Holidays always a merry time to visit as well as be visited

Invitations: New Year's visits with family and neighbors reveal the holidays' meaning, beauty of city residences.

January 01, 2000|By Jacques Kelly

Today is the day when people open their doors to guests for a New Year's visit.

This custom is one of my favorites because it allows me the chance to drop by Baltimore's great treasure, its character-filled homes. (I guess some people watch TV today, but that's my idea of a stiff jail sentence.)

When I speak of household character, I mean both the humans and the walls within which they reside. This is a city of remarkable residences.

The neat trick is to gain entry with a New Year's Day invitation.

For the past three weeks I've been ringing doorbells nonstop. I've gotten lost in the shadows of Guilford and had to knock on doors in my quest for directions. And, in these days of fear of crime, I was graciously welcomed in and provided with a phone.

I've heard delightful English carols played on pianos. I've sampled delicacy after delicacy. I've talked about old and new times with old and new friends.

I've settled in before carved marble (well, maybe limestone) fireplaces in Victorian parlors seemingly lifted from the engravings in old books.

I've caught up on gossip. My television is happily collecting dust, and my books are left unread.

People who don't live in the older parts of Baltimore probably fear it on these dark winter nights. It is their loss.

I shuffle about on foot and by taxi, and the worst thing I've encountered was a happy-looking rat that had obviously feasted in holiday fare in a Charles Village alley. At least my rodent pal had the sense to take off in the other direction as I invaded his turf on my way home from a merry gathering at my father's Guilford Avenue house.

It had snowed a bit and even the alleys and their rodents looked presentable.

My own house has been filled with family and friends these days. It's never quite warm enough to suit some of my kin. On Christmas Day I cranked up the furnace. I had the booster electric heaters going. The fireplace blazed.

My father, ever sensible, arrived attired in a down vest, which he kept on for most of the evening.

My sister Mimi arrived, took her place on the sofa, then reached for a lap robe.

My furnace was making so much noise the Kellys thought a CSX train was rumbling through the 26th Street cut. No, I said, it's only the heating system. All but the children deferred making the trip to the basement to run the electric trains and view the garden.

All too soon the invitations fall off and the houses will lose their holiday glow. But at least I've had the chance to talk and snoop for one more year.

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