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November 26, 2010

Another Thanksgiving Friday

Roy Meachum

Mike Kurtianyk sighing over cutting grass so late triggered memories of another Thanksgiving Friday. My “columning” in Frederick began that day, in 1984.


Sharon Meachum opened Lady on Skates offering her picky taste in antiques on East Patrick Street; moving here while still employed as WRC editorial director, I found myself “at liberty” that autumn. NBC vice president John Rohrbaugh moved to take over the Los Angeles operation; his successor and I parted company.


To augment Lady’s earnings, my wife took on the task of selling time for a Thurmont radio station; I chipped in by minding her shop mornings while she was off earning money. To help time pass faster, I lugged my Olympia portable along. My time was not entirely wasted, in my brief career in retailing: Midwest dealers passing through allowed me to take their orders and payments.


A striking human being, Carolyn Barranca, walked down the stairs, chatted briefly and said she’d stopped by Colonial Jewelers and Mel Hurwitz told her I was a journalist. He knew where to find me. A very direct woman, Carolyn asked me straight out if I would write a column for The Frederick News-Post; she was editor for the paper’s op-ed, the page opposite the editorial, the cartoon, highlights of histories on the same date, etc.


Fred Archibald was managing editor; I knew his father who was the publisher of the Hearst paper in Baltimore when I worked for WBAL-TV. The younger Fred, as I remember, retired from General Motors public relations where he belonged to the National Press Club; from socializing in the lounge, he recruited journalists to write columns for the Frederick newspaper. Carolyn was in charge of corralling them.


Standing in Lady on Skates basement on East Patrick, I suggested I write three-times-a-week, to have any impact in the community. She agreed. We left the matter of how much I should be paid until after the columns started; the understanding was implicit: No reaction and a minimal fee. Meanwhile, I studied for a real estate license with Fredericktown Realtors, in the old library on Record Street.


Michael K.’s mowing the grass set off this chain of thought; a column between Christmas and New Year’s lamented how the backyard grew wildly because of the mild temperatures. The next month turned bitter cold, which is why I started the beard; at first, it was more “pepper” than “salt.” Years passed.


We moved from Bethesda the year before, in time to stroll up North Market behind Mayor Ron Young to inaugurate In the Street; the now newly elected state senator wrought magic of his own. Besides growing grass, the holiday season generated for my writing lots of joy!


On, two columns are still repeated from that December: Mice of Patrick Street, about ballet students rushing to the Weinberg Center for the annual Nutcracker Suite; and The City, which celebrates my joy for having moved into Frederick, in the season when horses hauling wagons and carriages were adorned with sleigh bells.


The new golden years should be attributed to Ron Young; he had lots of help. Dick Kline comes to mind; he’s become a close friend. At the time, he and wife Maggie owned a sizeable chunk of downtown. He paid a consultant to advise Frederick what to do with its future: the last of the important chain stores were skipping out to the new shopping malls. The city needed help. Maggie and Dick got it.


That first spring I tip-toed into the political scene; all of a sudden rockets went off. I was forced to understand veterinarian James “Doc” McClellan ran a machine; he was a very conservative Democrat. In any event, his emissary called that summer to know what office I was interested in. The inquiry surprised. I replied that I’m a journalist, and let it go at that.


Over the next 20 years, George Delaplaine was the best “boss” I ever had. A few times when he judged I was acting “too big for my britches” – in a Southern expression – he sat me down; twice in all those years the News-Post publisher pulled columns. While I was still paid, George put me on “vacation” for a week or so.


In return, he went to bed peacefully at night, confident that I would never get the paper sued; The Washington Post Company, at the beginning of my civilian career, taught me the limits on free speech.


Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day left me many people to be thankful for. It can by no means be said that life has been idyllic since I came to Frederick; my life has undergone major transformations. But friends and supports have always provided shoulders and arms that I could be truly thankful for.


A day late, I thought I should state the fact.


For my friend Michael Kurtianyk, a bit of advice: When the beautiful girls are grown, you should seek a house with no lawn. Pushkin and I live on Market Street with no grass; the patio is paved but with flower beds to grow color in abundance.


Happy holidays all!



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