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January 1, 2008

The City

Roy Meachum

As yet another year begins, I find again that I am the richest of men and in a way that counts better than money. I am, at times, overwhelmed by the lode of friends Frederick has given. In organizing a surprise October birthday lunch, Pat assembled a few among the handful who never questioned or tested our relationship, no matter the storms that raged around me.

A prime advantage of becoming older in this community can be found in the respect still awarded gray beards. Even when their eyes and body language tell me they disagree with whatever high horse I happen to be riding on, their words are measured and respectful. I would like to fancy that age has brought me wisdom. I know better than that!

Pushkin and I daily promenade up and down North Market Street, renewing every day the friendships (and the biscuits) freely given. The English pointer and I know, for sure, Frederick is where we want to be, for the brief rest of our lives.

The reason, I suspect, can be found in the column's first holiday season when downtown was graced by the return of carriages drawn by bells-bedecked horses pulling loads of happy, happy people who some times broke into song.

Little has changed over the past 23 years, but nothing is quite the same.

Moving to Frederick can be traumatic. This is such a friendly city. The old buildings radiate comforting warmth. “Good mornings” are freely offered and returned.

Visitors not infrequently comment on the hospitality they find in Frederick. The cordial atmosphere has helped convince many a person this is the place to live.

Newcomers soon discover those walls they find so charming are not for show alone. Every one of those walls has a gate. And there is no pressure to open the gate to anyone.

Frederick may be one of the few communities left in this country where a family’s home is still its castle.

Many of the city’s houses reflect the values of generations. The portraits on the walls are life reminders of past inhabitants. To walk through the rooms is to touch ancestral souls. It is an intimacy not to be casually bestowed. In Frederick it is not.

Furthermore, living patterns here did not suffer the wholesale disruptions that are common elsewhere. There are openings, but no vacuums that permit the wholesale flooding of the newly arrived into networks of existing relationships that have existed for decades.

The postwar transmigrations that transformed America into a mobile society barely brushed Frederick. This enabled local leaders to withstand the assaults that virtually destroyed other small cities.

Not without sometimes-bitter struggles between the forces of “modernization” and tradition, Frederick opted to retain, rather than destroy.

A certain amount of swirling did occur. There was some flight from the older, inner city. Families decided county life was more to their personal tastes; others bought houses in other parts of town, moving their ancestors’ portraits along.

And when they moved, these established Fredericktonians found friends among their new neighbors. These neighbors became new friends to old friends. Propinquity is not the only means but relationships here come through interconnections—a linkage not unlike those walls in the oldest part of the city.

While newcomers may not appreciate the subtle difference: neither the walls nor the patterns of living are intended to keep anyone out.

Frederick excludes no one, nor any living thing, especially new ideas.

And it is certainly not exclusive. What appears to some outsiders' snobbery is most frequently a simple unwillingness to swap the proven for the untried, in ideas as well as people. Everything here must earn its way, people as well as ideas.

As the city’s mostly German Founding Fathers might have put it, Frederick has ein echte Grundlage. “A real foundation” provides only the simplest translation. But there is nothing simple about this city.

Architectural ambiance provides the obvious attraction but the substance entices settling in. Still I have an understanding of the trauma other people might experience.

They acquire a fascination for the old houses. They become intoxicated with the wonderful spirit. They seek to transfuse the spirit into their lives by acquiring a fascinating house. But buying real estate brings them merely local residence.

Only when they make contributions to the quality of life can they expect Frederick to return their affection.

Meanwhile, they can enjoy the wonderful spirit, as found in the streets and other public places. It’s there, for all to share.

For the 23rd time: Happy New Year all!

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