When you see church clothing, you expect post-church dining

March 23, 1997|By Jacques Kelly

IF YOU SPOT ANYONE today carrying one of those greenish fronds from trees that grow in the tropics, it's a fair assumption that they've just come from church. Today, after all, is the day Christians celebrate Palm Sunday.

But in the Baltimore of my childhood, you didn't need to see palm fronds to tell which of your neighbors had been to church.

If you spotted three formally dressed women having a chocolate soda or lemon phosphate on a Wednesday night at the Guilford Pharmacy's soda fountain, you could be pretty sure they had just left the weekly Miraculous Medal novena at SS. Philip and James Church.

This sort of thing still happens.

Some weeks ago, I was having supper (the chicken over rice platter) with my father at the Double T Diner on Route 40 West. The place is known to be packed on Sunday, so we dropped in a little after 8 p.m., when we presumed the crowd would have died down. It had.

As we were finishing up, there was a surge of new patrons. I thought to myself that Baltimoreans were getting stylish and eating later and later.

We asked our waitress where these dressed-up people were coming from. She explained the Sunday-night church services on the west side of town were just letting out. I should have guessed. As the last hymn is being sung, thoughts invariably turn to bowls of chicken noodle soup, pot roast platters and slices of pie.

The correlation between church attendance, meals and snacks got me thinking.

Didn't my grandfather, the late Edward Jacques Monaghan, a man who made almost a full day of his Sunday social-religious rituals, often attend St. Vincent de Paul Church, the one with the big white tower alongside what is today the city's main post office?

Why? It wasn't particularly near his home. Could it have been that it was close to the Little Italy restaurants where his friends gathered to spend the rest of Sunday afternoon? Pop Monaghan might have said he liked the sermons preached by his friend Father John S. Martin. But why did Pop not arrive home until 5 p.m.?

My grandmother, who stayed home from Mass because of some never-spoken-of grievance with the church and served most of my Sunday breakfasts, could tell precisely which priest had the Mass that we attended.

If we were home relatively quickly, it was the priest who spoke Latin the fastest. If it were a quarter-hour later, it was the slow priest.

She knew there was nothing to detain us on the way home. We would be mentally tasting her flannel cakes (old-fashioned Baltimore for pancakes), sausage and scrapple. Except for a few brief, post-church conversations with friends, there would be no time lost.

Over the years in Baltimore, I've learned to spot the church crowd even when there isn't a palm branch doubled and tripled around in a suit pocket or handbag. These are proper people, always dressed in a style still known as their Sunday best.

Church people wear church clothes and order church food. Putting strict definitions on all this gets tricky. But I'd say that church foods include egg dishes (especially Sunday things like eggs Benedict), crab imperial and waffles.

There are, of course, always those who break the rules. I think of my old friend Ed Kirkner, a stalwart at Second Presbyterian Church. Ed's Sunday habits never varied. Ed's suits were strictly Palm Sunday.

Ed, his wife, Grace, and her cousin Dorothy always went from church to the old Morgan Millard lunch counter on Roland Avenue, which is now a restaurant but was then a drug store with a luncheonette counter. Because it was unpretentious, it was very popular with Palm Sunday Baltimoreans.

Sunday after Sunday, Ed ordered the same thing. It was a hot dog, a crab cake and a cherry Coke. Food for body and soul.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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