In the summer of my 14th year, a family across the street from us, the Johnsons, with whose son Dicky I had an on-again-off-again friendship, were kind enough to take me along on their annual vacation in Point Pleasant, N.J. I remember three things about that adventure: (1) after a week with Dicky, the friendship was never on again; (2) on a half-day headboat fishing trip, I fell wrenchingly seasick and then, when I felt better, wrenchingly in love with a 14-year-old goddess from Alexandria, whose name I can't recall and whom I never saw again; and (3) Point Pleasant was the first place that ever "embraced" me.
Yes, embraced me. That's the only word I can find to describe the feeling-a sense that I belong to the place, or it to me, or that I somehow know it, or understand it, or . . . I don't know, something like that. As you can see, whatever it is, it doesn't lend itself to words. But it's a vivid feeling all the same, and I've experienced it in a few other places too-Mount Gretna, Pa., for instance, a hypnotic old Chautauqua village hiding in the deep shade of a pine forest near Hershey, Pa., and Carmel, Calif., which to me was a hilly, botanically exotic version of Point Pleasant.
And then there's Deale, Md., which has never failed to embrace me-and which also happens to be this month's featured destination, colorfully and intelligently rendered by writer Mike Brown. For Mike, Deale was a time portal. "I could have sworn that we were back in the 1950s, Ike was in the White House, and I was once again a kid all excited about the newest Studebaker," Mike writes, describing his first impressions as he motored up Rockhold Creek from Herring Bay. He was also struck by the "absence of self-conscious cute" on what can only loosely be described as the main drag in Deale.
For me, the appeal of Deale is in its crooked little neighborhoods, most of them following the shores of Rockhold and Parker creeks or along the beach of uppermost Herring Bay. Defiantly asymmetrical, wholly disdainful of right angles, Deale is a case study in the architectural style known as Early Catawampus-narrow lanes and alleys, big houses, little houses, tiny houses, sideways houses and backward houses, all liberally sprinkled with sheds and stand-alone garages and mother-in-law cottages and carports and doghouses and Grady-Whites and tiny basketball courts. It's not merely eclectic; it is exuberantly so.
And I mean that in a good way, of course. As I've said, the place calls to me.
Exactly what it says when it calls, I don't really know. Maybe something about escaping the squared-off, buttoned-down world. Or something about individualism. I don't know, and I guess I don't need to know. It embraces me, that's all. And who am I to question that?