A couple of weeks ago, in a fit of frustration, I got up in the middle of the night and searched for a place for a short getaway. My preference would be a cottage on a cliff in Scotland, but I had no more than a couple of days available. After clicking around a bit, I found the Web site to a Bed & Breakfast called Black Walnut Point Inn on Tilghman Island. The photos on the Web site were impressive, and the inn's location on Google Map was intriguing --- It is sitting at the tip of the island, where it juts into the Chesapeake Bay. So I booked a room for 3 days this week and went.
The gravel road leading to the inn confirmed the map's indication that this is a secluded spot. In the office, one of the two inn keepers, Bob, handed me the key to the room. He was a 40-ish chubby white guy with a ruddy face and a carefully trimmed beard around his mouth. His yellow T-shirt, smudged with dirt, was stretched tight by the beer belly, which enhanced the jolly impression he gave.
I made a mention about being a city person and not used to the country. He chuckled and said, "We were city people, too. Tracy and I lived in DC for 20 years."
"You got this place not long ago, no?" I remembered something from the TripAdvisor reviews about the B&B.
"A year ago," he nodded. "I taught music at American U and other places." He also told me that he grew up in Vermont, while Tracy was originally from West Virginia. Bob had taught music at various schools in the DC area and performed on stage in choirs and musical productions. Tracy had been a software contractor for Oracle.
"How did you find this place then?"
Bob's eyes twinkled. "Four years ago, we found the Point on a bike ride. God told Tracy to settle here and take over the inn."
"What do you mean by ...?" I thought he was speaking metaphorically.
"Tracy saw a vision of this place when he was 3 years old," he nodded. "He had been looking for the vision all his life. When we got here, God told him this is it."
"What do you mean by 'vision'?" I stared at him.
"Tracy hears God's voice all the time," Bob nodded and gave a slight chuckle. "He is a preacher's son and talks to God all his life."
My brain immediately cued the song "The Son of a Preacher Man." Thanks a lot, Quentin Tarantino!
"You should get Tracy to tell you the story some time," Bob winked. I studied his face. He seemed to be the type to clown around, and he was smiling at the moment. For a moment I wondered whether I was being punked.
"We had no money and no idea how to do it," Bob said. "But God is good. He led us here. And a year ago we finally took over the lease of the Bed and Breakfast. We've had storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, but He's taken care of us. And here we are."
"It must be nice to know for sure that this is your destiny," I tried not to sound like a damned skeptic.
"We don't know anything," said Bob. "We just do what God tells us. God is good."
I met Tracy by the swimming pool when Bob took me around the property. He was cleaning the pool of the mud and dirt and debris brought by the hurricane. Tracy looked about the same age as Bob, but thinner, a bit less jolly (must be the lack of a beer belly), a little more reserved, and black.
"Bob said you saw a vision of this place when you were ... uh ... a kid," I brought it up when I ran into him in the living room that evening. The curiosity had been eating at me inside.
"Yeah, it is true," he said, "I saw this place in a vision when I was 3, and then I found it at the age of 41." He glanced at the window. "Bob's waiting in the car. We're going for pizza at this place in St. Michael's. Ask me later, or tomorrow, and I'll tell you the whole story."
On the third day morning, I finally caught up with Tracy outside the tool shed. The sun was already high. He took off his baseball cap and sprayed the strongest bug repellent on his shaved head, and then vigorously sprayed his arms and T-shirt. The black flies were still humming around. I had already been attacked by these flies despite repeated spraying --- They bite, and it hurts like hell.
We talked a little. I asked about the history of the inn. His account was clear and well organized, a lot more coherent than Bob's scattered chatter. The place is ripe with religious connections, he told me with a disarming smile and a casual shrug, as if he was talking about turnips.
The area had been privately owned since the inn was built in 1845. In 1978, when the Charismatic Movement in the Catholic church was sweeping the Baltimore area, a devout person happened to visit Tilghman Island and heard about a wooden cross having been washed ashore here. He considered it a miracle. He convinced his church to purchase the land and the inn, and they began having revival meetings here. They planted this cross at the tip of the island, facing the Chesapeake Bay. The group owned the inn for 4 years, until it could not afford to keep it up and subsequently sold the land to the state.
(It seems God did not want them to stay here for too long, I thought. Of course, I held my tongue.)
The state designated the bushy area behind the inn as a bird sanctuary. In 1989, a local couple named Tom and Brenda leased the inn from the state and opened it as a Bed and Breakfast. They ran the place for 20 years. Until Bob and Tracy came along.
"Four years ago, my contract at Oracle ended earlier than expected" Tracy said. "The next morning I lay in bed and asked God, So? What now? What do you want me to do with my life next? I heard God say, 'Take Bob for a bike ride.'
"I laughed and asked Him, 'Are you sure? I don't have a job now, you know. Just want to remind ya, I've got bills due at the end of the month.' He said, go. So Bob and I put our bikes in the car, drove to St. Michael's, and biked all the way down here."
I remembered the bike lanes on both sides of Route 33, the only highway that cuts through St. Michaels and runs to the end of Tilghman Island.
"We got to the Black Walnut Point, met Tom and Brenda, the innkeppers at the time. We had known nothing about this place before and decided to stay at the inn for the weekend. Then we walked down the gravel path to the pier over there ..." He pointed at the wooden pier on the water. "At that moment, I heard God speaking to me in my head, 'This is the place you've been looking for. Stay.' "
He grinned, showing his white, straight teeth. It was a charming, boyish grin that made it all sound as real and natural as breakfast cereal and cold milk.
He walked back into the office and came out with a color photograph in hand. It had a orange hue, probably due to light exposure over time. In it, a smiling boy held a piece of paper with crayon drawings. "It was me at 6 years old. I drew a picture at school, it was the vision I saw at 3. My mother took this photo."
He then proceeded to explain how the drawing corresponded to the view of the Point from the pier --- the sun, a tree growing into the water, a house that looked just like the office, the brown grass growing nearby, and the cross. I shrugged inside. Well, it had all the common elements of children's drawings: The sun, a house, a tree, and a cross, which is not unexpected for a preacher's child. I would not be surprised that there are hundreds or thousands of places on earth that fit the drawing. But I did not want to interrupt his story. I nodded and made some inaudible noise to suggest an appreciation for his miracle.
"I was not too sure about it. I said to God, Are you serious about this? You know we got no money, don't you? How are we going to buy this inn? Nah, you gotta give me a little more hint."
He was suddenly a jovial preacher with an irresistible gaze. I couldn't help but laughed.
"I was talking to God quietly, you know, in my head," he pointed at his forehead. "I was not saying anything out loud. Bob was walking ahead of me, shooting the camcorder at the water. He suddenly turned around and said, 'God just told me that we should live here.' "
We both laughed.
"I was trying to stay calm, and I was trying not to show anything, because I knew that I had told Bob about my vision before. I was still waiting for God to give me one more sign. So I said to Bob that, yeah, this would be a nice place to live, to retire to, for example. But he shook his head and said seriously, No, God spoke to me too just now. He said we should settle down here."
"So ... you did?" I asked.
"Well, it took us 3 years, but we worked on it, and we finally did it a year ago." He did not explain what happened in those 3 years, but I imagine it must have involved a lot of working, researching, saving, and perhaps some borrowing.
For a moment I remembered the American churches' position on homosexuality. I asked him whether he had a particular denomination he belonged to. He said none. The God he and Bob believed in was the God that is everyone's God. "He doesn't care," he pointed upward.
"God knows what is meant for you. Doesn't matter if you have no money or no idea. Have no worry. Have no fear. All you need to do is just ask him. He will take care of you. I talk to him everyday. He tells me everything." His eyes shone bright. I looked away.
"Like?" I asked.
"Everything. What to do. What will happen. What to look forward to. Things about each of our guests ..."
I did not have the courage to ask him what He told Tracy about me. Chicken! I'm still regretting it.
Perhaps it was his charisma. Perhaps it was the sun beating down on my head. Perhaps it was the water, the island, and the birds around me, so removed from my familiar surroundings. On that day I thoroughly believed Tracy, including his daily bantering with his own personal God.
An internal dialog with self is hardly an abnormal phenomenon. Only, Freud called the voice "superego," while Faulkner called it "the problems of the heart in conflict with itself." Tracy's God is his superego, a gentle, supportive, and kind presence, akin to an optimistic and encouraging personal coach, egging on the mortal and weary ego to find meaning in life and walk every mile.
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