I was laid up, at home, in forced recuperation and climbing the walls. My mother's close friend, Elizabeth Heinekamp Mitchell, called to say she was doing volunteer duty by chauffeuring aged Sister Mary Clement downtown to do monthly banking for her fellow sisters at the cloistered monastery where she was a member - and arguably its No. 1 character.
Elizabeth requested that my mother accompany her. My mother said that there'd be another passenger: her eldest son, then 14. Elizabeth appeared alone in her Ford Falcon, and off we went. On the way to Roland and Bellemore, she warned that, while Sister Clement was in the front passenger seat, she would assume full control.
Our destination on that spring day of 1964 was the old Calvert Bank - its name had changed, but Baltimoreans never refer to anything by its current or accurate title.
Sister Clement, who was then a senior member of the Visitation Nuns, was known as something of a disciplinarian. She had a special status within the religious community and was one of a few sisters who left the monastery grounds.
She was from Philadelphia - and she let you know it, among other things.
She passed much of the day on a sofa at one of the school's entrances. She was gatekeeper, message taker and informant. She passed the time by reading paperbacks with rather lurid cover art. She preferred Erle Stanley Gardner murder mysteries.
Dressed in ancient-style black garb, with a bonnet, she was out of the 17th century (which was when her order was founded) but not really, as I soon learned.
Sister Clement had established a personal route downtown that did not include the Jones Falls Expressway or other more commonly used ways. She directed Elizabeth south on Roland Avenue, through Hampden to the junction of Falls and Clipper Mill roads, where the expressway's footings create a visual barrier.
There's a stop sign there for good reason. Sister Clement told Elizabeth to proceed through without stopping, because, as she stated in her authority, "There's never any traffic here."
No words were exchanged, but my mother and Elizabeth looked at each other, their eyes saying, "Can she see through concrete?"
Off we went. No traffic, as prophesied. From that day forward, I call the intersection Sister Clement's Corner.
At Howard and Saratoga, then in heavy pre-Easter shopping traffic, Sister Clement summoned the mid-intersection traffic cop to her door and told him to clear a parking space at the bank's door.
"Yes, sister," he replied.
Sister Clement emerged victorious over the Mano Swartz, Stieff Silver and Stewart's department store shoppers who had just as much right to that space as she.
The scene inside the financial house mirrored that outside. The manager dropped everything to greet Sister Clement. No standing in a line. Space was created for her.
Our route home (no stopping for lunch) took us north on Charles Street. When we got to a rather seedy patch at Mount Royal Avenue, Sister Clement kept up her nonstop, authoritative observations about Baltimore.
We passed the old Hotel Arundel, by then a notorious rendezvous of vice and a must visit for visiting baseball team members not necessarily wishing overnight accommodation. By then the hotel was known as the Mayfair, but Central Distinct police officers called it the Hotel Mayhem.
One of its hookers, a small show dog on a lead, was parading along Charles. Sister Clement eyed the woman and candidly advised us, "She's a professional woman, you know."