'One big family' holds reunion to celebrate life at Presser Court

July 19, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Presser Court is the kind of neighborhood where you can "holler at your neighbors' children to make them mind," knowing the parents will appreciate the fact that you care about the kind of people the children will become.

And though Presser Court is part of the Gilmor Homes low-income housing project, the neighbors there will tell you that working and living together has made them rich beyond measure.

"It's the people that make the ghetto," said Margaret Henson, a 58-year-old woman who has lived in Presser Court for 26 years and takes pride in serving as a second mother to many neighborhood children who have grown up and moved on. "We're one big family."

But as in many families, some of the "relatives" have moved or they've just plain lost touch, seeing one another mostly at weddings, birthday parties or funerals.

So "Miss Margaret," as she is known to all, decided it was time for a little get-together.

Through word of mouth, she spread the news that she was planning a reunion picnic, and more than 200 former residents turned out yesterday for the festivities.

Dressed in a festive orange and red striped caftan, Miss Margaret said she'd been up since 6 a.m. sweeping the courtyard, stringing balloons, hanging a welcoming banner and crepe paper, and supervising the arrangement of chairs, tables and barbecue grills.

"We're all one big family," she explained with a bright smile. "It's the kind of neighborhood where you can holler at each other's children, and you don't have to worry about somebody getting an attitude. All of my neighbors have been right nice people. We are getting a lot of new ones, but we're trying to break our new neighbors into the way we do things."

As she bustled about, Miss Margaret was frequently interrupted by new arrivals.

"I'm Kevin Timmons," said the one young man, hugging Miss Margaret. "I was born in 1508 in 1958."

Mr. Timmons said he came to the reunion because he and his brother had many fond memories of the neighborhood, even though they moved when Mr. Timmons was 10.

"This court was like one big family. My brother's always asking me how this one or that one is doing, and I'm always saying I haven't seen them, so I came," said Mr. Timmons, who also brought his 18-month-old daughter. "We always had Miss Margaret to keep us in line -- that's the fondest memory. If you can live in a neighborhood like this, you're lucky."

Thomas F. DeMinds, who is 37, lived in the Gilmor Homes for 32 years before moving to East Baltimore, but visits Miss Margaret and his other neighbors frequently.

"Miss Margaret is like my second mother. You'd think all of us were part of one big family. Our culture here didn't tolerate

belligerent behavior, and Miss Margaret, well, she leans on you. With ladies like Miss Margaret, you learn. They teach you that you have to go out and make something of yourself."

There were no complaints yesterday about living in the projects. In fact, the residents boasted about winning two neighborhood cleanup contests. And as more and more people arrived to exchange hugs, kisses, news and gossip, it was clear that they genuinely missed their neighbors.

"I'm quick to tell people I'm a Gilmor baby," said Delores Liburd, who moved to the housing project at age 11 and lived there for 26 years before moving recently to Forest Park. "Everybody looked out for one another. We had our good times and our bad times, but we always stuck together. Whenever somebody was in trouble, there was always someone to help."

Mildred Holley, who lived in Gilmor from 1956 to 1967, said she, too, misses the old neighborhood.

"When I lived here, they had a ceiling on income for the low-income housing," she said. "When I got a better job, at Social Security, I had to go. It hurt me so bad. If they hadn't made me move, I'd probably still be here. I liked it that much."

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