A Love Letter
If he were still here, I’d ask Tom “Petey” Nuse if it was okay to write a love letter to his wife, Wanda. He’s no longer with us, but I suspect he might grant his approval. My wife won’t mind, either. She has always referred to Wanda as my girlfriend.
The letter that follows reflects my deep admiration for this special woman, and is intended as a permanent reminder of what makes life in a small town so special.
I’ll never forget the first time we met. I was the brand new city administrator for Brunswick, and your nephew and then-Councilman Brent Bell brought me out to your house to meet you. All I had heard about you was how powerful a political force you were. Legend had it that if you agreed to allow a candidate for local office to place a campaign sign in your yard, it was an almost “bet the farm” lock that the candidate would win the election.
So, I followed Brent through the swinging metal gate into your front yard and up onto your porch. Your husband, Tom, was sitting in a chair on the porch. Brent made the introduction, and Tom rose out of his chair and shook my hand. He welcomed me the old fashioned way, and little did I know at that moment what his seemingly innocuous statement of welcome really meant.
We walked through the storm door and down that long hallway beside your stairwell. As we entered the dining room, I was struck at the lovely and comfortable setting. Tastefully decorated, comfortably appointed. A dining room that would feed a family, not the workspace of one the more powerful political personalities I would ever meet.
There you were. Seated in what I would soon realize was your most comfortable spot over which to dispense advice and share wisdom, I was finally able to place the name and reputation with a face. Not the scowling, suspicious visage of a wise old political hack, what I saw was the smile of a proud wife, mother, grandmother, and treasured friend to thousands.
That moment in time cemented a love affair that would last for almost two decades. Not a traditional love affair, mind you. We both loved Brunswick, her people, politics and process. We loved to talk about what was right and wrong with local, county, state, and national politics and politicians.
I can’t count the vexing political problems that we solved, some many times. Too bad they weren’t listening to us; we almost always knew what was best.
You told me what you expected and looked for in a politician. I listened. You said you wanted someone who told it like it was. You said you supported candidates who spent your money like it was their own. You said you were looking for people who weren’t afraid to tackle tough issues, and would stand for something more than just a political opportunity.
You held the same high standard for the President of the United States as you did for the local councilman. That standard applied to public business, but not so much for personal stuff.
You told me about how Dick Goodrich was a great mayor for Brunswick. He met the standards you set, and so did your nephew Brent. You frequently had harsh words for the City Council, so much so that you ran for a second term after a multiple year hiatus.
As you got older, mobility became more of an issue. Instead of jumping in a car to drive around and look at citizen’s complaints, you resorted to the telephone as the instrument for overseeing projects, complaints, and generally staying in touch with your constituents. No one since President Lyndon Baines Johnson could work a telephone they way you did!
As much as you loved your politics, you loved your family even more. You gave Tom Petey the business, but I don’t think he minded all that much. Heck, you gave me the business a good bit, too. Whether it was a visit from Cathey, Tommy, Craig or Kevin, nothing brought more happiness to the house at the corner of Delaware and Potomac than your wonderful children (and grandchildren).
Christmas was a special time, but pretty much any holiday was just an excuse to gather with friends and loved ones to eat. I can’t imagine anyone getting up from that table not having been fully sated. Me, I’ll miss the pimento cheese and Mexicans (a hot dog with beef mix for the uninitiated)!
How about all of those Veterans Day parades? I remember all of those politicians making it a point to wave like crazy when they drove by, but the really smart ones made their way out Potomac Street on foot to visit the after-party. Del. Charlie Smith, Sheriff Jim Hagy, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, Commissioner Jan Gardner, Commissioner Blaine Young, and just about every successful City of Brunswick candidate over the last 20 years walked through that doorway.
Finally, I’m going to miss those balmy summer nights sitting next you as you swung slowly on the porch swing. It seemed as though every car that went by had a driver or rider that knew you. Your arm and hand could have just stayed in the raised position, to save you the trouble of waving each time. Anyone who didn’t wave or honk got a second look, as it was probably a stranger riding through town.
I’ll miss the hugs and cheek kisses, I’ll miss the sage wisdom, I’ll miss the blunt criticism, and I’ll miss the knowledge that when I needed to hear some encouragement, all I had to do was to sit down on that porch.
Your family became my family. I consider your children my friends, and Ginny and Sam, Joanne and Poppy, and “Glady” are all special people who mean a lot to me. I met them all on that front porch.
I guess a lot more happened on that porch than I realized.
It’s where I fell in love.
[Editor’s Note: Wanda Merriman Nuse died at a Frederick City nursing home on Saturday March 20, 2010. She was 77.]