Tidewater Review - October 2012

A Dorchester County Scrapbook
reviewed by
Anne Stinson

A Dorchester County Scrapbook: “That reminds me of a story” by Terry L. White and A. M. Foley. Dogwood Ridge Books, 215 pp. $18.95
Local histories are routinely written by amateurs who want to create homage to their own small towns or regions. The books have a certain charm, especially for the residents of the place, the elderly who still live there or to those who have moved away but enjoy stories and photographs that recreate their childhood memories.
In truth, the books usually are of dubious interest to the ordinary reader who is more accustomed to professional writers. Finding a local author who can come up with a broader reach is a delicious discovery. This critic cannot remember the last time she encountered so delightful a paperback with such warmth and collections of family portraits that illustrate the way things were in former generations.
Terry White and Ann Foley have collaborated to author a gem of a record with all the features and none of the shortcomings of this genre. Its excellence is not happenstance; White has a list of five previous books and Foley has the same number to her credit. The result is an almost flawlessly professional account of how a part of the Eastern Shore once was and still is to a remarkable degree.
The major focus of the book is directed to South Dorchester, with its relatively isolated small fishing villages with names like Bucktown, Bestpitch, Wingate, Bishops Head and Crocheron, Hoopers Island and Elliot Island and the one town that come-heres giggle over, mispronouncing its name, Crapo. Most of them are nestled on Dorchester waterfronts or in-county where there’s enough high ground among acres and acres of marshes.
For decades, nay centuries, locals made a living from both wet spots – crabs in summer, oysters and/or muskrats in winter. Most houses had vegetable gardens in the backyard and many also had fruit trees. Who needed the city?
Blacksmiths were available to replace broken teeth on oyster dredges, and any reasonably skilled man could raise a house or build a fishing boat in a shed or outside the back door. Cash was scarce, to be sure, but a family was self-sufficient as a rule.
Kids were loose in what some called Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn territory. Boys at an early age went out on their fathers’ boats and learned the craft from their dads. One-room schools were the pattern, and if the boys and girls could stick it out, they could leave school with a seventh grade diploma. Church attendance was universal and the ladies found social respite in the choir and church clubs. Music played a big part in their lives, with banjos or guitars for the menfolk when they weren’t playing baseball.
Change was slow in South Dorchester. Cars were few before 1925, but they began to show up on local roads that were still dirt, mud or oyster shells until 1949, when the first blacktop road was laid down-county.
World War II brought real disruption to the old ways. Young men, who in times past would most likely have followed their fathers with their own workboats, discovered a bigger world as they left home for military duty.
Those who stayed behind for a while found plenty of opportunities for cash away from home. Wire Cloth and Phillips Packing House were hiring. The latter had huge government contracts for canned goods to feed our boys in the services. After World War II and the Korean War, some veterans and regulars at Phillips Packing left to work for DuPont for the raise in salary from 88 cents an hour to one dollar an hour. The exodus from the home town was well underway.
Luckily, the authors had access to several large photograph collections. As a youngster, White’s father carried a box camera with him wherever he went and got a picture of everything he saw. “He took pictures of his house, his dogs, his baseball team, his relatives, anything that was standing still,” White writes. “In fact...among Dad’s treasures are photos of his mother’s people dating back to the Civil War.”
Foley credits “Photographer Elsie Harris Chase (1906-1992) {who} served the African-American community through the oft-mentioned difficulties of racial adjustments in Cambridge.” Of her profession, Chase said, “We cannot overestimate the value of photography to modern civilization, for it touches the lives of each of us and plays an important role in every phase of human activity.” In addition, the family albums of many people lent illustrations of the past history of Dorchester County.
Cambridge, the county’s only big town, has only a minor role in this scrapbook, probably in view of the fact that Foley has previously written “Cambridge, A Pictorial History.” References toward the end of the book quote interviews with townspeople whose families are closely related with earlier generations that lived in the county.
The title and subtitle are precisely accurate views of the book’s contents. They are wise and truthful labels as a “Scrapbook” and “That Reminds Me of a Story” told with admiration of a way of life, a rare exhibit of slow changes since colonial times.
This is a first rate record of the many people whose family solidarity, strong work ethic and dogged determination made a good life. I loved it and predict that readers will recognize experiences related to their own families, even if their backgrounds are rooted in other parts of the country.
Don’t miss it. It can be ordered directly from the publisher: Dogwood Ridge Books, 2336 Elliott Island Road, Elliott Island, MD 21869.

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.