Vera's Shines Again
Monday, June 12, 2006
The future arrived at no more than 10 mph, in a white Chrysler with a gold winged hood ornament.
On a day in January, Vera Freeman drove the quarter-mile to Steve Stanley's house, passing her legendary restaurant, Vera's White Sands, and the community that has bloomed around it near Lusby.
After a half-century as proprietress, Freeman was ready to sell Vera's White Sands. She had chosen Stanley and his wife, Lisa Del Ricco, as her successors. Should they accept, they would take the wheel of her life's work, a dream project that started in 1953 on 800 acres of Calvert County wilderness.
Vera's White Sands -- yacht club, Polynesian mirage, Xanadu for the semi-famous and wholly eccentric -- has been the anomalous treasure of the county since. Tucked two miles down a dead-end road on a Patuxent River tributary, the restaurant has lost some of its luster in the past decade as Freeman entered her nineties and Solomons Island burgeoned into a serious beach destination six miles south.
It could have been the end for Vera's -- several million dollars for the land and a bulldozer for the legend.
But Stanley, who grew up in Prince George's County, accepted Freeman's offer. He and Del Ricco bought the property and have been gutting and renovating since, using mostly friends and volunteers.
Their mission: to restore Vera's to its former glory by June 24, when a poker run fleet from the Chesapeake Bay Power Boat Association will dock at the restaurant for drinks and an overnight stay -- just like the yachtsmen of yesteryear.
In the Early Days
Robert Mitchum strode off his yacht, into Vera's and uttered, "Gimme a drink, right away."
The alcohol hadn't been unloaded yet. The hostess improvised.
"Come down to the house, and we can make you a drink faster," Freeman told him. Mitch and his wife retired to her Moroccan-style villa next door -- and returned several times throughout the early '60s.
Freeman told this story, invigorated by the memory, over lunch in a Solomons Island eatery. Anywhere else and people would've gawked at her appearance: a captain's hat atop bright white hair, a golden wrap hugging her leopard-print dress, her veined skin a molten version of the pink marble floor in her villa. Her voice is a creak, and she is slowed by time -- she won't reveal her exact age -- but Freeman is still a vision of old-world glamour.
She grew up on the Crow Indian Reservation in Wyola, Mont., and jetted to Hollywood to be a star. While working coaxial cables for a phone company, she went on a blind date with optometrist Effrus "Doc" Freeman, who told her he did Bogart's and Bacall's eyes.