An unexpected kindness connected to the past

November 17, 2001|By JACQUES KELLY

THERE'S NOTHING quite like an act of unexpected kindness to set in the right spirit for the Thanksgiving weekend. I have an old friend to thank for her thoughtfulness.

In this column last Saturday, I recounted the 30-year-old story of a cool Saturday autumn morning when my Great-Aunt Cora, near the end of her life, prepared me the very last breakfast she was to serve. The meal involved hot oatmeal and a lot of family love.

Also last Saturday, as is my routine, I posted at the Waverly Farmers Market - always a good ritual, but better when the apples, late pears and turnips are in season. Earlier in the week, I'd received phone orders from my siblings that I was the designated sauerkraut-maker for Thanksgiving. They also reported all the family gatherings being hatched - along with hammer-over-the-head hints to shoulder my share of the entertaining.

I don't cure my own cabbage for sauerkraut - that was a chore that went the way of Great-Aunt Cora and her siblings. But I do make a version that seems to satisfy all the requirements of a proper Baltimore Thanksgiving.

One of the joys of a Saturday morning at Barclay and 32nd streets, where the market is held, has nothing to do with fresh thyme sprigs, Winesap apples or sweet potatoes.

No, it's all about people and renewing friendships, running into neighbors and chatting away - at a familiar and well-seasoned neighborhood crossroads, where I've spent so many Saturdays. Old Waverly has changed, indeed - alas, no more grilled nut sticks at the Read's drugstore luncheonette - but close your eyes and there's a lot of reassuring community continuity, too.

When estimating the time it will take to buy some turnips and onions, I always triple my guess, because I assume I'll devote that time to gathering neighborhood intelligence along with the weekend's provisions.

(You can commit social suicide in Baltimore if you act hurried or don't give your friends and neighbors the time they deserve.)

My canvas carrying sack was about to disintegrate from pre-Thanksgiving overload when I spotted an old friend, Helen Heisler, who was also doing her week's vegetable shopping to feed yet another mutual friend of ours. As Baltimoreans realize, we all know each other.

Without missing a beat, Helen said, "I knew you'd be here." Then she smiled.

True, my appearance can, indeed, be counted on, but the hour of my arrival fluctuates depending upon the agenda of the preceding Friday night.

She could have missed me, but she didn't. She reached in her purse and pulled out a small brown bag of instant oatmeal she'd brought from home.

"Try this," she said. "You don't have Aunt Cora around anymore to make you those breakfasts."

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