As the three of us stood on Stam’s doorstep, a woman, whose name we came to know was Maggie, darted from across the street and said to us, “It’s closed!” We said, “Unfortunately, we just found that out.” She responded, something to the effect of, “You know Stam’s is a local institution. Best ice cream ever!” Martha said, “Yes, that’s why I wanted my son-in-law to have some; I promised him.” In the midst of this conversation, Maggie looked at Martha and said, “I’m part of the rowing club here in Chestertown, why don’t you join us.” Martha replied, “Oh no, I’m far too old for that sort of thing,” to which Maggie said, with genuine sincerity, “Certainly not – we’d love to have you. Please, join us”
After talking with Maggie some more about Chestertown, its rowing club, and Stam’s, she made her way over to her car parked in front of the store. As Martha, Jackie, and I began to talk about what we should do next, Maggie gently shouted, “Have you ever gone to Durding’s over in Rock Hall, right there on Main Street?” We said we hadn’t, and so Maggie proceeded to tell us the story of that fountain shop, how to find it, and a bit about Rock Hall, a small town my wife and I had taken our kids to years ago for a nifty July 4th parade.
There, standing near her car, Maggie then whispered to us, “You know, Durding’s is better than Stam’s.” She confessed, “I’m not supposed to say that, but…”
As Maggie got into her car and drove off, another woman came up to us on the street and said, “You know, Stam’s is closed, but have you ever been to Durding’s in Rock Hall?” She, too, then whispered to us, “It’s even better than Stam’s,” and she, too, told us about Rock Hall and how to get to Durding’s.
Why am I telling you this little story? Do I believe that these kinds of interactions alone will place our communities and the nation on a better trajectory, and that they will somehow lead, for instance, to the nation solving its economic woes or end wars overseas? Not exactly.
But what I do know from our recent Main Street study, which we’ll be releasing this June, is that Americans desperately want for people to see and hear one another, for there to be greater openness and humility in our interactions, to re-establish a broken moral compass, and to rebuild a modicum of trust between and among people. Without these necessary building blocks, larger actions on the issues that face us will be that much harder.
So, here’s what I hope each of us can do: Extend yourself to someone today in the spirit of Maggie and the other passerby – reach out, engage someone, do something small. It’s a start. And then keep doing it. Only through such small steps can we begin to restore our faith in ourselves and in one another.
P.S. if you want the Main Street Tour to come to your community, please click here.
P.S.S. I ended up getting great ice cream at Durding’s – double scoop of vanilla and chocolate with jimmies and chocolate syrup. Next stop is back to Stam’s and then onto Rita’s, another place I discovered along the way!