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.

Out and About (Sort of): Chautauqua…continued by Howard Freedlander

If you recall yesterday from the outset of this serious and somber column, bereft of notable humor, I noted the prevalence of culture. One night we attended a ballet performance and the next a symphony presentation by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. A very unsophisticated performing arts lover, as I believe I’ve stated in a previous column, I understand ballet as well as I understand nuclear physics. Yet, “An Evening of Pas de Deux (dancing by two) was magnificent. I just can’t explain why.

Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra

The seamless blending and melding of different instruments under the leadership of a gifted conductor simply confounds my senses–and confirms my lack of musical ability. My reference point, farfetched though it might be, is a professional football team playing at its best when all the parts seem to come together as one powerful masterpiece.

As I think about vacations past, I confess that seven days in Chautauqua compare to no others spent escaping the daily drumbeat of life. I laughed more in seven days than during the past seven years. I attended six consecutive religious services, inspired by a Baptist minister who talked about deep spiritual subjects with a sense of humor that demanded attention and laughter.

Rev. Susan Sparks

Again, I harken back to the delightful musings and message of the Rev. Susan Sparks.

Elvis is not dead. Just ask his followers in more than 500 fan clubs, she alerted us. Sightings abound.

Jesus is not dead if his followers believe in his teachings, Sparks said. And according to this former trial lawyer and stand- up comic turned a Baptist minister on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, Jesus liked to laugh. Hard to believe; he just seemed so serious and driven, blessedly so. Susan Sparks’ source is the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas, which cites several times ‘and the Savior laughed.’

Understanding that most people seek and value proof, Sparks called for faith and belief. She also suggested that Christ may appear in unexpected places, such as in a homeless person or “seeing the face of Christ in a person before seeing the color of the skin.”

Last Thursday afternoon I listened to nearly 45 minutes of 50 Jewish jokes told rapidly and expertly by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Jewish humor, according to Telushkin, focuses on mothers, food, money, argumentativeness, and anti-Semitism, among other easy marks. I thought about the tradition of Jewish humor as embodied in Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield, and Jack Benny.

I thought about my own upbringing. I laugh now about my Jewish mother. Life with her wasn’t always funny, except in retrospect. Her no-nonsense resoluteness could drive her sons crazy.

Chautauqua

Rabbi Telushkin told a story about three elderly Jewish women conversing on a bench in Miami bragging about their sons’ utter devotion to them. For the sake of space, I will go immediately to the punchline. After hearing her two friends boast about their beloved sons, the third woman exclaimed that her son visits a therapist three times a week, at $300 an hour–and talks almost primarily about his mother. Rather easy to appreciate that punchline.

I suspect that Jewish humor strikes universal chords. Mothers are convenient targets of humor.

This week’s theme at Chautauqua is “Fear.” I’m glad that I fell upon “comedy and the human condition. I wouldn’t travel more than seven hours, past Pittsburgh and Erie, PA. to become immersed in fear. That’s going too far.

The first part of this column can be found 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): Chautauqua by Howard Freedlander

The humor was dark, spiritual, political, ethnic, race-related and provocative–all aimed at tickling the funny bone and cheering the soul with laughter for a week in the unusual community of Chautauqua, NY.

“Comedy and the Human Condition” was the theme of week 6 in a summer venue known for 143 years as a religious, cultural and academic community filled primarily with mostly small Victorian houses oriented to the lovely and peaceful Lake Chautauqua. Though I’ve heard for years about this quirky place in western New York State, not far from Erie, PA, I didn’t really understand the overriding need for total immersion in lectures focused entirely on the subject at hand.

I quickly learned the rules of the Chautauqua Way.

Rev. Susan Sparks

The tone was set early on, on the first Sunday, July 30 at the week’s opening religious service when the chaplain-in-residence for week 6, the Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Manhattan, NY, introduced at least a thousand of us to her special mix of spirituality and humor. Her sermons were pitch-perfect. What we all learned, I think, was that the message of hope and faith and joy and love and compassion resonates more effectively when leavened by humor.

Prior to becoming an ordained minister, this Charlotte, NC native was a trial lawyer and stand-up comic. One of her sermons drew a parallel between the King as in Jesus Christ and the other king, Elvis Presley.

Are you kidding me, coupling Christ and Elvis, the king of rock? Yes, according to Pastor Sparks.

Just as his fervent followers, unwilling to give up the ghost, believe Elvis is still alive and set to return any time now, Christians should too consider that Christ is alive and ever-present in our hearts when we act with grace and decency. While I sound preachy and sophomoric, Susan did not. After all, she knew how to blend the serious and comic. She liked Elvis too, appealing to her southern roots and fondness for a legend that keeps growing.

W. Kamau Bell

A self-described “motorcycle chick,” the cowboy-boot wearing pastor captivated her audience every morning. It seemed that her Chautauqua congregation smiled and listened whenever she spoke. She was truly an effective messenger of God.

My mind rarely wandered. That was unusual. Laughter fuels attention. So I discovered sitting continuously on a hard bench, without the requisite seat cushions borne by the wise Chautauquans. We happily sacrificed comfort for nourishment of our souls–sounds like a rookie’s rationalization. New-found friends brought us seat cushions. An act deserving of “Alleluia!”

As I listened and laughed at the political humor of the Capitol Steps, the angry, cynical humor of Lewis Black, the ethnic, Jewish humor of

The Capitol Steps

Rabbis Bob Alper and Joseph Telushkin, the sly, boundary-breaking humor of David Steinberg and the poignant and powerful humor of W. Kamau Bell, I learned that humor can compel you to think differently, ignore your worries, appreciate life’s absurdities, laugh at yourself and provide a wider lens into our nation’s flaws, follies and frailties, as well as our own personal idiosyncrasies.

One caution to political satire, long a staple in our raucous country, came in the voice of Kelly Carlin, a radio comic and moderator and daughter of at the late comedian George Carlin, who pushed the limits of humor by disparaging nearly everything and everybody. She wondered aloud whether political satire weakens our national institutions by shooting holes into and shredding our elected leaders and government agencies. The mistrust sowed and the cynicism generated can be injurious and harmful to the institutions that depend on public support–and trust.

Lake Chautauqua

Maybe it’s too late to resurrect respect for our government leaders. A gruesome prospect. Hope sustains me. Kelly Carlin subtlety betrayed her paternal legacy by questioning but not chastising the impact of mean-spirited humor.

At the risk of seeming self-righteous, I too laugh at satire, particularly if aimed at both ends of the political spectrum. The Capitol Steps are particularly adept. One of their funniest musical routines last week targeted “The Supremes” as a riff on the aging members of the Supreme Court, underscored by a musical rendition of “Staying Alive.”

It was hilarious and apt. And inoffensive to this senior citizen.

Back to Chautauqua, a place that encourages introspection and civil discourse. It’s not a resort, though located on a centerpiece lake. There are too few restaurants. There is not a bar on the premises, maybe due to its religious origin. I say this as a non-drinker. The major hotel, the Athenaeum, is worn, with no pizzazz; our ceiling leaked after some but not significant rain. Few cars are allowed on the property.

And, besides the omnipresent porches on the small, charming houses are the equally pervasive hydrangea plants. They are attractive, but not stunningly so. They remind me of enlarged, colorful mushrooms. They exude colorful freshness. They seem perfect for tradition-laden Chautauqua.

Did I say quirky?

Part Two continued 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): Mind the Gap by Howard Freedlander

Nearly two weeks ago I listened to a sermon at Christ Church, Easton incorporating “mind the gap” as a metaphor for encouraging parishioners to close the ever-increasing distance between our secular behavior and spiritual beliefs. Anyone who has traveled the London Underground rapid transit system has repeatedly heard these words as a caution to watch the space between the landing platform and the train as you climb on and off.

Frankly, my mind wandered as the priest delivered his message in tones too soft for my worsening hearing capacity. Nonetheless, I focused on the purely British admonition and created my own mental picture of American values and actions. Thoughts about morality, the rule of law, ethics and human empathy occupied my mind as I ceased to listen very intently to the eloquent words emanating from the pulpit.

A few months ago I attended an Eagle Scout of Honor ceremony for a young neighbor whose diligent efforts earned him more badges than necessary to become an Eagle Scout. The event, held in the parish hall of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Easton, was simple and wholesome. Long aware that achievement of Eagle Scout status is a notable honor, I was struck by the number of former Eagle Scouts, middle-age and older, who attended the ceremony to support a new member of this select group.

In our often cynical nation, concepts like service to others, honor, character, love of country and honesty may seem old-fashioned and out-of-step with daily life in a country defined increasingly more frequently by divisive behavior and abusive discourse.

I thought about my young neighbor’s Eagle Scout ceremony, as he was surrounded by family, friends, and mentors, as I read about President Trump’s remarks last week at the Boy Scout Jamboree. He illustrated again his total disregard for the presidency and 40,000 young people who had spent days learning about what binds, not divides us.

What a shameful performance by our shameless president!

On an occasion when Trump should have used the moral power of his office to motivate young people to pursue truth and compassion, he used his platform for political purposes. He castigated the media, as he does on nearly a daily basis. So much for respect for the freedom of the press. He slammed the Justice Department for not investigating the alleged “crimes” of Hillary Clinton, his opponent in the race for president. So much for good sportsmanship—particularly since Trump won—and respect for the democratic process.

Trump even told 40,000 children about a New York cocktail party attended by the “hottest people in New York and a friend who made a ton of money in real estate. So much for discretion and judgment.

John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA and an acting director in 2004 and now a teacher at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post:

“The real power of the American presidency lies in its ability to inspire—especially young people who are in awe of the office, its majesty, history, and symbolism. There was no inspiration here (jamboree speech), only mockery, spin, and manipulation.”

All of us, from the president to columnists to religious leaders to scouts, must “mind the gap.” We must seek to bridge the gap between selfish, boorish behavior and innate decency to others. For political, civic, political, educational, athletic and religious leaders, the obligation to navigate the “gap” in a way that provides a powerful example to young people not only is a necessary responsibility but a relentless obligation.

I wrote last week about U.S. Senator John McCain and his current battle against brain cancer. He traveled last week to Washington to participate in Senate votes on an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (ACA). What gained my attention and admiration was not his vote to defeat a bill to rewrite the ACA but his speech after voting yes to consider new health care protection for Americans.

I won’t repeat his words. They underscored a message that contravenes the polarity that characterizes Congress and elective bodies throughout the country: we can accomplish more in collaboration than in political isolation. He also talked about civility; hurtful words damage relationships and curtail progress. He acknowledged that his comments in the past often proved destructive and unproductive.

The gap can be actual or figurative. If we view Scout beliefs in honor, honesty and human compassion as instructive and universal, not childish and Pablum, then maybe we can create better human discourse and behavior.

It would be helpful if President Trump led the way. He won’t, and he can’t. I wish it were not the case. His moral and emotional compasses have no direction.

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): Crab and Gabfest Could Come to an End by Howard Freedlander

For 41 years the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake has been a must-attend event in Crisfield for state politicians and people who like to be around them. The seafood, of course, is a draw, as long as you don’t mind eating crabs and clams under tents on black asphalt that radiates heat.

This iconic event attracts public officials and wannabees from throughout the state of Maryland; it’s become a rite of passage every summer. Temperatures invariably are hot, humid and horrid. Still, politicians and their backers flock to this most distant point on the Lower Eastern Shore.

Why I am writing about the Tawes crab and clam picnic when it receives more than ample media coverage?

My answer is simple, if not alarming. The town of Crisfield may cease to exist as we know it. The annual gathering may have to move upland.

A study produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified 167 communities in 13 coastal states that by 2025 will confront chronic rain surges, defined as when high tides flood 10 percent or more of a community’s usable, non-wetland area at least 26 times a year. Twenty-two of these communities are in our state, mostly on the Eastern Shore.

According to this study, Crisfield will face continual flooding of more than half its land area within about 20 years.

In a recent story on Channel 7 in Washington, DC, the reporter interviewed two women, one of whom runs the passenger ferries from Crisfield to Smith Island. She sounded downright pessimistic about the future of her business. Her dialect revealed that she was a Crisfield native who was envisioning not only the possible demise of her business but the severe disruption of her quality of life.

With this sort of rain-inundated future looming over Crisfield and other similar communities, real estate values could plummet. Residents could scatter to higher ground—and new lives.

As inevitable as coastal flooding appears to scientists and many others concerned about climate change and global warming, adaptation remains a viable, if not imperative response. With financial support state and federal agencies, communities have begun mapping flood plains, directing new development to less vulnerable areas and building buffers to minimize the imminent destruction and force of a surging ocean.

Armed with government funding, communities are taking an open-eyed approach to the impending danger of destructive flooding. They understand the impact on business development and real estate.

As I’ve written before, denial is not an option.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is a special place. Opportunities exist now to adapt and prepare for a future that can and will change the character of a place like Crisfield. For example, as shown on the Channel 7 broadcast, a waterfront condominium building in Crisfield sits on concrete pilings—that’s just plain smart, while long-existing crab processing buildings face the water with no protection.

Though politicians and their supporters can go elsewhere for food, chatter and visibility, a 41-year-old tradition is worth retaining in Crisfield in mid-July every year. I hope that local civic and political leadership is plotting a future that somehow mitigates the impact of disabling flooding.

***************************

Like many throughout our nation, I pray for U.S. Senator John McCain as he battles a pernicious brain cancer. He’s a tough guy who withstood five years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam War. He’s engaged in many political battles in our nation’s contentious Capitol.

I met Senator McCain once just prior to his speaking several years ago at my alma mater’s graduation ceremony. We exchanged very few words—though I was willing to talk more. Perhaps he was preoccupied. Perhaps I should have left him alone.

John McCain is a fervent patriot and outstanding public servant. He will continue to fight to survive.

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): Local Events Reflect Easygoing Charm by Howard Freedlander

There’s something about summer that provides a stage for events that project community cohesion in a low-key, down-to-earth way. Nothing flashy, just comfortable and relaxing.

A month ago, my family, including two grandchildren age 6 and 4, participated in the Trappe carnival, organized to raise money for the local volunteer fire department. We watched the standard parade of queens and princesses, fire department equipment, floats with young baseball players and politicians. The requisite tossing of candy to eager children lining the parade route particularly engaged and thrilled my six-year-old grandson as he seemed to scoop up most of the goodies. His mother, who eschews sweets in her health-conscious home, seemed sanguine by the candy onslaught.

What impressed me was the carnival, as the dollars seemed to fly out of my wallet. The games were geared to children who could win prizes with some ease. I liked the fact that the games were simple and uncomplicated.

Most of all, I liked the small-town feel of the Trappe carnival. I liked that the money raised would support a volunteer organization critical to Trappe and the surrounding area. I learned a long time ago that volunteer fire departments provide the backbone of towns and cities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Their skills at fighting fires and providing paramedical support are invaluable.

Just the past Friday morning, I spent some time at the Talbot County Fair and again appreciated the down-home ambience. I watched the riding competition as young girls, ignoring the heat and humidity, put their horses and themselves through their paces. I was impressed by the obvious preparation undertaken by the riders and their serious competitive spirit.

I chatted with a friend who was cooking for the Easton Ruritan on this hot, muggy day. He’s always loved county and state fairs.

As I walked around the fair, I was reminded that Talbot County is still an agricultural community where youths raised on farms want to show off their skills and enthusiasm.

Being at the county fair brought back memories of the Queen Anne’s County Fair in 1979, a time when I was the editor of the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. I was asked to help judge a dog contest. I knew nothing. Fortunately, I sat next to a woman who knew almost everything about dog-judging, instructing me to look at poise, posture, movement and head size. My aptitude as a dog judge was comparable to being asked to judge a cat show. The pickings are slim when a local newspaper editor is asked to judge dogs—while hoping that the competition is not a prelude to the Westminster Kennel Club event in New York City.

I was pleased that I wasn’t being judged as a judge. That would have been embarrassing.

Intending when I thought about writing this column to avoid any expression of strong, possibly controversial statements, I found that The Sunday Star article about characterization of Talbot County as the “New Hamptons” particularly irksome. In fact, I found the description downright disgusting.

Nothing I’ve heard about the Hamptons seems at all alluring. It is defined in my mind by opulence and conspicuous consumption, I wondered if this rarified enclave includes a Trappe-like carnival and a county fair focused on the area’s traditional agricultural roots. Perhaps I’m being far too judgmental. Perhaps I’m right.

As a 41-year resident of Talbot County, I certainly am aware of its affluence and presence of political and corporate celebrities. Waterfront homes are magnificent, some of them secondary residences. At the same time, I’ve seen first-hand the incredible generosity and community engagement of many residents who have retired to the county. Many of our non-profits either would be non-existent or non-functioning without the support of wealthy, caring residents.

The characterization of Talbot County as the new Hamptons is not new. I recall hearing it before and feeling equally put off by what some might consider a compliment. For me, it connotes pretension. I’ve seen little or no showing off by most fiends with whom I’ve had the pleasure to serve on nonprofit boards.

A small-town parade and carnival and a county fair reflect the goodness of our county, as do other events organized by cultural institutions and non-profits. An image of pretension has little value.

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): Pervasive Angst of Drugs, Soothing Effect of Music by Howard Freedlander

Within 72 hours, I listened to Sheriff Joe Gamble describe the continuously troubling opiate epidemic in Talbot County and throughout the state and then the sounds of music performed in a lovely local home.

One presentation was jarring, the other soothing and refreshing. One shook your senses, the other appealed to your soul and love of musical excellence.

Though joined by others in the law enforcement and health care fields in promoting public awareness, Sheriff Gamble easily gains an audience’s attention and generates alarm as he tells gruesome stories about young people—situated on every socioeconomic tier—who are battling opiate use and abuse. Death from overdose permeates his tales of woe.

For example, he told about a phone call from a mother asking him to come to her home. And so he did, talking with an alarmed parent as her son tearfully told about his journey into illegal and disabling drugs. Gamble knew and liked this young man, having coached him in county sports. This young man, a lacrosse player who recently graduated from college, explained how he got hooked, thanks to a friend who offered him opiates to relieve the stress of a hangover. His addiction had begun. He was on a downhill spiral–a good kid from a good family, facing the consequences of an insidious addiction.

Sheriff Gamble was in familiar territory. He had heard similar stories and observed the painful, sometimes deadly results, not just for the young person feeling imprisoned by drug abuse but the parents trying desperately to find a solution, to avoid losing a child to an overdose.

When I asked Gamble what resulted from this anguishing conversation, he said that the family sent the young man to an expensive treatment center. Some parents can do that. Others can’t. The community suffers from increased crime brought on by the inevitable search for money to support a horrific habit. The cycle of drug abuse and crime continues unabated.

Though I no longer have children living under roof, I well understand that our community is fighting a difficult scourge facing an increasing number of families who are struggling to keep their children alive and healthy. These families can be neighbors or work associates or even relatives.

I’ve written before in this space about observing the demographic of people attending funerals at a nearby funeral home. Not too long ago I saw a number of young people standing on the steps waiting to enter the funeral home. A nosey neighbor at times, I asked an older man heading to the funeral home if he would tell me the age of the deceased person. The answer was 29. As we walked away, he said, eerily so, “There are no aging heroin addicts.” That remark has stuck with me for months. I learned more about the deceased person when I spoke at a restaurant with friends who had just attended the viewing. I was saddened.

So, what do I do besides write this column? As a grandparent, I can ask my one daughter who has teenaged children whether she’s had difficult conversations with her son and daughter about drugs. I can probe ever so carefully. And then I can pray that my grandchildren will avoid the web of opiate destruction.

As I sat comfortably in friends’ living room, “a musical salon” for two hours, followed by pleasant conversation, I absorbed the soothing sounds of Antonio Vivaldi, the exuberant melodies of Wolfgang Mozart, the beautiful poetry of Franz Schubert, the wonderful American folk song “Shenandoah,” and the feel-good words of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” and the Gershwin brothers’ “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”

The musicians were superb. A soprano whose voice was spellbinding, a violinist whose range seemed endless and a pianist who provided the foundation of an unforgettable blending of musical skills and varied offerings—it was incredible. I felt transported to a world without worries, one where you simply had to allow your senses to appreciate first-class talent.

I must add a caveat. I was raised in a musical family, one anchored to an omnipresent piano. I rebelled, however. I was the only member of my immediate family who strayed from the ivories. I lacked the skill and, more importantly, the patience to practice. My foray into the accordion and drums ended in disappointment for my parents and frustration for me.

Along the line, I inadvertently savored lovely music. I could listen. I could applaud excellence. I could not, however, dissect the elements of a performance. That was okay.

I draw no parallel between Sheriff Joe Gamble’s distress alarms and the cultural beauty that marked the end of Saturday afternoon. One strikes the chords of human concern—an SOS signal that none of us should ignore. The other activates your senses to beneficial effect of music written by masters and performed by superior artists.

Opposites mark our lives.

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): Bemused Brits Unfazed by July 4th by Howard Freedlander

Ever wonder what our British friends think about our celebration of July 4th as we gather for cookouts with family and friends, watch fireworks with great delight and wear patriotic clothes?

What I don’t wonder about is whether current residents of the Mother Country feel embarrassed about the defeat of British forces during the Revolutionary War. I suspect they don’t care a whit. What happened more than 240 years ago when our rebellious young nation rose up in angry protest against what it considered repressive treatment by its British rulers is all in the past.

My not very extensive search for insight to the British viewpoint on American frivolity on the fourth day of July led me to a reservoir of good humor (or should I say “humour?”).

Vigilant about injecting politics into this week’s column, I will only say that the Brits must be having a field day in applying their wry, sometimes biting commentary about the ridiculous behavior of our cartoonish president. Okay, readers, I will move on; I vented, moderately.

As I combed through a maze of internet writings, I happened upon Redux / Suffolk Scribblings and found a mother lode of humor entitled “5 Reasons why the British should celebrate 4th July.” I will summarize them:

  • “It was our idea.” The thinking goes like this: Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, England, wrote “Common Sense” only two years after arriving in the United States, it was an early book promoting colonial America’s independence. John Adams, one of our founders, heaped great praise on the book.
  • “We got to keep Canada.” Though I said I would not delve into our nation’s messy, dysfunctional politics, I must say that Great Britain is far better off at this time in history with our civilized neighbor to the north than our divisive, poorly functioning states.
  • By paying attention to other colonies after granting independence to its bumptious American cousins, Britain could focus on India—and enjoy its culinary delights such as curry.
  • July 4th is the only day in the calendar year that Americans pronounce correctly. “For 364 days in the year, our American cousins say April Sixth or February Eleventh. It is only on this special day that the date is pronounced correctly: the fourth of July. “
  • Perhaps the most important and substantive reason (my sarcasm) is the retention of cricket as a singular possession of the British, regardless of the popularity of baseball in the United States. Bemoaning the domination by Australia, India, the West Indies and South Africa in cricket, the writer muses: “Can you imagine how dominant the US would be if all 400 plus million people loved the game?”

To turn serious, I find that the most significant expression of British acknowledgement of our July 4th celebration occurred on July 4, 1940. In an incredibly effective and eloquent speech before the British parliament, Prime Minister Winston Churchill goaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to leave the sidelines of war waged by Nazi Germany and join Great Britain in fighting this menace. Specifically, Churchill succeeded in persuading Roosevelt to approve the Lend Lease program involving vitally needed warships.

What Churchill said was masterful. He told the world, including the reluctant United States, that England would stand resolutely committed to defending democracy against a rapidly spreading despotism.

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender, and even if, which I don’t for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s name, the new world, with all power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the old.”

So, ironically and strategically, Churchill rallied his countrymen on America’s Independence Day—but, most importantly, pushed the United States into a conflict it no longer could ignore. Churchill understood that the Free World was in desperate jeopardy. This crusade required dependence by allied countries on each other to preserve freedom.

Surrounded by good cheer, good food, and glorious fireworks, the Fourth of July has a moral underpinning to it. Winston Churchill understood that link and persuaded President Roosevelt to give renewed attention to American responsibility.

Happy Fourth, USA and Great Britain!

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): Old News Maybe, but the Message is Not by Howard Freedlander

When controversy in 2015 engulfed our community about the Confederate statue of the Talbot Boys in front of the Talbot County Courthouse in Easton, I did not devote a word in this weekly column about it. I held no position. I was torn.

While I condemned a statue on public property commemorating the Confederate forces in the Civil War, I also adhered to the concept that it is foolhardy to rewrite history. The 84 local soldiers named on the statue fought bravely for a cause in which they believed—though it was a corrupt one based on retaining the evil institution of slavery and white supremacy. Slavery repressed and imprisoned blacks in a system that brought great riches to white property owners throughout the South and Mid-Atlantic.

Some readers may wonder why I am resurrecting an issue settled by the county council after months of hearings and furious letter-writing in The Star Democrat. Discussion over the proposed removal of the Talbot Boys monument was part of national revulsion over the shameful killing of African–Americans in a Charleston, SC church.

I changed my mind after recently reading eloquently passionate and reasoned words spoken by Mayor Mitch Landrieu before the removal in mid-May of four monuments in New Orleans paying homage to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard.

I now view the propriety of the Talbot Boys statue in a harsher light. I also realize that my epiphany will make little or no difference.

We see no monument in front of the courthouse referring to slave auctions that took place there. This omission certainly would represent, if not the erasure of history, the purposeful ignorance of it. While I hardly suggest such a monument, I think thought should be given to an unvarnished view of history—if that’s the primary argument behind retaining the Talbot Boys.

In explaining the reasoning behind the removal of four monuments in New Orleans, a place well known as America’s largest slave market, Mayor Landrieu said:

“The historic record is clear; the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. The cult had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity…these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause, they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror it actually stood for.”

Revisionist history states that the Civil War was not about slavery but about states’ rights. Confederate states were not fighting, so the argument goes, to retain slavery but their rights to govern and conduct themselves as they wished. This is hogwash.

In Mayor Landrieu’s powerful speech, he cites remarks made by Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, in which he said, “the cornerstone (of the Confederacy) that rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Stephens’ words sound eerily similar to those spoken by Adolph Hitler. It’s critical to remember that no statues of Hitler stand as reminders of history. It was an unforgivable blight that never will go away. Concentration camps stand as a grim reminder of human terror and unconscionable behavior.

While I have no desire to stir the cauldron, I do think that the African-American mayor of Richmond, VA, Levar Stoney has developed a workable solution to the awful story of slavery and the horrific human and physical damage imposed by the Civil War as symbolized by statues that define Monument Avenue in the former capital of the Confederacy.

The theme is always the same. The monuments in Richmond and elsewhere represent false history set deceptively in stone and bronze. They pay tribute to military heroes and political figures in enabling Jim Crow discrimination and repression to continue.

Mayor Stoney has recommended interpretation—historical context—to accompany the monuments. The purpose is to perpetuate truth, not revisionist history. Some sort of explanation would provide the “other side” of history.

At some point, I suggest that county government and community leaders consider a plaque or sign beside the Talbot Boys monument to address the horror and stain of slavery. While I applaud the bravery of the Confederate soldiers, I believe the omission of a monument to Union soldiers is glaringly wrong and misguided.

The presence of the Frederick Douglass statue does not provide equal treatment; it stands on its own in honoring a person who gained national fame for his eloquent abolitionist writings and speeches

Some might say that our community has had its dialogue—and that’s true. The county council members strove to listen to all viewpoints and make a reasoned decision. I do not intend to criticize the county council. I do suggest, however, paying attention to actions taken by other jurisdictions.

History should reflect the truth. Even if it is inconvenient.

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 Community with History Driven by Tumult by Howard Freedlander

For nearly 41 years I have driven across the Miles River Bridge through the small African-American community of Unionville and never understood until recently its significance not only in Talbot County and the Eastern Shore but also in our nation.

I just didn’t “get it.”

Surrounded by waterfront estates and expensive homes, Unionville seemed oddly placed. The modest homes and well-kept church gained scant attention through my car window. I have since learned that I should have delved more deeply; I should have opened my eyes and mind to a community tied not only to the Civil War but to a Quaker landowner who despised slavery.

Thanks to an exhibit at the Talbot Historical Society and specifically Larry Denton, its dynamic executive director, I learned that the 150-year-old Unionville exists only through the generosity of Ezekiel Cowgill, a Quaker abolitionist who leased lots to 18 soldiers–former slaves and free blacks who fought for the Union in the Civil War Many of their descendants, including Harriette Lowery, still live in Unionville. Her ancestor was Benjamin Demby.

A Delaware native, Ezekiel Cowgill bought Lombardy, a dilapidated Miles River Neck farm, in 1856. He employed only free blacks. Most of the land on Miles River Neck belonged to the Lloyd family; the owner of the Wye House plantation at the time was Colonel Edwin Lloyd VI, whose bustling enterprise included hundreds of slaves. According to the Maryland State Archives, “Ezekiel Cowgill was affected by his slaveholding neighbors and expressed surprise to find himself living as a neighbor to slaveholders.”

It’s not surprising that Cowgill was one of two votes in Talbot County for Abraham Lincoln during the 1860 presidential election. I wonder how this principled man coped with being a lonely voice in Talbot County politics.

His Quaker roots go back to Delaware, where he served as State Treasurer and the trustee of a fund used to establish a school for free blacks under the auspices of the Preparative Quaker Meeting of Little Creek. After moving to Maryland, he became a “well-respected and influential member of the Quaker community in Talbot County” as a member of the Third Haven Meeting in Easton, according to the Maryland State Archives.

I have spent four paragraphs writing about Ezekiel Cowgill because I suspect that his story as a Quaker abolitionist who treated blacks fairly and humanely is one duplicated elsewhere in the United States. His leasing of land, however, for $1 a month to Civil War veterans who served with colored regiments—11 of the returning soldiers had previously been slaves on the Lloyd plantation—was an incredible and notable act embodying generosity both of spirit and material support. Though the leases generally extended 30 years, one granted to Isaac Copper spanned 99 years.

When I think about the 150th anniversary of Unionville exhibit at the Talbot Historical Society and the recent event sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Honor Society at Wye House on May 21, 2017, I feel pleased that blacks and whites are acknowledging together the county’s history—good, bad and ugly. I hope that other communities above and below the Mason-Dixon Line are facing the past equally as honestly and forthrightly.

As I’ve written before, grace comes in different forms.

Ezekiel Cowgill’s move to Talbot County changed the social order of the Miles River Neck. The establishment of Unionville paid visible tribute to Civil War veterans who escaped slavery and degradation to fight in a conflict that changed our country. The current actions by the Frederick Douglass Honor Society and the Talbot Historical Society represent a form of grace in the united efforts of well-intended individuals to give visibility (“transparency” in current vernacular) to periods of history that often displayed despicable human behavior.

Now, as I drive through Unionville, my eyes are wide open.
I see a community founded on the goodness of Ezekiel Cowgill and populated initially by resilient former slaves who fought in a horribly divisive and destructive Civil War. I see descendants of the Lloyd family, such as Richard Tilghman and his wife Beverly, and a descendant of an original Unionville resident, Harriette Lowery, working in unison to build ties that will last another 150 years.

Our county and the Eastern Shore are rife with history. We all benefit from examining it.

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.