Friends leave memories of laughter and charm

WAY BACK WHEN

Journalist, Homewood resident loved art, books, people

Back Story

January 12, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Two of my favorite people died within a week of one another.

My old newspaper colleague and friend, Carleton Jones, 84, died Dec. 29, and Ruth Snead, 91, a longtime Homeland resident who had been born in Germany, and had vivid memories of life in prewar Berlin, died the following Saturday.

They were both intensely cultivated and friendly, and shared an abiding interest in the arts, books and people, especially young people.

FOR THE RECORD - A headline on Saturday's Back Story column listed an incorrect neighborhood for Ruth Snead, 91. She had lived in Homeland.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Even though they did not know each other, they were the kind of memorable individuals who always managed to stand out on the social landscape, and especially at dinner parties.

Carleton, in addition to being an excellent cook and consummate Southern gentleman - I can still taste his warm, sherry-laced Crab Louie with tiny flecks of fire-engine-red pimento, served in a chafing dish and spread on crackers - loved to entertain at dinner parties in the elegant dining room of his Reservoir Hill home.

For a really festive occasion, he'd whip up a punch from a recipe that had been in his family since his Charleston relatives assisted Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard in chasing out the Yankees from Fort Sumter in 1861.

Floating in the middle of a gorgeous crystal or silver punch bowl was a huge chunk of ice that looked as though it could have sunk the Titanic, while a high-octane sea of potables that included champagne, brandy, fruit juices and soda water lapped at its base.

Believe me, it got the masses laughing and talking, and above it all, Carleton could be heard, having the time of his life telling stories and enjoying the company he had assembled.

Carleton adored books and his second-floor library, illuminated by tall windows overlooking Reservoir Street, was, to use one of his favorite terms, "an eye-popper, Dad" - he called all males "Dad."

Shelves were jammed from floor to ceiling with hundreds and hundreds of books on the Civil War - a favorite interest - American, European and Maryland history; music; poetry and drama; as well as biographies, autobiographies, diaries and belles-lettres. It was clear that he had read and digested all of them. They were not intellectual decorations.

"His idea of a bedtime story, when I was a child, was a tale about Mad Ludwig of Bavaria, not the normal stories that kids were used to or expected," said his daughter, Sophia Howes.

He also had a memorable style of locomotion that employed all legs and limbs moving all at once.

"When Carleton was in transit," said former colleague Stephen C. Hunter, now a film critic for The Washington Post, "he looked like a junkyard during an earthquake."

At his retirement party in the office, Carleton was prodded to say a few words. He raised his glass, and while looking at an editor who had at times been troublesome, said, "In the words of the immortal Pulitzer, `Every reporter was a hope, every editor a disappointment.'"

There was no mistaking when Ruth Snead was nearby, because this wonderful woman with thick, snow-white hair, always perfectly coiffed, highlighted by her porcelain blue eyes, could be heard happily laughing and talking in a voice that still had German overtones.

She was no ordinary senior citizen and fought off all the trappings of advancing years, forging ahead with an unstoppable joie de vivre.

When others were slowing down, she went faster; when others were heading to comfortably close vacation destinations, she continued her trips to Germany, often accompanied by children and friends.

"On a trip to Berlin in 2005, she waited in a long line for two hours just to get into the Reichstag. I gave up and went shopping," said her daughter, Catherine G. Snead.

Ruth relished those trips, which probably helped her confront the painful loss of the Berlin that she knew growing up in the city's elegant Tiergarten district during the 1920s and 1930s.

She showed them where her house once stood, destroyed during the war, and now occupied by the New National Gallery designed by Mies van der Rohe.

She also took them to the very spot near the Adlon Hotel where, as a 16-year-old, she stood on a cold January night in 1933, watching the endless columns of young men march in uniform for hours after Hitler's swearing-in as chancellor.

Ruth could hold a group in rapture talking about what Berlin was like in those years, the Berlin of the riotous Roaring '20s, so perfectly captured by the musical Cabaret, and the charming operettas she so loved.

It was the Berlin before the ugly rise of Hitler, the death of her stepfather and her family's ultimate escape to Richmond, Va., in 1936 that forever remained in her heart.

The reality that something was going on began when her Jewish classmates and friends at the Gymnasium, a girl's high school, began to disappear one by one.

"When we asked our teacher about the empty desks, she told us they were sent to another school and that was the explanation. We didn't know what happened to them," Ruth explained to me one time.

She always admired the courage of her American-born mother, a Berlin socialite who refused the orders of Hitler's SS goons not to enter department stores owned by Jews.

"She'd say, `Get out of my way.' And even when she was warned that such behavior was risky, she barged ahead anyway. She wasn't afraid of them, plus she was an American with an American passport," Ruth said.

When a friend from her youth, who had also escaped Germany and eventually became a United Nations translator, was robbed of a gold ring in New York, the only thing she had left from her parents who had perished in the war, Ruth comforted her by saying, "We have our memories, and no one can ever take them away."

Ruth, like Carleton, adored parties, and one of her favorite lines was, "Champagne makes you happy, and always get dressed up on New Year's Eve, even if you're not going out."

Not bad advice.

Requiescat in peace, Ruth and Carleton.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Find previous columns at baltimoresun.com/backstory

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