by dave ammenheuser
Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years
“Welcome back, Dave, but you should know Thurmont’s not the same town you left behind many years ago.”
I have heard that phrase numerous times since my parents died in the final half of 2020, initiating my return to my hometown to settle their estate.
In 1982, when I left Thurmont to venture across the country in my pursuit of the highest levels of sports journalism, I left behind a community where its townspeople cared about one another; one where residents looked out for each other and were always there to lend a helping hand.
In February, Mike Miller, whom I haven’t seen since the 1970s when we were members of the Troop 270 Boy Scouts, didn’t hesitate to use his snowplow to clear the driveway of my parents’ home.
That’s what Thurmontians do.
Rick Wastler, my friend since we were toddlers, quickly volunteered to detail my father’s vintage Thunderbirds as we prepare to sell them this spring.
That’s what childhood friends do.
Russell Yates, my parents’ neighbor, doesn’t balk when I ask for a favor, whether it’s mowing the yard, helping me pull strange things out of the attic, or accompanying me on a trip to the Frederick County landfill.
That’s what neighbors do.
Chet Zentz returned my call immediately when I inquired about the status of my late parents’ car and home insurance policies. We were friends in high school when his father ran the insurance office.
That’s what old friends and good businessmen do.
Thurmont Mayor John A. Kinnaird stopped by the house this winter to pick up my mother’s walker. He later dropped it off at the Thurmont Senior Citizen Center.
That’s what your good mayor does.
Kinnaird and I had never met until he took time from his busy schedule to drop by and pick up the walker. I admire his devotion to the town and enjoy reading his posts and reviewing his photos on the Facebook group “You know you’re from Thurmont, Maryland, when …”
One of the group’s recent posts, about Vernon Myers and his generosity toward the Thurmont Little League, brought back an overflowing load of memories of the Thurmont that I grew up in.
Vernon’s Shell station. Ben’s Esso. Riffle’s garage. The Red Door. The Market Basket. Super Thrift. Hoke’s Furniture. Royer’s Restaurant. Claire Frock. Thurmont Bank. Stull Dougherty Chevrolet. Brooks Department Store.
The names of many of the businesses in the area have changed. The camaraderie of most folks has not.
I did experience one notable exception. It occurred last summer and involved my father. As many of you may know, my father had a passion for cars, and he could have a stubborn streak. If he wanted something, he would find a way to get it—especially if it involved anything to do with the collection of his vintage cars.
Last summer, he was determined to add a vintage Corvette to his collection. Keep in mind, my father was 81 years old, was in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time because of serious health problems. There was no way he could drive a souped-up sports car that was more accustomed to racing on drag strips.
Despite my strongest advice, he bought it from a used car dealership in Thurmont. Legally, the car dealership did nothing wrong. They sold a car to a person who was willing to purchase it.
A local community bank approved a lien on my parents’ house for my father to buy the car. To this day, I am still unclear how the loan was approved, as it needed my mother’s signature (she was in the hospital, losing her battle against cancer, and during a time when no visitors were allowed during the pandemic).
My father was released from the hospital on August 30. The Corvette was delivered to his home in Creagerstown on September 1. It was the same day my father struggled to get into the car for the first time; the same day my father died, struggling to get out of the car for the first time.
Obviously, as a son, I was furious and heartbroken to learn not only of my father’s death but the circumstances around it. I quickly made angry calls to the community bank and the used car dealership. Nobody at either business was comforting or understanding.
I asked the car dealer how they could sell a car to such a weak and sick senior citizen. I was told that they don’t review medical records, and “No,” they would not take the car back, even though my father owned it for less than 24 hours.
I remain puzzled about how a community bank could approve a loan when my mother was unavailable to sign any legal documents.
Thus, with both parents gone, my family was saddled with a Corvette and a lien on the home.
The Corvette was sold (at a loss). The lien remains. The pain lingers. I gotta believe, in the Thurmont of our past, such a deal would not have occurred. Or, at minimum, the car could’ve been returned.
All neighbors looked after each other.