Series Part 19 – Extracts from Dickeyville Days Memoirs
By Alison Sandlass Carr & Elinor Sandlass Cecil
Memories from Alison Sandlass Carr
Jaques Kelly mentions the Palm Sunday blizzard of 1942, one of my earliest memories of Dickeyville. We lived at 2324 Pickwick at that time, before Elinor was born. A wire fence between us and Haight’s house, which was beside the trolley tracks, [close by the Presbyterian Church] was completely buried by the snowfall.
Several ‘original’ families still lived in the village in the early ‘40s, and I liked visiting their houses – tiny and cozy, smelling of supper cooking and coal oil (kerosene) for space heaters providing the warmth. A few houses were owned by women, independent of masculine oversight, a rarity in those days. Elizabeth Hiss lived in the “wagon-wheel” house on upper Pickwick, a cousin of Alger Hiss. Retired teachers and widows also maintained homes in the village, but more usually the provider was a man, and it was he who drove the family car (if there was one) during wartime. The #35 trolley was a vital lifeline to services and amenities at Walbrook Junction and beyond.
Life was free of environmental worries for kids. Art Hambleton (the tomato plant-napper) would skin snakes on the Methodist Church lawn – copperheads and moccasins he had caught down by the stream, which was also a source of typhoid fever. Mosquitoes, ticks, and summer heat were accepted facts of life. Once we found a habitation of sorts in the woods behind Pearthree’s house – partially dug into the hillside, with a canvas roof and a few furnishings (pots, blankets, boxes)…someone living off the grid. Alice “Buzzy” Hambleton’s grandparents lived for a while on Tucker Lane in an old farmhouse. When he was young Grandpa Hambleton had run away to the circus as an acrobat, according to Buzzy!
There were two streetcar stops in the village, one at the top of Pickwick Road, next to the Methodist Church property, the other on Wetheredsville Road, where Cottondale Lane emerges from behind the houses. The transit company would replace the gravel at the stops as needed, and one delivery offered a ‘gold mine’ of iron pyrite nuggets mixed in with the stones. There was a California gold rush for the treasure: kids vying, swapping…swiping.
Brides in their regalia, with attendants, walked up the street to join their bridegroom waiting at the altar. Perching on senior Hutton’s (later Stokes, then Crosby) steps to watch ceremonial traffic in and out of the sanctuary, we kids would offer our impartial support to wedding parties or funerals.
Random visiting of neighbors as a small child: I, too, would drop in on my parents’ friends (unannounced but confident of welcome and possibly a treat) – Primrose, Ball, Lautenbach, Buchele, Stinchcomb, and others. Mr. Primrose was an inventor, and devised clever ways to make life easier, like a pulley to bring firewood from their back yard near the dam to their first floor at street level. They had a stuffed pig in the living room, good to sit on.
The other half of our house, (later 2326, Parrott’s house) was occupied by Major Stilwell, our landlord. One summer day, wanting to be an enterprising businesswoman and not finding any ingredients for lemonade, I stocked my store (card table in the gutter) with ice cubes, a perishable commodity if ever there was one. The Major, who was a late riser, bought me out and retreated into the cool comfort of his side of the house, clad in his bathrobe.
At about age ten I buried in that back yard a big mayonnaise jar full of (probably nifty) Victorian buttons that my grandmother had given me, creating my own buried treasure after no success in finding someone else’s. I think that’s called “salting” a dig, but it waits for another archaeologist as the trove is now under a brick terrace.
The Alberts at 2330 Pickwick did not favor window screens in summertime, and accepted as a part of life that birds would sometimes fly in and out of their house.
On Sunday mornings a cacophony of competing church bells (hand-pulled) filled the air. Hymns rising out of the Methodist Church were lively and cheerful, while those of the Presbyterians were – well, more somber.
2334 Pickwick Road, sometimes called the “Gingerbread House”, and one of the village’s oldest, had a succession of occupants, including the Bullock family. When Baltimore replaced its old gas street lamps with electric ones, the bright glare shone into the nursery windows and disturbed the Bullock children. Mr. B complained to no avail, and so he took matters into his own hands; he climbed the lamppost with a bucket of black paint, which got him into a lot of trouble with the city.
Painting houses any color other than white: at one point 2400 Pickwick sported soft yellow clapboards with white shutters & trim, which aroused the ire of “purists”. Our father’s defense was that New and Old England (upon which Dickeyville’s redevelopment was based) had long favored colorful facades, and that the precedent was valid.
Catherine Stinchcomb taught piano to a few of us children; Alice (Buzzy) Hambleton was her star pupil, and lessons cost 25 cents. Carl Buchele was a sports writer for The Sun; they could never entertain on Saturday evenings because of publishing deadlines, so their contribution to the healthy village social life was to host occasional Sunday brunches in their back garden, equipped with a large stone grill and patio, where they served Buchele signature pancakes (I have that recipe & will share), sausages, bacon, etc., and liberal quantities of brandy milk punch.
Our father had known Joe deVitis [our memory of the name] or diVitas [Pen Smith’s memory of the name] from work on architectural jobs and hired him to repair our retaining walls (crumbling, as were many of the village stone walls). Joe arrived and assessed the project, “Wall? What wall? You no got a wall.” He became a village fixture, as Pen said, because there was so much masonry that needed mending. My four-year old Becky misunderstood the term and called them “receding walls”, perhaps more accurate.
Mother noted that Joe brought tasty lunches, and asked him if he made spaghetti. He said yes, and agreed to teach her how. Joe gave her a shopping list and the following Saturday our kitchen came alive with a tutorial, but Joe had brought his own groceries, explaining that he “knew she getta the wrong stuff”. Joe prepped and cooked, and Mother followed him around her kitchen, taking notes. It was a big success, with all of us feasting at lunch around the dining room table and enjoying a bottle of red wine ceremoniously presented by our father for the occasion.
One more Joe story, also related to food, and possibly apocryphal: The MacDormans had three boys, and one of them, as he grew, seemed to have some problems with his vocal skills. The concerned parents took their child to a pediatric authority, who carefully examined him and determined that there was no problem; he was simply speaking with an Italian accent. (He often visited Joe during lunch breaks, and shared in the sumptuous menu of goodies and some conversation.)
Joe’s recipe is available, along with Mrs. Colgan’s potato salad, and the Buchele’s Sunday Brunch pancakes. Tricia Colgan’s mother’s potato salad was the best – the last time I made it was on Sunday, forever a family favorite. (That recipe is available, too)
Ross Winans was a Baltimore industrialist who, with his sons, worked for Tsarist Russia on its 19th C. railroad expansion. His son Thomas built two grand piles, Alexandroffsky in Baltimore city, and Crimea as a country retreat that was very close to Dickeyville. The last of the family still lived there years ago, an aunt or someone, who occupied an upper floor apartment. I remember as a child visiting with Mother and having tea in a kind of Miss Havisham setting, but with a parrot. One of my playmates lived in a house adjacent to Crimea, and we were welcomed to come and poke around, climbing on the cast iron lions that flanked the front doors (now at the zoo), and investigating the chapel interior and playhouse (now gone). Later it all became part of the city park system, and the lovely vast woods a dumping ground for victims of drug deals gone wrong.
To provide labor for his estate Winans had brought a group of workers from Ukraine (imported serfs?), and the little chapel was built for them.
In the steamy summers itinerant “A-rabs” supplemented the limited store offerings with wonderful fresh produce, displayed from horse-drawn carts; you could hear them coming from a distance, with sing-song announcements: “Water-ME-lon ALL red ALL red”; and the Good Humor man’s bell was a daily high point, our Pied Piper.
Walter Pearthree [who later lived in Franklintown] headed a graphics arts firm in the city and was also active in the Vagabonds and other regional theatres. When as a teenager I sought his encouragement to pursue a career in art, he advised me to “finish school and get married”. He had a beautiful wife and small children, and I loved to babysit for them in their house enriched by an artistic presence. Mr. P. deplored his wife’s habit of leaving her shoes wherever she wished, and he often threatened to pitch the lot if she didn’t mend her ways. She just laughed, and didn’t; and so one day he did.
Mystery writer and former Dickeyvillian Laura Lippman has compared Dickeyville to Brigadoon, a comparison I had also made. I used to say that even the city cab drivers couldn’t find it.
By Alison Sandlass Carr
Memories from Elinor Sandlass Cecil
I still get The Baltimore Sun delivered on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, so that I can keep up with my beloved Baltimore, always checking the real estate section for sales on Pickwick Road, Wetheredsville, Tucker Lane, and other familiar names nearby. The Sieck House will always be the Sieck house along with all the other residential owners contemporaneous with my time there. Whenever I meet anyone from Baltimore, the first thing out of my mouth is “I grew up in Dickeyville.” Most have heard of it or acknowledge it with a warm smile.
Having been baptized, confirmed, raised, and married in Dickeyville, I even tried being a grown-up there when my husband and I rented the Meeks house, then bought 2510 Pickwick Road. I joined the Garden Club, became secretary for the Dickeyville Association and could have stayed there forever; but when police helicopters could be heard hovering over the village during some inner city episode, my husband was “outta” there, and we fled to Catonsville.
Linda Gibbons remembers her house “shutters that really worked.” I don’t know whether it was from being an architect’s daughter, or whether it was just from being in a village with “authentics”, that I continue to be a bit of a shutter snob, even though I’ve lived in houses with ones that screw on, including my present abode.
Tricia Colgan remembers visiting her parents’ friends, which was something I felt comfortable doing as well, just knocking on doors unannounced. These neighbors were like extended family members I guess, so protective and comfortable was the village. My favorites were Mrs. Cox, Mrs. Lautenbach, Mrs. Stinchcomb, Mrs. Buchele, and Mrs. Roemer, whose mantel supported a Royal Doulton or Dresden porcelain statue of Marie Antoinette, who still had her head, as well as a wide hemmed gown in rich colors – a little girl’s dream doll. I went on the internet and couldn’t find that figurine anywhere. Maybe it wasn’t Marie after all.
As a tot, I would sit on my front steps at 2400 Pickwick singing “Down By the Station” while waiting for the mailman, Paul.
Once, Carole Moritz and I found a “hobo’ lying in the woods behind the Presbyterian Church in the 50’s – Agnes her mother was horrified.
Etched in my mind is a red plastic item encased in the tar on the road in front of the Sieck house, which sat diagonally across from our own. Part of a water pistol?
Page Smith and I were inseparable, spending creative time at each other’s houses. When we weren’t illustrating our own comics, we would write songs and skits and perform them to tolerant neighbors. One such endeavor was entitled “The Crimson Claw”. I can just imagine how welcome we were, just showing up with no warning, but they just stopped what they were doing, and we performed.
Once, a group of us (Chris and Julie Meeks, Chris’s then boyfriend George, possibly Page Smith and others) were on a church outing somewhere. The attending chaperones were Bob and Pat Jones, who drove one vehicle. Somehow, on the way home there was a group in George’s Triumph (don’t’ know how we fit in a back seat, but I may not be remembering it correctly). The car overheated en route and we came up with the idea of repairing whatever was leaking with chewing gum. Meanwhile, the chaperones were already back in Dickeyville wondering where we were. Somehow we all got home, but I remember my sister coming out when we pulled up at the triangle, saying, “Boy do I feel sorry for you!” Our parents were justifiably worried. Somewhere, there is a picture of us the following day, possibly the 4th of July, gathered at the front of my house. My mother is in the picture, and the perps are all looking away and ill at ease.
I was a willing participant in Chris and Julie’s legendary web of mischief when we would make anonymous telephone calls at my house (never theirs) while my parents were out (usually at church, which somehow makes it worse). We would ask the unsuspecting target, “Is Mrs. McGillicutty there?” and other like childish annoyances
My father purchased a small car called a Metropolitan which was used to carpool several of us to Western High School. Page Smith Morgan recalls how passengers would all squeeze into the tiny back seat, books perched on knees sitting high. I remember one carpool incident in which Boo (Beulah) Williams was driving us home. As her car slowed down at the corner of Gwynns Falls Parkway and Windsor Mill Road, Mrs. Williams said, “Oh children, I have run out of gas.” Vaguely, I then recall a hike up to Cahill Center nearby where a telephone call must have been made. I can’t remember the final outcome, but I still can hear Boo’s unforgettable signature southern patois as the car came to a slow stop.
Each season had its gifts, with spring and summer lending their ease of access to each nook and cranny of the village. There are vague memories of riding to school in the fall to Windsor Hills Elementary with my father, as we were a one car family at the time. My father would refer to the wooded area along Wetheredsville Road past the mill as “Spooks”. The scene passing by in the car is permanently fixed in my mind, the old Spring House, the Moran’s House, turning onto Windsor Mill Road and crossing the bridge. There was a stone house we called the Witch’s House on Wetheredsville Road extending across Windsor Mill. Winter was viewed through the wavy-glassed mullioned windows when I wasn’t out playing in the snow. As crisp and clear as those nights were on Christmas Eve, so are my memories of Carl Stissel’s leading the choristers up and down Pickwick Road, Wetheredsville, and Tucker Lane. Did we cross over to upper Pickwick? Guess that part’s not so crisp and clear.
By Elinor Sandlass Cecil
Editor’s note: Please check back each Sunday to the Dickeyville Village blog to read extracts from the Dickeyville Days memoirs – a compilation of memories from previous Dickeyville denizens reflecting on a childhood spent growing up in the village during the 1940s, 50s, & 60s. We hope you enjoy their stroll down memory lane.