Dear Ellicott City:
You hold a special place in the hearts of those who know and love the Baltimore region. You are like our secret treasure that the outside world knows very little about — like that elderly aunt with the jade earrings and the twinkle in her eye, the one who speaks her mind and whose eccentricities make you love her all the more. She sits by her crackling fireplace and asks you to lean in close as she divulges to you family histories that are both funny and scandalous.
To see you devastated once again is distressing for all of us. Our hearts are so heavy. Our hearts are so full.
We saw you on the news — many news outlets actually — our memories of you superimposed on the grim reality of this weekend’s tragic flooding, the second in two years to ravage your streets.
I saw my family stopping in Ellicott City when I was a child on the way home from a day at the Enchanted Forest theme park. I saw myself years later as a young adult picking out my wedding dress, walking on your streets and rummaging through your vintage stores. I saw the bistro where I accidentally got drunk and where I heard a beautiful jazz singer croon to piano accompaniment; the small eatery, where I had pizza with spinach and seafood; the ice cream shop. Your cobblestone streets are rich with memory and importance for me.
I can also remember walking along the bridge downtown in the 1990s and looking at the flood marker that chronicles high water marks of long ago and not really believing they were real. The Patapsco River never seemed capable of turning into a torrent, a deluge, a life-threatening tumult. But those old high water marks, in reality, bore the truth.
In the news, we saw your streets pummeled, with large blocks of pavement torn up and scattered as if they were toy blocks. We saw the damage, not just to the storefronts and cars, but to the people. Disbelief. Shock. Horror. How could your peaceful streets ever be a place of such terror?
Some of us realized just then how much you mean to us. We realized that you are a place of wonder and of history, of significant cultural heritage and of character. We realized that we held your streets as a cove in our hearts where old and new intersect and that we could not bear that you should suffer this way. We realized that we have been as the wayward son who doesn't write home enough to tell his mother how he really feels.
We haven't visited in a while, but it doesn't mean we don't care.
You are, after all, that feisty aunt who helps us discover our own peculiarities, welcoming us in when we arrive. We find ourselves wishing we could have half your confidence, that we could be as brazen and beautiful, as bold and as original as you – wishing that we might learn how if we just spend enough time with you.
On behalf of those who feel this way, I apologize: I’m sorry your streets have undergone such havoc and turmoil. I’m sorry it took this to remind us how much you mean to us. And I promise never to forget again.