Uncle Frank's -- by the bay


The Parris Island of my youth was a piece of Anne Arundel County shoreline.

This bayside retreat was owned by my Uncle Frank Bosse, a bachelor who liked to take on projects. A jeweler by profession, he spent his working hours at the goldsmith workbench of one of the city's old firms. But on the weekends, he liked to leave his Light Street rowhouse and head for the water.

Uncle Frank bought a couple of waterfront lots after World War II, when U.S. 50 led to the ferry landing at Sandy Point. Many motorists preferred to drive around Chesapeake Bay, crossing at Havre de Grace, rather than board one of the ferries that went to Kent Island. Frank's land was just shy of the ferry slip and perhaps a mile to the north. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge was only in the talking stage.

His shore place, as Baltimoreans call these patches of water and marsh grass, was off Log Inn Road beyond Sandy Point State Park. The namesake Log Inn was a famous old retreat and restaurant, long favored by politicians and those who liked good Southern cooking. I've heard that the shenanigans that led to the Teapot Dome Scandal were hatched there by some Washington insiders.

To a 6-year-old, the aging wood timber hostelry looked like the proper setting for a Hardy Boys mystery story.

Frank's property was close to the inn, but it was not as large or as well appointed, as the real estate agents say. He had used his own labor -- and some help from my father and my dad's brother -- to put up a simple cinder block house facing the bay. There also was a separate cabin off to the side, the purpose for which I could never figure out.

In the 1950s, we treated a Sunday drive from the city to Log Inn Road as if it were an excursion to Cumberland, way out in Western Maryland. Today, it's considered normal commuting distance, but not then. My father's old banana yellow Dodge didn't take to the sandy back roads and the Ritchie Highway traffic, then vilified as the worst on the Planet Earth.

I recall a few landmarks as we cleared out of Baltimore, chief among them Holy Cross and Cedar Hill cemeteries, the Ritchie Farmers' Market, Loew's Governor Ritchie Open Air Theatre (an early drive-in), the Barn and Wagon Wheel restaurants, Fishpaw's Amoco Station with its bait shop, Robinson's department store in Glen Burnie, the Dutch Mill Farm and Busch's, then a roadside stand but today a thriving restaurant.

There were holly bushes and reedy grasses on either side of the unpaved road after the Dodge swung off U.S. 50. When we approached the bay, some wag in the car would often remark that the temperature, instead of growing cool and delightful, became hotter and the humidity higher. The car seemed to attract green horse flies, mosquitoes and wasps.

Uncle Frank's summer place was not located in fancy environs. As I recall, he had sand trucked in to create a kind of beach. The two structures sat back from the water. You walked down a rickety 3-foot-wide boardwalk to reach the water. There, even getting your toes wet invited sharp stings from the jelly fish. (City people forever, we called them sea nettles for dramatic value.)

On one particularly wretched July afternoon, one of my more daring uncles plunged into the bay. He emerged with a red sting across his nose and forehead and was immediately dubbed a martyr of Log Inn Road.

On another visit, a water snake appeared in the swamp between the house and the artificial beach. A cousin clubbed it to death with an oar, an act of family heroism that is still recalled. It you weren't done in by the wildlife, mosquitoes had their way with you. No amount of repellent, clothing or fly swatters worked.

By the time the Old Bay Line's City of Norfolk, a steamer, appeared on the horizon, we knew it was time to head back to the city. We prayed a tire wouldn't get stuck in the rutted, sandy road.

Uncle Frank died and left his summer place to the family. The place was deemed impractical and sold. But years later, one cold December day, one of my cousins took us back for a look. The road had been smoothly paved. The shacks and summer cottages of the 1940s were things of the past.

And there where Uncle Frank's summer house once stood was a new waterfront home in a select neighborhood. The swamp was now a grassy lawn. The shore place we viewed as a penance was now a model of bayside affluence.

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