Miss Treva

Working girl: A waitress, an independent life, a bit of Baltimore at the Maryland Historical Society.

March 11, 2002

HERS WAS an ordinary life. For 44 years, Treva K. Walkling waited on tables and lunch counters.

She started in 1930 at the Purity Creamery at Lexington and Paca. She wore a starched white uniform (size 14), a white apron and sturdy, lace-up, white nursing shoes. She served fried oysters, Polish ham and the hot plate special to shoppers and merchants from nearby Lexington Market.

She pinned a pen on a retractable chain to her uniform and stashed tips in a paper cup on which she had scrawled her name: Miss Treva.

She lived with her mother in an ordinary house at 4114 Newbern Ave. After her mother's death in 1951, Treva shared the rowhouse with her beau, Benny Gettings, who owned a poultry stand at the market, and her brother Pumpy. She cleaned and ironed and cooked supper. Most Sundays, she visited her mother's grave.

She drove an ordinary car, a Studebaker Champion two-door sedan for which she paid $700 in 1949. She needed a car, especially after she took a job in Randallstown. She waited tables at the Randy Rock Drive-In on Liberty Road for eight years -- her days off were Thursday and Saturday -- until 1967, when she joined the waitresses at the Suburban House in Pikesville. April 16, 1967, marked her first Sunday off in eight years.

On her days off, she socialized with friends. She wrote letters to GIs during the war. She washed her cars, cared for her Boston terrier and bulldog pals, Puggy and Max. She bowled and played the ponies at Pimlico and Laurel and Timonium.

Forty-four years after she took home her first cup full of change, Miss Treva retired. She was 64. Nieces and nephews, senior clubs and friends kept her busy after that.

In 1997, at the age of 88, Treva K. Walkling died. She left a house, a car, and the remnants of a working life: uniforms, aprons, a boxed pair of those Nancy Cahill duty shoes, restaurant menus, betting stubs, luggage tags, a dozen address books, wartime letters, 23 city dog licenses, tip cups, a sales tax sheet, a 1943 W-2 (she earned $1,520 that year), her 1924 driver's license, gifts from customers, a Treva-and-Benny sweetheart pin, and 37 journals that note her daily routine, wages, tips and expenses.

"Every day, a little sentence; every day for 36 years," says historian Susanne DeBerry Cole, who analyzed the collection for the Maryland Historical Society. "In order to tell Maryland's history, you have to tell everyone's story."

And Miss Treva recorded her story in a way we all can understand it. So today, among the Peale portraits, Stieff silver and Baltimore painted furniture at the society, there is a new exhibit on a working gal, two display cases full of the life and times of Miss Treva K. Walkling.

Hers was truly an extraordinary, ordinary life.

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