by Mary Bahr, Curator, Elkridge Heritage Society
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- Foibles in Growing Up Amused:
Even among hardships, humor can emerge. Without major renovation, The Old House certainly wasn’t getting any younger, even though mother did have a new roof installed.
If they couldn’t make it younger, they could make it prettier, so my parents also painted it gray with yellow shutters.
On the inside, no matter how much we wiped our shoes on newspaper at the door, we would never see the floorboards shine a reflection for our efforts. After years and years, maybe the floor just needed another waxing, ya’ think?
When one has had a maid to clean for most of one’s life, one doesn’t get a chance to learn sensible cleaning skills for one’s self in order to teach others. Does one, mother?
It was believable that our mother was a firm believer in 1) the daily press, and 2) in preservation. Newspaper for her, was the potential of peanuts to George Washington Carver. She used it to cover thereby preserve floors, wash windows, in place of doormats, fill litter boxes, book covers, as well as for clipping obits and other newsworthy items for archiving posterity. She also used it for temporary insulation, sometimes gift wrap, party hats, in processes on her printing press, for paper-making, papier-mache projects, wet for wrapping fresh cut flowers, and we all used it as kindling for burning bagworms. The bonus was, with all that paper, the silverfish ate very well and their literacy rate grew. The down side is that floors covered don’t remain clean just cause you can’t see what’s underneath.
When I was about 6 or 7, I decided to be THE family librarian. I rearranged all the books on the two large living room bookshelves in the order of subject. After all, I went to the Pratt; I knew what cataloguing looked like. I made loan cards to sign for borrowing the books, and “subject title” signs for the shelves. But in order to find out what some subjects were, I had to read the books and for the most part, they were above my level of understanding.
I shelved Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men” under the subject category of “animal stories.” After all, they are both mammals.
Those seeds of organizing never left me. Now I’m my church’s librarian and get to borrow all the books I want.
My after school chore was washing the breakfast dishes. Since my parents both worked in the city, I first relaxed by watching the latest global news in the Adventures of Mighty Mouse, up until the last minute when one of their cars would pull into the driveway. Once, thinking mother had arrived, I didn’t realize it was dad’s car instead, and so I dashed to turn off the TV only to accidentally knock over an open can of grapefruit on top, spilling the juice into the TV console. I turned it off, but the hot tubes smelled rank. It’s a wonder the electrics didn’t blow.
Like mother, dad wasn’t born yesterday either. If he had wanted to, he could have felt the TV still hot, the console sticky and the air rank — even as I was frothing up the suds in the kitchen sink and thinking that the soap powder smelled particularly good.
He also didn’t notice my halo slipping down in with the dirty dishes.
Edgewood Cottage wasn’t only a home for our art, but for our music. That is why we had a “music” room, a seclusion clearly needed for every well-trained and dedicated child. Never mind that it had other distractions, like the TV.
Publicity photo for the Baltimore Sunpapers.
In the music room we had our upright piano and mother’s needlepoint piano stool that whirled me in circles.
So after washing dishes and before playing outdoors or watching TV, the other afternoon chore was to practice on the piano for at least an hour. Instead of a delight, it became a task, a drudge. At first I was given private lessons, then for further preparatory, I was sent alone once a week by Greyhound bus from Washington Blvd. to the Peabody Conservatory. Oh LUCKY me.
…and no dawdling !
Though most of the time I never did my piano homework, I somehow made it through their second grade of music. Though mother and sister played, and numerous maternal relatives were Peabody alumni, it was not to become my special interest. Same with the ballet lessons.
Last of all, I would be remiss of Edgewood Cottage if I didn’t include the memorable icicles that would grow incredibly long in the brutal winters on the north corner of our roof by our kitchen door — high out of reach, even with a broom. When coming or going, one always had to have an eye on them for fear they would break and spear us. At least that’s what dad would fear.
But the icicles didn’t get him.
T’was the concrete back steps. What with their layers of ice, one slight movement and like Dagwood Bumstead, dad’s feet would defy gravity. Though he shoveled the path from the steps to the drive, it remained icy and treacherous. Somehow the elements always got a last laugh. And somehow the milkman always delivered the milk to our back door without problem.
Eventually a decade passed without further ado and drama about us moving from termites. In the early 1960′s, dad solved the problem by having his new studio built on the property and then later, built our new home behind it, moving us from The Old House down the driveway to the new, a few yards away.
NOTE TO READERS: On the left side of the photo below, behind the new house, is a large long-needled white pine which was at least 75-years-old when it did not survive Hurricane Sandy.
Even though I am glad the new house was built, Christmases did not have the same coziness. And mother’s doll collection assumed squatters rights for every seat in it. Meanwhile, I have to remark that, though The Old House was fast approaching senility, it was still entertaining guests.
- Hark! A Vagrant !
We all knew that people broke into The Old House over the years. No doubt vagrants and other hooligans.
She used it for storage of her antiques, doo-dads and what-nots.
But she could not stop the doors from disintegrating around the keyholes, nor keep the corners united, or keep the windows from falling out. No one was wiping their feet NOW.
36. Band-aid for a window. © watercolor by Florence Bahr.
Courtesy of Bahr Estate
Finders keepers. I found a bottle of corked “White Horse” Scotch on the 2nd floor in my (former) tri-colored bedroom. It certainly did NOT belong to my mother. When I took it home, I showed it to a boyfriend and when I wasn’t looking, he sneaked down the contents. Big mistake. I always assumed it might be vagrant pee. After all, why would they or anyone leave perfectly good alcohol behind?
So what other transgressions were found? My cousins Joe and Hank helped me clean out The Old House, and were hard at their labor when they discovered certain (cough cough) magazines left in the living room. They reached out the window and held up for me a centerfold for a photo op of their victorious discovery.
And speaking of vagrants –
My parents went to a concert in Baltimore one dark summer evening. My sister was temporarily living with us in our new house, and my friend, Sheila (Joe Cobb’s niece) was visiting that night. Around nine p.m., from our new house’s big living room window, I saw a lit bulb from a bedroom ceiling in The Old House. We all witnessed shadows of people rummaging around.
The police arrived quickly and parked at the front door of The Old House. Using a bullhorn, the officer called the hooligans to come out with their hands up.
From my vantage point, I knew mother remained indoors because dad came out alone, with his hands held vaguely in that direction. So while I watched him face the squad car, I remembered dad using a Remington for target practice, but interestingly, I had never seen him on the other side of a pointed gun. Before any blood was drawn, I ran up the driveway to intercede, but he countered furiously with me for calling the cops and embarrassing him. I had absofreakinlutely nothing to apologize. Besides, the officer spoke up for my side of that discussion, and he didn’t back down for the sake of dad’s pride.
I did verify their identity, though they were in flagrant violation of not telling us they came home early and thereby worrying us silly. If I was the cop, I would have given them at least a ticket for wasted drama.
- This Land is Your Land, This Land is…
It was our mother’s written intent that our property and historic Edgewood Cottage be conserved. During her last years, and after sinking good many dollars into a lost cause, Edgewood Cottage was falling fast. Rain had seeped in everywhere. There was no longer the problem of peeling paint in the kitchen because the whole ceiling was literally hanging by a thread.
“Help. I’m falling and I can’t get up.”
The floor of the music room, over the cellar, was caving in the middle and too weak to hold the piano much longer.
In 1998, our modern home was destroyed by fire, tragically trapping my mother. After her death, it took me nine months of weekends to retrieve most of the family treasures and collectibles she had stored in Edgewood Cottage, as well as any remaining art and other items from the other home, before they both would be bulldozed. Since I couldn’t buy out my sibling’s shares of the estate and because Edgewood Cottage was an historic home, we all had to go before the county historic board and plead our case for Edgewood Cottage’s final demise for the greater good of land preservation. To mother, our case for the Cottage’s demolition would have been, almost in comparison to, someone like me shooting Old Yeller. Anyone who knows me well, knows I hated the way that movie ended. Fortunately for me, even with its history within the Old Lawyers Hill community and in my own life, dying Edgewood Cottage was not really Old Yeller.
Thanks to our neighbors, Bonnie and Mark Ballinger, who bought our land and consolidated it with their land trust, the trees at least are now a forest and a refuge for wildlife, with all the arachnids it can handle.
Gimme some feedback folks. Toodles.
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