Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Writing Oxford: Life in a Small Town

A pilot becomes a painter, documenting a half century of a small town and becomes a part of the story he is telling--community exhibits, his paintings hanging on residents' walls, the side of the market bearing a mural of his work.

A real estate agent, who sails, carves decoys and models, and writes books and poetry about his hometown, starts a tradition of decorating docks along the creek with Christmas trees, that are still lit every December. An award bearing his name is given out each year to the people who are doing the most to honor the town's past and move it forward.

A World War II photographer turns his lens to the small community he calls home and helps pen the definitive history book of the town's first three centuries. And along the way, he helps save the old school building, turning it into a community center.

Howard Lapp, Doug Hanks Jr., and Norman Harrington. Just three examples, but ones that float to the front of my mind, about how individuals can and do make a difference in Oxford, Md., and how Oxford's collective history is told through the stories of its people.

This is obviously the case with any small town or community, but Oxford is the one that I know and whose names and people I know and have seen in action. The chapters of the town's history are people and a person has the chance to be an integral part of the story.

I think I have felt that more in Oxford than anywhere else, which is maybe what keeps me close, or brings me back. Oxford's is a story that is unfolding, and anyone could play a big part in what that story is or what it becomes.

In 1704, Oxford was one of Maryland's most important cities. By 1800, it was desolate. In 1900, the town had ten general stores, five seafood packing houses, two restaurants, two physicians, two blacksmiths, two hotels, a flour mill, shipbuilder, cooper, dentist, brick manufacturer, undertaker, druggist, barber, shoemaker, sailmaker, newspaper, bank, and four churches (citing "From Pot Pie to Hell and Damnation: An Illustrated Gazetteer of Talbot County").

I'm not saying Oxford could return as a hub of commerce, nor that that would be a good thing. In my lifetime it's been a town known for boat yards, restaurants, brick sidewalks, boats, and water. A number of the people who live here found it by sailing and decided to call it home. That's pretty damn cool.

I don't claim any special knowledge or insight into Oxford's future. No predictions or prophesies here. What I like is seeing how people, individuals, have made a difference; have shaped the town and helped create what it has been and what it is. And knowing that for wherever the town goes, those people are here now, living and/or working and helping it get there. People whose vision, whose efforts, whose eccentricities, whose time, whose senses of humor, all make a difference and make up the town.

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