On Deal Island

Deal Island is a three mile finger of land and tide about 15 miles off the beaten path in eastern shore Maryland. It’s where my great-grandfather, who we called Pop-Pop, lived until the (and his) mid 80s, which is also the last time I’d visited. Even though he’s long gone and the first word that always comes to mind when I think of Deal Island is mosquitoes, I had to get back. It should have been a tough sell to my girls, but they’re always up for adventure or maybe the challenge of seeing ordinary stuff that way.

We picked a sunny day with low humidity for our trip. If we’d gone the day before, I’m convinced westerly winds would have carried in biting flies like those from a particularly vivid childhood memory. Sure, I remember that time my great-grandfather’s cat scratched a perfect circle of blood around my wrist or the way the massive vinyl swing on his front porch creaked and groaned though never in a way that made me feel uneasy. But I’ll never ever forget the 2 mile walk that felt like 200. My brother and I were nearly eaten alive by greenheads and mosquitoes as we took a fun family hike along the bay. Our parents tossed back helpful tips like “walk faster so they won’t bite you” and other things I’ve surely never said to my own children, who are now more delicious than I. Deal Island was originally called Devil’s Island, though I’m not sure there’s truth to the rumors it was once a hotbed of pirate activity. If so, those were some tough pirates.

Driving in that clear day with its delightfully low dew point, the first thing we noticed was a perfect stranger waving to us. In fact, he didn’t even look up so wouldn’t have known we were strangers, though I don’t guess it would have mattered. I’d remembered it as a kind of Mayberry on the water, and not much had changed.

The old bank building was still there. My great-grandfather worked there until the stock market collapse of 1929. When there was a run on the bank, a customer who was also a neighbor waved a gun at him. It was panic, nothing personal then or when the bank closed like many small town banks had to. It sat empty for years and then someone converted the inside to a machine shop. It sits empty again and for $24,900, anyone can buy it.


Probably the most anticlimactic stop was in front of my great-grandfather’s old house. It’s been so lovingly renovated that I couldn’t recognize enough to tap into nostalgia. Instead we kept walking down the street, past an old gothic revival farmhouse that could only be suitable to vampires. Only on the walk back did we notice an identical gothic revival farmhouse right next door. I did not take pictures of either and deeply regret this, but you probably wouldn’t have either.

Our next stop was the final resting place of both great-grandparents and also Joshua Thomas, Parson of the Islands. He predicted the British fleet’s defeat in Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key and our national anthem. Also, he was born in a place called Potato Neck and his dad died from a dog bite and his stepfather was a drunken lout who forever turned young Joshua off alcohol. I now remember why book reports were such a challenge. It’s tough telling which facts are weeds because they all seem important.

I can tell you that cemetery was the biggest challenge of the day. My dad had provided a quaint hand drawn map to find the family plot but failed to warn us half the people buried on that island share the same last name.

The eldest at least a half hour in
Three passes after I’d first given up, I found the plot and yelled so loud I probably woke Joshua Thomas of Potato Neck. We piled back in the car and drove until the road dead ended by crab shedding facilities at Wenona harbor. On the way back, I snapped this picture of a crumbling beauty an 1877 atlas designated the “Colored Church and School”.


I almost drove past another (mystery) beauty, but if you only get to a place once in 30 years, you find yourself doing asinine road maneuvers so you can go back and take pictures while your kid swats at bugs only kids can feel because adults are old and taste terrible


The next to last stop was at the public beach, where someone else had already written Pop-Pop in the sand and we collected a generous handful of tumbled sea glass. The funny thing about that is I’d had in mind to treat myself to something at the 5 year sober mark, but nothing seemed right and then I found it.


The final stop of the day was a bait and sundry shop where I purchased candy bars for the drive back. I picked a Whatchamacallit, which I also hadn’t experienced in about 30 years and my kids thought I’d forgotten the name and was just calling it that. Some days you look back and find yourself feeling lost and disappointed. This wasn’t one of those days.



14 thoughts on “On Deal Island

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  1. I love this whole adventure. What an awesome thing to do with your kids. Your remarks about how they must be more delicious than you made me chuckle. And I remember whatchamacallits (and that commercial) but I don’t remember what they taste like. Yasou (Greek for congrats) on your 5 year mark 🙂
    The best part for me was the handful of shells, including the sea glass. Ah!
    xo Joanne

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  2. So incredibly lovely. I’m always with you on these trips which is another credit to your writing ability. Our grandchildren call my husband PopPop. Hope they hold the memories as close as you do. Thanks for inviting me along and congrats on those 5 years!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. yes..that sea glass, that trip…a perfect 5 year present!
    loved this, i felt like i was there too… I have visions of buying and renovating that bank building, dreams


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Potato Neck. God, any name with Neck in it. I know those horse flies from Chincoteague and Assateague islands (also good names), from living at Ocean City, MD one summer after college. Glad I made it out of there alive.
    Your going back to Pop-Pop’s reminded me of one of my favorite books, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (David Eggers’ first). In case you haven’t read it, he goes back to his childhood home and manages to tell the story in an unsentimental fashion, hard to do.
    Nice to see you posting Kristen and look forward to more.


    1. Deal Island was a day trip from OCMD. I spent and still spend a lot of time there but never did the summer job deal. In fact, I have something related I think I’ll write about next (thanks!). I wonder what your job was and how that summer was for you. As for the book, I haven’t read it yet but have The Wild Things on my bedside table (liked the movie) and remember looking for his memoir at the library but they didn’t have it. I’ll look harder.


  5. I love how the Eastern Shore is filled with these nook-and-cranny neighborhoods. And I agree with Bill, very Eggers-esque, which is a huge compliment I think. I should now it’s Eggers-esque because I am presently 2/3rds the way through A Hologram for the King. Eggers is awesome. And Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is his memoir. Filled with roadtrips.


    1. My daughter has Your Fathers, Where Are They?…for summer reading. I have The Wild Things but barely cracked it. I’ll definitely check out his memoir. Thanks for the tip!


  6. Lovely description of a wonderful day. Feel like I was with you. The photos are beautiful. So good to have such a rich family history. Apparently all my ancestors were tinkers, drunks, miners and show people. Fascinating!


  7. Your trip reminds me of where some of my relatives are buried, in a town called Pepin, Wisconsin.
    The pictures remind me of the buildings I see there when I go.
    And the flies and mosquitos are EVERYWHERE here in Minnesota and Wisconsin!
    They love me, and I am old!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love it when you and your girls take these trips. You make me feel like I was there and knew all of the characters you spoke of. When your girls have girls of their own, you know they will remember this and pass along to their daughters (sons). I can think of no greater gift.
    (now, I’m off to find some mosquito spray…can’t figure out why I’m so itchy!!)

    Liked by 1 person

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