As a Bay Weekly reader, you may feel like you know us Bay Weekly writers pretty well.
One way and another, our writers reveal a lot about themselves.
Sandra Lee Anderson — Sandy — sure did in the eight years she helped fill our pages. On hearing the news of Sandy’s death on Saturday, March 4 at age 73 from an aneurism, I gathered up her stories for Bay Weekly. Twenty thousand words-worth between 2007 and 2015, when she turned her writing energies to her own book. All together, they record the life of a rare and wonderful woman, utterly different from each of us — and not so very different.
Sandra Lee Comstock grew up in the west, but this daughter of a water reclamation engineer and fisherman couldn’t avoid the pull of Chesapeake Country.
Her first experience was a waterfront place that had been the residence of a vegetarian society:
Signs claiming Salt is Poison hung on musty walls. Locals maintain it was a nudist colony. We slept beneath rafters where a long wall divided the dorms for men and women. I fell asleep to the rhythmic waves through the screened window. On that beach I found my first great white shark tooth, two and a half inches long.
I married another fisherman. Charlie bought a boat and moored it at Flag Harbor, down the beach from the vegetarian beach house. Charlie and I built two houses away, near enough to visit our friend, glimpse the water and easily comb the beach for sharks’ teeth.
Her adopted home fell short in one way only: winter.
I love winter, Sandy wrote four years ago this week. My growing up was Colorado, and cold-side Oregon, and cold and snow are in my blood.
But not in Maryland. Real winter has been missing so long that I fear global warming has turned it into a memory.
So, interviewing longer-time Calvert countians, the retired D.C. schools administrator chronicled the Great Blizzards of Yore, writing appreciatively of times when school closed for two weeks.
In Chesapeake Country, she and Charlie became oyster gardeners. Many of her stories chronicled efforts small and large to restore our beloved bivalve.
This story started when I met the ranchers, the westerner wrote on October 2, 2008. They wear chaps for protection, and they work on ranches, but they’re not wrangling cattle. They’re raising oysters.
Richard Pelz, the trailblazer, brought oyster ranching to Maryland at Circle C Oyster Ranch. …
She wrote of building homes for bluebirds, another species restoration effort shared with Charlie, who in turn took photos for her stories:
Charlie’s anticipated carefree hobby placed us squarely against the travails of nature. We overcame territorial wrens, bad locations and opportunistic chickadees to welcome bluebirds to our home. In the process, we found some of that elusive happiness.
The couple’s land garden also supported Chesapeake Country wildlife.
Something has been nibbling on husband Charlie’s cantaloupe, she wrote in September, 2012:
I suspected the squirrels, and Charlie blamed mice or voles. Friend Fritz Riedel happened to snap another candidate: an eastern box turtle. It’s circumstantial evidence, but very convincing. Charlie’s conclusion is a new twist on the fable of the turtle and the hare: Turtles are faster than humans at getting to a ripe cantaloupe.
Calvert County history, especially school history, intrigued her, and she, in turn, educated us, introducing us to places like the Old Wallville School. And to the people who brought them to life, like the educational giants Ms. Regina Brown and her sister Ms. Harriet Elizabeth Brown, who hired the young Thurgood Marshall to win equal pay for Calvert’s black teachers.
The second-grade students of Calvert Elementary art teacher Shari Adams, Sandy wrote in December, 2009, saw nothing they could recognize in the bits and pieces of the Old Wallville School, which opened last month, reconstructed for students of history.
“What is it? Is it a shed?” today’s schoolchildren wondered from the windows of their modern, low-slung fortress of education.
Best of all were her stories of people who without paying much attention were making modern history. We need love stories for Valentine’s Day, I’d tell Sandy, or mothering and fathering stories for Mother’s and Father’s Day features, or jobs people do for Labor Day stories. Never fail, she’d find a couple of deeply human stories, like Guffrie M. Smith Jr.’s Father’s Day recollection of Guffrie M. Smith, Sr.:
Because of his humble beginnings, you were in awe of what my father accomplished. His mother died when he was five, and he was raised by his uncle, who worked him from sunup to sundown and hired him out to a dairy farmer. He always said, “Work never killed anyone.” If work killed anyone, it would have been him.
Sometimes, we learned more about Sandy from one of those assignments, as in a story on our first jobs:
I was a carhop in Phoenix at a Dog n Suds Root Beer drive-in. People parked beside a speaker and placed their orders. We carried hotdogs and root beer in mugs to the car on a tray that fit into the window slot. Diners ate in their cars. It didn’t pay much, but I loved working nights under the desert sky.
Among the love stories Sandy told was How I Met Your Father.
Our match was made, not born, she confessed of a pursuit and retreat that spanned the continent, from the campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia where they met to California.
“I want to get married,” I told him a couple of years in.
“What if I don’t?”
“Then I’ll go away.”
I accepted an invitation to work on a political campaign in California.
“Don’t come for me without a piece of paper in your hand,” I told him.
I packed my car and headed west.
Eventually, he followed.
I got a message that Charlie was in the air and would arrive at 5pm. I didn’t know that Charlie broke a Saturday night date and got drunk on champagne with his roommate, toasting his future married life.
That was 45 years ago last month.
Charlie recalled a bit of that story when he called to tell me that Sandy had died and he wondered what kind of a life he’d have without her.
How I wish the storyteller were as durable as the story.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email email@example.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com