Susan Peacock: Whitehaven memorable for characters

In spring, my thoughts return to Whitehaven, nestled in southwestern Wicomico County, where my husband and I lived in a frame house beside the Wicomico River from 1984 to 2000.  We were still young then, and our move from the “big city” of Salisbury to the wilds of a downriver, historic village often seemed as if we had landed in another country.

High tides regularly flooded River Street and, sometimes, the only egress road out of town.   The historic Whitehaven Ferry ran on its own Eastern Wicomico Time (EWT), causing would-be patrons to curse loudly across the river when left stranded on the Somerset side.

House plumbing often froze in the winter, wreaking all kinds of havoc. And, the Whitehaven Hotel, once the grande dame of the neighborhood, suffered in silent dilapidation.

Oh, but it was the people of Whitehaven who made all the difference!

What an eclectic and merry band! Many were born-here’s, raised in the customs of the remote rural environment. Others, like us, were “come-here’s,” looking to lay down some real roots.

We quickly got to know the old-timers, who had their own enclave on Church Street.

Gailie Waters mostly summered in Whitehaven, often with her three grown daughters. Southern in manners and stylish in dress, Gailie and her girls would sport their finest summer hats on warm evenings as they strolled around the three triangular streets of the town.

Even well into her 80s, Gailie was known to cut quite the rug in her bare feet at the annual Whitehaven picnic.

Next door to Gailie were Reds and Alice Bunting, real born-here’s and mighty fine folks.  Reds was locally famous for his homemade martin houses which perched on iron poles in nearly everyone’s yard. “The martins eat the mosquitoes, don’t you know.”

My husband reminded me that Reds was also a master vegetable gardener; his legendary tomato plants climbed to the second story of his house, due largely to a magic elixir of horse droppings “cooked” in a large barrel.

Palmer and Lillian Kenney kept a neat-as-a-pin Cape Cod beside the Buntings. They were a genteel couple, always dressed as if every day was Sunday.

Should Church Street have needed a mayor, Palmer would be the man.

Moving on down the street, widowed brother and sister John and Edna Shores lived companionably in their doll-sized home. John loved the “ponies,” as he called them, and never failed to let us know when he had a winning night at Ocean Downs.

John was also an old-school sailor; he initiated my husband in the ways of river fishing and had an uncanny knack for pinpointing favorite fishing holes from memory, something that evaded my spouse.

Sister Edna was known for her infectious, cackling laugh which was oft heard reverberating down the street. She always had a fresh pot of coffee on the stove, ready for anyone who stopped by for a chat at her oilcloth-covered kitchen table.

In that pre-digital era, texting had not yet been invented, so plain old face-to-face communication ruled. And, tweeting was, well, strictly for the birds.

The Buntings, the Kinneys and the Shores were a unique breed of what was called “back-door neighbors,” coming and going to each other’s homes almost exclusively through the rear entrance, a way of life that is nearly lost today.

Similarly, if I happened to be walking by these three homes near the supper hour, I would often savor the separate aromas which wafted from each kitchen.

Everyone cooked back then. Every night. No Royal Farms.

Sadly, all of this partial cast of Whitehaven characters passed away some years ago, taking with them much of the day-to-day trappings of the little village but leaving behind good memories for the rest of us.

However, be assured there are more characters just around the corner, literally. Stay tuned.


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