READER'S DIGEST thinks I live in a real town. Periodically, it writes that if I enter the magazine's sweepstakes, it may soon be sending lots of cash to my bank in downtown Severn.
Ha! As if there was one. Oh, I have a bank account, but where's downtown Severn? I don't live in a town or city; I live in a location, a ZIP code. The people who write those fat sweepstakes letters obviously think Severn is the kind of town you can see with your own eyes. A real town, like in the movies, with Main Street going through the center, Maple Street running parallel to Main and 1st Street crossing Main at the center of downtown.
In real towns, strangers are given directions based on landmarks everybody knows. "Go two blocks down from the drug store and turn left at the monument," says a man raking leaves.
"The Smiths live just this side of the green," directs another, "next to the church."
You can see it on a map, but you can't tell when you get there. No "entering" or "welcome to" sign marks my town. Its name isn't seen on an exit from a highway. Once you get here, there is no way to identify the moment of your arrival unless you stop at a Severn address.
If you keep moving, you can't tell whether you are coming or going.
Marylanders often mention their county instead of their town, especially if they are from Montgomery County. If I tell people I am from Anne Arundel County, they think I live near Annapolis, a 30-minute drive from here. On a Sunday, Baltimore is closer. Columbia is closer.
Once I told a man from Montgomery County that Severn was next door to Jessup and Fort Meade.
L He excused himself, looking as if he had eaten a bad oyster.
"They sound the prison alarms Saturday at noon," I shouted after him. "The Army cannon goes off every day at 5." In Severn we know what time it is.
Like many Maryland towns, Severn has no high school, no municipal anything, no town center or village green. There is no town dump and no town tax. We do have a library and our very own post office.
The Jessup and Hanover post offices are closer to my house than the Severn post office is. I pick up my packages in Severn. I often get mail addressed to Severna Park.
On a vacation to Cape Cod recently, some Massachusetts folks were dumbfounded when I admitted we did not have town meetings in Maryland.
"How do you get anything done?" they asked. "How do you have your say?"
They could no more understand the concept of county politics than the man from Montgomery County could understand Severn is neither on the river nor close to Annapolis.
The final insult to Severn comes from the spell checker in my computer. It does not recognize Severn. Each time I use the word a suggestion comes on the screen to replace "Severn" with "seven." It's a thought.
"Seven, huh," I hear someone saying. "Is that on the river? Do you keep a boat?"
Maybe I'll win a boat from Reader's Digest.
Beverly O. Wooldridge writes from . . . well, Severn.