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Memoirs of a Main Street Boy, by Ralph Crosby

Memory is a timeless place

The most important story in the world is one you know best: your own.
    Lifelong Annapolitan Ralph Crosby tells his in Memoirs of a Main Street Boy.
    “As I started thinking about my grandchildren and the story I might tell them, two things came to mind, two things I knew better than anything else: my own life experiences and my city, Annapolis,” the 82-year-old told me. “Wouldn’t it be great to pass on how the city’s unique history fit into my growing up through a rather dynamic and disastrous period, the end of the Great Depression through World War II to the Cold War.”
    If you know the name, you’ll know it’s a success story. Forty-three-year-old Crosby Marketing is ranked the region’s No. 3 ad agency by Washington Business Journal.
    Success, however, was not Ralph Crosby’s destiny, which makes for a better story. He was born in 1933. Depression-era Main Street was a hard-working place dedicated to getting by. Trendiness was decades in the future.
    Out of his working-class family’s third-floor apartment at 183 Main Street, he stepped into the life of the city.
    “My Main Street,” he writes, “reflected the street life of the city, with holiday parades; Saturday night walkers, drinkers and shoppers; auto-owner showoffs; movie goers; and Sunday church-goers.”
    A free-ranging only child in an era when wandering kids and dogs were normal rather than jailable, he made Annapolis his playground. The U.S. Naval Academy, where his father worked as a metal worker … St. John’s College, where he roamed as freely as a Johnnie … Chesapeake Bay, where he first went into business for himself, as a crabber.
    But not City Dock, then known as Hell Point and, in his youth, “akin to the other side of the tracks.” Real fun was to be had there, however, as his friend reported earning “big money diving for coins when the ferries arrived in the late 1930s and 1940s. Some kids claimed to make as much as five or 10 dollars a day — far more than their parents earned.”
    Descriptions of his explorations, the savor of detail and prose makes the book’s best reading.
    Crosby’s boyhood playground remained a lifelong fascination. A knowledgeable local historian, he ranges from founding fathers to Naval Academy football players to mesh his city’s story with his own.
    “There’s a lot of Annapolis in it from the point of view of people proud to be from Annapolis,” says historian Jane McWilliams, author of Annapolis: City on the Severn.
    As every good story must, Crosby widens his to the context of the times that, from near and far, shaped his life. Thus he calls his high school days “duck and cover,” reflecting the nuclear age when school kids practiced how to react when the bomb dropped. The son of a Jewish mother, he touches on religious intolerance. Of greater scope is his chapter on Annapolis’ racial journey, which ranges from Kunta Kinte and the Annapolis slave market to Thurgood Marshall. It includes profiles of three African American Annapolitans: Aris Allen, Leonard Blackshear and Zastro Simms.
    “Some of later life crept in my awakening in terms of religion and the story of racial tolerance, or intolerance. Both were important to the story I wanted to tell, particularly to leave my grandchildren,” Crosby said.
    With that chapter, 19, the 230-page story is nearly ended. The chronological ending point to this 20-year memoir is going away to college at the University of Maryland, where he majored in journalism, leaving his beloved hometown for four years.
    Chapter 20, Three Centuries Later, pulls many threads together. This books’ theme you’ll find a few pages later, in the Epilogue, Sweet Memories.
    “That’s the wonderful thing about living your life in one small town,” Crosby writes. “Memories are freshly reborn often. I experience that every time I drive or walk on Main Street.”