The other day, a friend who came to visit asked me how I found Chestertown. “I didn’t,” I replied, “Chestertown found me.” And therein hangs a tale…
Actually, two tales, complementary, not contradictory. In my version, I woke up one morning in our Bethesda home with one thought on my mind: I wanted to see Chestertown again. I had visited the town only one previous time when I brought my daughter here to look at Washington College. On that day, we pulled up in front of the admissions office, and she, still in her seat belt, asked if we could leave now. I looked at her and knew she wasn’t kidding. You see, my daughter is an artist and she knew she needed a bigger canvas to complete her college painting. I think I insisted we stay to listen to the admissions spiel, but when that was over, we simply got back in the car and drove back home in silence. I don’t remember ever thinking about the town again until I woke up on a Tuesday morning,16 years later.
My wife tells a different story. According to her version, she was the one who suggested we visit Chestertown. You see, two of her sisters and their spouses owned an investment property in town, and she, good realtor that she is, thought we might just drive over the Bay Bridge and check up on the property—make it part of a family visit. I started to tell her about my own reason for wanting to visit, but ended up keeping my mouth shut. Why stir the pot?
On the morning of our visit—it was an unseasonably warm day near the end of December in 2011—we arrived in town and went to visit the old Victorian on Washington Avenue. It was an enormous, drafty old house with at least seven bedrooms and an industrial kitchen, but my realtor sidekick said it had “good bones.” Be that as it may, it was much too much house for the two of us, but the town continued to intrigue me.
We wandered around a bit, saw a couple of “For Sale” signs, but nothing jumped out at me. But my wife had her computer with her, and she saw one more listing—a small house on Cannon Street that had been on the market for several months. We walked by and I felt the hook tickle my jaw. I knew I had found my place to stand.
It was an old house, but it had a gracious, welcoming front porch. The listing suggested I could afford it. The sign outside said “View by Appointment,” but time was getting short, so we decided to settle for a quick peek at the backyard. We were just leaving when the back door opened and a lovely woman came out and asked if she could help us. Caught red-handed, we stammered an apology and an explanation, but she was gracious. “Come in and look around.”
There wasn’t much to see in the way of furniture. The husband of the woman who invited us in had restored the house the previous year, and she was using the space as a temporary office. I felt the hook go deeper into my jaw. The house was utterly charming and I noted that one wall in the living room was large enough to accommodate one of my daughter’s bold, colorful paintings. And oh yes: there was one other promising sign: on the sole small table in the living room, there was a Pittsburgh Steelers Kleenex box. I grew up in Pittsburgh and the Steelers were my team. I began to wiggle like a trout on a fly line. My wife saw the look on my face and whispered, “But there’s only one bathroom!” Think I cared?
As they say, the rest is history. In a couple of weeks, my wife and I will celebrate our twelfth anniversary in ‘Standing Room Only’ (the name is self-explanatory). Whatever the reason(s) that brought us to Chestertown, I still believe it was the town and this house that found us. Maybe just me at first, but now definitely us.
Maybe some of you already know parts of this story, but there’s another chapter. I’ll save that for next week.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.