Reveling In The `Rehearsal' Days Leading Up To The Christmas Holiday

December 16, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

My father, Joe Kelly, caught the spirit of pre-Christmas 1920s the other day over lunch. He told me how he would make his way uptown, as he called it, from his South Baltimore home and head to French's, the West Baltimore Street sporting-goods shop that sold Lionel trains at this time of the year.

A few days later, the Rev. Charles Borges, a learned Jesuit from Loyola College, described these days before Christmas, better known as Advent, as a "rehearsal" for the great feast. Of all the words to describe these frenetic weeks, rehearsal is as good as any.

Recently, I received a scholarly booklet called Slovenly Peter, an account by former Pratt librarian Linda F. Lapides of her encounters with a book featuring a fictional character of German origin who got into 19th-century wickedness.

Peter's stories were sold in book form at some of the better downtown toy emporiums in 1950s Baltimore. A visit to Lycett's on Charles Street (now the Clayton & Co. bookshop) set the stage for Christmas. Arrayed on shelves were boxes of English lead soldiers and miniature German villages, as well as Beatrix Potter books and other classics of children's literature.

After Lycett's closed and my nieces started coming along, I headed to Eutaw Street and the Old World Delicatessen and bought stories of Slovenly Peter for the next generation.

The Old World Deli is now no more, but I always get a mental boost when people divulge how they are staging their Christmas.

In Baltimore, this can lead to indulgence in quirky customs. The best I heard this week came from a reader, Robert L. Poe Sr., who recalled trips to the Lexington Market for necessities: tripe (cow's stomach), fresh horseradish and Brazil nut molasses taffy. I regularly fled from the kitchen when my mother pulled out a black iron frying pan for tripe preparation.

And now for a little rehearsal confession. I flubbed a line badly last week when I spoke of December sunset sights around the Baltimore. The correct name for the wonderful green-domed synagogue near Druid Hill Park is Shaarei Tfiloh. Sorry.

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