It's a wonderful living room


December 16, 2007|By LAURA VOZZELLA

The best Christmas movie you'll see this year has nothing to do with a hapless banker, spindly pine or Red Ryder BB Gun. Not if you go to YouTube and plug in "Oella," the name of the old Baltimore County mill town just up the hill from historic Ellicott City.

There, you'll find a mini-documentary about Carl Taylor, an 80-year-old retired mill worker and model train collector. The Garden - A Christmas Story crams a season's worth of holiday spirit, humor and pathos into 5 minutes, 25 seconds.

"We were poor people," Taylor says into the camera. "And you got a Christmas present, you had fruit, something to eat, but that's about all. And, um, we always had a Christmas, though. It might not have been the greatest one, but we had it and we were satisfied."

As Taylor recalls his meager Christmas Past, he sits surrounded by his over-the-top Christmas Present. A holiday train display he keeps up year-round claims every inch of his living room, but for spots occupied by a life-size dancing Santa and Taylor's folding chair.

"We don't usually give presents, the wife and I," Taylor says. "We got so darn much we don't need no more. If she needs money, I give her some money. But I don't want nothing. Hell, I got everything I need. I was thinking about getting me another train, but I'm not gonna. Ain't got room for it. The one I wanted would have took up the whole place."

There's humor as the dancing Santa looms behind Taylor and belts out "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." And sorrow, as Taylor talks about battling cancer and passing his train collection on to grandchildren when the time comes. "I hope they take care of it," he says.

Filmmaker Geoffrey Baker has been Taylor's neighbor for a decade but until recently knew nothing of the tiny trains chugging away right across the street. Then one day, Taylor knocked on Baker's door and asked him to come take a picture of something.

"I stuck my head in the room and I said, `Holy cow, there's a story here,'" Baker said. "I just let the camera run."

Vatican calling: Hold a chair

Like lawyers and confessors, barbers hear lots of secrets. The guy who cuts Cardinal William Keeler's hair shared a few recently - with His Eminence's blessing.

Sam Lamantia, founder of the Ed Block Courage Award, has cut Keeler's hair at his Towson shop for the past decade. He gives the cardinal a $20 "ultimate cut" - combination of shears and razor. "He likes it. He's got nice hair. It's got a wave to it."

Lamantia has warned the cardinal not to stray to another stylist. "I told him never let anybody touch his hair," Lamantia said.

The cardinal has been faithful to the barber, coming in every couple of weeks. Which is why Keeler, recently out of the country for a month, was so overdue for a haircut that he made a trans-Atlantic appointment.

"Hi, this is Cardinal Keeler calling from Rome," says the message Lamantia saved on his answering machine. "And I'm wondering about an appointment on Wednesday. ... Thanks a million. Blessings and peace. Bye."

Said Lamantia: "Maybe the pope was checking the hair, I don't know."

Connect the dots

Among the many local workplaces with one of those giving trees: the office of Baltimore City Council president. Staffers have been bringing in "basic home essentials" for chronically homeless people. Spokesman Shaun Adamec says Stephanie Rawlings-Blake brought in a blanket, dish towels and a basket filled with "paper towels, napkins, cups and anything else you need on nights you just can't bring yourself to do the dishes." ... Peter Franchot's anti-slots stance has attracted the attention of The Economist. "`The devil is at the door,' announced the state's comptroller, Peter Franchot, last month," the British magazine wrote in a November article about Maryland slots. "But, he added, boldly mixing his metaphors, `We're going to put the stake through the vampire's heart.'"

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