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When I was a child, the island was Eden. In my mind’s eye I can repossess at any moment the tang smell of salt marsh, the swooping flight of seabirds, the grit in the oyster shell lane; a richly detailed remembrance of places and people much loved and not forgotten.We would travel from Baltimore in our ’48 Chevy, my parents in the front seat, my father driving with one arm on the window ledge, a Lucky Strike dangling from his fingertips, his sheaf of dark hair blown in the wind. In later years, when I first read Fitzgerald at school, my mind flashed up this image of my father, a Great Gatsby turned family man, tooling down Old Maryland Highway 50.
Relegated to the back seat with my torturer brother, I sat brim-filled with anticipation, my feet atop the blue metal cooler containing our lunch. In addition to luggage, the car was packed with foods gleaned from the diverse markets and bakeries of Baltimore—-fat juicy oranges, hands of bananas, rich German buttercakes and delicate star-shaped cookies topped with chocolate or raspberry jam. The back window abounded with breads—-soft rolls, Vienna, pumpernickel and Italian loaves peeked from their paper envelopes, and the cooler held (in addition to lunch) coldcuts, cheeses, thickly sliced bacon and fat sausages securely wrapped in crisp white butcher’s paper.
In my youthful perception, the drive was eternal. We drove a labyrinth of streets, passing neat brick houses, corner stores and row upon row of the marble front steps for which Baltimore is famous. We passed the shabby storefronts and tenements west of Johns Hopkins Hospital where women sat on front stoops, their children scampering on the cracked concrete pavements. The asphalt streets wound through the downtown canyons of government buildings and offices of decorous dark stone; past large department stores with luxurious display windows, past markets and wharves that smelled of fish, steel, bananas and spices.
Slowly disentangling from the clamor and traffic, we crossed Baltimore’s harbor at the Hanover Street Bridge, leaving behind the foundries and factories, the gray docks and oil-slicked marshes of the city. The little Chevy picked up speed, it’s wheels click-clicking on the seams of the concrete roadway as we passed through the expanding suburb of Brooklyn, past Ferndale, and onward to Glen Burnie. I watched with pleasure as development slowly gave way to small towns and then to open fields and farmland, the sky growing bigger and bluer and wider. Scenery flew by the window as the car pressed onward past Annapolis, the land growing sandier and steadily flatter, until, at last, we reached the ferry embankment at Sandy Point. Joining the line of cars, we devoured our sandwiches while waiting our turn to enter the clanking cavern of the ferry that would carry us across the Chesapeake. Through choppy dank green waves, the air crisp with salt and mingled with the smell of gasoline, we traveled to the island landing at Matapeake.