…1973…YEAR OF CHANGE…Viet Nam War ends…Watergate…Agnew…Oil Crisis…Roe v. Wade…Billy Jean King v. Bobby Riggs…Skylab…Wounded Knee…Secretariat…The Exorcist…American Graffiti…The Sting…Schoolhouse Rock…The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle…Dark Side of the Moon…Free Bird…Breakfast of Champions…Monica Lewinsky and Seth Macfarlane born…J.R.R. Tolkien and Bruce Lee die…World Trade Center constructed…
…My parent’s generation was the last of its kind, the last to see the Chesapeake Bay’s rural Eastern Shore as it had always been. The last to know what this place used to be before construction of the original span of the William Preston Lane Memorial Bridge, or the Bay Bridge as it’s known to everybody but the State of Maryland.
For good and bad, everything about my home changed before I was born. Just took a while for everybody to realize it.
When I was a kid, every point west of where the first bridge curves was still on “The Other Side”. All locals were related or related to somebody who was related. The general store was a fixture in each little community. There were no drive-through anythings, but there were drive-ins. There was private land but not many No Trespassing signs. In the winter, everybody skated on frozen ponds without fear of being chased off, and landowners allowed this without fear of being sued if the ice didn’t hold. Regardless of the season, there were a million healthy rivers and creeks, marshes and woods, gullies and guts to explore. There was still a vast and diverse annual seafood harvest.
The bridge opened in 1952. It took over three decades for the ravenous and growing hunger of the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area to eat all but the tiniest crumbs of our cultural identity.
My first decade was pretty typical of the time and place. I played outside no matter the weather. I played little league baseball even though I wasn’t any good. I played doctor. I couldn’t wait for Christmas, or my birthday, or the last day of school. Rode bikes to Bill’s Bargain Center for Chuck Taylor Converse tennis shoes, root beer popsicles, and full-sized Reese Cups for a nickel, and watched black and white reruns on a boxy old TV that got six channels, two of them UHF. I had parents that argued and grandparents that pumped me for information. Scratched my sister’s records and showed her boyfriends her naked baby pictures that one day disappeared as though they never existed.
I wore towel-capes far too matter-of-factly. Was attacked by a teenager who thought she was a werewolf. Watched people hop around the woods with their pants pulled down.
Okay maybe not so typical.
The point is, until 1973 I was a child, as undeveloped as the farms and wetlands that surrounded me.
But I had life lessons waiting.
A year or so earlier my sister got married. I couldn’t imagine what life would be without her. Now I can’t imagine how she shared that little trailer bedroom with a bratty younger brother for so long.
I should have known serious changes were coming, but I dropped my guard. There were distractions: A new baby niece, comic books, television, a box of Playboys my cousin and I found.
Then Mom and Dad started fighting all the time. He’d come home from painting houses, take a shower, eat, and fall asleep in front of the TV. Or he’d put on a shirt of some unnatural fiber and color, a little dab of drugstore cologne, and hit the road in one of those used Buicks he drove. Some of those nights he didn’t come home.
One day soon it would just be Ma and me.
First though, my mother needed another heart operation, and the night before surgery, she would suffer a major stroke. And after that, life would never again be the same…