December 1, 2010
By Jake Jakubuwski
For some reason I have no childhood recollection of the aromas of holiday cakes, cookies and pies filling our house with mouth-watering scents that drew me to the kitchen to sneak a taste of the latest treat from the oven. That was the sort of Christmas scene they showed in the movies and on that new thing called television. Nor do I recall a fir tree standing in our “front” room decorated with tinsel and strung with lights. I’m pretty sure that from time-to-time there must have been a tree and tinsel at our house — and perhaps even twinkling lights — but I just can’t remember them. In general, my personal recollections of Christmases in South Baltimore are, at best, sparse. Yet, on the other hand, for some reason I do recall “gifts” that I received at Christmas: a scarf to keep my throat warm; a pair of mittens to keep my hands toasty; a woolen cap that I could pull down over my ears on icy days while I walked to school or played outside. But there were no bicycles, roller skates, wagons or board games in the offing. Whatever I received was something I needed — practical, everyday stuff that was, as I recall, very much appreciated.
I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, but I do remember one year when, as winter set in, I told my mother that I wanted a pair of galoshes and she said: “We can’t afford them. Maybe Santa will bring you a pair.” I don’t remember what I got instead, if I got anything at all, but I do remember feeling disappointed with Santa, and perhaps that’s when I began to at least doubt his existence. A friend, who has followed some of my other childhood adventures on this blog, has encouraged me write about what Christmas meant to a young boy in a South Baltimore family of limited means, so here you have it. So, what do I remember about those early, materially scant Christmases? Well, snow, for one thing. I remember the streets covered in white and kids whooping and hollering as they belly-flopped on their new sleds. I remember them shooting their cap guns and never running out of ammunition. I recall other kids trudging around in the deepest snow banks to show off their new galoshes — gloating because their shoes didn’t get wet. All Christmas gifts, as I remember.
My most vivid memories of Christmas in South Baltimore are of the week or two leading up to the holiday: Grownups hurrying from one store to another in the shopping area around Cross and Light Streets, all of them carrying huge bags filled with gifts and gaudy decorations for their homes; I remember Salvation Army bands playing Christmas carols and other charity workers standing by their red kettles ringing bells to entice donations from passersby; mostly I remember the various Santa’s (who knew there was more than one?) standing on street corners with their own bells and buckets, soliciting pocket change to help feed and dress the poor. I remember buying a hot dog with all the “fixin’s” for a dime in Cross Street Market, and a vendor who gave me a hard pretzel and said “Happy holidays!” I also remember selling newspapers and every so often someone giving me a nickel or dime tip, and wishing me a Merry Christmas.
On more than one Christmas Eve I remember marveling at how many people were scurrying for streetcars, hurrying home for the holiday. I remember passing the local bars as revelers came out shouting greetings to their friends. Peering inside, I saw the Christmas decorations supplied by the beer companies (Mostly American, National and Arrow beers) glittering on the walls and over the bars. I remember the smell of beer and wine and cigarettes wafting out of the doors, along with the sound of Christmas music from the juke boxes, and how, when the doors closed the cacophony of carols and the vociferous celebration of the bar’s patrons was muted to a dull buzz.
And, finally, after more than sixty years, I can still remember the silence in the streets the day before The Big One, as snow fell (as it always does in my black and white soft-focus memory), covering South Baltimore in a crisp blanket that seemed to give all it sheltered an alabaster sheen to purify us each and everyone for Christmas day in the morning.
Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label. To locate more of Jake’s short blog pieces about growing up in the South Baltimore area, copy and paste—or type—his name into the sidebar search window and tap “search.”)
Copyright © 2010 Jake Jakubuwski.
4 Comments | food, holidays, kids, non-fiction | Tagged: baking, Baltimore, bars, beer, cakes, childhood, Christmas, Christmas carols, Christmas Eve, Christmas lights, Christmas music, Christmas tree, cigarettes, cookies, Cross Street Market, family, foodl, galoshes, gifts, holidays, Jake Jakubuwski, juke boxes, kids, kitchen, Maryland, memories, pies, Salvation Army, Santa Claus, South Baltimore, wine | Permalink
Posted by Jim
June 30, 2009
By Shirley Lupton
My sister, Peg, is a contrarian. An introverted petite blonde, stunning and smart, she never wanted to be a wife or a mother. But then she turned 60 and her health insurance premium (individual plan) jumped from $500 to $1,200 a month. So she did what she could to keep herself insured. She decided to marry Ed, with whom she had lived for the past 28 years. He had a job with health benefits. Oh, we joked, hope you aren’t rushing into something. Do you really know him?
Ed describes himself as a poseur, a charlatan, and a gourmetician. To contrast her size 2, he is short, round, size 50, a gregarious Sicilian; also a former restaurant chef and now teacher of the culinary arts. In Philadelphia, where they live, Ed is a sort of Pied Piper. People come from doorways to greet him as they walk down the streets. He spends an hour in a sausage emporium on 9th Street in Little Italy talking to the “regulars” while Peg is around the corner, alone, puffing a Marlboro regular. “To marry or have health insurance—I picked marriage, a Hobson’s choice,” Peg said. “So—let’s make it an ironic wedding.” Ed replied, “Anything you want dear.”
Peg insisted on secrecy, so the site she chose was a mountaintop in north central Pennsylvania where we had spent our childhood summers. An old friend there, Al, a retired clergyman, agreed to conduct the service. Aside from me, the only other participants would be Dick and Judy, a couple we had also known as children on the mountain. That was it. No fuss, no cake, no expense, and none of the friends from Philly, who would hear about it later. At the rehearsal dinner, which was held at Dick and Judy’s cabin, we all drank too much wine and annoyed an abstemious Al by making up vows that pressed hard on the irony concept. In fact, Al got a bit huffy and left after Ed said that he would take this woman in holy matrimony only if she agreed to wash her cereal bowl and forsake country music.
The next day we stood in front of Reverend Al’s fireplace, ready. He had brought out his best cut glass wine goblets and a decanter of communion sherry. Judy had picked the wedding bouquet in the woods, an armload of blooming ragweed. Al wore his full black clerical garb and, caught up in the mood of irreverence, rubber flip- flops. We milled around a bit and then Peg, wearing denim, hugged the raspy flowers as Al began the ceremony. As he intoned, I watched a hummingbird at a feeder outside his window, and when I turned back I saw liquid reflecting light off Ed’s eyes. Peg’s eyes were glazed, like a cat full of tuna. Al was reading the traditional vows and they were answering—in tradition. This was a wedding. After Ed kissed the bride, Peg tossed me the ragweed and we stood around not knowing what to say but feeling rather graceful. Ed opened a bottle of vintage champagne from the year of Peg’s birth to find it had turned to vinegar. No one said, How ironic. We toasted with Al’s sherry.
Peg selected the Jamison Hotel for the “reception,” a place far in the mountains where the dress code was wife-beater undershirts and the all-you-can-eat buffet was on top of Bunson Burners in big aluminum trays for $8.50 per person. A pitcher of cold lager cost $3.00. I can tell you the ham and green bean dish was delicious. An eight-point buck’s head looked down at us from its wall mount. An old guy from the bar came in and played his harmonica so we could waltz the bride.
Last spring Ed lost his job in the recession. Now he and Peg are both uninsured. But in the four years that Ed and Peg have been married, they have been content. Willie Nelson instead of Puccini? — no problem. Whatever my wife wants, Ed continues to say. And soon, of course, there will be Medicare.
Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.
Shirley Lupton has been a contributing writer and photographer for Aishti, a Middle Eastern lifestyle, fashion and travel magazine published in Beruit, Lebanon. Her work has also appeared in the Irish Herald, San Francisco, and in the Baltimore Sun. Shirley is a member of Margaret Osborn’s Deepdeen Writers’ group, which is were we met a few years ago. I’m happy to report that her witty contributions have become a popular feature on this blog.
3 Comments | essays, humor, love, marriage, non-fiction, relationships, religion, writing | Tagged: all-you-can-eat buffet, ceremony, chef, clergyman, clerical garb, cold larger, communion sherry, country music, couples, culinary arts, dating, family, flip-flops, food, gourmetician, graceful, health benefits, health insurance, Hobson's choice, holy matrimony, humor, insured, ironic, irony, Jamison Hotel, job, June bride, Little italy, love, Marlboro, marriage, married, marry, Medicare, non-fiction, opera, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Puccini, ragweed, reception, recession, rehearsal dinner, relationships, service, Shirley Lupton, Sicilian, teacher, uninsured, vinegar, vintage champagne, vows, waltz, wedding bouquet, Willie Nelson, wine | Permalink
Posted by Jim
March 11, 2009
By Shirley Lupton
My son, Robert, and I were having an argument on the train platform in Avignon. He wanted to stop in Lyon to have a look around and have lunch and I wanted to go straight back to Paris where we had rented an apartment for a few weeks. Robert is a travel writer and I do not see him much except the rare times we can travel together. “Mom,” he said, Lyon is the food capital of France. I guarantee that after two hours in Lyon you will not want to leave.” “You win,” I told him but I held in my head the impression that Lyon would be a city of damp unadorned buildings with menus that featured Lyonnaise potatoes.
So, after the warm October sun and the infinite yellows of southern France we stepped into a chilly plaza coated with light rain. As we walked along its streets even he agreed that Lyon’s buildings were stolid and Germanic. It will be better by the river, Robert said, and so it was. The River Saone flowed with a grand sweep under stone arched bridges and a seducing sun came out as we walked along. He was eying a white cathedral high on a hill on the opposite bank. I could imagine the thousand steps up to it and suggested it was time for lunch. Because part of Robert’s job is eating he has acquired a sixth sense about restaurants. He needs only to walk by the entrance, and sniff the air. “This is it, Mom.” His choice, Le Bistrot de Lyon, was no different from dozens of others along the cobblestones of Rue Merciere, which, with its beat and bustle, seemed to be the food heart of Lyon. It felt right to me too.
Le Bistrot opened itself to us. The maitre de was brisk but welcoming in that nuanced way the French have to be OK with Americans. We were seated at a small table with a white tablecloth and a pot of fresh flowers in the non-smoking section where smoking was still done without guilt or irony. Nearby a table of businessmen, six or eight of them in dark suits, were finishing up a platter of pork roast and sausages. A waiter poured from several bottles of wine set about and discussed their desserts. Good humor flowed between the waiter and the men in their rumble of conversation.
The décor was all polished brass and Persian carpets of faded reds, oranges and blues, The sconces on the walls were converted gaslights. In the mirror behind the men I could see our heads; Robert’s curling black hair, and mine, graying, had developed that “certain age” sway. Had I worn a cloche it could have been 1944. The waiter turned from the men and at once became our waiter as he placed a basket of bread on the table. When Robert spoke to him in fluent French his surprise showed in two dots of red on his cheeks. He wore a white shirt and a bold cerise tie and an apron with a casual hitch up the front. We ordered the specials and a half carafe of local red wine. The bread had deep crust and yielded dough that was thick and nutty, the color of caramel. Two small salads arrived –arugula with herbs and a garlic mustard dressing. The wine, hearty and fruity, tasted of grapes laced with primroses or cherries. And then the entrée, mine a slice of medium rare beef lightly covered with a sauce of orange cognac and butter and potatoes cut with edges crisped by caramelized onions. Another waiter joined up with ours, a dark skinned younger man, an apprentice perhaps. He observed our pleasure in the food and gave us two desserts instead of the one with the special. A small cheese plate, and an apple crisp that was so good I wanted to stand and scream. It crunched with the light, buttery shell and sugar and the freshness of the apples.
The check was modest and correct for such a simple lunch. But the confluence of care in the cooking, the colors, the way it was served by waiters who enjoyed the work, their reserved humanity and the happy hum of the businessmen, all this did something to us. It opened our feelings, which is a rare thing for a restaurant to do. In the past Robert and I had wounded each other after the divorce from his father. That day my faith in his judgment, his willingness to take me in hand and the mysterious magic of the Bistrot softened some of what had been hardened from all that. Outside the streets of Lyon looked entirely different. Robert went on to the white Cathedral and I walked about the shops and plazas in a daze. Later, on the train Robert wrote the following in his Journal.
The city had seemed sober and northern and monochromatic –completely without spark—when we arrived, hungry, into a gray noon, with apparently a fine mist between us and any color the city might have had. By the time we headed back to the train station at 4 PM, the invisible mist had lifted, my belly had been satisfied, I had sweated my way up to the city’s heights, my intellect, or rather my vision, had been braced by an extra post lunch coffee, the sun had grown stronger behind the clouds. So that now the martial rows of houses along the river revealed previously unseen blues, pinks, and yellows–still all very restrained. Gradually too, more direct rays had penetrated the weather and produced their shadows, and with them the facades and the very bend in the River Soane with its curving heights were revealing the nuance of a third dimension.
In Paris we had many fine meals but never one like the lunch in Lyon.
Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.
I met Shirley Lupton in a writing class and was impressed by her cool, sardonic (is “sardonic” a combination of “sarcastic” and “ironic?”) Dorothy Parker-ish take on life, at least as expressed in her manuscripts. The first story by Shirley I read had the wonderful title “Nicole Kidman’s Bathrobe,” and was every bit as funny as the title suggests, but it also contained some very interesting insights into human relationships. Later, as I got to know her as a friend, I concluded that my initial impression held up. Shirley proved to be as witty and as insightful in real life as she was on the page.
5 Comments | essays, humor, non-fiction, short fiction, travel, vacation, writing | Tagged: arugula, Avignon, businessmen, cafe, caramelized onions, cathedral, city, cloche, cooking, decor, desserts, divorce, Dorothy Parker, essay, family, food, France, funny, guilt, herbs, humanity, humor, insights, irony, journal, Le Bistrot de Lyon, life, lunch, Lyon, magic, maitre de, manuscripts, meals, mist, mother, Nicole Kidman's Bathrobe, non-smoking, Paris, Persian carpets, plaza, pleasure, pork roast, rare beef, relationships, restaurant, Rue Merciere, salads, sauce, sausages, sconces, Shirley Lupton, smoking, son, The River Saone, train, train station, travel, travel writer, vision, waiter, wine, writing, writing class | Permalink
Posted by Jim
December 29, 2008
The dandelions have
is that it, is summer over?
Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.
2 Comments | art, haiku, poetry, writing | Tagged: backlight, backlit, change, color, composition, dandelion, dandelion wine, flora, haiku, images, nature, photography, poetry, seasons, summer, wine, yellow | Permalink
Posted by Jim