Today we went strawberry picking with playgroup friends. We traveled to the "7th District," of Maryland, which is on the Potomac side of St. Mary's county, populated almost entirely by old-school, original Maryland people---waterman, tobacco farmers, sharecroppers, and the Amish. We lived out there when we first moved to Maryland, because we wanted to keep our dog, we could not afford to buy, and the only rental that would take pets was in the 7th District.
Talk about culture shock. We attempted to talk to our new neighbor shortly after we moved in, and we could not understand his version of English. Words cannot do justice to his manner of speech. Let's just say that for a girl from the Arizona suburbs, it felt like I had moved to the lunar surface. I soon discovered that almost everybody I met from the 7th District was either a Copsey or a Mattingly, and sometimes both. Most of the people who lived in our neighborhood had owned their land since the days that The Arc and The Dove docked on St. Clement's island (the birthplace of Maryland, and, naturally, in the 7th district).
We knew that our stay in the 7th district was temporary, so we soaked in the atmosphere. We would pick up groceries and six-packs from the corner store, where Donna would tell us that we could "catch her next time," if we were a dollar or two short. Paul would occasionally bring home brown grocery bags filled with fresh Blue Crabs cooked in Old Bay seasoning. In October, we attended the international oyster schucking championship in Leonardtown, MD. The winner, a woman from Japan, carried her trophy---a large trident---with pride. Come spring, we would buy our vegetables and baked goods from the local Amish families.
We became friends with a couple down the road. She was a stained glass artist; he helped her schlep her creations to various art shows up and down the Eastern corridor. They were newlywed-happy, this being the second marriage for both. They spent their days creating art, fishing by the pier, going on long walks, and drinking nightcaps on their deck.
Taking us under their wing, they introduced us to Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham, a strange concoction which involves stuffing spiced cabbage into a large ham. There are as many versions of stuffed ham as there are Mattinglys and Copseys, but it seemed that the fun of stuffed ham is not the eating, but the preparation, flavored with good conversation and strong margaritas.
Our year in the Seventh District was not without hardship. It was very lonely---I worked over an hour away and spent up to three hours a day commuting. I missed the easy convenience of Tucson---with restaurants, movie theatres, malls, and manicured parks. When our lease ended, we moved to a more populated county, closer to my work. We live there now, and have no regrets.
But...it was fun to go back to that year today, as Owen and his friends picked strawberries. Strawberries thrive under very specific conditions---too much rain, for example, will hurt the crop. Likewise, there's nothing wrong with the 7th District---it was just too much rural for me.
I need my neighbors to speak recognizable English and my grocery stores to be well-stocked, if a bit impersonal. Otherwise, I'll wither on the vine.
It's neither a good thing or a bad thing; it's just what my heart told me. When your heart speaks, it's good to listen.