Roasting Ron, planting seeds and pizza

March 09, 2000

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

When it comes time to write the history of Washington County in the 20th Century, one of the longest chapters will be devoted to Ronald L. Bowers, who lost his 1998 bid for a sixth consecutive term as county commissioner.

For more than two decades, he was "the people's commissioner," the one elected official people could count on without fail to return their phone calls and get them an answer. His disagreements with other elected officials, like former Hagerstown mayor Steve Sager, were legendary.

Taking the side of the argument opposite his meant striding into a blizzard of detail, and for reporters, the cramped wrist that comes from taking notes while trying to keep up with a rapid-fire speaker.


To the end of his campaign, he claimed that the Conococheague sewer plant was an opportunity instead of a mistake, but voters didn't give him another chance to work on the issue. He's since become a consultant and hinted at one point he might run against state Sen. Don Munson.

All of that and more will probably come up on Friday, March 17, when Bowers will be "roasted" as part of an event to raise money for the Hagerstown Community College athletic scholarship endowment fund.

Bowers says the 6 p.m. event at the Four Points Hotel, at $250 a couple, will probably be a "bittersweet experience" for him. If you're interested in watching him squirm, or just want to help out HCC athletes, call HCC Athletic Director Jim Brown at 790-2800, ext. 289, for tickets.

This week I sent off a check for $9.85 to a company in Vermont. The order form indicated I was buying three packets of tomato seeds, but what I was really doing was placing a bet on myself.

For just under $10, I'm betting that I'll remember all the stuff I learned from the extension service about starting seeds and raising plants, and that I won't let the seeds sit unused on the shelf, like the two-pound bag of grass seed and the poison-ivy spray I bought last year.

This year, I'm betting, I will follow through, and instead of a scraggly weed patch in which tomatoes hide under the foliage of wilder, more aggressive plant pests, I'll have a beautifully staked and mulched patch that yields summer's best-tasting bounty by July 4.

Unless, of course, I'm kidding myself in a major way, like last fall when I said I'd have the old chicken house torn down by spring. The best I've done is to keep my resolution not to put any more junk in it, which in my case, is no small victory.

Two years ago this March, the friend who was best man at my wedding, someone I've known for almost 30 years, had a major stroke. For a long while we didn't know whether Ben would ever regain any useful degree of consciousness. But with lots of good help from the people at the Sligo Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Takoma Park, Md., he's some a long way, to the point where he recently shot photos of a staffers' fashion show.

His favorite restaurant in the old neighborhood is the original Ledo's, just five minutes from the University of Maryland's College Park campus. And so recently I thought it might be nice to take him out to lunch there, and invite some of our old buddies.

Because there was a Maryland basketball game that day, they wouldn't take reservations, warning me if we weren't there by noon, we might not get in. The game didn't start until 4 p.m., the hostess said, but the party begins shortly after lunch.

I arrived at the nursing home in plenty of time, pushed his wheelchair out on the sidewalk, opened the door to my car and attempted to get him to his feet to maneuver him in.

After two tries - he weighs 180 now - he looked at me a little disgustedly and said, "You are just like a little poodle," which I took as a criticism of my physical abilities, or lack of same.

Fortunately, at that moment, our old friend Greg showed up, saying he'd forgotten whether he was to meet us there or at the restaurant. Greg is six-foot-four and has spent most of his working life moving heavy plants and trees, or heavy electric amplification equipment for various bands he's played in.

For a moment he watched my pitiful attempt to lift Ben to his feet, then put one hand behind Ben's back and the other beneath his knees. With a mighty grunt, Greg lifted him out of the chair and into the front seat of the car. My back hurt just watching it.

Greg followed us to the restaurant, where he repeated his feat of strength. It was 12:30 and I hoped I wouldn't have to get ugly with the hostess to get a table, but her prediction of a game day crowd was off.

Down we sat, and the waitress came up to Ben and asked him if he was feeling better.

"Do you two know each other?" I said.

"Oh, yes, his kids brought him in last week," she said.

And so the special day wasn't as unusual as I'd hoped it would be, but the pizza and the company were as good as ever. Back at the home after a plate of pasta, Ben was ready for a nap and I walked to the parking lot, grateful I could do so under my own steam and that for an hour or so, old friends were together again.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion editor of The Herald-Mail.

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