Born and raised in Kentucky, I have lived at one time or another in Lexington, Va., Tampa, Fla., Santa Fe, N.M., and Washington, D.C. I have also toured, on a shoestring budget, Europe, Central America, and North Africa. Each of these places had their own special appeal for me. I have fond memories of them all. But in some ways no one spot has meant as much to me, grown as dear to me, as Talbot County.
Sounds kind of funny, doesn't it, tossing Talbot County in with the likes of Paris, Santa Fe, Morocco? But truth be told, in your heart of hearts, don't you sometimes find yourself thinking you've found something special here, something so unusual and important you want to protect it from the world's mad rush toward who knows what?
Of course an outsider would guess we're talking about the place's natural beauty—the Bay, the savannah-like stretches of marsh, the fields that grace our countryside like well-made quilts, the big dramatic skies—but we know better, don't we? Sure, when we brag about the Eastern Shore to some poor soul living out his life of quiet desperation on the wrong side of the Bay, we talk about the water and the landscape, the flora and fauna, but the one thing we don't mention, the one thing we always hold back for fear of hurting someone's feelings, is our secret conviction that in some way we don't entirely understand ourselves, we're fairly certain our people, our friends and neighbors, are better than, possibly even morally superior to, other people.
I know, I know. I'm being chauvinistic, culturally biased, politically incorrect, and downright silly. We are far from perfect. If you look hard enough, you can always find a bad apple or two. And some of us can be pretty stand-offish (eccentricity is not only held in high regard on the Shore, it is practiced like an Olympic sport). But for all our individuality, for all our Don't-Tread-On-Me spirit, there is also this sense of a shared experience, a shared life. We don't like pretense, we don't like exclusivity. We call each other by our first names. We nod to strangers we pass on the street because most people hereabouts look vaguely familiar to us—we're sure we know them from somewhere. We're sure we would like them if we did know them. And we probably would. It's safe to like people here. It's safe to smile at a stranger and assume he will smile back, because he probably will. We feel close to one another, we feel connected. We stop and talk at the grocery, on the street, in the Post Office. If someone's sick, we visit them. If someone's hungry, we give them food.
For me, not surprisingly, this sense of a shared life, a shared responsibility to one another, is nowhere more evident than in the one institution whose resources we all do in fact really share: the Talbot County Free Library. It is, in a very real sense, our municipal commons. This year marks the 90th anniversary of that commons, and in honor of said anniversary, our Board of Trustees—with the generous permission of The Star Democrat—is publishing a collection of these library newspaper columns. All proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit the library and the people it serves.
Which, of course, is only fair, as the people of Talbot County are central to my columns. It is they that make this writing—when it is good—come alive and breathe and even, hopefully, from time to time, sing. You are this column's, and this new book's, main character, its protagonist and its star. I will be reading selections from “Adventures in Shelving” at the Friends of the Library's Brown Bag lunch on Thursday, October 15, at noon in the Easton branch. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing. It would make me very happy if you could drop by and hear a little of what I have to say about you.