So good to be small

Jane M. Earhart

January 30, 1991|By Jane M. Earhart

BALTIMORE, the city that never really grew up.

Those who so classify Baltimore rarely intend a compliment but rather insinuate that this is a small town. Well, I like the small-town label. Baltimore born, I lived in the city until marriage took me to the suburbs. Then 10 years ago we moved downtown from our split-level, suburban house. Friends and neighbors thought we were foolish, but we did it nonetheless.

Our first city residence was in Mount Vernon. Then about two years ago I moved slightly north to Bolton Hill. Both areas have their own special charms, while sharing one asset: neighborliness. In the county where we had lived, one was lucky if neighbors were seen once a week, and then the contact was usually a wave from the car as we passed each other in commuting.

Mount Vernon was unique for its mix of characters. In our immediate block were professionals representing all facets of business and those whose customers were procured primarily on the street. Old Maryland families rubbed elbows with winos and hustlers.

The neighborhood network worked so well in Mount Vernon that if a good or bad event happened in our family, neighbors would come forward with an appropriate word for the occasion. My husband died while we were away on vacation, and only one call to a neighbor was needed for everybody who knew us to offer help as soon as I arrived back in Baltimore. One dear street person came up to me a couple of days after my return and offered me his food stamps . . . "to tide you over for a few days, hon."

Bolton Hill neighbors don't offer food stamps, but the community does have its own brand of caring. It has a COP watch that pairs a resident volunteer and a city police officer on hourly evening watches. The twosome travels by car through the neighborhood, observing, investigating and, if necessary, reporting any suspicious activity. Also, a bond seems to exist among residents who are members of the various churches. The parishioners keep in close touch with fellow church members who are ill or in need.

Many of the larger homes in both Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill are split into several apartments, and some house the elderly and infirm who spend much of their day at their windows. Looking in from the outside, we walkers look forward to the smiling face, the wave. One elderly gentleman and I have such a set visiting routine that if we don't see each for a couple of days, we're most concerned. At the next window meeting we inquire after each other, gesticulating and improvising with our own sign language.

It's like living in a small town. Perhaps it's a town where neighbors care for each other's welfare and make an effort to offer congratulations, condolence or assistance. Is this the city that never grew up? If so: Hallelujah!

Jane M. Earhart writes from Baltimore. +

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