The Detective’s Daughter – The Importance of the Dinner Table.

On Sunday I met my mom for Mother’s Day brunch at one of my favorite coffee shops, The Filling Station. As we sat around the table chatting with my children I was reminded of all the happy dinners I had growing up. Our kitchen was always filled with people and everyone was welcome.               .FullSizeRender (1)

There is something magical about a table. You gather around to share stories and secrets and many times the meal becomes secondary to the conversation. It’s the gathering together of friends and family that remain in our memories long after the menu has been forgotten.                FullSizeRender

As we grow older and families move away or pass on, we gather with friends. My book club meets each month around one of our tables, regardless of how cozy and comfortable a living room might appear, it’s the table we gravitate to.  I look forward to the evenings I spend with friends and family, whether it is the girls I grew up with or my wickedly wonderful cozy sisters here on the blog. Though our times together are infrequent, they are meaningful and cherished by me. FullSizeRender (2)

So, dear reader, make the time to share a meal with someone you love or like or maybe even just want to know a little better. It is the community we find around the table that really nourishes us.

 

What was your most memorable dinner conversation? Who is the person, living or dead, you would want to invite to your dinner table?

 

The Detective’s Daughter — Snow! Snow! Snow!

Kim, in Baltimore, watching her cement steps crumble under layers of salt.

When I was about seven years old, don’t even ask me what year that was, we had an incredible snowstorm. The snow was piled so high we had to tunnel through it. Now granted, I was a little kid, so the snow banks might not have been quite that impressive to the adults, but it was bad enough that everything in Baltimore was shut down and the National Guard was transporting all medical personnel and law enforcement to work.

Nana, Mom, and I stood at the door and watched as Daddy climbed up into a truck that had wheels almost as tall as my father. You see these over-sized trucks everywhere today – don’t even get me started on that! – but back then, other than a tractor trailer, people did not drive these types of vehicles. A man inside had to help pull Daddy in. I remained there as the truck drove away, its tires crunching across the ground breaking the cold silence.

The snow days of my childhood were thrilling, filled with hot chocolate, popcorn and endless hands of 500 Rummy. If Daddy wasn’t called into work, he would pull me on my sled or we would walk our St. Bernard, Barney, to the park. I can’t recall one time my parents rushing out to the grocery store or any of our television programs being interrupted by a haggard looking weather forecaster predicting doom.

My family loves snow, though we don’t get very much of it here in Baltimore. Just seeing the snowflake symbol pop up on my phone brings a smile to my face and I rush to my pantry to make sure I have our snowy day essentials. Coffee, cocoa, popcorn and the ingredients for a hearty soup or dumplings are always available.

Now my own children are grown. They no longer sit on the stairs anxiously awaiting to hear if their school is closed. They don’t need any assistance with their coats or boots and mostly know where they’ve left their gloves and hats.

Last Saturday night I sat near the window, my coffee mug in hand, and watched as heavy wet snowflakes dropped from the sky. The yard was empty, but in my heart two beautiful children ran with their dog and flung themselves on the ground to make snow angels.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from White Christmas. Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Allen are on a train headed for Vermont. While sitting in the dining car they create a winter wonderland on their table and sing of their love of snow. That’s how I feel. While others may be counting the days to spring, I am hoping for one more snow day.

Dear Reader: Do you love or dread snow? What is your fondest snow day memory?

The Detective’s Daughter: The Lost Art of Letters

Kim'spolicehatNot long before Dad’s house burned down, he gave me the family photos. There were boxes upon damaged boxes of photographs, letters, postcards and telegrams dating back to the early 1860’s. They had sat in the dampness of the basement pushed behind trunks of dishes and forgotten housewares on the bank under the house.

I will admit that I was snooping. For the last year or so I had been keeping an extra eye on him since his illness. I’d show up every few days to clean or make him a meal and to toss out the tower of pizza boxes that accumulated no matter how often I’d visit. He never let me take anything home and always insisted he was just about to use whatever I wanted to throw out or donate. When he gave me the mangled boxes to take home, I was surprised.

“You like all that stuff,” he said and helped me drag them to my car. I can spend hours, days sometimes, sorting through the photos and trying to figure out who is who. My favorite things, though, are the letters. I still write letters, but I must admit, they are usually sent as an email. When did letters go out of style? Occasionally I receive one in a Christmas card, and even those are usually printed from a computer.

My grandmother was a great letter writer. She had family across the country and overseas that she kept in touch with through the years. I love reading their responses to her and try to imagine her reading them at our kitchen table in her housecoat drinking a cup of coffee.

Letter from Uncle Al to Nana.

Letter from Uncle Al to Nana.

The letter I cherish the most is one written by my Uncle Al. He was my grandmother’s older brother and also one of her closest friends. By the time Dad was two, my grandmother was a widow. On her first Mother’s Day without her husband, Uncle Al sent her a letter, a poem really, that he sent to her from Dad. It is sweet and I keep it alongside a note my own son wrote to me on a Mother’s Day not so long ago.

Email is wonderful to send a quick note, but it will never replace the excitement a letter brings when received in the mail, nor will it ever hold the faint scent of lavender or be tucked between the pages of a favorite book. I think it’s time the handwritten letter made a comeback.

Dear Readers,
Please tell me the last letter you wrote or received and how that made you feel.
Best regards,
The Detective’s Daughter

The Detective’s Daughter – Sentimental Journey

kimspolicehat

Kim in Baltimore counting down the days to Malice Domestic.

“The thing I miss most are the fog horns,” Aunt Betty would tell me each time she spoke of growing up in San Francisco. As a small child, I was so caught up in her stories that I could see each hill, hear the clang of the streetcar and taste the crust of the sourdough bread. Aunt Betty had been a young girl when her family sailed through the Panama Canal on their way to live in the Philippines. Before the start of World War II, her father was sent to the Presidio in San Francisco. Of all the places they lived over the years, it was here that her heart held as home.image
Aunt Betty and Dad were first cousins though they were as close as siblings. Their mothers were sisters and both Auntie and Dad had lost their fathers when they were young. When Dad was eighteen months old my grandmother, who had been recently widowed, took him on a train across the country to be with her sister. The story of my grandmother, grieving and traveling alone with her baby, revealed a vulnerable side she didn’t often acknowledge. I was fascinated by Nana’s story and hoped to one day recreate her journey and travel to San Francisco to see the city she and Aunt Betty loved.
It wasn’t until a year after my dad died that Aunt Betty and I were able to take a train trip to California. My husband and children shared one compartment and Auntie and I shared another. We spent hours talking about her life over cups of coffee in the dining car.image
The train arrived hours later than scheduled and afterwards we had a thirty minute bus ride from Oakland into San Francisco. It was after midnight by the time we were brought to the apartments I had rented. We immediately went to bed.The next morning, with the sun shining, I stepped out into the courtyard feeling much like the women who rent the villa in Enchanted April. Everywhere I looked was beautiful and exactly as Auntie had described.
My mom had flown out to meet us and was sharing a place with Aunt Betty across the courtyard from us. Each morning we would stroll up Chestnut Street, passing Auntie’s old apartment building, to get our morning coffee at The Squat and Gobble. We spent some time visiting attractions such as the Coit Tower and Alcatraz, but mostly we stayed in Cows Hollow retracing the steps of Auntie’s youth. On Easter Sunday we went to mass at St. Vincente de Paul, the church Aunt Betty had received her sacraments. After mass imageAuntie cornered the priest to tell him how much the church had changed since 1940, yet told me how everything looked the same as she had left it.
At night, before I went to sleep, I would listen for the fog horns and smile knowing that Auntie would be listening as well. In a blink of an eye two weeks passed and we were boarding another train to make our way home. There wasn’t one conversation I had with Aunt Betty over the next few years that didn’t include reminiscing about our trip. Some days she would call me and say, “Hon, you ready? Let’s go to our city and never come back.”
It’s been three years since she’s left this world and now I am the keeper of her stories that became our stories. Before I close my eyes at night, I remember the sound of the fog horn and know that is what I most long to hear again.

Have you ever heard a story that has inspired you to take a trip?

The Detective’s Daughter : Book ’em!

kimspolicehat

By Kim enjoying spring in Baltimore

I come from a family of readers. Whether it was The Sun, a case file, or a John le Carre
novel, the written word was present in our everyday life. My grandfather carried the sports page folded in the back pocket of his pants. Dad enjoyed pouring over his case notes with us at dinner, while Mom kept her nose firmly planted in the latest mystery she’d borrowed from the Enoch Pratt Library. I remember the first book I picked out on my own. It was at a tiny bookstore near Lexington Street, in the heart of the downtown shopping district. My Mom was buying a present for a friend and agreed to buy one book for me. I chose a collection of fairytales illustrated by Tasha Tudor. I still have it and read the stories to my own children. It was the beginning of imagemy love affair with Tasha Tudor and also became the first entry in what would become my book list obsession.

For more years than I care to count I have kept a notebook with lists of books that I have either read or wish to read. Several list contain many of the same titles. There was a time – before having children – I categorized my list in very specific genres. Mystery headed the column that included cozy, thriller, procedural, super natural and true crime. Even self-help was broken down to numerous categories. Obviously, I needed a lot of help or at the least, something better to occupy my time. Think of all the books I could have read instead of writing their titles on a list!image

The one list I should have worked on, and never did, was that of people who borrowed my books. There are quite a few books I’m sure I will never see again. For the last year I’ve been part of a book club that meets once a month. We’ve read some wonderful stories, many of them I would never have chosen. A few of the books have been on one of my lists and it gives me great satisfaction crossing that title out.

This year I have begun a new journal. It’s really my first official book journal in a fancy notepad and not just some loose leaf paper haphazardly stapled together. I now rate the books I read with stars and leave spaces for comments. I enjoy talking about books and especially enjoy reading blogs such as Dru’s Book Musings. This summer’s goal, at least one of them, is to read the forty books Ramona DeFelice Long recommended on her blog during her forty days of women authors. I am nearly finished reading the nominees for the Agatha Awards to be given at Malice Domestic this year. Two of our own Wickeds, Sherry and Edith, are up for best first novel and best short story.image

I leave you now gentle reader as I head out to my sunny porch to put a dent in yet another book, and I would like to know what kind of lists you keep. Do they serve as inspirations or as yet another chore?

The Detective’s Daughter — You’d Better Watch Out

kimspolicehatBy Kim Gray baking cookies in Baltimore

It was a few weeks until Christmas and we had more gold tinsel garland decking our halls than Blaze Starr had pasties, or so my grandfather informed me. He always had a witty remark that was rarely ever appreciated by my grandmother. I was in the first grade and my grandfather,

FullSizeRender-3Pop-Pop, was the center of my world. Just as he was about to explain pasties to me, my grandmother insisted Dad go to Epstein’s for more garland and to take me with him. Instead of ignoring his mother, as he usually did, he took my coat from the hall closet and shoved my arms in the sleeves. I told him I needed a hat and mittens and he begrudgingly found them, too.

I had never, ever been to a store with Dad. Ever. I wondered if he knew where the stores were. We drove the couple of blocks to Light Street in silence with only Dean Martin crooning in the background. Dad parked the Cadillac in the lot behind Holy Cross where I went to school and we headed to the store. It was dark, but only a little after dinner time. Most of the stores were closed except for Epstein’s and Read’s. Dad said if I behaved he’d buy me a hot chocolate at The White Coffee Pot afterwards. We found the garland immediately and were near the check out line when Dad changed
direction and headed towards Santa.

I panicked. I couldn’t see Santa like this, in my brown loafers and stirrup pants! Mom would have a fit. She had rules about what to wear when visiting Santa. My new white satin dress was at home in my closet. I hadn’t even had my appointment at Andre’s yet to get my hair done. This was going to be very bad. I thought I might start to cry which would have made Dad angry, he hated tears, and I didn’t want to wreck my only shopping trip  with Dad and spoil my chances of hot chocolate later.

Boy&Santa-5

My dad — suspicious from an early age.

Santa sat on the landing between Women’s Wear and Housekeeping. His yellowing gloved hands rose high above his head as we stepped next to him. He began to talk very fast about his probation officer having it out for him and promising he’d check in with her in the morning. Dad instructed him to put his hands down. I looked at his stained, faded suit and his beard that hung a little too low off his face. He was nothing like the real Santa who we saw at Hutzler’s each year. I was relieved that Dad didn’t make me sit on his lap or have my picture taken. Maybe Mom didn’t need to know about this visit after all. From where I stood I told the man in the Santa hat what I wanted most for Christmas; a Barbie Dream House. Santa seemed relieved as he pulled his beard up and gave a slight wave when we walked away.

Over hot chocolate, Dad asked me not to say anything about the “Santa thing” to Mom and especially not to my grandmother. I kept my promise, well until now, and on Christmas morning awoke to find a three-story Barbie house complete with elevator. The card read,”Love,Santa”, but I knew by then who really wore the red suit.

The Detective’s Daughter — As Seen on TV

kimspolicehatBy Kim Gray in Baltimore City

It never fails that when I am in another city and people learn I’m from Baltimore they all
ask me the same question, “Is Baltimore really like The Wire?” I want to point out to them that The Wire is a television program; a dramatization. Sure, we have crime in our city and some areas keep the police more engaged than others, but every corner does not have a drug deal going down. Why do people believe everything they see?

KimBoyTVTelevision was very popular in my house when I was a child. We didn’t even need a clock, we could tell what time it was by the program that came on. The delivery of the TV Guide was an actual event. No one was allowed to touch it before my grandmother had seen it. We could mark off the shows we wanted to watch, but knew whatever she wanted to see trumped any of our programs. Everyone had their own spot in the living room for nightly viewing, with my younger sister seated on the floor directly in front of the set. Her job was to switch the channel to save my dad or grandmother from having to get up. This job resulted in her needing glasses by the time she was five.

Dad didn’t watch many police shows. I suppose he saw enough crime during the day. In fact, he told me some of the programs aired were so bad they should be crimes. “The only show that is even  close to how real detectives act is Barney Miller,” Dad said more than once.

KimTVThis story makes my cousin Brian laugh. Brian was a police officer in Baltimore City for fourteen years, and then went on to become a detective. We have long discussions about
police work, so I asked him how he felt about the way police are portrayed on  TV shows.
“I liked the shows Southland, NYPD Blue and Third Watch because they were true to both the personal and professional aspects of police life. Most of the new shows on today are far from realistic,” he answered.

My friend Tom, who is a detective sergeant  in the Boston area and has served on the force for thirty one years, enjoys a few of the police dramas including True Detective, which he finds to be pretty accurate. “I watched a lot of police shows as a kid. The Rookies, Police Story and Columbo were some of my favorites,” Tom said. He also noted that many shows today can be misleading. “The CSI series created a false image of our work, especially how evidence is actually processed,” Tom said adding, “The Shield was a show that really kicked cops reputations, but I think Law and Order is a legitimate show.” Both Tom and Brian agreed that Hill Street Blues was also one that stayed close to the actual way police behaved.

When I asked Tom if he thought shows influenced the way the public felt about officers he had this to say: “The public who supports the police will do so regardless of TV shows. There is no show that will change the opinion of those who take shots and constantly criticize us.” Tom’s comment was true. It is hard to change opinions that are already formed.

Kim'sdadTVI have to admit, had I not been raised by a detective I might believe what’s aired on TV. I enjoy watching police and detective shows, though I am more likely to watch Elementary or Castle because  I am looking for entertainment not facts. I’ve never seen an episode of The Wire and I’m not sure I want to. When my dad passed away in 2006 I had all his stories stuck in my head, but it wasn’t the same as hearing him deliver them. A couple of years ago I discovered a show on cable called  Homicide Hunter. Listening to Lt. Joe Kenda describe the crimes is like having a visit with my dad. If I close my eyes I can almost imagine it is him. Their speech patterns and mannerisms are so similar it amazes me. I look forward to those nights. To me the police are heroes and that’s the way I want to see them portrayed on screen. I know it’s not always a reality, but, after all, it’s only television.