In Baltimore, the faces are familiar at every turn

April 26, 2003|By JACQUES KELLY

AS A CHILD, I was amazed at how my mother or father could walk through a crowded Baltimore place, say the Lyric or the Cross Street Market, and start talking to people they knew, and knew well.

Any morning on a public transit bus I've observed a similar social phenomenon. Someone drops a fare in the box and the chattering begins among those who have recognized acquaintances.

Only this week, while settling in on what I thought would be an anonymous meal on 4th Street in our Brooklyn, I found myself telling my luncheon companion (whom I'd never met before) that I knew his parents and grandparents. And, when all was said and done, I knew a fair amount of his family's history, all related to me by my mother, easily 40 years ago.

Welcome to Baltimore.

At that same table, I remarked about what a small town we are. My host corrected me. "No," he said. "We're a village." I agree.

Last Saturday I found myself in the rolling hills of Butler in Baltimore County. One gentleman introduced himself and was soon telling me how my niece is an excellent babysitter. I had no idea. Then, after a few more minutes of conversation, I learned his wife was friendly, say 30 summers ago, with my sisters when all were doing the June-July-August thing at Rehoboth Beach, Del.

It's taken me at least 50 years to approach the kind of face and name recognition my late mother possessed. She was excellent on Baltimore biographical attainments, and genealogy, too. She knew good bloodlines from synthetic and employed her tenacious memory of any lingering 1942 embezzlement charges out there.

She was also lavish with praise, too, when she surveyed a gathering with people who were too modest to toot their own horns. She could do the trumpeting.

My jaw dropped one Sunday when she offered a running commentary on those lining up for Communion at church. I guess the organ was playing so her assessment of the faithful would not be heard outside the pew. I hope so.

What really impressed me was her level of social intelligence. She had that down cold. And with so few, well-chosen words - "great crabcake maker," "shacked up," "coal miner's daughter," "real society," and one of my favorites, "Is she wearing a hat or is that a visor?"

I guess I have the reputation of not leaving Baltimore too often. So when I do, it hits the wires fast.

This past Tuesday morning I was darting around my house in an effort to get to work early, so I could leave early to make an appointment in suburban Washington that evening.

By 8:30 a.m., my brother Eddie used his cell phone to call me from the Russell Street Shell station known to so many Baltimoreans heading south. He'd pulled in to fill up. By the time he'd left, he'd run into my host, who told him of the art opening where I was headed, and another friend who has a good job on Capitol Hill, who called me from his Senate office that morning to get the particulars on what would be up that night.

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