It's funny how sometimes you can see a place without really seeing it. That's how it was for me the first time I visited Oxford, Md. That was about 20 years ago. More than 20, actually. I could tell you exactly how many more, but that would require digging through back issues of Mid-Atlantic Country magazine, and I'd rather not stir up all that dust, literally or figuratively.
But, returning to the point, when it comes to seeing something without seeing it, one's frame of mind has a lot to do with it. And my frame of mind that first time in Oxford must not have been conducive to lasting memory--no doubt because I had other things on my mind, namely learning to sail. I was doing the basic five-day course with Annapolis Sailing School, and Oxford was just one of several stops along the way. The places I remember best from that trip were the anchorages--most notably an idyllic evening and morning on the Rhode River. The towns, not so much. About St. Michaels I remember only an excellent shower and an excellent happy hour at the Carpenter Street Saloon. About Oxford I remember dinner at a marina restaurant, sleeping that night in the sailboat's cockpit, and a brief walkabout in town the next morning--not by choice, but because the tide was unusually low and our 36-foot O'Day was aground in its slip. Then off we went for another day of riding the wind. As I recall, that was one of the best sailing days; it was gray and wet, but begorra we flew down the Tred Avon and out of the Choptank.
Maybe that's what happened; maybe that exhilarating day of sailing just washed Oxford out of my head, because the only mental pictures that remain are those of the low ceilings and sloping floors of the ancient Robert Morris Inn, of a few preternaturally quiet residential streets, and of the splendid river view from the front yards along the Strand, on the north edge of town.
So imagine my surprise this summer when I returned to that little burg on the Tred Avon River for a proper visit and found one heck of a lot of there there [see "Watching Oxford," page 22]. Make no mistake, it's a
very small town. But it oozes personality--and personality that you might not see from the window of your car or cockpit of your boat. Indeed, it doesn't have the standard small-town commercial backbone, that block or two of Main or Market with shops and banks and drugstores and diagonal parking spots. Rather, it has a sort of commercial exoskeleton--the marinas and restaurants and inns on the perimeter of town. I'm rounding up here, but I think there are roughly 800 marina/boatyards in Oxford, which is to say one for every legal resident of town, including Labrador retrievers.
Perhaps I exaggerate. Labradors can't run marinas. But you get my point: I'm a big fan of Oxford now. Now that I've been there with my eyes open.
Tim Sayles, Editor