ll meet or what you’ll see when you take the long way ‘round. Even on my hebdomadal journey over to The Kitchen on Thursday evenings, I’ll often eschew the shortcut through the garden behind the White Swan and do a little window shopping at The Wine and Cheese Shop or Twigs and Teacups or The Village Shop on Cannon Street. When I turn the corner onto High Street, there’s the Music Store and the Art Gallery and The Garfield beckoning to the wayfarer in me. No wonder that by the time I arrive at Rob’s bar, I’m ready for my Martini Night libation!

Now don’t get me wrong: there are times when it makes good sense to take that shortest of routes from A to B. I don’t have time to meander when I hear nature’s call. I try not to meander on the golf course. I used to make a beeline from our house to the Bakery when I wanted one of Melissa’s bacon and cheddar scone, but that was before I gave up carbohydrates twenty pounds ago. Now I take my time and enjoy the journey—except the errant ones on the golf course, or the golf off-course as I sometimes call it.

Our culture is built along straight lines these days. Fast food, the twenty-four hour news cycle, instant gratification in all its cyber forms. It would be a crying shame if we’ve lost the ability to meander every once in a while. So if it seems to you that you’re always rushing from Point A to Point B, go a little off course just for the fun of it. Take an intentional wrong turn or explore that neglected back road and breathe some free airtime along the way. You might arrive at your destination a wee bit late, but I bet you’ll have a good story to tell.

I’ll be right back.Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Indelible Days by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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They mark our lives like milestones. They may recall grief or shock or fear or sometimes—if we’re lucky—even supreme love. Both types of these indelible days—the happy and the sad— have left their marks on my soul like footprints in the sand.

The first of my indelible days was November 22, 1963. I was a boarding school student and when I left my dorm room around noon, the world was a safe and happy place. By the time I arrived at the laundry across campus some twenty minutes later, President Kennedy was dead. I ran to the chapel but even in that quiet space, there was no safe harbor for my grief. Although I was too young to realize it at the time, that day stamped me forever with a profound sense of loss and abandonment. It was my own ‘Day of Infamy,’ the day everything changed forever.

Since then, a few other historic indelible days have marked the calendar of my life, both good and bad: July 20, 1969 (the first landing on the moon); October 6, 1981 (the assassination of Anwar Sadat); January 28, 1986 (the Challenger explosion); September 13, 1993 (the signing of the Oslo Accords); and, of course, seventeen years ago today, September 11, 2001, the day the twin towers crashed, the Pentagon burned, and a farmer’s field near Shanksville, PA became hallowed ground.

Those of us old enough to remember that day recall all too well the chapters of the story that unfolded on that bluebird morning: confusion, realization, shock, fear, and ultimately grief. But in our grief, we also witnessed the astonishing heroism and sacrifice of the men and women who responded to the disasters—the firefighters, the police, the EMTs, and all the other unsung heroes who ran into the smoke and flames to help people they did not know, or the passengers on an airliner who gave themselves up to prevent a fourth monstrous tragedy. Today, seventeen years later, all these images are still vivid in my mind and bookmarked in my heart; they will never fade away.

My father died in 1987; my mother died in 2000. Thankfully, they did not live to survive 9/11. For them and for others of their generation, December 7, 1941 was the infamous date etched into their souls. But that date, heinous as it was, marked the birth of what we have come call “the greatest generation,” a tableau of men and women who answered history’s challenging call, many giving their own “last, full measure of devotion.” Out of the evil of Pearl Harbor and the inhumanity of the Holocaust, something good ultimately grew—good triumphed over evil. I have yet to see anything remotely like that grow in the ashy soil of 9/11. Sometimes, I fear, I see the opposite.

One thing I know for certain: there will be more indelible days in the months and years ahead. I’m praying they will be of the other—happier—variety: graduations, weddings, the birth of children and grandchildren. I wish those kind of celebratory indelible days for you, too.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

 

Seventy Years Later by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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In 1948—that’s just 70 years ago, friends—our country was in a very different place. Well, actually it was in the same place it is today; it just seems far away:

When 1948 began, Harry Truman was President. There was no Vice President.

NASCAR held its first race.

In McCollum v. The Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that religious instruction in public schools violated the US Constitution.

Hell’s Angels was founded.

The United States took center stage in the new world order when it signed the charter of the Organization of American States and instituted the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in the wake of World War II.

The United States became the first country to recognize the new state of Israel.

Albert I was the first monkey to be launched into space.

The Berlin Airlift jumped over the Iron Curtain to bring food and supplies to beleaguered West Berlin.

President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 ending segregation in the Armed Forces.

Al Gore and James Taylor (among others) were born; Orville Wright and Babe Ruth died. (Prince Charles was also born in 1948. Seventy years later, he’s still just Prince Charles.)

The House UnAmerican Affairs Committee conducted the first-ever televised Congressional hearing: Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of collusion with the Communist Party. (Plus ça change…)

In October, The Cleveland Indians won the World Series! (They beat the Boston Braves.)

In November, Thomas Dewey defeated Harry Truman. Oh, wait…

And as the year was ending, the first of the Kinsey Reports—“Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”—was published. No Non-Disclosure Agreements were signed.

I suppose all these events could now be filed under “A” for “Ancient History” but if—just supposing—one’s 70th birthday were today, it might suggest that this would be a good day to take stock of one’s place in history. After all, they say 70 is the new…heck; I don’t remember what they say.

In the grand scheme of things, seven decades is but the blink of an eye. It’s not even 30% of our nation’s history, less than half of 1% of the years since BC became AD, and hardly a grain of sand on the broad beach of time since homo erectus came down from the trees 1.8 million years ago. Come to think of it, if someone were turning 70 today, he wouldn’t be a young whippersnapper or even a diapered toddler; he’d be just a gleam in time’s eye.

Nevertheless, to a GenXer, or a Millennial, or a member of the new iGeneration, someone who has just stepped over the threshold of 70 must seem downright antediluvian. “So what was Noah really like?” they ask with a smirk as that sad septuagenarian comes slowly creeping by on the sidewalk…not that I know anyone who fits that bill. But then even I remember being young once and thinking 70 was over the hill. Not just any hill, mind you; more like the whole bloody mountain range.

But even if I did know someone turning 70 today, I imagine he would be grateful for his run of years on the planet. He would count the good hours and forgive a few painful minutes. He would probably recall loving and supportive parents, a happy childhood, a loving wife and her welcoming family, the miracle of children and grandchildren, the joy of nieces and nephews, a worldwide network of old and new friends, and of course a kind town with a tilted house and a friendly and comfortable porch. He might even remember watching the sun rise on Mt. Kilimanjaro, or listening to the waves lap against Iona’s shore on an unseasonably warm Scottish afternoon, or even hearing the warble of loons at midnight on a remote Canadian lake. Even if I did know someone like that…

And I do.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

The Conversation by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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It seemed like a perfectly reasonable question to me: “Why do you wear that, Geep?” (Geep is my grandfather name; I happen to think it suits me well.) Gav was pointing at the copper bracelet on my right wrist.

I liked Gav’s opening conversational gambit. When you’re hanging with eight grandchildren at the beach, you don’t get many opportunities for one-on-one time. This looked like it just might be that moment.

I started and stopped. How does one explain arthritis and the beneficial properties of trace minerals to a five-year old? I was in over my head. “It makes me feel better,” I said.

“Don’t you feel good?” Gav asked.

“Well, yes, I feel fine, but maybe it’s because I wear this bracelet.”

“Do I need a bracelet?”

“Do you feel OK?”

“Yeah.”

“Then no.”

“But you’re wearing one…”

I sensed I would need to go deeper, but just how deep?

“Well, when you get older, sometimes your joints get a little stiff…”

“What’s a joint?” Another good question, one that had some serious inter-generational potential.

I resisted the obvious answer and started in on a more anatomical explanation. “It’s an articulation point between two bones…”

Gav’s a curious little guy but he looked at me like I was speaking Greek. I probably was so I changed course. “I guess I wear it because I like it. It’s just for decoration.”

“My dad doesn’t wear a bracelet but my mom does.”

Uh-oh. This conversation was starting to go down the wrong path. I wasn’t prepared to talk gender paraphernalia with a five-year old. I veered left.

“So, Gav: what’s your favorite thing about the beach?”

‘Playing with my cousins and digging holes. But why do you clean your bracelet with sand?”

Gav doesn’t miss a trick. He had watched me scouring my copper bracelet, making it shine like new—at least for a few minutes.

“Oh. Well, copper oxidizes and sand can make it shiny again.”

“What’s oxen-daisy mean?”

“Oxidation. It happens when oxygen—that’s a chemical in the air—interacts with a mineral like the copper in my bracelet and causes it…” I stopped. Gav was staring at me again. He had no idea what I was talking about and to be honest, neither did I. “It just means something like rust, I guess.”

Gav pondered that for a moment. “My mom’s bracelets don’t get rusty. Why do you like to wear a rusty bracelet?”

I had to admit he had me there. I veered right.

“Did you see any dolphins this morning?” I asked.

“No. Where did you buy that rusty bracelet?”

Curious and tenacious. “I’ve had it for a long time. Maybe twenty-five years.” I wondered what twenty-five years meant to someone who’s only five. “Actually, I had one for a long time, but it broke, so I had to get a new one.”

“But why is it rusty already?”

“It’s not really rust, Gav. It’s oxidiza…” We seemed to be in one of those continuous loops. Gav was looking at me, waiting. I was failing miserably at this one-on-one thing, or flailing, maybe both.

“So here’s the deal,” I said. “I like my bracelet. I think it looks nice and it makes me feel younger.” Suddenly, I realized this last explanation probably had a subliminal thing to do with an impending birthday. A BIG birthday; a REALLY BIG birthday. “Do you like my bracelet?”

Gav looked at me and nodded. “It’s nice. Can we go swimming now?”

Later that afternoon, my wife asked me, “What were you and Gavin talking about down by the water? It looked very serious.”

I glanced down at my rusty bracelet. “Nothing much,” I said. “We were just talking.”

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Lighter Air by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Last week, a young friend and I motored out to watch the traditional Wednesday races off Annapolis. As the bigger boats danced downwind, their spinnakers filled with light air that caught the setting sun’s rays in such a way that the fleet moved like a silent ballet of luminous globes—fireflies twinkling out on the water. It was refreshingly cool and quiet out in the Bay so we decided to run up the Severn, shut down the engine, and drift in Round Bay to watch the final act of sunset. What an end-of-summer treat!

This week the college kids arrived back in town, a sure sign that summer is counting down its days. I know that we recently suffered through a string of sultry afternoons and that we will surely have more before the season turns for good, but for the last few nights, we have been blessed with a porch-friendly and windows-open breeze that presages autumnal change. On one of those nights, friends came over to our house to sit outside and chat; the next evening, we returned the favor on a friend’s porch down on Water Street, enjoying a quiet nightcap as darkness drifted down over our river. The conversation was like the evening air: light, breezy, friendly.

But in the big world beyond our little town, these pleasant exchanges just don’t happen often enough. There’s just not much light air these days. We’re living in a hot world and I’m not talking about meteorological climate change, more like political climate change. Where there was once civil discourse, there is now ad hominem rage. Respectful differences of opinion have been relegated to the sidelines and Twitter rants have replaced thoughtful remarks. Inspiring oration has been dumbed down to rambling demagoguery; open-mindedness has turned to single-mindedness. No matter which side of the political continental divide you choose to live on, self-righteousness blocks the view to the other side. Even truth is apparently no longer truth, or so we’re told. In a word, sad.

Once upon a time, there was a common good and cooperation was its mainsail. But now chaos and confrontation are the pistons that drive this juggernaut. Newton’s third law of physics states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Applied to our current political situation, this would suggest that our current daily dose of animus and vitriol should eventually beget something more akin to empathy and understanding, but then again maybe Sir Issac’s laws don’t apply to more human institutions. All I know is that if we can’t find some lighter air soon, our current ship of state will continue to drift in an increasingly dark and hazardous sea.

I wish I could find a cure for these ills, but I can’t. I can observe, but I can’t fix. I’m just hoping for some lighter air. Until we find it, we’ll just have to set more sail on and hope for the best.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

The Language of Crabs by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I have what is usually referred to as a “good ear” for languages. My French is very good, unaccented (if I do say so myself), and my Arabic (thanks to the Peace Corps) isn’t too bad. I have a smattering of Italian, a little less Spanish, and I can fall into a reasonable imitation of an Irish or Scottish brogue almost at the drop of a hat. But try as I might, I can’t speak Crab.

My wife and her very large family are almost all from Maryland and they speak Crab fluently. I sit at a table that’s covered in brown paper and festooned with a heaping mound of steamed crustaceans, weapons of attacks (mallets, claw crackers, and crab knives) and all the other necessary implements of war (butter, Old Bay, vinegar, and of course cold beer), smiling politely as if I understand what is going around me. But the truth is I don’t have a clue; it’s all gibberish to me.

I do understand a few words: claw, leg, shell, but that’s about the extent of my crab talk. Occasionally, I hear a word a word I think I understand—knuckle, mustard, coral, plate, apron, corner—but they’re used in sentences that make no sense. For a while, I thought all crabs were named Jimmy or Jumbo, but then someone said “I got a Sook” but she sure looked like Jimmy or Jumbo to me. Someone else said he liked the tomalley, but I couldn’t see anything on the table that looked like a tomato or an olive. Another person claimed to be cleaning out the corners, but the table was beginning to look awfully messy to me. In fact, what was once just a table was now a war zone, littered with bits of shells, butter stains, and soggy heaps of Old Bay seasoning. As the discard pile grew, the room—thankfully an outdoor screened porch with ceiling fans—began to smell like last week’s trash. No one else seemed to mind or even notice.

I will say this: there was an awful lot of conversation over all those dead crabs. Well, no; maybe not actual conversation…more like chatter, but that’s par for the course among this group. The din was more like a happy background buzz interrupted by swigs of beer or sips of wine or the whack of a hammer on a claw. I just nodded and kept on smiling.

Eventually, I came to understand that we weren’t eating crabs; we were picking crabs. Some people immediately ate what they extracted from yet another abandoned shell; others built a small mountain of meat which I surmised would be consumed at some indefinite point in the future. It seemed to me like an awful lot of squeeze for very little juice, but once again I was a minority of one. And yet, somehow, all those little lumps of meat were gaining traction in stomachs, but then again maybe it was just the butter and beer. All I knew was that my hands and shirt were a mess; my lips were on fire. That was before the steamed corn arrived along with more butter and a tomato/mozzarella salad with balsamic vinegar and fresh basil from the garden, both languages I can thankfully speak. Things were looking up: even though I’m dieting, I began to wonder what was for dessert, another language I speak all too well.

Eventually, corn became cobs and what was once a bushel of tasty crabs became several hefty bags of garbage. We went from eating—I mean “picking”—to cleaning up in a flash. Someone removed the stained brown paper and crab residue from the table, someone else swept he floor, dishes were washed, and empty beer bottles went to the recycling container. All of a sudden, the storm was over. I would like to say that an eerie quiet descended on the room, but that would be fake news.

I still don’t speak or understand Crab. I guess it’s not in my DNA; I’ll always be a Maryland outlander, a “Sassenach” as my Scots ancestors would say in their old Erse. But maybe, just maybe, with a little more practice, I’ll learn a few more words in the language of crabs.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

 

 

Old Habits in New Spaces by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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My wife and I are back at the beach (Rehoboth Beach, to be specific) on our annual pilgrimage to the Delaware shore. While I’m a relative newcomer to this littoral tradition, she has been coming here all her life. Memories of past summers sustain her through the long winter; planning consumes her every spring. I go along for the ride and to watch the never-ending sitcom that repeats every summer. But this year, there’s a big difference: instead of our usual rental, we’re in a different house. It’s an adjustment for her, but I fell in love with the new place at hello!

She knew where everything was in the old house: the glassware, the spatulas, the corkscrew, the bowls and the napkins and the ice bucket and the bug spray; the towels and the linens; the charcoal and the chimney for the grill. In the new house, everything is guesswork, but we’re beginning to make progress. We discovered the silverware drawer and we’ve found out how to turn down the fan over the dining room table so the paper napkins stay put and how to light up the screened porch for evening chats. After a few tries, we figured out how to adjust the water temperature in the outdoor shower. The dishwasher and the washing machine are becoming friendlier; the televisions (each with multiple remotes) are beginning to cooperate. All in all, the space for our crew (kids, grandkids, and assorted friends; we’re 8 today but it’s a moving target) is generous, light, and airy. I think the new place is a terrific upgrade; her jury is still deliberating.

Despite the changes to habitat, the traditions of the summer ritual have remained largely the same. We schlep chairs, towels, and coolers, shovels and buckets, even a plastic wading pool to the beach in the morning and schlep it all home again in the late afternoon. In between, we bake under the sun, plan meals, take a dip or two, chat, nap, read, walk—everything everybody else does at the beach. In the morning, our chairs are lined up to face the sun, but by afternoon, they’re circled to facilitate the lazy conversations that mark our fortnight at the beach. Much is discussed but little is decided. Decisions are hard to come by in this group.

There is also another change this year: there’s a new beach home for another branch of the family. This space is large enough to accommodate another whole host of kids, grandkids, aunts and uncles, as well as various out-laws and friends. (I think I counted 17 resident heads over there today, but I could be wrong; after all, a lot of those heads were in motion. One thing is for sure: the number of heads will surely wax as the week goes on; waning is another matter.) You might think that two houses could make for twice the problems, but that doesn’t seem to be the case—yet. OK, we have to play bumper cars in the narrow driveway several times a day and must remember whose bike is left at which house but these are minor details in the overall campaign.

As for the other traditions of the season, some depend on the weather, others rely on various appetites: what night do we want to barbecue the ribs? When shall we pick crabs? Rinse off your feet! Whose turn is it to make an ice run? Who’s crying? Has anybody seen my phone? Where’s the backgammon board? Can you go pick up 6 baguettes? If it rains tomorrow, maybe we should take the kids to Funland. If the adults decide to go out for dinner tonight, who’s going to babysit? Baby? “HAS ANYBODY SEEN THE BABY?!?”

As Captain Yossarian might once have said, “And so it goes.” We’re adapting to our new spaces and retaining our old habits—I guess it can be done! Who knows: maybe we’ll even be bold enough to incorporate something new into the routine this year. Then again, maybe not. But I have learned this much: by the time vacation is over, I’ll need a vacation.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Roots (For Sandy) by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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We all come from somewhere. Some of us—and you know who you are—are “from heres,” the ones who were born and raised locally and have Kent County roots that run several generations deep. Others of us are “come heres,” most often from the nearby mega-metropolises over on the Western Shore—Washington, Baltimore, or the Philadelphia area. But I’m of a slightly different ilk: I come from Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh: city of rivers, city of bridges, city of hills and neighborhoods and ethnicities. It’s a blue collar/white collar midwestern city: polite, friendly, unpretentious. It’s a city that has reinvented itself, not once but twice. Steel is long gone, but health care and medicine provided an encore act, while entrepreneurship and high tech industries now take pride of place. It’s a pleasant place to live: affordable, green, innovative. It has great sports teams, a world-class symphony, a vibrant arts scene, efficient public transportation, three renowned universities, and numerous great restaurants. Andy Warhol came from Pittsburgh; dancers Marta Graham and Gene Kelly took their first steps in Pittsburgh. A Scottish immigrant named Andrew Carnegie began to produce steel in Pittsburgh in 1875 and left the city a wondrous legacy of free libraries and museums. Pittsburgh was the first American city to have its own movie theater and the world’s first commercial radio station (KDKA) began broadcasting from Pittsburgh in 1920. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine in Pittsburgh. Mr. Heinz bottled his ketchup in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is the birthplace of the Clark Bar, the Klondike Bar, chipped ham, and Iron City Beer. You’re welcome!

Pittsburgh’s three rivers—the Allegheny and the Monongahela join forces to form the Ohio at Pittsburgh’s “Point”—gave the city its geopolitical start. A young George Washington once surveyed the site and during the French and Indian wars, the fort that commanded the way west changed hands several times: Fort Pitt when it was British, Fort Duquesne when it was French. The town was besieged during Pontiac’s Rebellion while just a few years later, the notorious Lord Jeffrey Amherst waged the world’s first biological warfare there when he ordered blankets contaminated with smallpox to be distributed to Indians surrounding the fort, killing hundreds of thousands as the disease spread.

In the fall of 1803, acting on orders from Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis sailed away from Pittsburgh on the Ohio River before joining forces downstream with William Clark to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Lewis and Clark and their intrepid Corps of Discovery ultimately found a way (thanks, in large part, to Sacajawea) to the Pacific Ocean, marking the first overland path to America’s Manifest Destiny.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Pittsburgh had a number of active stations on the Underground Railroad. By the 20th Century, Pittsburgh’s steel mills operated 24 hours a day, empowering a nation and helping win two world wars. But the city paid a steep price: once called “the arsenal of democracy,” Pittsburgh’s air quality became so polluted that it evoked an earlier characterization as “hell with the lid off.” Two ambitious campaigns to clean up the city’s air and water and to revitalize it’s working class neighborhoods—Renaissance I and Renaissance II—put Pittsburgh back on track to becoming the livable and (dare-I-say) fashionable place it is today.

Pittsburgh is a place of letters and art and music: Gertrude Stein came from Pittsburgh; Rachel Carson did, too. August Wilson, David McCullough, Willa Cather, Michael Chabon, and Annie Dillard all hail from Pittsburgh. The Andy Warhol Museum over on the North Side draws thousands of visitors a year. Mr. Rogers and his make-believe neighborhood were a familiar part of the Pittsburgh landscape of my childhood. More recently, Wiz Khalifa’s rap anthem “Black and Yellow” (the city’s colors) hit number one on the national Billboard Chart.

Despite its many charms and its history of creative post-industrial transition, Pittsburgh isn’t perfect; like all of us, it still struggles with difficult issues. The recent deadly shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer in a Pittsburgh suburb is yet another tragic brick in our shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later national wall.

Pittsburgh is often ranked at or near the top of the list of “Most Livable Cities in America.” It is a thriving urban example of what can happen when the public and private sectors work effectively together for a common good. It even has romance! Just a few years ago, Forbes magazine paid the city a somewhat back-handed compliment by placing Pittsburgh high on its list of “most unexpectedly romantic cities in America.” Hmmmm….

Sadly, my parents are gone and my family have all moved away; my own road has brought me here. Now I have nothing but memories to take me back to Pittsburgh. Sometimes when I fall asleep, I close my eyes and see the city’s hills and rivers or watch in awe as one of the blast furnaces at the old J&L Mill opens to light up the night sky. I remember Bill Mazeroski’s home run that beat the mighty Yankees in the 7th game of the 1960 World Series; I watch yet another grainy replay of Franco Harris’ “Immaculate reception;” I still cheer as Mario Lemieux or Sydney Crosby hoist yet another Stanley Cup. As much as I love Chestertown, those memories and many more make me the Yinzer I am—and proud of it!

So why is this Musing subtitled “For Sandy?” Because Sandy Hoon, God rest his soul, was a Yinzer, too.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.