Out and About (Sort of): Scattered Thoughts by Howard Freedlander

About 10 days ago I had the pleasure of driving former Governor Harry Hughes from an Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (I am a board member) gathering outside Chestertown to his home in Denton. Time spent with Harry is always a lesson in Maryland politics as related concisely by one of the prime actors in the second half of the 20th century.

Nearing 91, Gov. Hughes is feeling the ravages of old age. He moves more slowly. His balance is unsteady. All expected in a person’s ninth decade. But when this reserved, gentlemanly political luminary talks, it’s best to keep quiet and learn.

A Caroline County native, Hughes served as a state delegate, state senator, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and then governor from 1978 to 1986.

I first met Hughes nearly 40 years ago when he ran for governor; he was given little chance to win. He did, with significant help from Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun endorsements two weeks prior to the election. That was a time when an endorsement from a major statewide newspaper meant something—when people paid attention to “mainstream media.” Perhaps they still do. Showing my age, I still assign credibility to the printed word.

As my wife and I rode for about an hour in the car, we learned he loved being Secretary of MDOT because he could get things done, he liked President Bill Clinton, his political career just seemed to take off in a positive direction –and he fondly recalled having his mother as his homeroom teacher for three years at Caroline High School.

What was evident, as it always is when you spend time with Harry Hughes, is his innate modesty and mild manner. He is eminently likable.

In an op-ed piece published Dec. 1, 2016 in The Baltimore Sun by John Frece, a former Maryland State House bureau chief for the Sun and co-author of Gov. Hughes’ autobiography, “My Unexpected Journey,” about Hughes’ 90th birthday party, Frece wrote:

“The most important words that were uttered throughout the evening by a half-dozen speakers were the ones that described the values that this native of the Eastern Shore brought to Maryland’s political life: honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, humility and restraint. In a word, civility.”

In recent years, a close adviser and friend of Hughes twice has invited me to join him for lunch with the former governor. Once, other former staffers joined the group. I was an interested bystander, noting the affection that these staffers still bore for their former boss. There was good-natured kidding aimed at Harry Hughes, who in turn kindly jabbed back. Meanwhile, people in the restaurant would stop by the table to say hello to the unassuming man from Denton.

While Gov. Hughes and his loyal lieutenants would tell stories about achievements, Harry Hughes would delight in the memories, but never dominated the conversation with anything resembling boastfulness. His willingness during his two terms to focus on Chesapeake Bay pollution–as well as management of the declining rockfish, instituting a controversial moratorium—was one of his shining accomplishments.

Though the tall, handsome former governor shows the ravages of aging, he continues to impress me with his calm, civil demeanor and dedication to environmental issues that still challenge and vex public officials and concerned non-profits.

In seeking reactions to “The Vietnam War” documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and the two columns that I recently wrote about the remarkable 10-episode series, I spoke with a few Vietnam veterans in the area. I learned that two in particular thought that the documentary failed to portray accurately the North Vietnamese (NVA), specifically their fervent communism that they viciously imposed on villagers in the South to gain their fear-driven loyalty.

A friend and veteran forwarded an article written by a veteran in Georgia that was unyielding in its criticism of the soft way that he believed that the documentary treated the NVA, while acknowledging the duplicity of our political leaders and their unwillingness to unleash full American firepower on our enemy.

With this reaction in mind, I ask readers to submit their unvarnished opinion of the documentary. Did you consider it fair and balanced? Did you consider it skewed and too favorable to the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong?

As I wrote, the Vietnam War still lives on in the minds and hearts of civilians and veterans who lived through the 10-year war and the consequent chaos and divisiveness that gripped our country.

Please give me feedback.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Veterans Misperceived by Howard Freedlander

This is a story about a questionable narrative about veterans’ mental health in our modern-day America, told in an unusujal 70-minute musical drama. The impact is powerful. The message is mind-changing.

Jaymes Poling, who spent three tours as part of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, returned to his country having to cope with public perceptions that he and his fellow veterans were damaged goods suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known by its ubiquitous acronym, PTSD. He was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He retired as a 26-year-old staff sergeant.

Jaynes Poling and Dominick Farinacci

When Poling returned home, seeking help from the Veterans Administration (VA) to adapt to civilian life after serving three separate years as an infantryman in Afghanistan, he immediately received a diagnosis as a victim of PTSD. Medications followed as dispensed by the well-meaning but misdirected VA.

Two fortuitous things happened to Poling: he met a woman in Cleveland and decided to return to school, and he crossed paths with Dominick Farinacci, a world-class trumpeter and music composer. Along the way, Poling decided that PTSD was misapplied in his case. Instead, he had a more positive self-diagnosis: post-traumatic growth.

Collaborating with Farinacci on an autobiographical music drama, Poling realized that veterans not just of his era but throughout history bring special skills to the civilian world. They had learned about leadership, responsibility for themselves and their fellow soldiers and compassion for the men and women with whom they served in combat.

Through the “Modern Warrior Live, which will come to the Avalon in Easton on Saturday, Nov. 18, Farinacci and Poling hope not only to change perceptions about veterans but develop a connection to the civilian world by telling a dramatic story, backed by gripping music. Perhaps, just perhaps, the public will view veterans as having special talents; the “goods” they carry are in their hearts and minds first-rate value and deserve respect.

To better understand the unusual performance, with my admittedly favorable opinion of veterans and the life-threatening experiences they encountered in combat, I spoke with Poling and Farinacci after talking with Richard Marks and Al Sikes–who not only are financial supporters of the Avalon performance but also two gentlemen known as superb volunteers and leaders in the community.

Farinacci said that during his collaboration with Jaymes Poling he saw “the power of music to build bridges, to develop a pathway to empathy, to change perceptions and create a dialogue between the military and civilians.” He repeatedly characterized poling as “authentic.”

During the production of the show, Poling said, “Sometimes the music didn’t feel right. I had to reevaluate times of my life. I had to sort out my feelings. It was not the fault of the music. The artistic musical interactions helped me hone my thoughts.”

As he discussed his life in combat and on civilian turf, Poling said he was careful. “I don’t want to tell stories that don’t belong to me,” he said. While he mentioned the name of a friend and fellow soldier killed in battle, he had checked with the friend’s mother beforehand.

Both Farinacci and Poling agreed that the message of healing and post-traumatic growth had universal implications. It applies to personal tragedy. Poling pointed to people dealing with cancer. “Why assign labels to the survivors? They have issues that provide them with a different filter on life—and a viewpoint that says ‘root for me,’ Poling said.

In summing up his appraisal of “Modern Warrior Live,” Farinacci said, “It was a 100 percent creative development. It stayed true to Jaymes’ story, with magical moments. There is absolutely no substitute for a person who went through it (war), Jaymes allows us to connect to veterans, to find out ‘what did you do?’’ His voice is authentic.”

By the time that the show comes to Easton, it will have played in New York City and Chicago.

Echoing the sentiment expressed by Poling and a videotaped cameo appearance by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Richard Marks said, “The country has to get there, understanding that PTSD is being treated in the wrong way. The show is cathartic and emotional. The veterans are not damaged goods.”

Marks, who served on submarines in the US. Navy, said he learned “the value of dependence on others and a level of camaraderie.” These lessons learned are applicable to civilian life.

A jazz enthusiastic, Al Sikes spoke about Dominic Farinacci’s “lyrical trumpet’ and the emotion it spawns. “You can tell stories with the horn,” he said. He referred to Poling’s powerful narrative.” He too spoke about the retired staff sergeant’s authenticity.

Though he never served in the military. Sikes said he gained a new appreciation for military members after the September 11, 2001 attacks on our American homeland.

I applaud Marks and Sikes for helping to provide the financial support for a music drama intent on changing the image of a military veteran and bridging the gap between combat soldiers and a civilian world drawn to misconceptions about hardened veterans. Memories of combat and death do not vanish; nor are they necessarily personal aspects that should consign veterans to life with a label. While painful at times, heart-wrenching experiences can and do strengthen a person.

Dominick Farinacci and Jaynes Poling have combined their particular skills and experiences into a production embodying creative energy, musical excellence and pure, personal testimony. The result should capture rapt attention and change misconceptions.

Chesapeake Music Presents Modern Warrior Live on Saturday, November 18 at the Avalon starting at 8:00 pm. For more information on tickets please go here.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. 

Out and About (Sort of): Time to Move On by Howard Freedlander

When I think about the 10-part “The Vietnam War” documentary completed last week on the Public Broadcasting System, I feel overwhelmed with emotion. It preoccupied me.

I wrote last week about my reaction to the first five episodes. I won’t rehash my comments. I was transfixed by the history of a war that proved so divisive and disruptive to our roiling country. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick produced a superbly written, studiously well-balanced and beautifully filmed documentary. The experience watching this often unpleasant history lesson was unlike any other in my life.

So, I will describe my emotions, felt, I suspect, by many others:

I felt admiration and empathy for our American soldiers (all-inclusive usage for the sake of this column). They fought bravely. They fought well. They fought amid often ill-advised strategy developed sometimes by politicians. Roughly 58,000 died against a relentless, highly motivated enemy.

As I listened to the voices of John Musgrave, Roger Harris, Tim O’Brien, Matt Harrison, Bill Erhardt, Hal Kushner, Vincent Okamoto, Ron Ferrizzi and many other veterans, I marveled at their candor, their passion and their sorrow. Their comments reflected the violence, the ambivalence and the pain of the ill-fated Vietnam War.

In response to the equally honest and passionate North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers interviewed for this remarkable documentary, I felt a human understanding of their courage, their longing for family and their mixed feelings about a war that divided and damaged their own country. These men and women fought to win and destroy the South Vietnamese and American troops.

Yet soldiers on both sides wondered: was it worth it? Was the end result a proud one?

Through the lens of this documentary, I viewed again the protests. I viewed again the riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and mourned the disorder sowed by the protesters and abetted by the ill-prepared police. In 1968, I despised the objectionable, obnoxious and sometimes destructive behavior of the protesters. Now, I commend their courage, their willingness to rail against a corrupt war. I was disgusted then. I’m more sanguine now–though I still condemn riots that visit destruction upon small businesses and place the police in unenviable positions.

When I learned again, after 50 years, about seasoned veterans taking to the streets to proclaim peace, I walked back my criticism of those who opposed the Vietnam War. These men had felt the sting of buddies killed in action. They had followed stupid orders to rack up body counts. They understood the savagery of war. When some tossed away their medals during a protest at the White House, as portrayed during the documentary, I felt moved by their resistance to the continuation of a war whose purpose they questioned.

As I did when it was reported in the media, I felt repulsed by the My Lai Massacre, which occurred in March 1968. Between 350 and 500 unarmed civilians died in an outburst of inhumanity and moral depravity. Again, as so often happens, I also feel torn. While killing is legal in war, almost second nature, the murder of civilians–who may or may not have harbored the Viet Cong–is wanton human destruction. Anger and frustration over the loss of fellow soldiers can be tough to control; yet indiscriminate killing of noncombatants is intolerable.

I found bothersome but not surprising the continuous lying and deceit by Presidents Lyndon Barnes Johnson and Richard Nixon. Their preoccupation with winning their next elections and avoiding political embarrassment seemingly drove their decision-making. Their concerns about lives lost by their decisions not to unleash strategic bombing or delay peace negotiations were unconscionable.

Lest I seem too forgiving of the North Vietnamese, I learned about the increasingly influential impact of communism on leadership in Hanoi. The more palatable nationalistic actions and philosophy of Ho Ching Minh fell
victims to darker forces. Le Duan, the powerful leader who surpassed Uncle Ho in planning military operations, sent thousands and thousands of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers to their deaths during Tet and a post-Tet offensive.

Unlike Ho Ching Minh, Le Duan harbored no warm feelings about America. He was hell-bent on conquering the South and sending the Americans home to a country also divided by social, political and cultural conflict. I bemoaned too the immorality of our fervent and violent enemy.

The American evacuation of Saigon was ugly and messy, as was the war. We turned our backs on people who trusted us. It was tough to watch our abandonment of former friends. Due to Watergate and his resignation, Nixon could not fulfill his promise to help South Vietnam from being overrun. Then, Congress decided, maybe understandably so, to authorize no more money to South Vietnam. It was heart-wrenching to watch the results of our inaction.

“The Vietnam War” documentary ended on a redemptive note, showing some veterans returning to Vietnam and connecting with former adversaries. The history the 10 episodes so exquisitely purveyed filled me with dread and distress; at the same time, I felt enormous pride in our troops, who persevered on unfamiliar terrain littered with bad decisions: take that hill, give up that hill and then retake it.

The 10th and final episode devoted a segment to the Vietnam Memorial built in 1982 in Washington, DC. It too was racked by controversy over its stark, black granite design. Nothing was easy about this war. Some of the splendid veterans who spoke frequently during the documentary testified to the healing effect of this powerful monument containing the names of 58,000 dead American soldiers.

“The Vietnam War” documentary portrayed a troubled 10-year war fought by our country, gradually riven by socioeconomic and cultural conflict. I feel and believe that some of these rending fissures still remain and haunt our fragile nation, caused ironically by engagement in a civil war in Southwest Asia.

Time to move on–armed with memories of a difficult decade.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): A War That Still Resonates and Sears by Howard Freedlander

For five nights last week, I found myself transfixed by the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary about the Vietnam War. I am still watching the second five episodes. When I ask others about this superb series, I discover they too view “The Vietnam War” as searingly powerful.

This was my generation’s war. It informed my life as a young adult. It continues to haunt me. It was a conflict disastrous to the emotional health of this country, not to speak of the shocking loss of 58,000 American lives.

This documentary is stunningly impressive in its portrayal of the disastrous combat–analyzed intermittently by American, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese fighters, enlisted and officer–and the wrong-headed policy-makers in our nation’s capital.

For full disclosure, I served in the Army Reserve, 1968-1974. I faced little chance of being called up to serve in Southeast Asia. I was lucky. I knew it then. I know it now. While I served my country, I didn’t test my mettle in deadly combat.

In 1968, I fully understood and observed the fierce opposition to the war, as expressed in widespread protests on the streets and campuses of our embattled nation. I too decried our political leadership and tactical moves made by General William Westmoreland, the wartime commander. I decried the body bags arriving sadly and solemnly at Dover Air Force Base.

While I deeply loved my country then and now, I despised decisions that resulted in the overwhelming personal destruction of our troops. I felt shaken by the urban riots, tied to the significant number of African-American deaths in Vietnam–and the still racist country to which our black troops returned. I sensed an alarming dishonesty on the part of Westmoreland and his political bosses, including President Lyndon Johnson.

Amid our increasing build-up in South Vietnam, we were saddled with an incompetent, corrupt government in Saigon. This instability added to the difficulty of winning the hearts and minds of everyday citizens in the cities and countryside.

Due to this ill-advised war and the Watergate scandal that followed in the early 1970s, a wave of cynicism toward, and distrust of government and educational and corporate institutions engulfed our country. This cloud still overhangs us. It underlies our attitudes and beliefs.

Trust with wariness, verify with doubt. In my opinion, trust became an implicit casualty of the Southeast Asian combat in rice paddies, jungles, and military miscues.

Incidentally, I recall a time in the mid-1980s when the retired Westmoreland visited Easton to participate in the dedication of the Vietnam Monument in front of the Talbot County Courthouse. He appeared in similar circumstances throughout the country. When I asked a retired Army brigadier general and Vietnam veteran if he would join me at the dedication, this mind-mannered man bluntly told me in expletive-laced words that he would stay put. He despised Westmoreland. I suspect he wasn’t alone.

The Burns-Novick documentary, so thoroughly and even-handedly written and produced, has unleashed a torrent of memories and uncomfortable thoughts. Vietnam veterans with whom I’ve spoken in recent days feel equally moved by the wide scope of this spell-binding production. Unlike me, they remember the painful loss of buddies and faith in their military and political superiors.

I watched one episode last week with a friend, a former Marine who served more than eight months in ‘Nam. He remarked about the hard-nosed North Vietnamese soldiers, fervent, violent Communists who had pushed aside the “nationalists” inspired by Ho Ching Minh. This particular episode pointed to this division in North Vietnam.

This country, so riven by discord and disagreement, treated our returning veterans with unjustified disrespect and scorn. Our fellow citizens forgot, shamelessly so, that our troops fought a miserable war planned and organized by civilian and military leaders.

Our troops deserved better treatment; they had fought for the right of their fellow citizens to disagree. They didn’t fight for inhumane treatment as they returned in uniform from a war they didn’t start or envision.

The Vietnam War bore little or no resemblance to World War II, the anti-fascist war fought by my generation’s fathers. It was far more complex. It resulted from the Cold War, not the evil, poisonous machinations of a European dictator. It had geo-political implications misunderstood by our political leaders. It required interference in a civil war between South and North Vietnam.

It compelled us to grasp an inconvenient truth: we didn’t belong in Vietnam.

Friends fought in Viet Nam. They returned, fortunately. I’ve met many veterans on the Eastern Shore. I deeply admire them. They fought in an unpopular war. They endured senseless abuse when they came home. They moved on.

I think about Kent County resident Wayne Gilchrest, a former First District congressman who served in Vietnam as an enlisted man in the Marines. He quietly wears his combat service as a badge of honor. His experience in war and keen intelligence informed his decision to oppose President George W. Bush’s decision to initiate war against Iraq. For taking this position, as well as other independent stands, this moderate Republican lost a primary election to current Congressman Andy Harris. We lost a really good person and military veteran in our fractious Congress.

At this writing, I’ve watched two more episodes. I continue to be immersed in a documentary about an explosive and contentious time in American history. Burns and Novick have produced a documentary not only about a war but about a country that suffered loss of precious American lives and a world shaken by this remote conflict.

This superb 10-episode documentary represents television at its best. The drama inherent in the starkly realistic history of the Vietnam War, as presented by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, pierced my soul.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Storms Offer Wake-Up Call by Howard Freedlander

It was nearly impossible during the past few weeks to avoid paying rapt attention to the destruction and disruption of lives caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many of us knew people in the paths of these two shattering and stunning storms.

I know people whose primary home is in Houston. Fortunately, they were here in Talbot County, in constant touch with loved ones. They patiently responded to expressions of concern from their Eastern Shore friends.

No sooner did Harvey ceased its fury that Irma followed in its path, visiting its devastation upon the Caribbean and Florida. Again, we had friends and family dealing with flooding and power lost to high winds and broken trees.

It would have been too easy, if not foolish, to disregard the possibility of storm surge on our low-lying piece of Planet Earth. It would be equally silly to ignore the impact of global warming in enhancing the intensity of Harvey and Irma. Media reports rightly focused on the dire plight of residents of Houston and other Texan towns and cities, as well as Key West, Miami and other cities in Florida. I suspect that scientists will contribute their analyses at some point.

All of us should pay attention to the human dimension of the recent storms, specifically on the correlation between global warming as caused or aggravated by all of us on earth and the frequency and powerfulness of storms in recent years.

I will refrain from my typical exhortations about global warming and climate change. Instead, I will spend a few paragraphs addressing preemptive steps, long-discussed, to minimize the impact of storms. My source is Brian Ambrette, coastal resilience manager at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC). For full disclosure, I sit on the ESLC board of directors.

In his frequent electronic newsletter, Ambrette wrote the following, with which I totally agree:

“Why do we wait for tragedy to occur before planning for it? The answer is probably as psychological as it is political and best left to the pundits to debate. To break the disaster-then-prepare cycle, sea level rise is the next clear scenario to consider. A prudent course is to model hurricane flooding with educated assumptions about how much higher the sea will be in future years. Those results can inform zoning and building codes so that the housing stock built today is prepared for the storms of tomorrow. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the country’s third most vulnerable region to sea level rise, communities are collaborating via the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation partnership on proactive responsible planning to reduce the cost in lives and dollars of future storms. Likewise, federal leadership must prioritize and fund planning for the next storm, not the last one.”

As I’ve learned about Brian Ambrette and his patient work to encourage communities to adapt before a calamity, he offers a common sense approach to the devastating and destructive impact of storm surge. His words and thoughts are devoid of political recriminations or unproductive denial. This ‘pundit” does not feel so restrained.

If denial of global warming is steeped in politics—however much I question such errant thinking—then I believe that “adaptation” in the form of stronger, realistic building codes might provide a common ground for constructive action and unified agreement.

As Ambrette wrote, “Now Harvey has introduced a new challenge for disaster planners: formerly incomprehensive quantities of rain. With luck, communities will become better prepared for city-swallowing rainstorms thanks to the suffering heaped on millions of Texans (and Floridians).

Media coverage continues to illustrate the resilience of our fellow citizens in Texas and Florida as they seek to recover and reestablish the normalcy of their lives. Tales of neighbors helping neighbors and disaster relief agencies working feverishly to restore power and clear streets and highways of trees, cars and debris are heartwarming and reassuring.

Still, we must confront the ill effects of global warming. And we must prepare now for the next storm, the next disaster, the next life-shattering weather event.

We must adapt today. Tomorrow may be too late. Lives are at stake.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Filling a Void by Howard Freedlander

You sometimes don’t know what you’re missing until it’s missing. And you grieve as if the “it” is a family member.

And so I felt when Mason’s, a well-known, well-appreciated restaurant on Harrison Street in Easton, closed a few years ago, replaced by a steak house that never seemed too appealing.

Now, Mason’s is returning as part of Easton’s vibrant restaurant mosaic, thanks to Chance Negri, Jeffrey Parker and Jutta Sayles. This new ownership group plans to reopen the doors of Mason’s (yes the name is returning) in late October.

As I confirmed this past weekend, the sale of the building was completed last Friday. A void will be filled. And so will the appetites of customers yearning for return of good, reliable and friendly dining.

More than nine years ago, my youngest daughter and her husband-to-be enjoyed their rehearsal dinner in the outside area of Mason’s. Matt Mason, the conscientious proprietor, abided by the wishes of the young almost-marrieds and served pizzas. Why was this remarkable? Matt didn’t have a pizza oven. It was special evening, one fondly and happily remembered.

So, ever interested in the reopening of a restaurant that provided wonderful memories, excellent food, terrific service and diligent ownership, I met last week with Chance, Jeffrey and Jutta to learn about their plans for 22 South Harrison Street. Like many, I was eager to hear about a new start for a place that once served as a community hub.

Negri and Parker, who have lived in Easton for five years, plan to offer a modern American cuisine. They plan to change the menu four times a year. Chance will serve as the general manager. Jeffrey, a New York-based interior designer, will handle the interior ambience. Jutta will be a frequent presence watching and listening.

Negri, Parker and Sayles all agree they want the new Mason’s (Redux 2017) to become a central fixture in Easton “excellent, fine and relaxed dining,” one that is “warm and welcoming, a “community hub for al organizations.”

In short, the new owners plan to offer an experience that includes a post-church brunch on Sundays, jazz on some evenings and special events.

Aware that the resurrection of Mason’s had created a real stir in the community—emblematic of a small-town environment—Negri said he wants to “live up to the hype.” He is seeking a chef that will “execute what we have envisioned.”

Jutta Sayles envisions Mason’s “delivering fabulous food and a comfortable experience.”

Parker said he looks forward to “seeing people enjoying and experiencing conviviality, warmth and affection every time they dine with us.”

Since the former owner closed Pascal’s Chophouse in the former home of Mason’s, I felt a tinge of sadness for what was a wonderful Easton venue. This former customer always felt comfortable with the menu, the staff and the prices. I always felt secure in Matt Mason’s constant presence in the restaurant; he ran a first-class operation.

As of late October, the void on Harrison Street will no longer exist. It will come alive again, reflecting the tastes and style of Chance Negri, Jeffrey Parker and Jutta Sayles. Old, familiar sandwiches will reappear, albeit with different names and likely different tastes depending on spices and flavorings.

A food connoisseur I am not. My tastes are decidedly basic. But I do like Easton’s varied offerings of restaurants and their expression of their owner’ personalities. Every new or revived eatery improves life in our town, county and region.

The past is just that. The future promises change. The new Mason’s elicits feelings of anticipation and comfort.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.


Out and About (Sort of): Oysters Grow With Patience by Howard Freedlander

After reading a few weeks ago about a Talbot County Council briefing concerning the status of local, primarily government- funded oyster sanctuaries, I was dismayed but not entirely surprised by skepticism over the effectiveness of these regulated limits.I think that the success or lack thereof demands patience as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District ((USACE), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) strive to upgrade the oyster population and water quality.

Watermen and their proponents need to chill out. Trust and then verify, as President Ronald Reagan once said about a newly revived relationship with the Soviet Union.

I’m aware after nearly 41 years on the Eastern Shore of the iconic nature of the oysters and the emotions evoked by this bivalve.

I’m aware that watermen fear for their livelihoods and independence every time government tries to manage a valuable natural resource.

I’m aware that there is deep-seated distrust and frustration on the part of watermen which want no interference, and government and nonprofit agencies and groups who believe that the natural course of events promotes depletion of the beloved oysters.

My stance is clear-cut: allow the restoration of Harris Creek, Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River to proceed without rancor, political intrusion and delay.

I support Council Member Dirck Bartlett’s enlightened approach. He simply advocates giving the state a chance to restore oyster communities while monitoring the progress.

Watermen have been very effective in voicing their skepticism. They have a voice that should be heard. They are defending their occupations. At the same time, they need to look into the future and ensure the restoration effort is fact-and-science-based. They need to trust the process.

Since 2011, restoration has covered 563 acres of no-harvest sanctuary oyster reefs in Harris Creek, Little Choptank River and Tred Avon River. The cost from 2011-2016 has been $47.61 million.

Concerning Harris Creek, which seems to gain the most attention–and contention–monitoring of the reefs occurs three and six years after initial restoration in concert with pre-set Chesapeake Bay Oyster Metrics criteria. Fall 2015 findings revealed that 100 percent of the reefs seeded in 2012 were considered successful (15 oysters per square meter over 30 percent of the bottom while 50 percent met the higher target of 50 oysters per square meter over 30 percent of the bottom. My source is a document produced by NOAA, USACE, DNR and ORP.

While I dismissed skepticism and counseled patience at the outset of this column, I strongly believe that questioning government programs, including this oyster restoration project, is healthy. After all, $47.6 is real money and a significant investment in local tributaries. What I oppose are arguments based on emotion and misinformation.

A free-for-all without any resource management and control would be destructive and counterproductive. I find rumors of poaching on the restored reefs particularly disturbing stepped up law enforcement by Maryland Natural Resources is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, restoration efforts would be severely compromised.

The Chesapeake Bay oyster symbolizes the health and productivity of this vital estuary. The livelihoods of watermen and their families depend not only on the harvest of the blue crab and rock fish but the long-suffering oyster population. The oyster restoration program represents a serious attempt to revive a once-flourishing industry, short of a moratorium.

Increased water quality is a necessary byproduct.

Espousing the belief that watermen and government leaders should give the seeding project a chance to succeed by producing fact-based results, Dirck Bartlett has sounded a clarion call for patience and trust. He’s right on target.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.



Out and About (Sort of): Too Many Generals? By Howard Freedlander

In recent weeks I’ve read articles and op-ed pieces about the prominence in the Trump White House of three generals. Gen. John Kelly, chief of staff; Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of defense and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, national security advisor. The question raised is whether the presence of these gentleman undermines the long-held and well-respected tradition in our country of civilian rule over the military.

In other words, is our nation threatened by a potential military coup due to the high-level positions held by these generals (two of whom, Kelly and Mattis, are retired)?

Do these military officers exercise too much influence over policy development and execution?

Before I offer my opinion, I should state that my favorite room in the Maryland State House in Annapolis is the Old Senate Chamber, where General George Washington resigned his commission, thus illustrating and exemplifying the primacy of civilian rule over the military establishment. It was not a mere gesture. It was purposeful on the part of a man blessed with abundant common sense and love of country. He understood that democracy demanded civilian jurisdiction over the armed services—though this civilian governance could and would often over nearly 240 years rankle wartime commanders bothered by interference considered ill-informed by uniformed individuals.

Now reading a book describing President Harry Truman’s firing of General Douglas McArthur during the Korean War, I feel even more strongly about the civilian-military relationship in our nation. It was a messy but necessary divorce.

Back to our current state of affairs and the supposedly influential generals mentioned in the lead paragraph. I see no danger of the militarization of the top rungs of Trump Administration. I see no threat or degradation of our long-established tradition of civilian control. My reasons follow.

These three gentlemen are exceedingly competent and intelligent people who have long occupied positions of responsibility.

In today’s foreign policy environment, involving numerous conflicts and flare-ups across our earth, military leaders like Kelly, Mattis and McMaster have become fluent not only in warfare but diplomatic maneuvers. They have not sat in a metaphorical foxhole sheltered from complex international issues and debate.

Anybody who has served in combat and experienced death and destruction on the battlefield is typically reluctant to enter another fray. Simply, concern by some that generals situated in high-level civilian positions are trigger-happy warriors is plainly mistaken. Gen. Kelly lost a son in Iraqi combat.

Since World War II, retired generals have played significant roles in national security roles, to the benefit of American citizens. General George Marshall served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense during the Cold War. He was widely respected, if not revered in some quarters, for his competence, steadiness and integrity. More recently,

General Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor under President George H.W. Bush and then as Secretary of State under President George Bush. He too was exceptional.

While I realize that Kelly, Mattis and McMaster have gained media attention because three is a larger number than one, and they are serving an erratic, undisciplined president, they are gifted individuals who view public service as a noble, sometimes treacherous undertaking. They provide much-needed stability and orderly thinking at a time when both are in short supply in the current White House.

One final reason: Generals Kelly and Mattis are retired, fully deserving of being full-fledged citizens able and willing to serve their country in suits and ties, bringing a wealth of experience and wisdom. Lt. Gen. McMaster is still on active duty; he’s been willing to serve in a civilian capacity while putting his military career on hold.

I feel totally comfortable with both the number and quality of generals in the Trump Administration. They are qualified and capable. They are learning that political and bureaucratic combat is difficult and demanding. They realize that recommendations they make (or don’t) have far-reaching consequences.

As I pray in church for peace and political wisdom, I express thanks for the likes of Generals Kelly, Mattis and McMaster. Their fellow Americans are fortunate they are still serving and serving well.

George Washington might cringe a bit at the prominence of the three generals. Upon reflection, he would understand their invaluable contributions to a nation in need.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. 

Out and About (Sort of): Laughter is Helpful by Howard Freedlander

Have you taken time to laugh at life and yourself?

This question may seem absurd in light of hate-filled violence in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere and the ugly racist and anti-Semitic words that often accompany sickening demonstrations of bigotry.

But, harking back to the humor-filled sermons a few weeks ago of Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and chaplain-in-residence at Chautauqua during a visit there in early August by my wife and me, I am convinced that laughter might be a powerful antidote to the chaos engulfing us in our divided nation.

Be prepared, readers, for a heavy reliance on words written by Rev. Sparks in her book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace.” They are far more effective than mine

“When we laugh, we take our eyes off ourselves and our problems, even if only for a brief moment. It’s in that brief moment that we are freed of our daily worries, that we become lightened—in mood and in spirit. And like a great helium balloon, we rise up and float above the concerns of our world below.

“Think about how much we worry about the things that growl outside our tent. It’s funny really. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much we do or how many problems we solve or what we overcome in this lifetime, the size of our funeral will always depend solely on the weather. If only we would laugh a little bit, we might smarten up.”

For sake of reference, Sparks was and still is (at times) a stand-up comedian and former trial lawyer. She became a religious leader after practicing law, serving up comedy and spending two years traveling overseas and domestically before answering the call to become a Baptist pastor.

For full disclosure, I like to laugh but don’t do it enough. Though retired, I live a busy life as a very serious volunteer board member for a few non-profits, as an obsessive alumnus of my university and as a concerned grandparent worried about what the future holds for the following generations.

So, if I truly took Sparks’ advice, I would laugh at myself two mornings a week as I struggle to cope with the demands of a 22-year-old trainer at a gym that I have frequented since I retired in May 2011. In fact, this earnest young man and I do laugh, as I try to alleviate my discomfort (not that bad) by talking incessantly—and asking him if I can go home early.

If I further took Sparks’ guidance to laugh, I would have questioned my sanity last Thursday when I volunteered to take my nearly 17-year-old grandson on a campus tour of St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St, Mary’s City in southern Maryland. I tried hard, at my oldest daughter’s direction, to avoid hovering over my grandson and asking too many questions, as is my wont. I laughed later at my restraint. It was tough being laid back and allowing my grandson to claim space as an aspiring college student.

“Laughter is a source of creativity Studies have shown that the mind associates more broadly, connects more easily, and sees more solutions when people laugh. We find jokes or comments funny because they juxtapose seemingly unrelated things or ideas. And that’s creativity: putting things together in a unique way. When we think creatively, we are more productive and more readily able to solve problems.”

Like most people these days, I read newspapers and watch TV news and want to weep. I listen to our president and want to scream for a better moral outcome. I watch scenes or, at least, the aftermath of domestic and foreign terror, and I seek answers to unexplainable behavior.

Our nation and our world seem devoid of humor. Unless you are a comedian and make your living in the world of sarcasm and cynicism. Yes, this humor is funny—at someone’s expense.

At this risk of climbing my own shaky pulpit and sounding a clarion call for a quest to find a common ground with those with whom we strongly disagree, I do wonder if laughter might provide a conduit for friendship, fellowship- and civil discourse. I’m not suggesting we form a circle, link arms and tell jokes. That seems forced and insincere. Instead, I am suggesting we might parry a disagreeable point of view with humor and goodwill.

Easier said than done, right?

This is a good point to end this column by quoting again from Rev. Sparks’ book: “Like a good roll of duct tape, humor bonds us to each other. It strengthens us as a community, and it allows us to transcend our differences and our barriers. When we laugh with someone—whether it is a stranger, a friend, a lover or an enemy—our worlds overlap for a tiny, but significant moment. It is then that defenses are lowered, ideas and feelings are shared, and the best in each other gleams forth.”

Laughter might not heal all wounds. It can, however, reduce the pain.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Change is Inevitable and Difficult by Howard Freedlander

In the late afternoon on Wednesday, August 9, I went to the Safeway store in Easton to buy lemons and limes for a modest dinner party at our home. It seemed that gloom overhang the store.

I listened to a “management type” whom I had never seen before say to a longtime employee, “Nice to meet you, but I’m sorry it’s under these conditions.” You frequently hear that comment at a funeral home or hospital. Something didn’t seem right.

When I arrived home, I opined to my wife that I thought that this store, a mainstay in central Easton for nearly five decades, was about to close. I predicted we soon would read about the unfortunate demise of this simple, even ordinary Safeway store. And so we did the next day. It is too close in September.

Sometimes you don’t want to be right.

The closing of this store was inevitable, despite its advantageous location. New, progressive grocery stores, filled with far greater selections of food, better marketed with more flair, are now commonplace and pervasive in Talbot County. Safeway could no longer compete.

For reasons unknown to this unsophisticated consumer, the corporate honchos at Safeway had decided not to invest in this store. I suspect it could not do anything but find another location for a larger store similar to the one on Kent Island and throughout the country, something it tried and failed to do some years ago. After all, Safeway is a savvy operation accustomed to competing with the best and most progressive grocery emporiums.

In this case, Safeway was content with operating a mediocre store, watching it wither and die. What a shame for our community.

Situated conveniently at the intersection of Washington and Bay streets, with ample parking, it was within walking distance for both Easton residents and workers. Of course, it wasn’t fancy. Its offerings were limited. The term “gourmet” did not apply to this store. Its employees were loyal and helpful. It had an “old shoe” quality about it. You knew what you were going to get. Your expectations were, well, suitably realistic–low.

While I might sound critical, I also felt comfortable in this ordinary store. It didn’t intimidate me as others did. I didn’t have to call my wife in desperation and seek further guidance about the requested brand. I even knew what I was doing sometimes. My own expectations of myself were low.

Change is difficult, even when you know it’s approaching quickly. The end always arrives with a thump.

So, what will happen with this property? Will a specialized store like Trader Joe’s claim it? Will it become a medical facility? Will a non-profit eager to expand view this location, with its good-sized parking lot, as ideal for acquisition?

I hope it doesn’t sit long without a new use.

On a human level, I hope the Safeway employees find new work homes. They worked hard to keep afloat a sinking ship. Lack of investment by the corporate tier and increased competition spelled the end of a nearly 50-year tradition in Easton.

I will train myself to become accustomed to another local grocery store. Lord knows I will have ample selection.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.