and Down the Road
One of my earliest memories was to be nestled upon his lap guiding the Studebaker ‘up the
road’. I must have been all of three, and I can even place the exact spot upon the road, the road he will soon travel
for a last time—dead at eighty four. It was in those lawless days, those one lane days when belts did nothing more that
hold pants up or drop whiskey down. My uncle was almost always ‘up the road’ for there were two places only then,
on that peninsular, water-bound refuge of my youth, bounded on one side by the Potomac and the other by the Chesapeake- home
more or less comprising a few square miles of Point Lookout, and that other place, far away and as alien to me as the moon
that the adults referred to as ‘up the road’.
When Uncle Bud dubbed ‘The Judge’ was down the
road and at home it was always memorable in both little and big ways—all the ways, simply because it was so unusual.
The summers seemed to lumber along leaving too few vivid recollections of ‘The Judge’ at home.
that spell of time with the funny monkey, the monkey grinder kind of monkey; nervous, and always climbing about, with big
rolling, suspicious eyes. ‘The Judge’ appeared one afternoon with it upon his back. He brought this creature home
from ‘up the road’. This novelty soon melted away though into a menagerie of no less than six or seven collies,
birds of all kinds, and those wild cats that lived under the house of my grandmother’s in their parallel universe. We
had two homes on the point then before the dark time when the state, our state, pushed us off the tip of the Point to build
a state park and ravage memory. Only the lighthouse remains today and one house, the Judge’s house for the use of the
I only remember making my uncle mad the one time, and I only knew of this fact years later when my aunt
let me know how angry he had been. It was the pigs you see; three, I think there were; in that sty I turned to quick sand
one day. Well, I was bent upon perfect pigs and must have been so turned I decided to water down their sty; to make them clean.
It didn’t seem right that they should always be dirty. I was around five years old and I had discovered the hose. I
liked the hose whether the pigs did or not and the vegetable garden next to it that I liked to help water. Well it seems I
had left that hose to run in the sty for the better part of a whole hot St. Mary’s County day distracted by who knows
what, and it was Bud who came upon them later in the night. They must have run dry of squeals hours before. My aunt had trouble
telling me of this some decades later as she was laughing so hard at the thought of how you dry out a sty with three near
drowned pigs. He never said a word to me of it, but I suspect it had sent him back ‘up the road’ for the better
part of the remainder of that night and as usual to the wee and childless hours of the morning. I did not hear him come in
but we rarely did.
My uncle would be the last to leave whatever bar would be the last of the night, and slowly make his
way back down the single lane of a narrow two to us and home. Many men on the Point in fairness thou spent long days and longer
nights ‘up the road’ or out on the bay. The peninsula was a world of women and children especially by day. Well,
I learned years ago that Bud was almost always the last to leave or if you must say it, “close the bar” not so
much for the drink as for the dire necessity felt by his buddies to beat him to ‘the road’. To find oneself behind
my Uncle Bud, going as slow as he did weaving home in thrice the time it would for a less diligent drunk, was to invite that
much more trouble from a suspicious wife. and so it was the custom for everyone else to start to leave ten minutes before
closing lest they end up held up behind ‘The Judge’ on his way ‘down the road’.
recall how long he actually was a traffic court judge, elected by so many acquaintances and connections to the County’s
principal sport, bar hopping with buddies, but I do remember it was a convenient reign. I’ll have you know too that
there was nothing irregular in it, not to the times anyway, as Uncle Bud never got so much as one ticket or landed in one
ditch like so many others leaving ten minutes before. It is this that probably got him elected; this, and the fairness of
the man. The place was all about comfortable and familiar names the greater part of the population of graveyards I now visit.
I never remember any of the men of my family actually drunk ‘cept Dad and him only periodically. He took safety from
it as best he could at sea for months at a time and only went ‘up the road’ so to speak for a week or two when
in port—one week to drink and the other in some place that made it all better again. My uncle and his brother, my father,
were not the same kind you see. My grandmother, aunts, and my very own mother were all of one in their constant attendance
upon these doings and to making sure the children knew nothing of it. Indeed we did not, not in the early days. These were
the days of sand, sun, swimming and seafood all under the protection of women who were sober yet besotted in their sobriety.
Now I wait to go with a sure telephone call, south into the bottom of the state of my Maryland on the left side of the
bay into territory still magical and mysterious for me to attend the funeral of this good man and give my support to a family;
the very roots of this early state. He came directly from the six original families to the ‘Islands of the Bay’.
His ancestors came from Cornwall, in England and settled the whole of both sides of the lower Bay and islands in between.
Most all on the islands anyway are still descendants of these early settlers taking their turns ‘fore being lain back
down into the soggy ground that they call home. Everything is supposed to sink like Henderson eventually but we don’t
speak of that and have too much faith to believe it.
I could relate a dozen facts or stories like the few at hand, but
I shall end with one not so funny perhaps, but it bespeaks the man. Back in seventy eight at the funeral of my father, through
my own grief, I could see how Bud was affected. Oh it was not just a sad event, the funeral. It was as funerals usually are
in my family held ‘up the road’ in St. Marys City, and it was as much comedy as tragedy to even out and temper
grief and leave a properly balanced tribute. I remember how shocked I was when the train of our mismatched cars hooked to
Buds Cadillac pulled into the pea gravel drive of Trinity Episcopal Church in our state’s beautiful First Capitol at
the numbers of people who waited there to pay a last tribute to a father I did not know was so valued by so many-- I had been
too close to see the full measure of him. It will be the same for ‘The Judge’. I have come to expect it now. The
church then was too small as it will be again for this turn. Then, my poor uncle had gone quite liquid in more than tears,
and the drink in combination with some of Dad’s left over pills had lifted Bud rather too High Church for the occasion.
My aunt who I will simply describe as magic manifested in human form had already been seated when Bud made his way down the
aisle and taken his seat only to turn and address the small assembly with six words or so of what I think was not Shakespeare!
It all happened so quickly I could not quite catch it, but I do know that my aunt and I had an awful time containing ourselves
through this solemn ceremony. Grief will come forth in giggles if it is triggered, and my uncle had fired away a volley totally
out of character all of his own to fully match the twenty one gun salute to follow the funeral. Hundreds had been thoroughly
entertained. My poor uncle’s daughter was beside herself keeping up the custom of being besotted in sobriety, and when
all was done and they had handed me the flag and all these people were leaving, there was Bud sitting atop an ancient stone--
he grown as heavy now as it, with the weight I knew of sorrow. He was as silent and near as dead as the one whose stone he
sat upon when it came to that. Suddenly, in a loud and irate voice, his daughter, my good cousin, suddenly let it be known
to anyone still around that in her opinion, “they have put the wrong one in the ground”!
Well, so you will
not think us too irreverent and without any good sensibilities, let me say that, once ‘The Judge’ found his ground
again, he has stayed grounded these three decades since. I think that a good tribute to his brother and an even better measure
of him. Do not judge a man for a disease. It is neither fair nor accurate. Judge him rather for his honors won in the only
right war of the last century, his distinguished naval career, his thirty years played out, too, ‘up the road’
turning diligent metal for test planes so accurate and steady-handed that today a machine must take his place. And finally
judge ‘the Judge’ for the number of cars in the train and even more for the number that, as is the custom, pulled
to the side of the now two lane road as we passed--traffic stopped coming the other way, forgetting hurry and pausing, lights
on, in a light way of respect.
Somewhere today and into tonight there are plans being made. Who will bear the pall?
Has someone gotten Lillian to come and stuff the ham? In what hall will we cram them all, Legionnaires and Masons who are
all about their wardrobes, and the preparation of guns and flags-- the flowers of men? Those of us far away so many in numbers
are making plans to come soon, as do I. I’m going back. I grieve. I’m going ‘down the road’ to stand
‘side my magical aunt amidst a family, American and in no small measure proud Marylanders. I am going to where the Potomac
and the Chesapeake collide. I am going home.
© 2007 by E.D. Ridgell
The Upper Left Hand Corner
Take a moment if you will to recall the coal eaters,
those iron trains of past, puffing their white billows of smoke high into the sky from their tall, black stacks. Picture one
under a blue-black, moonlit night as it raced forward, clickety clack, a search light leading its way, and you have imbedded
in my mind’s eye a memory from my earliest childhood.
Only a few years old, wide-eyed and watchful, I remember
that I was told I was on an adventure, only what exactly an adventure was I did not know. I was sure though I was not in any
place near where I called home. I had come a long way, on a silver plane that I recall was called the Super G, a new, very
popular, American flyer- not the train, no, but an airplane. My mother brought me to visit hers: a woman I was supposed to
call grandmother although I’d already been given one of those. Of the airplane ride in the sky, I most remember clouds
pillowed everywhere as I stared from out one of the tiny, silver-lined windows. Who would not notice clouds when first seen
from train or plane? I believe this must have been the beginning of my love affair with clouds.
The train sped,
open handed, through the blue-black night and I remember looking out of a large, thick paned window at a site I knew even
then was something special and to be remembered. Rising from a clickety clackered sleep with sleepy eyes, I beheld a vista
of shimmering snow, under the blue black sky be-speckled with faint stars, a Christmas garden of marshmallow, laden trees.
Everything was brightly spotlighted by a fulsome moon. Out there, close but, far enough to feel safe, out along a horizon,
moved a herd of what I’m certain I thought then were reindeer and today I know were a thousand or more caribou. They
were moving together, half of them up and half of them below a horizontal ledge, along an irregular bluish, white line dividing
land and sky, leaping up and down this low bluff as if in playful turns, kicking up flurries of snow. I’m sure they
had some Rudolf leading them as they seemed intent; quick but not hurried. I remember these Caribou moved as one wave in an
opposite yet parallel direction to the train. It seemed we raced by and away from one another at an equal speed. I know too,
now that I know the geography of the forty eight puzzle pieces we call states that we were in the upper left hand corner of
that puzzle we call this USA and that I should feel proud and a little safer for it.
I’ve learned too, like
so many other things seeming big and unlimited, that now some years latter there are many less caribou, and that they must
be reckoned and tallied to track their true numbers. I know more about the fewer whales too, but that’s not the same
thing, I suppose. Caribou must take up a lot of room like whales do, and there are so many more of us today, so many more,
and they tell us we need the room. I have heard that the droves are much farther to the north today and even farther up into
the upper left hand corner of places and things, playing and jumping as caribou do among long pipe lines. I wonder if these
herd of Caribou are as many, move as fast, and where they go. Is there an end to the northern upper left hand corner? I fear
there may be!