The Detective’s Daughter

Kim in Baltimore protecting my eyes from the eclipse.

Nat King Cole sang about those lazy, hazy days of summer as Nana cooked in the kitchen. I could hear the music as I played in the yard. The windows were wide open despite the muggy heat of a Baltimore summer and the fact that Nana had a brand new air conditioner. She refused to turn it on no matter how hot the temperature.

I lounged in a tiny pool that Pop-Pop used a bicycle pump to inflate. Nana had put several throw rugs and an old comforter to protect the bottom of the pool and to cushion my feet from the hot cement.

Sometimes my friend Valerie from down the street would come over to sit in the cool water with me, but most often it was my dog Rikki who kept me company. He stayed in the shade under our picnic table watching over me as Pop-Pop sat dozing in his lawn chair with a transistor radio to his ear listening to the Oriole game.

This is how I remember the summer days of my youth. Baseball games, steamed crabs on Sundays, snowballs at night. I can close my eyes and conjure up the smell of Nana’s rose garden after an afternoon storm and hear the whistle of the trains passing the house and smell the tar of the street that was too hot to walk across in bare feet.

I tried to recreate those summers for my own children; the freezer stocked with juice pops, a wading pool in the yard, a gentle dog to keep watch. I have an air conditioner in the window I rarely use. When we first moved to the house we only had a few fans. In the morning I’d strip the beds and load all our sheets in the freezer for the day. At bedtime we’d grab them out and run as if the devil chased us up the stairs, throwing ourselves onto the sheets not even bothering to smooth them out or tuck them in. We just wanted to enjoy those few moments on the icy bed.

The coolness of the sheets was as brief as those summers that we remember not so much for the warmth of the days, but the happiness of being together.

Readers: What are your favorite childhood summer memories?

 

 

The Detective’s Daughter — The Emerald

Kim in Baltimore soaking up the sun…finally!

I’m sure every woman has heard the cheesy line “what’s your sign?” at least once in their life, but how about “what’s your birthstone?” No, really, I’m asking. What is your birthstone? As you’ve probably guessed from the title, mine is an emerald. That’s right, I’m a May baby and on the last day of this month I’ll be…well, it’s only a number, right?

I’ve been told a girl’s first piece of “real” jewelry is her birthstone. That was true for me. On my tenth birthday Nana and Pop-Pop gave me my first ring, an emerald. I wore it everyday for years and still do on special occasions. They bought it at Earkes’ Jewelry store on Light Street, the same place Dad bought presents for Mom.

You can only imagine how grown-up I felt with my emerald ring. I’d always admired my grandmother’s rings. Nana had been married twice. On the ring finger of her left hand she wore the wedding set  Pop-Pop had given her and on her right hand she wore a large square diamond which had been the rings given to her by her first husband, John. After his death, Nana had the set combined to make one large ring. Though her diamonds were sparkly and beautiful, and maybe even a girl’s best friend, they were not as lovely as my small emerald.

The first year I taught school I did a really stupid thing. Well, I probably did a lot of stupid things, but this one landed me in the emergency room with my fingers stuck in a plastic toy. It was one of those boxes where you hammer in a shape. The shape was stuck and I thought it would be easy enough to stick my finger in and push it out. The problem was my ring…the emerald… got caught on an edge. After a few teachers prodded and pulled at my hand, my finger swelled. I was in tears by the time they got me to the hospital, but not because I was in any pain, I was terrified my ring would be destroyed. Fortunately, my ring survived, the toy wasn’t as lucky.

The emerald is the symbol of rebirth, fertility, and love. It is believed the owner of an emerald will have foresight, good fortune and youth. It may even cure stomach problems and ward off panic, keeping the wearer relaxed and serene. I’m not so sure about that, relaxed and serene are not two words anyone would use to describe me!

My grandparents have been gone many years and I now have Nana’s rings. Every Mother’s Day I wear them to honor her. Gemstones may have healing powers, but this emerald holds the power of keeping the memory of my grandparents alive for me.

Readers: Do you wear your birthstone? Have you investigated the history and meaning of your stone?

The Detective’s Daughter – Hollywood Glamour

Good morning – we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a special announcement!

The winners of the Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker contests are:

Gail Arnold (Shannon’s winner)
Ann Mason (Jess’s winner)

Gail and Ann, message us your emails on the WCA Facebook page and we’ll put you in touch.

Now, over to Kim!

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Kim in Baltimore melting from the intense heat.

A few months ago I read a book called Design for Dying by Renee Patrick which I highly recommend. I love reading about old Hollywood and show business, in fact I’m a bit obsessed with it. I blame my grandmother. She had subscriptions to Photoplay magazine and Rona Barrett’s Hollywood. We spent hours – and I do mean hours – flipping through the glossy pages covered with updates on everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Paul Newman. While other girls on my block were dreaming of Robby Benson and Parker Stevenson, I was setting my alarm to get up at 3am to see a Robert Mitchum movie. The best nights were the ones where a Barbara Stanwyck film followed.
As much as I enjoyed the movies and magazines, what I really loved were imageNana’s stories of her older brother Al. Al was a bandleader who had his own club in the D. C. area in the 1940’s. I was fascinated with the photos of his orchestra and the many acts that had performed in his club. I could picture William Powell and Myrna Loy sipping martinis and watching as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glided around the dance floor.image
Just like all good Hollywood pictures, Al Norton’s life had a dramatic end. Nana told me many times how her brother, dejected by the woman he loved, died of a broken heart in his kitchen. Many years later I found a newspaper clipping about his death that revealed the truth; it wasn’t so much his broken heart that killed him as it was the gas on his stove he had purposefully turned on. Nana would never admit to that, but would tell me two notes were left. She burned hers after reading it.image
Though I never met this man, he has been a great influence on my life; from the books I read to the cocktails I drink. When I find a delightful book like Design for Dying or watch I Love Lucy reruns, I can’t help wishing to be sent back to that glamorous era.

Readers,
If you could be transported back in time, where would you want to go? Would you want to meet one of your ancestors or a famous historical figure?

The Detective’s Daughter – The Summer Reading List

 

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Kim in Baltimore surviving the heat.

What do Jaws, The Eye of the Needle, Where Are the Children, and Valley of the Dolls have in common? They are a few of the books I remember my mom reading when I was a child. Every day, whether she was sitting on the front steps or in the car waiting for Dad to come out of work, Mom was always reading a book.

Last summer, as I was moseying about in the East Village, I picked up a well-worn copy of Rosemary’s Baby in The Strand. By the next day I’d read it cover to cover. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I remembered Mom reading the book years ago.image
Each week we took a trip to the Enoch Pratt library where Mom would walk out with an armful of novels she’d have read long before our next visit. By the time I was fourteen we were both reading Mary Higgens Clark, Phyllis Whitney and Barbara Michaels.

Throughout the years I’ve read Gone With the Wind more times than I can count. I have Mom’s battered copy locked on the shelves of my desk. I take it out just to hold sometimes, remembering Mom sitting in her folding chair, with her cigarettes and iced tea at her side, flipping the pages of the latest book she’d borrowed.

Dad was not much of a reader other than the morning and Sunday editions of The Baltimore Sun. However, one week Mom checked out The Godfather from the library and before she had her iced tea poured and her cigarette lit, Dad was absorbed in the novel. It’s the only book Mom and I ever recall seeing Dad read.

I’ve thought often about the books Mom has read and decided this summer to make them my reading list. I could cross off Rosemary’s Baby and Gone With the Wind; they are books I will read time and again. It wasn’t hard to come up with titles, but I needed to keep it compact. There’s only so many weeks in summer! Here’s what I came up with:image

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Jaws by Peter Benchley
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
Window on the Square by Phyllis A. Whitney
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

I’ve finished reading Valley of the Dolls and am well into the Phyllis Whitney book. I unfortunately began watching Mad Men the same time I was reading Dolls. It was depressing reading and seeing how little freedom and respect women were given. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch another episode of Mad Men!

As I’ve compiled these books and read through them I’ve thought about what these titles say about my mom. Why do we select the titles that we do? Why are some inclined to read only mystery while others enjoy the classics? Is the genre you prefer inherited or learned?
I spoke to Mom this morning and asked her why she chose certain books. “They seemed interesting,” she said. She wasn’t particularly aware if they were best sellers or if a movie deal was in the works, she just enjoyed reading. I think that’s the part I inherited.
Hope you’re enjoying your summer reading.

Readers: Please share with us the titles of books you have read more than once and why.

The Detective’s Daughter – Who Are You?

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Kim, in Baltimore, enjoying the first day of summer.
I have over one thousand photos stacked in several boxes around my office. I’ve begun to sort them into piles for other members of my family, the majority of them are of my Uncle Roy and his family. My grandmother had seven siblings (Madeleine, Leona, Thomas, Albert, Mildred and Leroy) and two step-siblings (Charles and Annie), so there are quite a few photos to go over.

For the most part, I have enjoyed sifting through them; remembering good times or seeing events from a long ago past. Because my grandmother spoke often of her family, and because I knew most of them, I was able to recognize nearly everyone in the photos.image
It was all going quickly until I came across a photo of a woman I didn’t recognize. Then there was another. Soon I had a box just for the unidentified.
I posted them on Facebook hoping someone would know them, but they remain nameless. My work table is now covered with their faces. Every night I sit staring at them, searching for any clue of who they might have been. It troubles me not knowing. Are we all so easily forgotten?
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I reexamine group photos hoping to find them in one, but I have yet to discover where they fit in with my family. There are a few I’ve made up my own stories about, others I just shuffle back into their spot. As much as I want to organize and condense the amount of things I have, I am hesitant to part with these photos. The photographs should be cherished. These people were loved and an important part of someone’s life. They must have meant a great deal to my grandmother or else she would not have kept them.image

In the evenings over the past week, I’ve gone over the photos I have personally taken and have carefully written the names, places and dates on each one. No one will be forgotten.

Readers, how do you keep your photos? Are they framed or in albums, or is everything digital now?

 

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

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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?