WE CANNOT wrap most of them as gifts, but we send them to you anyway -- gifts from a time when the city was not suffering so -- when life seemed so much simpler (or was it?), the problems more solvable (or were they?), the good times easier to come by (or were they?). Are we forgiven for believing that daydreaming about Baltimore's yesterdays is a gift we can give to ourselves? Just for tonight?
Here, dreamer, are sprigs of sweet-smelling lavender from a man selling them in front of the Century Theater on Lexington Street. He is Edward Cattrell, and he imports his lavender from County Surrey, England. "Lavender is to Surrey," he used to say in his charming accent, "as seafood is to Baltimore."
And here, folded and yellowing: a ticket to Annapolis on the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad, a transfer to the No. 8 streetcar that took you (among other places) to Towson, a rain check to Oriole Park (the first one), a ticket to the Hippodrome to see Ronald Reagan play in Hedda Hopper's "Hollywood Stars in Review," a ticket to the Royal to see Pearl Bailey or to hear (mostly from the pit) the music of Tracy McCleary.
There's more to light up your dreams. A root beer mug from the A&W at Carlin's Park, a kewpie doll won at the pinwheel on Carlin's midway, a coffee cup (blue and white and heavy) from a B&O dining car, a milk bottle from the Western Maryland Dairy, a beer bottle with the label still attached (it's Gunther's), a fountain Coke from Weaver's Pharmacy at Druid Hill and Presstman.
Now how did these get in there: still-warm biscuits from that most famous of Baltimore restaurants (where the chorus girls from the Block sat next to the politicians, who sat next to the merchant princes), the Horn and Horn cafeteria at Baltimore and Guilford?
And what's this?
It's a music box! Open it and you hear, "HeyGetchaSunNewsExtraReadAllAbout- It!" -- the cry of the newsboy at Howard and Lexington. Then comes "ClangClangClang" -- the sound of a streetcar bullying its way through the milling Christmas shoppers on Lexington Street. Then:
"Waldemelonlopescawn!" -- the cry of the A-rab leading his horse and wagon through a neighborhood street, advertising his watermelons, cantaloupes and corn.
Now what's this we hear? People singing? "Oh cut it down, oh cut it down, yes they cut down the old pine tree." It's Rivers Chambers' orchestra, popular with the "in" crowds through the 1950s for proms, debutante parties, reunions. Followed by "Oooowhoo-o-o-op . . ." -- the heavy-throated whistle of the Bay Bell excursion steamer late at night as it makes its way into a Light Street dock. And the radio and TV voices that defined those earlier decades: Galen Fromme, Dave Stickle, Charles ("Chuck") Richards, Jerry Turner.
You have the idea. The trick here is to try to remember with warmth and fondness the life and times in Baltimore these gifts recall. Not everybody can do that. It's a gift.
Merry Christmas from . . .