Jesus on the Hill


Mark and Marisa's new home in Frederick, Maryland.

I recently took a trip up to Maryland to help my younger brother move into his new home. The move was a success. Their new residence is in historic downtown Frederick, Maryland, and was built in 1850 by John Joseph Moran who gained notoriety as the attending physician at Edgar Allen Poe’s death in 1849. I got to spend some time with my two nieces, Lily and Samantha who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, and meet Sam’s boyfriend Jake from West Virginia. 



Left, Lily. Right, Jake and Samantha

While in Maryland I drove over to my old stomping grounds around Langley Park and our Oakview neighborhood in Silver Spring to have a look around. That area of suburban Washington, DC has been changing dramatically and steadily since World War II. When I grew up there, pre-Beltway, there was still a lot of open space and the roads were small and slow. That pastoral landscape is now rolling hills of concrete and development and has been for some time so I wasn’t seeing anything new. What got my attention were things that had stayed the same – specific places and specific memories. 


My Grandmother's House on University Boulevard in Silver Spring, Maryland.

While driving over to my old neighborhood just off of New Hampshire Avenue, north of Langley Park, I passed my grandmother’s old house on University Boulevard and decided to stop. When I knocked on the door an elderly Asian woman answered. I was able to communicate to her my relationship with the house that had been in her family for thirty years. She graciously invited me inside, which I refused, but I did walk around the outside, mostly wanting to see the backyard, a scene of many 4th of July parties with my family. My Uncle Charlie’s brick grill was gone, but the yard was as I remembered it; big enough for badminton and croquet, lawn chairs and blankets, the grill, and tables for food. The house itself, almost new when I lived there in the late forties, was now run down and in need of structural repair and paint. And University Boulevard, a slow two-lane road through the 1950s, and still that way in my memory, was now six lanes of unrelenting traffic and sound, made immediate and real by its close proximity to the house.

At the intersection of Piney Branch Road and New Hampshire Avenue, stopped for the traffic light, I looked up on the hill facing me and saw a familiar statue of Jesus, his arms outstretched in a gesture of embrace and protection. Years ago, in maybe 1955, my cousin George and I had been dropped off at the movie theatre in Langley Park for a late afternoon matinee. It was dark when the movie ended and we had been told to wait at the entrance where someone would pick us up. After thirty or forty-five minutes of waiting, and repeated phone calls to a busy single or no answer, we decided to just walk home. It was two miles or less and we knew the way. New Hampshire Avenue in those days was dark and lightly trafficked with no sidewalks or streetlights. By the time we reached Piney Branch road, I was pretty scared and said so to George who was a year older, and in my mind wiser. He suggested I look at the Jesus statue and ask him for strength and comfort. I do recall feeling calmer, at least for a short time, which was about when our parents drove by, saw us, and doubled back to pick us up. George and I could tell pretty quickly the adults were not happy or impressed by our resourcefulness and I do remember Jesus didn’t offer much protection from their wrath when we got back home. Later that year, the statue suffered the wrath of a hurricane and was blown over. It was subsequently moved back on the hill where it has stayed, eternally vigilant, and protected from the wind.