Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Tough Ladies of Locust Point

Locust Point is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Baltimore.  It is slowly being gentrified from a rough working class area into an up and coming neighborhood with trendy bars and remodeled classic Baltimore row houses.  The old concrete silo's and warehouses are now becoming attractive condominiums.  The old form stone covered row houses are now dwarfed by these renovated towers and apartments honoring both the past and the future of this neighborhood.

I started spending time in Locust Point last year.  It's a neighborhood I had not given much thought to in many years.   I was out on one of my photo walks last spring and found myself in the heart of South Baltimore, the Locust Point neighborhood.  My father had sisters who lived in this neighborhood when I was young.  It was a rough working class area that could be dangerous at times.  We would go down to South Baltimore to visit his sisters always making sure all the car doors were locked before leaving the car and watching over our shoulders as we walked to their houses.  When we got ready to leave my Aunts would' always warn us to be careful walking back to the car.  This was the Locust Point of the 1950's.

The lady on the left is my Dad's mother Margaret Sampson.  The lady on the left is his sister Stella.  They lived in this South Baltimore neighborhood.  My Dad's sisters Agnes and Margarette also lived in South Baltimore.   My father's sister Anna Mary lived on the north east side of Baltimore not far from where I live now.  But she traveled by bus each day to Locust Point to work along with Stella and Agnes at the box factory.  They were hard working ladies.  They were not the June Cleavers or Donna Reed's from the television shows.   They were the working class "Roseanne" types of ladies who were worked hard to help support their families.  I have very faint memories of my Grandmother Margaret Sampson.  She died in 1955 when I was three years old.  I have a very brief memory of seeing her at my Aunt Kate's house but no memory of her voice or actions. I was told she loved little boys and would try to hold me on her lap although she was very ill with uterine cancer at the time.

One day last week I found the old box factory where my Aunts used to work.  It still looks like a rough place to work.  Agnes, Stella and Anna Mary all three worked here for many years.  They were all three tiny little Welsh/Irish women.  Stella and Anna Mary looked small and fragile.  Agnes looked tough.  She had tattoo's on her arms and this was in the 1950's before tattoos were acceptable.  But appearances can be deceiving.  Stella and Anna Mary looked fragile but they were as tough as Agnes.  These were not ladies you wanted to mess with.  They worked hard, they liked their beer, and they were not afraid to finish an argument or a fight.  But they were also loving and kind ladies who were proud of their families and would take care of each other.   They would embrace your and kiss you cheek one moment and then let out a profanity that would shock a sailor the next.  When I go to Locust Point today I feel like they are with me.  I can sense them around me when I walk down there taking photos with my camera. I can't go to this area and not think of them.  I didn't know them all that well growing up.  Of all of my father's Baltimore sisters I knew Stella and Anna Mary the best.  Agnes and Margarette were more distant to me.  I only met or saw Margarette a few times usually at family funerals.  She was a large woman and quite loud also and I remember finding her kind of scary as a child.  .  I saw Agnes more often than Margarette but not as often as Stella or Anna Mary.

I walked past the box factory to take my photo and I could almost imagine those three sisters, Agnes, Anna Mary, and Stella standing inside working hard, sweating, and waiting to get off work to walk down to one of the corner bars in South Baltimore for that cold beer they loved so much.  I have a favorite bar in Locust Point now also.  It's quite different from any that they would have recognized.  There are large screen TV's broadcasting the World Cup.  The beer served is craft beer both local and from around the world.  I am not sure how they would have reacted to this.  I don't know if they would have traded their traditional bottles of Natty Boh for one of my craft beers or not.   They probably would have laughed at the idea of watching soccer, not cared for the really hoppy beers, and probably punched out anyone who crossed them.

When I became an adult and we had a family funeral I was given the job to drive the Aunts back to Baltimore City afterwards.  Not one of them had a car or drove.  They lived in the city.  They didn't a car.  We had a funeral for one of my Uncle's during the winter one year.  It had started to snow during the funeral.  Afterwards I had to drive Aunt Anna Mary back her home not far from where I live now.  At the time it seemed a great distance to me though.  As we drove the snow started coming down harder.  Aunt Mary was in the front seat with me.  Her husband Walt was in the back seat.  I don't think I ever heard Walk say a word.  He was very quiet and Aunt Mary always took charge.  I could tell she was getting concerned about the snow.  I thought she was nervous about us driving in the snow.  I told her I was used to to driving in the snow so there was nothing to be concerned about.  Walt laughed out loud.  One of the few times I ever heard him speak.  He said "She's not afraid of your damned driving.  She's afraid she doesn't have any beer at home and might get snowed in!"  She looked over at me and smiled and said "Can you stop at the liquor store on the way to our house."    With the snow coming down I really wanted to just get back home to Harford County before the roads got any worse, but I agreed to stop and pick up a six pack for her.  I parked the car near the liquor store.  Walt stayed in the car while Anna Mary and I went inside the store.  I picked up a six pack for her and she looked at me like I was crazy. " Put that back she snapped at me.  We could be in for a blizzard."  We left the store with two cases of beer.  When it snows in Baltimore people rush out for toilet paper and milk.  Aunt Mary rushed out for a case of Natty Boh.

At another family funeral I was assigned to take Aunt Stella and Aunt Aggie back to South Baltimore afterwards.  They enjoyed the ride home and we talked non stop.  They both called me Little Larry for some reason.  I was never sure why but I never minded it.  They laughed and told me family stories that I had never heard before.  And these two white haired grandmothers were not afraid or ashamed to drop the "f bomb" a couple of hundred times during that forty minute drive.  When I arrived at Aunt Stella's house she told me she would love to have me come in for a few minutes if I didn't mind.  I said sure.  I was enjoying her company and wanted to talk some more.  She said she had to check the house first though and asked me to wait in the car.  She came back to the car all upset and cussing up a storm.  "That f#*king husband of mine isn't home and the friggin pit bulls  are running lose in the house.  They'll rip your leg off if you try to come in."  This was the last time I ever saw Aunt Stella.  But I will never forget that moment.


  1. Loved this!! Shelly looks like Stella.

  2. Larry, love your post about your aunts. They remind me of some of my fathers family what with the cases of beer and storms. My uncles played instruments, guitar and harmonica, we all sang and played cards of Fridays along with their cases of beer. Lol.