The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Funky river town in Westmoreland has plenty of colorful characters
By Ed Jones
I HADN’T really thought of dining as an art form. But in this age of fast-food gulping, Bill Hall of Colonial Beach makes a powerful case that, when we take the time and focus on the details, the experience of dining can be downright artistic.
Bill is one of the fascinating folks I’ve met so far in my four months of deacon training at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Colonial Beach.
Another is Donald Markwith, a third-generation resident of the Beach, who has worked as a policeman in his hometown, an oil-truck driver in the Northern Neck, a hat salesman in Philadelphia and a candy maker in Washington.
After that array of jobs, he settled into a decades-long career as a Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay waterman–fishing and touring on the waters he can see from the house where he was born, and still lives.
If there’s a theme to my new friendships, it’s “community.” I’m discovering in this funky town, once called “the Las Vegas of the East,” an array of rich communities.
Bill Hall draws from his family’s deep roots in the area, but also builds community through his cooking and dining.
Cooking is the tool; dining is the payoff–the time spent around the table and in conversation after the meal. You know it’s a successful dining experience when guests begin writing down each other’s phone numbers so they can continue the conversation.
Indeed, for Bill, food is the great door-opener. Want to repair a ruptured relationship? Cook that person’s favorite meal and ask him over. Want to meet those introverted neighbors? Cook up something hot and deliver it to their door.
Of course, most of us won’t come close to matching Bill’s expertise in cooking. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he worked in one of the finest restaurants in the country and oversaw catering for The Coca-Cola Co.’s VIP hospitality service at the 1996 Summer Olympics before heading back to his hometown. Now he’s into occasional catering.
Bill can see a plate and immediately begin imagining what food display would be perfect for it.
His culinary reputation intimidates some of his friends, who might otherwise invite him over for a meal. But Bill stresses that it’s not the expertise, but the effort that counts. Knowing that somebody has prepared food especially for you is all it takes to build community.
But beware: It can’t be rushed. A real dining experience takes several hours, and involves conversation, companionship and maybe one more round of coffee. It’s about as far from gulping on the run as you can get.
In the frenzied world in which we live, that suggestion may sound like a fanciful dream from another era. But is it? Maybe it’s more a matter of priorities.
The community Donald Markwith knows parallels the past few decades of town history.
His anecdotes range from the violent oyster wars between Maryland and Virginia watermen to the days when the Westmoreland County town was packed with tourists gambling on the piers that are actually in Maryland.
Who knows what the next chapter will be for Colonial Beach? But in the meantime, I’m looking forward to meeting more of this town’s colorful characters.
You can, too, through a series of storytelling forums at 9:15 a.m. Sundays at St. Mary’s. More details are available at stmaryscolonialbeach.org.
The guest this week will be none other than Donald Markwith.
Ed Jones: 540/374-5401