When I was a little girl, I read from an early age. I come from a family of big newspaper readers, and one of the first (and favorite) things I remember reading was the Brown section in the Sunday Sun, so-called because it was sepia in tone. Other kids may have pulled out the comics, but I pulled out the Brown section. It was full of wonderful photographs.
I didn't know whether the photographer was a man or a woman when I was that young, but his name was prominently displayed: A. Aubrey Bodine. He took photos that I found beautiful. They were black and white, translated into sepia. Even though they were common scenes, like the white marble steps in Baltimore, they were unlike any photos I had seen. My favorites were the series he took of Mount Vernon because, from the time I was 3, my mother would take me downtown each year to the Flower Mart. The Mount Vernon scenes were familiar, and I liked them better than the ships, the oysters or the hunt club.
Later, as an adult, I recall walking up Park Avenue with my mother. We were on the opposite side of the street when I looked over at a house with painted screens, something I had never seen before, and lovely green shutters. And I remember talking with my mother about the screens.
In the '70s I was living on Tyson Street. My neighbor, John Salconi, was looking to buy 823 Park Ave., a house owned by Nelson Hendler, a famous psychiatrist from the family that owned Hendler's Ice Cream. But Hendler said that if Salconi wanted to buy 823 Park Ave., he had to buy another property Hendler owned, 805 Park Ave. It was shabby and had lost its luster, but it was the house I had noticed with my mother. It was not as glamorous as 823; it was just a typical piece of Federal architecture. Salconi said I could buy it from him for what he paid for it.
Now, it just so happened that the house had belonged to A. Aubrey Bodine. And as I got to know the house, I got to know Bodine. He was eccentric. The house has many Bodine touches. In one of the glass panes appear the names A. Aubrey Bodine, Nancy Tate Bodine and Jennifer Beatty Bodine — inscribed as if cut with a diamond ring. The bookshelves he put in were a series of doors that he had adhered to the wall.
In one bathroom, there's a growth chart of Jennifer Bodine. My daughter, Greer Yeaton, was 3 when we moved in, and we did her growth chart on the other side of the doorjamb, opposite Jennifer's. Greer went to Roland Park Country School — so did Jennifer, though we didn't know that at the time. There were other similarities between Jennifer Bodine and my kids — Greer and her brother, Brook, who was 8 when we moved in.
I met Jennifer in '92, when I was working for "Homicide." She said that when she was growing up, the joke in the house was how cold it always was, especially in the back parlor. It was the same with us. We never architecturally changed the house — we never knocked a wall down or made a bathroom bigger. We wanted it to stay a textbook example of federal architecture. It has marble fireplaces, but it's not grand.
Bodine had taken all the woodwork down to the natural wood. I wasn't in the house for two years before I had all the wood painted! After I met Jennifer, she told me he was a maniac for natural wood. That's one point where we differ: Natural wood is my natural enemy.
Jennifer just put out a wonderful book of his photographs, Bodine's Baltimore, and in it you can see several pictures that were taken right out of the front window, going up Park. It's a great game, too — you see his picture of a Chinese laundry, and you wonder: What street was that on?
I liked knowing that all those Sun guys, likeH.L. Mencken and Richard Q. Yardley, spent time in that house playing cards. Bodine allegedly won the house in a card game — they say he was inebriated at the time — but he loved the house as much as I do. It's a peculiar house — it's a house with a soul, the house of my dreams. I know he and the house became entwined, and so did we. I don't think he lived long after he moved out of it. We moved into it in '76, and we're going out feet first.
As told to Sun critic Michael Sragow.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun