Out and About (Sort Of): Just 70 by Howard Freedlander

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“They told me my services were no longer desired because they want to put in a youth program as an advance way of keeping the club going. I’ll never make the mistake of being seventy again,” Casey Stengel, the famed, successful and witty manager of the New York Yankees and New York Mets from 1949 to 1965, once said.

I turned 70 yesterday, one of the last of my closest friends to do so. I understand Mr. Stengel’s humorous take on achieving seven decades of life. Fortunately no one needs or wants my services, at least not urgently so.

So, how does it feel be 70? Okay, I guess. Some thoughts readily come to mind.

Years of good health are limited. Increasing age can be constraining in terms of physical capability and stamina, as well as cognitive ability. Health problems will become more frequent and persistent. What is always present for me, however, is a strong, lifelong sense of optimism; I can’t live without it.

What bothers me the most, however, is the stark realization that perhaps I will see my grandchildren, specifically the toddlers, reach adolescence and that’s all. I probably won’t see–or at least may not understand–their growth as young adults. I wish this were not true.

If I sound morose, I beg forgiveness. Mixed with my innate optimism and natural love of, and fascination with life is a strong grasp of reality, a distaste for denial of life’s trials and tribulations. Sometimes reality can be bittersweet; you try to manage the personal challenges and expectations and move on.

Trite as it might sound, close, well-cultivated connections to family and friends provide a constant and uplifting injection of good health, at least mentally and emotionally. You traffic in happiness and cheer, not gloom and bitterness. As you fill your car with fuel to avoid being empty, you do the same with the energy you feel in family relations and sincere friendship.

Again, at the risk of repeating the words of healthy, accomplished people through the years, another source of sustenance is the art of giving, of donating your personal goodness, be it to friends or strangers. I’m speaking of small things we might do for someone in stress, for someone who is suffering a setback, for someone who might benefit from a simple act of kindness. No credit due or sought.

At age 70, I dearly want to stay vibrant, alert and attentive. I want to contribute to my community in ways that are beneficial for today and tomorrow. I want to help family members confront and overcome challenges. I want to help friends when asked and maybe on my own volition. I want to give something back to the community in which I have lived for nearly 39 years.

We rent our space on earth. We pay back with our sense of responsibility. We hope that selflessness outscores selfishness in the game of life. We hope our objective is doing good work, not personal gain.

Since my retirement 51 months ago, I have observed many friends in their late 70s-to- mid-80s and note how they carry their advanced age with class, style–and youthfulness. They scarcely complain about their ailments, their loss of mobility in some cases and their diminished hearing. They approach life positively, enthusiastically and determinedly.

These friends may not know I’m watching and learning. I admire their mental toughness and emotional stability. I wish I could tell them how much I like and respect them. I’m afraid I would embarrass them.

So, readers, lest you think this newly-minted 70-year-old is long-winded and insensitive to the danger of verbosity, I will close this column. Will write again when I’m older.

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.

Angels Drive Junk Cars by George Merrill

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I’d always thought angels were frequent flyers, winging to the jobs to which God assigns them. In January some years ago, I discovered they also work from junk cars.

Because I had a six o’clock meeting in Washington, I was on the D. C. Beltway on Friday evening at five-thirty. It had been snowing. Traffic was a nightmare. Drivers were frantic. They would zigzag, feint and dart like fish in a feeding frenzy. Even at fifty-five miles an hour I seemed to be standing still as cars shot past me on either side. I was in the middle lane, trying to remain calm. One driver would speed up and ride almost on top of my rear bumper and then back down. I think he was signaling his contempt for my conservative driving. Trying to leave a safe distance in the front and in the rear was impossible. As I slowed to make space, a car darted into the slot as if I were making the space for that driver. Motorists were predatory. If I could get out of the middle lane and into the right, I thought I’d be safe.

I sped the car up trying to position myself. The motor raced, but the car did not accelerate. The motor had disengaged from the drive. I had no power. Something was broken. My car rolled freely, but was inexorably destined to stop in the middle lane. Horns honked, cars jockeyed furiously to pass me on either side. Besieged by outraged motorists demanding that I move right, left, back, forwards – just move and get out of the way – I felt under attack. I was frightened.

My car decelerated. There was a break in the traffic. I looked for a place to pull over, but high snow banks from the recent plowing had covered the safety lanes. An opening appeared in the right lane, about two cars in length just short of the Georgia Avenue exit and I pulled over. My car, its one side pressed to the snow bank, had about three feet on the driver’s side where traffic hurtled around the beltway like the blade of a buzz saw.

I didn’t think I was in any serious danger but I did have one anxious thought. “What if I were having a heart attack? Nobody would stop to help and I would die alone.” I felt cold, angry and powerless.

A car pulled up in front of me. It looked junky as if it had been abused a lot, not like my comparatively new Taurus. My first reaction was that this was not the Good Samaritan; this was the robber. He’s stopped to rip me off. The driver got out. I watched him warily as he approached my car. I opened my window half way. “Can I do anything to help?” he asked. I can’t remember what I said, but it was something evasive and dumb. He took a friendly initiative in the conversation. “Look. If you have AAA, I could give them a call and get them to come. Give me your AAA number and I will go over to Georgia Avenue and let them know you are here. There’s a CITGO station there.” I remember giving him the number hesitantly, passively assenting and somehow feeling safer for being noncommittal. He asked if I needed anything. Thanking him, I said “No.” He returned to his car and headed toward the Georgia Avenue Exit.

Humiliated by my own suspicion and guardedness with this stranger, I also had a surge of gratitude for what had happened. The two feelings collided. I felt mean spirited. Treat the stranger with hospitality; the old biblical exhortation goes, because you may be entertaining angels unawares. As I handed him my AAA card through the half closed window of my locked door I was still thinking he might be a crook.

An hour later he appeared and pulled up. He got out and came over to my window. I rolled it all the way down. “AAA is on the way. Need anything else?” I thanked him, said no and asked his name. “Steve” he said. He went to his car and it roared away into the omnivorous traffic. Riding in the wrecker later, I thought how my car was brand new and had been serviced only recently while Steve’s looked well worn. It’s the way things work: those who have less to give offer more of themselves. I guess that’s why angels drive junk cars and stop to help strangers.

Delmarva Review: Dining in Rome by Sarah Barnett

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Editor’s Note. “Dining in Rome,” by Sarah Barnett, is reprinted from the current edition of The Delmarva Review and earned a Pushcart Prize nomination for 2015. The Delmarva Review is pleased to present this and other literary writing to readers in partnership with The Spy. The author, Sarah Barnett, retired to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, from a career in public affairs. She writes essays and short fiction, serves as vice president of the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild, teaches classes in short story writing and leads a weekly “Free Write” for writers, aspiring writers and anyone with a story to tell. Her work has appeared in Delaware Beach Life, Delmarva Review and other publications. Wilson Wyatt, The Delmarva Review

April Gray opened her new spiral notebook to its clean first page and clicked her ball point. Marlee Winters looked too young to be a teacher and a published poet, she wrote. Her asymmetrically cut hair and bright blue eye shadow gave her the look of a Picasso portrait. She felt like a writer already.

Up front Marlee addressed the group: “This class is unlike other writing workshops. When you write quickly without thinking, you can often surprise yourself by uncovering lost memories or gaining new insights. You may find yourself thinking, ‘I didn’t know I knew that.’”

Finding your Voice as a Writer was held in a classroom belonging to a high school English teacher by day. Paperback covers and quotes from novels—The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye—papered a bulletin board at one side of the room. The dozen participants had rearranged the desks in a circle for better “writing karma.”

While Marlee talked, April shifted into soul-mate searching mode, scanning the room for men in the right age range (her own 34 years plus or minus five). They had to meet other intangible requirements, which could be filed under the heading “spark,” a quality she’d recognize when she spotted it. The guy across from her in jeans and white dress shirt, for instance—Ben. When their eyes met briefly, she thought a writer might describe them as “thoughtful” but that “soulful” would not be overdoing it.

When April and her philandering husband divorced two years ago, she had made the mistake of thinking she could replace Rick as easily as you bought a new battery for your car. After ten years of marriage, the newer rituals of dating were as mysterious to her as the principles of quantum physics.Rather than flounder in a strange world, April resolved to write a novel about a romantic relationship instead. She knew this was tantamount to pretending you were dining in Rome when actually you were eating an Italiano Burger at Olive Garden. Still, April believed that by creating a successful relationship, even a fictional one, she’d learn something useful.

Each night before falling asleep, she visualized page 117 of the manuscript of It Might As Well Be You, hoping the morning would bring a breakthrough. Her characters, Wendy and Sam, were supposed to recognize their love in typical romantic comedy fashion, but somehow anger crept into each scene, tension escalating until explosion was inevitable. A door would slam, a dish would be hurled.

“Free writing,” Marlee was saying, “puts you in touch with the artistic right side of your brains. Have you done this before?” April was mystified, but half the class was nodding and smiling.

“Let’s get started. Keep writing. Don’t stop to think or go back to edit. Let yourself go on a journey.” Marlee drew an old-fashioned egg timer from a roomy red satchel, and read the prompt from her notebook: It was a fine morning until…

If someone had described free writing to her before class, April would have asked for a refund. She felt as clueless as an English student asked to compare Holden Caulfield with Hamlet. She thought of her characters unable to move on the playing field she’d created. The words that flowed from her pen surprised her. Soon she’d fashioned a scene in which Sam and Wendy assemble a bookcase. Sam wants to count the pieces and read the directions, but Wendy rips open the bags of screws and bolts and starts building. As she read her piece aloud, a satisfying amount of laughter told April that she might find her writer’s voice after all.

Two hours passed quickly as they wrote and took turns reading. They worked their way through He opened the wedding gifts by himself, and In my opinion, the best color in the Crayola box is….
We are lonely visitors to a small planet prompted April to write: We bump into each other and stick together for a while. Breaking apart is simple physics, the natural result of the original jolt. Did she mean that?

Ben, she noted, described places that made him feel lonely—empty beaches, crowded bars. A twinge of recognition at the phrase, “strolling the boardwalk empty-handed,” caused her to look at him more carefully.

The following week April again sat opposite Ben. His rimless eyeglasses made him look as if he’d be at home in a laboratory, although the khakis and black polo spoke of lounging in a recliner with a good book.

When she heard the first prompt—No one is who they appear to be—April thought of her blunder at a singles dance. I always tried too hard, smiling too brightly, laughing too easily, she wrote. I covered my nervousness by pretending I knew my way around. Then I blew my cover by introducing Paul, a man I’d just met, to Bonnie, his ex live-girlfriend. April was pleased by the laughter but more pleased at the subtle message she’d sent Ben—she was available.

As the next person read, April glanced at Ben. Was it her imagination or was he staring at her? Yes. He was studying her with dreamy fascination, the kind of look that made her face flush. She pretended to rummage in her purse for her water bottle, took a drink, then kept her head down while everyone read their pieces.

April found herself enjoying Ben’s low key humor, nodding in appreciation when he compared his early attempts at poetry to “painting a circus using only the color blue.” As he read, he’d glance up at her as if to check her reaction. Was he reading to her?

Ben’s writing hinted at a woman in his life: Serena, a taller-than-he-was blonde with a quick temper, and a gift for sarcastic put-downs. April couldn’t know if this were fact or fiction but allowed herself to muse, I would be so much better for him.

With Marlee’s encouragement, she began to use the class prompts to learn more about the characters in her novel. Dinner ended with ice cream and a loud argument inspired her to dramatize the spat Wendy and Sam have in a Chinese Restaurant.

On her way out of class Ben fell in alongside her. “Will Wendy and Sam will make it to Valentine’s Day?” He’d remembered April’s rendering of Wendy’s feverish search for a card that was amorous but “not too mushy.”

“Tune in tomorrow,” April said. “I can’t make Wendy behave. Sam wants to be the hero in her fairy tale and she’s…” Was she babbling?

“Nice line,” he said. When they reached her car he held her notebook while she dug keys out of her pocket.

Driving home, she couldn’t remember if she’d even said “good-bye” or “see you next week.” The unexpected compliment flustered her. I do fine at free writing, but I flunk talking, she thought.
By the third or fourth class April felt she’d stumbled into a version of You’ve Got Mail. She and Ben were writing to each other, for each other. She was sure of it and not sure of it at the same time. And she’d caught him staring at her again. She’d met his eyes for a half-second, then lost courage and looked away.
Then came: It was that strange hour belonging to no one. When it was Ben’s turn, he read a wistful description of a lovely sunset, wishing he had someone to share it with. Was that a message? What about Serena?

Two prompts later, she’d written back, or rather, Wendy left a note on the kitchen table for Sam. Let’s go to the park on Sunday. I’ll make those cookies you like. Bring sandwiches, no white bread.
By week five, April had learned that Ben taught high school biology, but that his goal was to write a mystery series. He and Serena, a patent attorney, had been in an on-and-off relationship since college.

April had let Ben know that she was divorced with no kids and that she edited a trade association newsletter, but there was so much more she wanted to say. Let’s go for a walk; spend a rainy afternoon watching old movies; I’ll cook you dinner. Was she imagining things or were they growing closer through their writing?
What would Wendy do? April had given Wendy her own olive green eyes and unmanageable reddish brown hair. Now she could use some of her character’s feistiness. She could write the lines: Why are you looking at me like that? Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking? She just couldn’t deliver them.

April looked up from the pages of It Might As Well Be You. Why had she never seen the messages between the lines? Wendy always testing Sam, challenging him to demonstrate his devotion despite her peevishness. “This isn’t a novel. It’s my life,” she said aloud. “And Ben? He’s just another fiction that exists only in my head.”
The flash of recognition was so unexpected that she almost shouted “Aha,” like a detective in the next to the last chapter of the murder mystery. Of course she wanted Ben. Wanted him with the soulful desperation of a character in a chic-lit novel. She wanted him precisely because she could not have him. He was as unavailable to her as the fine jewelry in the locked cases at Macy’s. It was safe to yearn for him, to daydream about him. It was never going to happen. She was never going to worry about what to cook for their first romantic dinner, the right moment for them to have sex. She was never going to have to wonder if she was losing him.

With this recognition came another insight—Wendy and Sam. What did each of them want that they were afraid to admit to themselves? To each other?
The messy pages of her manuscript now seemed like a shopping list for a party that would never happen. Leaving her characters struggling with whether they were ready to vacation together, April secured the pages with a rubber band and placed the bundle in the bottom drawer of her desk with odds and ends that had no other home.
Forget romance. She was going to be a writer.

Not a bad plan, April would think five years later. Flunking romance had allowed her writing career to blossom. Wendy and sam—for better and worse, a series of stories depicting the ups and downs of a modern relationship, had a large following on Love and Other Mysteries, an online women’s magazine. She had a blog, 10,000 fans liked her Facebook page, and an agent was pitching a story collection to publishers.

April and Marlee conducted Free Writing workshops in bookstores, schools and senior centers around the city. They’d written articles for aspiring authors on using free writing to generate story ideas and to jump-start stalled projects. Marlee had published her first novel, much of which she’d written during her workshops and followed up with “How to write your book one Free Write at a time,” a newsletter article that morphed into a popular blog.

April’s friends still tried to fix her up with men, but she’d stuck to writing about relationships. Occasionally, her thoughts turned to Ben and that first writing class. How had she been so naïve as to concoct a romance out of a glance and a few scraps of writing?

“Remember that first class I took with you?” she asked Marlee over lunch one day. Marlee nodded as she chewed a mouthful of burger.

“You’re going to think this is crazy-weird, but I had a crush on Ben, the schoolteacher who wanted to write mysteries. I thought he was writing to me. I mean, I thought he was sending me messages.”

Marlee’s eyes opened wider, an expression that managed to signal both tell me more and you’re kidding right?

April rummaged through her salad, spearing a shrimp with her fork. “He’d write about being lonely, and I’d write something hinting that I was single. Then I’d get Wendy to say something romantic to Sam, hoping Ben would get the hint. Now that I’m saying this out loud, I hear how childish it was.”

Marlee covered Wendy’s hand with her own. “Not childish, just…Okay, childish, but…”

“But what? I’m 39 years old with no idea how a real relationship works, still writing about Wendy and Sam, who by the way, postponed the wedding again.”

Marlee rolled her eyes. “April, they’re fictional characters. Those two are getting tiresome. I’m more interested in this Ben thing.”

“It was nothing,” April said. “I hadn’t been single very long. I needed a fantasy to keep me going.”

“But what if it was real?”

“You think so?”

“Hard to know. It was your fantasy.” Marlee pointed a French fry at April. “Still, I think it would make a great story.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Change everyone’s names, especially mine. And give it a happy ending. Your followers will love it.”

That night April sketched out a scene that took place at Marlee’s apartment, a party to celebrate the last class. I’ll change the names later, she thought, and began at the end.

Arriving at Marlee’s, April decided that her all black outfit blended perfectly with the condo’s “aspiring poet” décor—paisley shawls draped over the lampshades, framed poetry on the walls. She spotted Ben pouring a glass of wine, laughing as he waved her over.

“What’s so funny?”

“Didn’t Wendy and Sam do this?” he said.

“Drink wine?”

“Show up at a party in the same clothes.”

Her eyes traveled from his shoulders to his shoes. Black turtleneck sweater, jeans, boots. Her outfit almost exactly. Except he looks better in it than I do, she thought.
“They did—white shirts, blue jeans, black leather vests. Sam thought it was a sign; Wendy called it a coincidence.”

Ben took April’s arm and guided her to a corner behind a Shoji screen that hid a small writing desk. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” She looked up, not quite meeting his eyes.

“All that writing we did. Were we…you know…writing at each other or something?”

April’s first impulse was to deny it, but when she found her voice, she said, “I thought so. You too?”

“Yeah.”

“Um, can I ask you something?”

Ben nodded.

“Aren’t you…seeing somebody?”

“I was, but…well, we were like Wendy and Sam, bickering, and when I started getting serious about writing, Serena didn’t get it. Said I’d never make any money at it. Then…”

April held up her hand. “I don’t need to hear any more.”

“What now?”

She looked down at their black boots, almost touching. April could see the next line as if she were typing it on her laptop. “Marlee’s teaching another class next semester. We could keep writing to each other. It could be a book, a movie, but who’d watch it? We’d need…”

“An ending?”

“No, a beginning.”

Ben smiled. The back of his hand grazed her cheek. “Meet me in the park on Sunday?”

“I’ll bring the cookies.”

Unity’s Michael Jensen on the Shoreline

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Unity Landscape Design’s business mantra is “Designing and constructing ecologically sensitive and functional outdoor living spaces.”

While that sounds appealing to the ecology minded-landscaper or gardener, especially as we live on the ecologically sensitive Eastern Shore, you have to see their work and visit their office and nursery on Church Hill Road (Rt. 213) to appreciate the scope and quality of their mission and plans for the future.

Michael Edward Jensen, founder and president of Unity, spearheads that mission and it’s breathtakingly multi-faceted.

Along with day to day operations providing commercial and residential services for a wide array of services from shoreline erosion control, wetland restoration, and invasive species management to planting and transplanting trees, shrubs and perennials designing irrigation systems and offering property maintenance to name only a few, Jensen is creating an interactive learning environment for the public.

Not only is he offering workshops to the public—there’s one this Saturday on living shorelines—Jensen and his crew, along with the help of some international participants attending his ongoing learning “workshops,” are creating a large central garden modeled on “sacred geometry” which will lead visitors through a spiral of flowers, trees, vegetables and shrubs representing the cardinal cycles of life and our ever-transitioning seasons.

Eventually, Jensen will be inviting the public to use the new garden space for artistic events; music, poetry readings, perhaps even some small outdoor theatre. It’s more grand than a short interview can describe, but if you are interested in gardening, sustainable living and the aesthetics of metaphysical (and, as he says, “atomic”) design, you should be in stop by Unity’s nursery and garden outlet at 3621 Church Hill Rd. and find out for yourself what this extraordinary place is about.

And it’s not too late to sign up for Saturday’s class about Living Shorelines 101 Seminar. If you have a house near a body of water and have been watching it disappear, this is the event for you.

The seminar will take place from 10 AM-Noon, at Unity Church Hill Nursery, 3621 Church Hill Road, Church Hill, MD. Following a presentation by Jennifer Dindinger and Eric Buehl, Regional Watershed Restoration Specialists, attendees will visit nearby Camp Pecometh to view an example of a Living Shoreline Project. Michael Jensen of Unity Landscape Design/Build, a partner in the implementation of the project, will be available at the site to talk about the design and construction process and to answer questions. The event is free and open to the public, but please call 410-556-6010 to reserve your space.

In the meantime, Michael Jensens talks a bit in this video  about the vision he has for Unity Landscape Design

The Riverkeepers: Isabel Junkin Hardesty and the Chester

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We’re 60 years from the original Riverkeeper concept born out of citizen concern for the polluted Hudson River—a main source for NYC drinking water—where bacteria levels were 170 times more than safe limits and, along with Lake Erie, were considered near dead. Several dramatic lawsuits filed by citizen organizations against Con Ed and Penn Central resulted in an emboldened movement to challenge the status quo.

Now there are more than 150 Riverkeepers worldwide under the umbrella Waterkeepers Alliance and Chester River Association and they are tasked with testing the quality of their respective rivers while advocating for new strategies to combat degrading elements like phosphorus and nitrogen.

The Chester River Riverkeeper, Isabel Junkin Hardesty, has been the “voice of the River,” for the past two years, and although water testing might be the most recognized activity performed by the Riverkeeper, Hardesty describes the spectrum of environmental issues the Alliance addresses. The quality of the Chester River impacts all of our lives, economically,  environmentally and recreationally. Hardesty and the Chester River Association work hard to make it, and its tributaries healthier.

Find out more about the Chester River Association here.

Out and About (Sort Of): Vietnam Vets Honored By Howard Freedlander

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Our Vietnam War veterans deserved a better homecoming. Their time has come, albeit more than 40 years late.

As part of a Maryland Public Television (MPT) documentary honoring Vietnam veterans, to be aired in May 2016, and a two-day salute at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium in June 2016, MPT has organized a statewide traveling exhibit, which I saw last week at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Easton. It was well worth the visit.

Though I never served in Vietnam, fulfilling my military obligation during that time in the U.S. Army Reserve, I was painfully aware of how those who served during this wildly unpopular war were treated when they returned home. Some citizens considered them baby-killers unworthy of respect. Some veterans were spat upon. Many veterans when they returned from Southeast Asia to the San Francisco airport quickly removed their uniforms and changed into civilian clothes for fear of being publicly chastised.

This ill treatment on the part of some of their fellow citizens still resonates in the quotes featured in the traveling exhibit.

Vietnam veterans deserved better. They still do.

The American public, disappointed and disillusioned about the conduct and purpose of the war, blamed the soldiers (a term I’m using to encompass members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force), instead of the policymakers. Soldiers fought and followed orders; they didn’t decide why it was considered necessary to engage in combat in a small Southeast Asian country riven by civil war, nor did they develop military strategy.

As in all American wars and conflicts, our Vietnam-era soldiers served well, often sacrificing their lives, if not suffering injuries that maimed them and scarred their psyches. Our nation failed to appreciate and applaud the valor and dedication of our Vietnam veterans. Their re-entry into post-combat life was far more difficult and complicated than it should have been. Our veterans often felt they had to hide their pride of service, inhibited in discussing their experiences.

Due primarily to the Vietnam War and roiling undercurrents of dissent disrupting our country, our veterans returned home to a country marked by sit-ins at colleges and universities, civil rights protest marches and an anti-establishment attitude permeating communities throughout the United States. Sexual and social taboos were questioned and flaunted. The decade of the 1960s was marked by three assassinations—President John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy—and a beleaguered President. Lyndon Baines Johnson, forsaking a reelection campaign in light of serious opposition in his party and the nation.

As I read about the eight veterans pictured and quoted in the MPT exhibit at the VFW Post, I felt drawn back to the late 1960s and early 1970s and many wrenching memories. Perhaps because of my age, perhaps because of Vietnam veterans with whom I served as an officer in the Maryland National Guard, I understood even more clearly the injustices and insults faced by our returning soldiers.

As I have learned, the Vietnam War generated some good. The American public realized that wartime veteran deserve commendation, not condemnation; they deserve to be treated as returning heroes, not pariahs chastised for policies for which they had no responsibility. From a military standpoint, civilian and uniformed leaders learned that participation in combat requires a robust force to achieve victory; half steps are dangerous and unsustainable.

I applaud Maryland Public Television for producing a documentary about Vietnam-era veterans (with many of their voices included), organizing a major weekend event to honor those who serve in a much-maligned war and assembling a statewide traveling exhibit.

Our Maryland veterans of combat in Southeast Asia finally are receiving favorable attention and long-overdue gratitude—from all of us.
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.

Diogenes and Unnatural Acts by George Merrill

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When I was a schoolboy I stole a fountain pen. The teacher recognized the pen and asked where I’d found it. I don’t recall what I said but I remember vividly how my face became red hot while I insisted resolutely that the pen was mine. The teacher didn’t buy it, the pen was returned and justice done.

Lying disturbs our natural biological functions, writes essayist and physician, Lewis Thomas. Electric discharges on the surface of our skin change, and our heart and breathing rhythms fluctuate. A flushed face may occur, as was my case in school. The lie detector documents these aberrations providing convincing evidence that for human beings our default position is set for truth telling. The lie detector exposes lying because our bodies spill the beans. We’re hardwired for truth. For us, lying is an unnatural act.

We hold truth as our highest virtue, so why did the ancient Greeks believe everyone was a liar. In their famous myth, the philosopher Diogenes, lantern held high, searches for an honest man but finds none? Was Diogenes looking for a man who tells the truth all the time or did he exclude women from the search. Either might explain his discouraging results.

Since human bodies react negatively to lying, dishonesty debilitates us, not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually as well. I know people living in dysfunctional families for whom the effects of lies can imprison its members in a hopeless world. Some undiagnosed complaints plaguing many people are often traced to living with lies that produce symptoms like lower back pain, headaches, listlessness, bad moods, and some forms of depression. Our own lies victimize others and ourselves as well.

In popular thinking, we arrange lies hierarchically, the way priests categorize venal and mortal sins; dirty lies top the list, then whoppers, next white lies and finally fibs.
There are times when lying can be a virtue. For marriages, strategic equivocations are absolutely necessary for keeping couples happy: I think of a husband whose wife asks him if he’s noticed she’s lost twenty pounds. He says yes but he really hasn’t. Or the wife who assures her husband she’s fine with him watching Monday night football and drinking beer with his buddies. Truth is she hates Monday nights and his boorish friends.

A child shows the picture she drew of you; your face is red, hair green, legs like sticks, your nose like a cucumber and your ears like Dumbo’s. She asks if you think it’s nice. “Oh sweetheart, it’s beautiful.” To say otherwise would be worse than any dirty lie you might ever tell.

Princeton moral philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt discusses the subject of truth in his scholarly book called, On Bullshit. Frankfurt draws fine distinctions in this business of truth telling. A liar, he tells us, utters statements that he knows aren’t true. ‘BS’ on the other hand is a statement someone may utter with authority although he’s wholly unaware that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. People most inclined to ‘BS’ are those from whom the public expects authoritative statements like clergy and politicians. Under pressure some may come to believe as truth what they have unwittingly made up.

A Bishop of my own denomination in 1654, stated definitively: “God created heaven and earth . . . beginning the night of the 23rd of October in the year 710 of Julian.” Before reading Frankfurt’s book I would have considered the Bishop’s statement a whopper. It may well be that it was simply ‘BS’, that is, the Bishop sincerely believed he knew what he was talking about. I might add Donald Trump as a contemporary example of the consummate BS’r.

Popular opinion holds that politicians ‘BS’ most of the time. It’s hard to tell. Some you know right away are really shoveling it while others you can’t quite tell whether they’re lying or just BS-ing. A fair number of political promises fit easily into the ‘dirty lies’ category.

For all the fine points of what truth is, I’ve found that some moments of truth are profoundly moving. They are beautiful and rarely forgotten. Whenever I recall the ravages caused to South Africa’s people in the wake of apartheid, I think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His inspired vision of truth and reconciliation, unprecedented in this day when reprisals are a way of life, saved the nation from a bloodbath of vengeance. The truth that he helped the nation speak, also set it free.

Once I personally experienced one man’s truth and I was profoundly moved by it. I was a parish priest then in New York City. I often drove from my church on the West Side across town to visit shut in’s. One day, when I returned to my car, it had been rear-ended. I found a slip of paper tucked under the windshield wiper on which a man had written an apology for the damages, left his name and phone number asking that I call him so that he could cover the costs.

The man could have easily have disappeared and remained anonymous. I found his gesture extraordinary because it was not driven by expediency but by his heart. Truth, when we find it, is lovely.

Some might think that finding an honest man in New York City is a dead end. Not so. I discovered one after being rear-ended. You never know when or where an honest person will show up. And when one does, it can make your day.

Talbot Men will be Pumping it Up August 30

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Ready, set, and Pump it Up! for Talbot Hospice on Sunday, August 30th from 2:00-4:00 p.m. when Harrison Street will turn into a race track for some of the area’s well-known men. These good-natured guys will turn out in style in their high heels and high fashion outfits and run, walk or wobble down Harrison Street (between Dover Street and South Street) in Easton. It is all in good fun and being done to raise money for the Friends of Hospice as a precursor event for the Festival of Trees held annually in November.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 8.17.04 AMThe fun begins at 2:00 p.m. with music, food and drink concessions, and several raffles including a chance to win a pair of designer shoes! The racers will be introduced at the Waterfowl Building at 3:00 p.m. with the race and awards ceremony immediately following. The Washington Street Pub, this year’s lead sponsor for the Drag Race, will be donating 10% of its profits on August 30th to the Friends of Hospice, and will host a post-race after party to celebrate the racers and supporters. Other sponsors of the event include The Star Democrat and Check Yourself Talbot.

In addition to running the actual race, each racer will be competing to raise the most monies. Joining in this year’s race are Tim Boyle, Mike Butler, Josh Cooper, Joe Gamble, Keith Graffius, Erik Higginbottom, Ken Mann, John Mautz, George Paugh, Joe Petro, Bill Rolle and Derrick Shindler. Visit the event’s website http://festival-of-trees.org/drag-race.html to view a full listing of the runners, as well as their bios, and place a bet (make a donation) on your favorite racer. You can support as many runners as you would like. All proceeds from the race will go directly to the Festival of Trees event.

The co-chairs of this year’s event, Sandy Hale and Erica Kirby, have set a goal to raise $25,000. “We have a very competitive group of men this year, and they have already begun their training regimens and narrowing down their fashion choices!” said Ms. Hale. “I am telling everyone, get there early and get a spot up front. This has become an Easton tradition you don’t want to miss!”

Festival of Tree events are presented by the Friends of Hospice to benefit the Talbot Hospice. Talbot Hospice’s mission is to offer patients and caregivers hope and dignity at the end-of-life. Talbot Hospice recently announced the launch of its Pediatric Care Program. With this new program, Talbot Hospice is now able to provide services to anyone, without regard to a patient’s age, who lives in Talbot County. This also includes support for families as they continue to seek curative therapy for their children.

Mark your calendar now and don’t miss the “Men in Heels” event on August 30th. It will be a fun afternoon supporting a worthy cause.

Spy Avalon Tip: 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

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Get out your dictionaries! Six quirky adolescents compete in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, run by three equally quirky grownups, occasionally interrupted by two overbearing fathers, and a very special visit from Jesus Christ himself. Interspersing recitations of some simple words and some not so simple words, Spelling Bee exposes hidden fears, frustrations, and the awkward typicalities of the pubescent stage. So brush up on your spelling (audience members are asked to participate onstage in the bee itself!) and prepare yourself for some spelling bee E-N-T-E-R-T-A-I-N-M-E-N-T!

The cast boasts the talents of Rachel Cox, Catharine Jacobs, Emma Langfitt, Lukas McGee, Nathan Mullen, Patrick Powell, Jonah Sanders, Joe Tyler, Tim Weigand, Markel Williams, Emily Wittman, and Jeremy Wolfberg. Direction is by Liz Clarke, musical direction by Kevin Thomas, and choreography by Iz Clemens.

The Avalon Foundation’s Underground Actors Present
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Friday, August 21 at 8 pm
Saturday, August 22 at 8 pm
Sunday, August 23 at 2 pm
Adults $25 & Students $15
All general admission

Out and About (Sort of): Marvelous Maine by Howard Freedlander

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A former camp for boys in central Maine, now containing privately owned cabins–gussied up, of course–facing Lovejoy Pond (looked like a lake to me) provided a serenely
peaceful and pleasant vacation spot for three days.

My wife Liz’s friend of 47 years, an educational consultant in St.Louis, MO,was our gracious host. Conversation was easy and comfortable.

IMG_1212At first I was concerned about being bored. That feeling quickly vanished, with side trips to a famous ramshackle restaurant known for its unparalleled lobster rolls, to the Farnsworth Museum with its incredible Wyeth paintings in Rockland and to the Colby College museum in Waterville, with its impressive display of American art.

I’m afraid I can make no connection to Talbot County. I ate lobster instead of crabs. I marveled at rocky beaches and lovely lakes, instead of well-traveled rivers, sandy beaches and the incomparable Chesapeake Bay.

And, by the way, we ran into Easton friends who recommended the Colby museum. Word of mouth is effective.

And I almost forgot to mention Camp Menatoma’s loons, which sound nothing
nothing like our noisey, honking Canada geese.

Life is good and relaxed. Reading, talking, eating, walking and playing Scrabble are major activities. Evenings are cool. Sleep is easy.Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 4.50.31 PM

We left a tranquil setting for tourist-infested Kennebunk Beach, which typifies Maine’s rocky coastline. As I learned from Farnsworth Museum, Maine’s rugged coastline and fishing industry, particularly its lobster harvest, have inspired artists and authors to capture the rareness of Maine. Not unlike the literary and artistic lore of our own Chesapeake Bay and its enticing tributaries.

I mentioned the infestation of tourists. I too am one of those wide-eyed enthusiasts trying to enjoy and learn. Maine is a wonderful place to visit, savor its seafood and marvel at its landscape. I can understand why friends from home find themselves drawn to Maine, especially to escape hot and humid weather so common to Maryland.

Lingering becomes a favorite pastime in a snippet of life unburdened by deadlines. Reading becomes the top priority. Catching the sun in moderation becomes another passive activity. Doing nothing seems worthwhile, with the Atlantic Ocean feet away.

New England accents are distinctive, a bit jarring at first but gradually accommodating. I now wonder what visitors think when they visit the Eastern Shore and hear native dialects. Accents define the place–and a different experience.

It’s always nice to go home and taste familiarity. Respite is invaluable, away from daily concerns and chores. And, the lobsters remind you of Maine’s culinary goodness.

Steamed crabs will soften my acclimation to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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.