Out and About (Sort of): Pause Before Raising Wages by Howard Freedlander

As the Maryland General Assembly addresses legislation proposing a hike in the current minimum wage of $10.10 to $15 an hour, I recommend caution as well as compassion. Like most things in the political arena, a decision aimed at boosting take-home pay and relieving poverty is not simple or straightforward.

Since I wrote last week that I planned to devote this week’s column to examination and analysis of the minimum wage by this non-economist, I’ve read extensive emails sent me by a friend and economist and spoken with business and non-profit executives. A housing specialist also offered input.

I am torn.

Every working person should make enough money to live not impoverished, able to pay expenses. Everyone should feel compensated fairly and valued. Everyone should feel proud of one’s output, unburdened by a supervisor’s unrealistic expectations.

Employers, particularly those who own small businesses or manage social-service non-profits, face a quandary when state government decides to raise the minimum wage. Eager to pay their employees a fair wage, they now may face a mandate. They also must confront simple economics: can they afford to employ as many people at a higher hourly rate and make a desired profit or continue providing services?

If the answer is no, then employers must lay off employees. They may have no other alternative. The result is undesirable: former workers either must find another job or seek unemployment insurance.

Employers might cut benefits. That too is hurtful.

Nonprofits providing necessary services to poor individuals are in a squeeze when compelled to pay higher wages. The needy clients cannot pay higher fees, prompted by higher-paid service-providers.

Having spent considerable time in Annapolis, I well realize that opponents of bills such as ones dealing with mandated minimum wages or benefits always claim that the world will fall apart should legislation viewed as onerous be approved and signed by the governor. I also know that these cries of alarm are sometimes rhetorical devices.

This time around, I suggest that minimum-wage opponents receive a fair hearing. Their voices need to be heard and regarded. Further, I suggest that if the General Assembly find the politics irresistible to increase the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15, it do so in phases.

Private and non-profit sectors need time to adjust to a new wage reality.

And one more thing: I believe that the minimum wage be set differently for, say Baltimore County, than it is for, say, Dorchester County. This is reasonable. The cost of living differs. The volume of business and ability to pay employees is markedly different in Towson than it is in Cambridge.

Leaders of Maryland counties must have a respected voice. Decentralized decision-making may be unreasonable; input, though, is vital.

An unavoidable consequence of raising the minimum wage in a small business typically calls for hiking the hourly rates of those folks earning greater than the existing minimum wage. This is just a reality. Personnel expenses thus continue to rise for a small business owner.

Complexity underscores the minimum wage debate. It’s just so tempting to raise pay and enable people and their families to live more comfortably. To argue otherwise seems so heartless. It seems the right thing to do in a churning economy.

I ask Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Mike Busch to consider the inevitable byproducts of a compassionate and politically pleasing legislative initiative. I wish I could jump on the bandwagon without any reservation.

I would like to be led by my heart. It’s just not rational.

Before I bring this column to a merciful close, I believe that raising the minimum wage should not be a stand-alone action. The legislature should combine an increase with additional incentives to build affordable and safe housing and provide job training and affordable day care. It simply makes sense if the state wishes to upgrade the income and output of workers in a holistic way.

At the risk of being redundant, I urge readers to pay heed to the Maryland General Assembly. What it does matters.

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): Look to Annapolis by Howard Freedlander

About this time every year, I suggest that readers pay attention to the deliberations of the annual 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly. It may not be as dramatic and absurd as the goings-on of the U.S. Congress and our deeply flawed White House occupant—but, nonetheless, its impact is easily felt from Oakland in Western Maryland to Crisfield on the Lower Eastern Shore.

I must admit that state government may be the last refuge for consistently significant legislative initiatives that often draw bipartisan agreement and even a degree of comity among state senators and delegates who are as diverse as Maryland, with its urban and rural enclaves and varied political viewpoints. So, pay heed to the state’s 439th General Assembly, now nearly a week-old.

Before I offer my take on the critical issues facing our 188 legislators, which includes 60 new members, I must express my prayers to Sen. Mike Miller, an Annapolis legend who has served more than three decades as president of the Maryland State Senate. Diagnosed with an advanced form of prostate cancer, Miller, a wily master of the legislative process and political cunning, will continue to preside over the 47-person State Senate while undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

As a prostate cancer survivor, I have some inkling of Miller’s fraught medical prospects. Because his cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, the gentleman from Southern Maryland lacks the option for surgery or radiation, the normal choices for those of us whose prostate cancer had not metastasized. As he said last week, Miller will be in good hands at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Many of us on the Eastern Shore with serious diagnoses of many types feel fortunate that one of the greatest hospitals in the world is roughly 90 minutes away. It is an invaluable safety net.

To keep this week’s column to a manageable length, I will focus on two issues that particularly interest me, If the spirit moves me, I may seek readers’ tolerance and write a follow-up next week.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan will try to persuade the Democratic General Assembly to debate how to draw up Maryland’s congressional districts in a fair way. Our state’s gerrymandered districts are a farce.

Democrats are awaiting a decision by the U.S, Supreme Court to uphold or negate a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals that the boundaries drawn for the 6th Congressional District are unconstitutional.

Hogan has recommended the creation of a nonpartisan commission that would oversee redistricting, beginning after the 2020 Census. I think the idea is a good and necessary one

I feel particularly strongly after the recent election in our 1st Congressional District here on the Shore and parts of Baltimore and Harford counties. I watched with dismay as Jesse Colvin, a Democrat, waged an energetic campaign against incumbent Representative Andy Harris, a Republican who has held the office since 2010—when the district was drawn to create a safe seat for a Republican while redesigning the 6th District in Western Maryland to make it more favorable for a Democrat.

Despite an all-out effort by Colvin, a first-time candidate who brought Republicans and Independents into his camp (not enough) and raised more money than Harris, he lost by 22 percentage points. Harris has a hold on the 1st District. As he said, he didn’t create a district favorable to him or any other conservative Republican; the Democrats did.

When a district is gerrymandered, no longer fairly representing voters at both ends of the political scale, democracy suffers. In the 1st Congressional District, for example, Democratic voters feel they are unrepresented by Andy Harris, who needs only to cater the needs of those who gave him a commanding victory. That is not to say that Harris would not help a Democratic constituent with personal concern, i.e. a passport or Social Security claim. The perception is that he feels no need to seek goodwill from Democrats.

Let’s take this one step further. Call it realpolitik. When Rep. Harris considers a congressional bill or regulatory action, he need not adopt a centrist position that would satisfy both Republicans and Democrats. He can vote with the ultra-conservative wing of his party, because he fears no retribution. Not when you win an election by double-digit percentage points.

Political observers of both stripes bemoan gerrymandering. They believe, as I do, that Congress is stuck in an uncompromising quagmire because senators and representatives represent extremes. The middle is increasingly unpopulated. Ignoring for the moment that members of Congress ideally represent the country’s interest, I realize that political science, as many of us studied in college, is based mostly in fantasyland.

Re-election is the primary goal. Maybe once in awhile the greater good becomes the primary objective, but not often.

I said nine paragraphs ago I would write about two subjects. As you can see, gerrymandering and its nefarious implications drew my passionate attention.  I will write next week about the minimum wage, which the General Assembling is considering raising from $10.10 to $15 an hour. An economist friend has provided me a reasoned analysis. I just need more time to digest it.

I hope that the General Assembly will think beyond parochial concerns and determine that a nonpartisan commission for the redistricting of congressional district makes sense for all voters. Currently, 21 states have some form of a non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission.

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 0f): Southern Migration by Howard Freedlander

They travel south by car, car train, recreational van and plane. They travel alone. They seek warmth and comfort as rewards for lives spent working and rearing families. They are intent on escaping cold weather, snow and ice.

Some view Florida as ideal. Some don’t. Some prefer South Carolina. Some seek Caribbean islands or the southwest. They nestle down either in second homes or rental units (or RVs).

They consider the Eastern Shore their home base. Yet, they have roots and friends in their winter communities. They seem content. They don’t look back, except at weather maps to confirm their winter choices.

Of course, I am describing snowbirds who flock annually and mainly to southeastern United States. They make no notable noise as they leave their primary residences. They welcome friends to visit them and vacate, albeit briefly, the winter “up north” and its sometimes miserable weather.

Like actual birds, snowbirds from a geographic area in fact do flock to the same town or even the same housing community, as I’ve learned. Call it a nest, an oversized one, where the human birds savor familiarity as well as pleasant temperatures.

Simply, longtime friends spend all year together. I’d like to think that transitional visitors would make new friends, and maybe they do. Common bonds provide the glue that brings and keeps friends together, regardless of the locale.

Does it sound like tribal instincts? It feels that way to this home-bird.

Readers may wonder why I care enough about the snowbirds to spend so many words on them? Who gives a darn? Life isn’t static.

In my retirement career as a non-profit volunteer and status as a full time, all-weather Shore resident, I miss the snowbirds. Yes, I admit it. They sometimes call into meetings. They sometimes fly in for medical appointments—and then vanish again. Conversations that I would like to have with them are consigned to emails, texts and mobile phone calls.

Now, I’m not complaining. I’m just observing an annual anthropological phenomenon. A passage, as it were. Movement can define life.

Did I say I’m a bit jealous, particularly during snowstorms and accumulation of annoying ice? Easy to discern, I bet.

The term “snowbird” became commonly used in 1979, though used first in 1923 to describe seasonal workers who went south for the winter.

In recent years, when I have visited Florida, I’ve noticed a large number of Canadians. Understandably so. I can’t imagine enduring freezing temperatures when you have the option to spend four to six months in Florida.

Last year, when a friend, Paul Cox, and I traveled to Dunedin, FL, near Clearwater and Tampa, we watched the Toronto Blue Jays play thrice, including once in Sarasota against the Orioles. In the latter instance, I was struck by how much louder was the Canadian anthem than our Star-Spangled Banner, as sung by fans in the stands. Those north of the border have staked their claim in Florida, mining it for a respite and recreation.

Supposedly, Canadians comprise the largest percent of winter visitors in Florida.

Two years ago, as Paul and I watched the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros play in a brand new shared ballpark in West Palm Beach, including a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, I was amazed how many retirees wore team jerseys. Gray hair and paunches around the middle don’t hide a childlike enthusiasm for baseball.

Hometown loyalties are alive and well, however much money one has spent relocating to the complex state of Florida. You can’t forget your roots, right? Sports generate lasting loyalty.

Retirees are an economic development force in Florida. That’s been true for at least 100 years. According to the Aging and Research Center of Broward County (Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood), senior citizens’ spending power is $135 billion, $15 billion more than residents 49 and younger.

Unless Florida sinks underwater, it still will be an irresistible draw. Miami must cope with surges of water caused principally by global warming.

This trend has grown with the retirement of the baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. I missed the outset by a year. Nonetheless, I still qualify, I think, at least by association with my younger wife.

The snowbird migration began for some in December, even earlier. They are settled by now in their comfortable nests. Friends are nearby. Life is good. Temperatures are pleasant. Snow and ice are in the rear view mirror.

Keep in touch, my friends the snowbirds. Do not send pictures. Try not to gloat about awful weather back here.

Godspeed.

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) Looking Back at 2018 by Howard Freedlander

Typically, a New Year’s Day essay or column looks back at the past year and forward to the next 12 months with hope and optimism.

Last week I expressed faith in the future, though in a muted way. I bemoaned the sad lack of compassionate and reasoned leadership in the White House. Today, I will go in another direction and comment briefly about events and achievements—as I view them—in Talbot County.

I feel sure that readers have personal and professional reminisces that brought them joy and discomfort. They reside in your own mental journal.

One caveat: my comments are not in sequential order.

I think back to early June when the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall came to Easton, situated on the grounds of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5118. The organizers did a splendid job in bringing this coveted symbol of the Vietnam War and its 58,000 American deaths to a place where thousands of people could gather to pay homage to family members and friends. As I wrote in June, the “Wall” brought healing and comfort to veterans, their families and even opponents of this unpopular war fought more than 50 years ago in a small Southeast Asian country.

I felt moved and touched. This war belonged to my generation. The conflict split the country. Returning troops arrived home to unjustified abuse and criticism. They deserved better.

Maybe time heals real wounds, physical and emotional.

It also was in June, specifically the 28th, when a crazed gunman killed five employees of the Annapolis Gazette in a rampage of revenge over earlier coverage of a domestic dispute. As a former journalist (maybe I still am), I was stunned. My daughter knew one of the victims, a woman well-known and well-liked in Annapolis. Like others, I considered the murders an attack on journalism and on its inextricable value to our dissonant democracy.

All of us are familiar with mass killing in our violent nation, whether in a nightclub in Orlando, FL or an outdoor music venue in Las Vegas, NV. When it occurs close to home, it strikes a particularly unsettling chord that pierces our heart and sense of decency.

Freedom of the press comes with a price. Deadly at times.

Again, in early June, Temple B’Nai Israel opened its doors to the public on property located at the southern end of Easton Parkway, across the road from St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church. It had moved from its former location in the shadow of Shore Medical Center. My wife and I attended the impressive dedication, which drew people of all faiths. The message was healing and unity.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Peter Hyman and a devoted congregation, the synagogue has grown from 60 to nearly 200 families in the Mid-Shore area. Vibrant religious houses of worship strengthen a community, showcasing its diversity and common ties. On November 1, the synagogue hosted an all-faith vigil in remembrance of the mass killing in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Though I didn’t attend, 400 others did.

Now, readers, I’m moving in a literary sense to a closing, one that has affected many of us in the county. I’m referring to The News Center, an Easton bookstore that closed its doors in early August. Not until it closed did I realize how important the store had become to county residents seeking not only books (now read on IPads and Kindles) but greeting cards and gifts—as well as coffee and conversation.

The News Center had become a destination for my wife and Sandy, our Yellow Labrador Retriever, as the former sought coffee and the latter attention and treats. Store employees became frequent acquaintances.

I spoke about houses of worship as community center. Stores such as The News Center also become part of our lives. For our wedding anniversary in late December, I found myself shopping for cards in Target, instead of a small, comfortable store that had provided me with abundant selection over the years.

Change is necessary. It can be inconvenient too.

In late October, on a rainy, cold day, during the annual OysterFest, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) relaunched the Edna Lockwood, queen of the museum’s fleet. It was a wonderful event that celebrated the rebirth of an 1889 built on Tilghman Island by John B. Harrison for Daniel W. Haddaway. Until 1967, it dredged for oysters through the winter and bore freight after the dredging season. Edna is the last historic sailing bugeye in the world.

As a CBMM board member, I deeply appreciate the cultural and historic value of the artifacts that grace the St. Michaels campus.

I will end on a local political note. Never one to pay close attention to Talbot County Council elections, I changed my focus the past year after the establishment of the Bipartisan Coalition for New Council Leadership. Dan Watson, the key force behind this group, made a sound and thorough case for opposing the election of Jennifer Williams, council president, based on disagreement with land use decisions.

Though the Coalition’s actions drew rancor from the Republican party—and Ms. Williams ‘defeat–I believe that they prompted county residents to be more vigilant and informed about a government body that influences life in Talbot County. Were I a council member, I would like more, rather than less public participation, even if it’s annoying and obstreperous at times.

I wish Talbot Spy readers a hopeful and happy New Year. I pray that our lives will comprise more grace and civility than anger and disgust.

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): Desert Christmas Still Resonates by Howard Freedlander

Today, 28 years ago, I celebrated Christmas with a hardy group of Maryland National Guard troops and feisty desert flies in Saudi Arabia. We were there as part of Operation Desert Shield, which preceded the 100-day combat action, commonly called Operation Desert Storm.

We were near Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia.

The recently deceased George Herbert Walker Bush was President.  He initiated the first Persian War against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. General Norman Schwarzkopf led the Allied forces in 1991 in a fast-moving, lightning strike against the overwhelmed Iraqi troops.

My memories of Christmas Day in 1990 are crystal-clear. The Guard troops were amazingly resilient as they enjoyed Christmas devoid of decorations, gifts, family and festive music in deference to Muslim strictures. They simply sat around picnic tables telling jokes and filling the time with laughter and goodwill.

Though forbidden to display any holiday decorations in a Muslim country, the troops resisted in creative ways. For example, early in the still-dark morning, a soldier dressed up as Santa Claus strolled around the desert post. That same day, I saw a Christmas tree on top of a barrack. The village elders demanded that the tree be removed. And it was, sadly.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the troops smuggled in the Santa Claus costume and the tree. I marveled at American ingenuity—and devotion to a holiday so important to our nation, notwithstanding the outward aspects objectionable to the religious traditions of Saudi Arabia.

I smiled at the rebellious action in a country that we were protecting in an upcoming war.

An incredible experience overcame me on Christmas Eve. I attended a service conducted by a Lutheran chaplain. I felt comfortable. I felt warmly embraced by God. My secular sense of Judaism was forgotten for the moment.

My journey to conversion to Christianity took root in a Muslim country.

I learned on that Christmas Day, more than 6,700 miles away from home and family, that simplicity can be mystical and meaningful, without our normal accoutrements. I’ve never forgotten that fulfilling experience.

To Spy readers busy today celebrating Christmas, I wish you, your family and friends a joyful and healthy holiday.  Christmas, whether simple or ornate, brings hope, a soulful yearning for peace and friendship and kindness.

I am saddened, unfortunately, in this season of hope by our alarming lack of competent and moral leadership in the White House. No amount of holiday cheer shields me from concern about a great nation that has lost respect among allies and friends in a world that formerly depended on the United States as a reliable partner.

I could not end this column without tempering my normal optimism and eternal hope in response to the degraded state of a country led by a person unable to make reasoned decisions and retain top-quality advisers, such as the soon-departing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

Mattis is a man blessed with honesty and character. He’s a learned man. A retired Marine Corps general, he was a warrior. He understood that war should be a last resort. He realized that peace is possible only with trusted allies. He harbored an understandable distrust of Russia, China, Syria and North Korea.

Christmas is special. It celebrates the birth of a person whose personal qualities were out of this world. He changed how we viewed ourselves and others. He offered us belief in our better selves in a way that threatened the status quo. He preached forgiveness and love of others, particularly the impoverished.  He extolled fairness and faith.

I trust that our country can return to the type of simplicity and goodness I experienced in a military outpost in Saudi Arabia. Naïveté aside, I believe that selfless leadership and moral behavior can make a difference in our complicated world.

Merry and Happy Christmas.

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): Stories in Stone by Howard Freedlander

Stones have stories, particularly when located in a private family cemetery at Wye House, an Eastern Shore gem and ancestral home of the famed Lloyd’s, the Talbot County family that once controlled more than 42,000 acres.

As I walked through the cemetery with Richard Tilghman, current owner and 12th generation descendant of the Lloyd family, I realized I was amidst a rarefied neighborhood occupied by the remains of people who had significant roles in county, state and national history.

Like family members for more than 350 years, Richard Tilghman is the steward of a magnificent property imbued with history defined by the times. He understands that Wye House is principally a home, but also a designated National Historic Landmark that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Wye House’s roots extend back to 1659 when Edward Lloyd, a Welsh Puritan, acquired the Wye Plantation and settled on it in 1660. After accumulating wealth and property, he returned to London, where he died in 1695.

In the 19th century, the Lloyds attained high political rank in Maryland and Washington. For example, Edward Lloyd V, who was born in 1779 and died in 1834, served as governor of Maryland in 1809 at the age of 30. He was a U.S. Senator, 1819-1826 and a U.S. congressman in the 7th District of Maryland, 1807-1809. He served in the Maryland State Senate, 1826-1831.

Edward Lloyd VII served as president of the Maryland State Senate in 1878 and 1892. An ivory gavel remains in the home as a relic of his tenure in the state capital in Annapolis.

I referred earlier to the times in which the Lloyd ancestors lived and succeeded. This perspective is crucial in understanding the import of this small private cemetery. Stories have contexts.

Buried there is the only admiral in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. Franklin Buchanan, formerly a U.S. Navy captain and the first superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, commanded the ironclad USS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) during the Battle of Hampton Roads in Virginia. His wife was Anna Catherine Lloyd.

Another Confederate officer was Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder, who was killed on Aug. 9, 1862 at Cedar Run in Culpeper County, VA. He was well-respected by the famed Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Winder’s mother was Elizabeth Tayloe Lloyd; his wife was Alice Lloyd, daughter of Edward Lloyd V and Alice McBride Lloyd.

One last stop in this historic burial site—which contains 125 graves in eight rows—is the grave of Charles H. Key, who was born in 1827 and died in 1869. Married to Elizabeth Lloyd, he was the son of Francis Scott Key, author of a poem written in 1814 during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. This poem, as we all know, became the lyrics for our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Charles Key’s mother was Mary Taylor Lloyd.

The Wye House cemetery represents for me a keen look into, and a perspective of a Talbot County family that produced major players in the history of Maryland and our nation. Though blessed with wealth and property, the Lloyds were participants, not mere onlookers. They understood the need to give back to the community.

Though many of the tombstones are degraded by age, making it difficult to read the inscriptions, they represent the significance of a family that traces its roots to a Welsh Puritan seeking a better life in the New World. Their achievements are impressive.

For someone who loves history, I found the tour given by Richard Tilghman, who is impressively well-versed in knowledge of Lloyd family history, fascinating in its insight and perspective.

Stones have meaning.

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.

Christmas Spirit by Howard Freedlander

The Christmas season began just perfectly on the first night of December with a wonderfully low-key parade in Easton. We watched with friends, some remarking on the small-town quality of a parade that featured marching bands and company trucks bearing groups such as Talbot Lacrosse and Easton Elks Lodge.

One friend commented that the scene reminded him of a Norman Rockwell painting. For younger readers, Rockwell’s paintings of American life in its purest form graced the covers of a now dormant magazine, the Saturday Evening Post. One notable image showed a family, unblemished by dysfunction or strife, happily eating a Thanksgiving meal.

Some now might consider Rockwell paintings and illustrations corny and unrelated to current life. That might be true. So be it.

When I was a child, the Saturday Evening Post brought my father and me together. We looked and laughed at the cartoons sprinkled throughout this iconic magazine.

Perhaps at these times I learned to love to read magazines and to laugh. He kept a hyperactive child occupied with something more cerebral than playing touch football.

As December brings joy and glee, it also evokes memories of those who no longer walk the earth with us. In the Dec. 4 issue of The Star Democrat, I noticed a remembrance of the late Henry P. Turner, a well-known local attorney who died Dec. 4, 2015. Four friends, former and current judges, paid homage to a person characterized as a “renaissance man of devout faith and honor, a civic leader, gentleman, lawyer’s lawyer, mentor and wise counsel.”

The remembrance also described Turner as a” highly decorated combat veteran.” This apt phase begs an encounter that I had with Turner at a local jewelry store in Easton in 1994.

Knowing that this gentleman fought as a 19-year-old on D-Day, June 6, 1944, on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France as a member of the famed 29th Infantry Division, I asked him if he planned to join 29th Division veterans in celebration of the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest amphibious invasions in history. I’ll never forget his answer.

Henry Turner instantly said no. His eyes moistened. He said he could not even watch “The Longest Day,” the epic movie produced in 1962 about the D-Day landings. I wisely decided not to probe his reasons. They were obvious.

His combat experience had seared his soul. Memories were painful, maybe bone-numbingly so. He had served on a beach that claimed thousands of deaths and injuries. He likely questioned his survival.

To Judges Sidney Campen, Bill Horne, Chris Kehoe and Steve Kehoe, I thank you for marking the death of an outstanding citizen and courageous infantry soldier.

Speaking of people notable for their significant achievements, I felt honored to be included in celebration of former Governor Harry Hughes” 92nd birthday on Nov. 13 at his home outside Denton on the Choptank River. His former and steadfastly loyal staffers, as well as John Frece (who helped him write his autobiography) and I, joined in honoring this Eastern Shore native and acclaimed gentleman. One of his staffers, a good friend, invited me.

My friend, a Baltimore resident and Washington College graduate, was Hughes’ campaign manager through a poverty of support in the early stages and a primary that no one thought he could win. This friend then became a policy advisor in the State House during Hughes’ first term.

I first met Gov. Hughes in 1978 when he was running what many thought was a futile campaign for governor, and I was editor of the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. He was elected in 1978 and again in 1982.

Harry, as most people call him, is now fighting a tougher battle against old- age ailments and lack of mobility. He is singularly easy to like and respect.

Finally, like many others, I found myself transfixed by the services and ritual last week for President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday, Nov 30 at the age of 94. He epitomized class and decency. He revered the nobility of selfless public service. He was a strong leader. He valued his many, many friendships and relationships.

I listened to President Bush speak before an American Legion Convention in Baltimore and then again at a National Guard Conference in Salt Lake City, UT. Public speaking wasn’t his forte. Understated, resolute leadership was his trademark.

Amid the joyousness of the Christmas holiday, it is fitting to revel in our current happiness and fill our hearts with memories. When we think back, we can feel grateful that now deceased family members and friends graced our lives. They were living ornaments at one time, providing brightness and cheer.

Two weeks from today, we will celebrate a holiday that still seems magical, if ever so briefly.

We can drown out the noise and ugliness of life, if ever so briefly.

And we can live in a moment of joy and contentment, if ever so briefly.

I still have gifts to buy. The Christmas season does demand responsibility. And that’s okay.

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: What’s In A House? By Howard Freedlander

After spending another wonderful Thanksgiving week in a big, old house in Rehoboth Beach, DE, surrounded by family, I wondered: what makes this structure different from any other?

I’m likely neither the first nor the last person, musing philosophically, who has asked this question. It prompts reflection about “community,” a group of people, related or not, who inhabit a house and give it life and personality.

Rehoboth Beach House

A house large enough to accommodate comfortably 10 people and provide a venue for mostly harmonious fellowship over several years becomes a special place. It’s not merely a cedar-shingled building with a cedar-walled interior; it’s a home containing wonderful memories and hosting additional good cheer and warm connections—over four generations.

Maybe it’s my age, but I’ve learned to appreciate a place, or places that bring consistent happiness.

For the most part, family members, ranging in age from five to 73, carry pleasant moods with them. They linger only briefly in crankiness or frustration. We always have to factor in human nature.

The ocean sits 200 feet away. It projects calm and peace, particularly in late November. Geese fly over honking all the way. Crowds of people are four months in the past. Thank goodness.

With the house as an anchor, children, parents and grandparents seem driven to avoid drama and celebrate togetherness. It takes effort, but it’s worth it.

Bear with me as I now take a leap of faith.

I believe too in the soothing, introspective space of a house of worship. For me, it’s a safe place to pray and connect with non-family members. It yields peace and self-awakening. Ill feelings disappear at the kneelers. Prayer dominates.

While I’ve heard Episcopal priests at Christ Church, Easton declare that those churches are just structures—that a prayerful venue can be anywhere—they also say it promotes community, enabling parishioners to support and befriend each other. For me, it’s a vessel for me to reach out to a higher power to seek intervention for those ailing or grieving and to express thanks for health, happiness and wisdom in our fragile, fractious world.

My prayers may be too ambitious.

My point is that bricks-and-mortar projects do matter. They do encourage, if not expedite an enduring sense of humanity, marked hopefully by unselfish relationships.

Just recently, as I listened on NPR to a woman whose house somehow escaped the devastation wrought by the horrendous Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, I learned about the intrinsic value of community. While this woman kept her house, she lost all of her neighbors; their homes were destroyed. She understandably wondered and worried about the loss of place; it had disappeared, at least for the present.

What makes a house become a home? The obvious answer is the presence of people. More sublimely, it means relationships. Hopefully understanding ones.

The big, old house in Rehoboth is more than a monument to cedar walls and shingles, a splendid fireplace and a superb view of the Atlantic Ocean.

To our family, it connotes closeness, fueled by love, humor, empathy, noisy grandchildren and plentiful food. Stories of family parties abound. My in-laws figure prominently.

Christ Church and Emmanuel Church in Chestertown are more than places of worship defined by Episcopal priests and ages-old liturgy and practice. It encompasses parishioners drawn not only by a shared religion but a sincere compassion for each other. I see it continually.

And then when I view the destruction by a raging fire in Paradise, CA, I see a town that is no more. It’s questionable whether former homeowners will return to an area where a sense of being vanished quickly in the wake of an unforgiving fire.

Is a burnt out town, resembling the worst of a war zone, recoverable? Is there sufficient human will to recreate a place special to its residents? It’s happened before throughout the world. I think about parts of New Orleans. I think about cities destroyed in recent years in Syria, or the French city of St. Lo during World War II.

Were I standing at a pulpit—or merely occupying this Spy space—I now would tout the constant goodness and grace of community defined by family or friends or neighbors, or faraway people and non-profits learning about terrible devastation. But I won’t do that.

It happens naturally.

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): Sandy Rules by Howard Freedlander

As Thanksgiving approaches in two days, with visions of a hefty turkey leg engaging my taste buds, I feel thankful for Sandy, our delightful dog.

Nearing her 10th birthday in January, she has captivated my wife and me for two-and-a-years. She is loving and lovable. This is not my first attempt at framing words to describe an affection that I never anticipated enjoying.

This Yellow (mostly white) Labrador Retriever is a natural people-pleaser. I realize that I am not the first person to express love for an animal that demands nothing but constant attention and gentle stroking.

Sandy Freedlander

Every walk around the neighborhood and throughout the town of Easton with Sandy is a pleasant adventure. Inevitably people stop to pat her and talk about a Labrador or other dog they once owned or still have. Some are near tears as memories of a deceased dog rise to the surface.

When Sandy and I encounter a person still grieving the loss of a prized pet, we both feel the sadness. Sandy seems to linger, quietly accepting kind pats and soothing talk.

I put a lot of slack in her leash. We need not hurry. Dogs bring happiness, albeit briefly, to a passerby.

Being around Sandy gives me a sense of peace. I relax momentarily. I marvel at how a dog can bring so much comfort and calm. I watch her wag her tail as a form of gleeful playfulness. She doesn’t hide her joy. Humans often do.

As I may have written previously, I never had a pet as a child. My mother did not like animals. She didn’t trust her sons to care for and about a dog. She lacked even a smidgeon of good feeling toward a dog. She had many strengths; being a dog lover wasn’t one of them.

My childhood home was devoid of unconditional love for a four-legged creature.

I rue the day when we have to give up Sandy to old age and death. She has filled our lives with pure happiness, a substitute of sorts for our children who are embracing adulthood and parenting.

Though my wife and I have owned two dogs and briefly adopted another one in nearly 43 years of marriage, I’ve never experienced the total joy and love stimulated by our chunky, enchanting Sandy.

I feel thankful to Sandy for prompting this prose and providing respite and relief from the daily dose of absurdity and nonsense emanating from our nation’s capital. I promised myself I wouldn’t write the prior sentence, but so I did. I couldn’t keep my literary tongue from wagging.

When I contemplated retirement seven years ago, I didn’t envision a life softened by the presence of a tail-wagging canine that seemed so easy to please, so darn lovable. I well realize that so many, many people are equally blessed with a devoted pet.

The late Thom Jones, an American author of mostly short stories, wrote, “Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling the emptiness we didn’t even know we had.”

To continue my overly effusive description of our Yellow Lab, I feel privileged when I return home and find her waiting for me at the back door. She demands nothing but a cheerful hello and playful cuddling. She sits by my feet while I write my weekly Spy column. As if I needed any more inspiration.

I wish my “Spy” readers a joyful Thanksgiving. I hope this wonderful holiday brings delicious food and family togetherness. Like many, I find this holiday so much more enjoyable and stress-free than the universal and often hectic Christmas celebration.

I suspect that Sandy will be patrolling the family meal table looking for some tidbits (but no bones or mashed potatoes) that fall on the floor, typically from grandchildren’s plates.

Sandy is part of our family. She probably senses that.

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): Praying for Vets by Howard Freedlander

Letter (not email) to God:

Dear Lord, I pray you will consider the following requests, realizing that millions come your way daily, making it difficult to prioritize, but today is particularly special (you’ve probably heard that before) and meaningful:

I pray you will enable our veterans and their families to feel proud and appreciated for their service, oftentimes performed during dangerous foreign combat and the war on terror.

I pray you will comfort those suffering from the loss of their buddies and dealing every day with nightmares, cold sweats, guilt and chronic emotional stress.

I pray you will imbue families and friends with patience and understanding as they live with husbands, wives and children suffering from the physical and mental ravages and scars of war and acts of terrorism.

I pray you will give hope and solace to veterans coping with homelessness and estrangement from their families and friends.

I pray—and this well might be impossible—that you inspire common sense, compromise and compassion among nations and diverse civilizations—and their leaders—to preclude mortal conflict and the resulting veterans who have survived it.

In other words, Dear Lord, I pray for peace, repeating an entreaty that you have heard incessantly, and I must and do understand you can only do so much to alter the quarrelsome nature of the human condition. Though you must become frustrated with the frequent calls for peace and nearly impossible odds to achieve it, I humbly submit my sincere, well-intended request. I pray you won’t dismiss it as futile.

I pray, as I noted previously, that you will suffuse not just American but all leaders, wherever they rule/govern, with the ability to seek and embrace the proverbial “common ground” and assign the possibility of conflict to a list of undesirable, unhealthy options.

I pray, Dear Lord, that as the world approaches the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons, that you accept prayers for peace with simultaneous courses of grace-filled action to propagate harmonious relationships. Not just during this festive, open-hearted season, but throughout the year.

Dear Lord, please excuse my digressing and turning my attention away from our treasured veterans, as I pray that they rightly receive the spotlight, praise and comfort they so richly deserve.

I pray that the veterans will accept the public’s gratitude, though I know that it’s tough to acknowledge thankfulness from folks earnest but often uninformed about the challenges of serving our nation both in peacetime and wartime.

I pray that our nation pauses to think about our veterans and their families and understands that service to our nation not only is life-threatening but demanding in terms of constant discipline and teamwork, in many ways so different from civilian work.

Finally, dear Lord, I pray that you will continue to watch over and guide us flawed human beings to live peacefully and tolerantly and view grace and generosity as virtues that are never-ending and well worth nurturing.

Just one more prayerful request, Dear Lord: never allow us to ignore that peace and compassion matter far more than war and hatred, that love and understanding contribute to a better world.

I pray that we are wise enough to exclaim your goodness and watchfulness.

Thank you, Dear Lord.

Amen.

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.