Door On The Shore by George Merrill

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I’m routinely in and out of all sorts of things, but none more than doors.

Doors are a signature feature of daily life. We meet one at almost every turn. I would reckon that in the course of my lifetime, I’ve come and gone through millions of doors. Yet I never take notice of them. For something as omnipresent as doors, they remain surprisingly invisible. And so, in reflection, it seemed surprising to me one day some time ago, driving along Rt. 50, I noticed several doors. It wasn’t as though I had to pass through any of them. I simply found the sight of them compelling, enough so that I pulled my car over to take a closer look. The doors were hanging in an old derelict motel located just north of Easton on Route 50. At first glance, the doors were a sorry sight.

The motel was brick, a one-story stretching out like a set of row houses and arranged in a semi-circle forming a courtyard in front. There was surprisingly little rubble in the courtyard but hardly a pane of glass remained in any of the window frames. Inside the units I saw junk: old furniture here, some wire there, metal cabinets there and in one unit, a small stove. A couple of plastic chairs and a mattress in another unit suggested that maybe the motel still provided a modicum of hospitality to some less fortunate on their journey to and fro on the Shore. My eyes were drawn again and again to the doors, most of them still intact, half open, their fronts lit by the sun, highlighting the darkness within as if in its terminal condition the motel was declaring that even in its twilight days it was still game to do what it always had, that is, providing hospitality to tired travelers.

In summers, up and down the Peninsula, motel populations swell with happy vacationers on their way east and south, “downee ocean” as Marylanders say. Cars are packed with bags and toys for the beach while kids repeatedly ask ‘are we there yet,’ all seeking the sun and fun of the Delmarva coastline. Folks come from Baltimore, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and other cities as they have for years. For the last several years they will have passed an abandoned motel just north of Easton and never seen it, in the way a motorist’s eyes hardly notice road kill. After a while, on long drives, one becomes inured to the passing landscape except for more garish sights, like those monolith road signs up and down the Eastern Shore that display advertisements for restaurants, motels, casinos and lawyers.

The small abandoned motel certainly had its day – not even its sign remained – and the only functional witness left to honor its contribution to the life of past summer migrations to the Peninsula were its doors. The doors still hung on their frames, able to open and close. A few locks worked so some doors could still provide one of a door’s most important historic functions, that is, to safely secure it’s inhabitants for the night.

For many, the word, “motel” doesn’t imply class as say, the word “hotel” or “Inn” does. The Inn of colonial times may have provided you a bed, but no shower. Forget running water. You’d get a chamber pot or use a privy, and probably share your bed with a number of strangers, some of whom may well have been lice infested. Our modern motels, however marginal, have a leg up on any Inn of old. Comfort beats class for most of today’s travelers.

Of all the doors at the old motel, it was the one at room number ‘9’ that enchanted me most. I imagined that the face of that door, like the face of some wise old man or woman for whom each wrinkle that time had etched into it, told a story. And indeed the door face was heavily wrinkled and rippled with weathered wood and peeling paint. I wondered as I watched shadows play around the curled folds of paint, what those stories may have been that the door had overheard, tales told by people who had once come by to stop and to rest on their journey ‘downee ocean.’

I’ve often had similar thoughts when I’d come across abandoned houses in the more rural areas of the Shore. Many sagged under the weight of time like people do but unlike people who feel self-conscious about it, for an old house long forgotten, no remedial measures are available. On the inside, one might see a lone pot or a mouse eaten chair or a two-legged table. Just who were the people they once served and where did they go?

As there are old men and women who are full of years but now marginalized, and yet have seen it all, there are doors like that. Doors, like such people, rest tentatively on the tired hinges they have that still move while wisely keeping their own counsel and the secrets they’ve overheard a long time ago.

Am I the only one who sometimes wonders where the trillions and trillions of stories go that humankind has told since we developed language? Do you suppose they are like the beams of lightless stars traveling into the eternity of the cosmos?

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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