Although some customs have changed — and in spite of omnipresent ear buds and texting — the custom of greeting people still exists.
I remember my grandfather lifting his hat as he passed, without speaking to, the female supervisors on our school playground. He lifted it when he passed a neighbor coming into his apartment building and removed it when we stepped inside the ancient elevator there.
Except for baseball caps, few men today wear hats. It is refreshing to see them removed in a house or restaurant. Removing the hat is a simple way of acknowledging the presence of others and of showing respect.
Greeting passersby is too, although speaking to every person on a city street is unnecessary. The streets and footpaths in Roland Park, however, lend themselves to friendly greetings.
Nice surprises sometimes happen as a result. Take for example a former neighbor, Nancy Lord Lewin, who was walking down Roland Avenue one recent weekday morning. She had taken her daughters to Roland Park Elementary/Middle School and was headed home. When she reached the library, she saw a man in his 70s wearing running shoes and a 10K race shirt.
She said, "Good morning," and then the two exchanged pleasantries. They both turned onto Longwood Road, and the man asked if she lived around there. When she replied that she lived on Edgevale, he said that he had grown up in Baltimore and had spent his adult life as a doctor in Nashville, but now lived in Florida.
As the two walked down Longwood Road, she asked where he was headed.
"I'm walking down the way here on Longwood Road to a house where a friend grew up," he said. "I spent a lot of time there."
Nancy said her father also grew up on Longwood Road. The man asked his name, and Nancy said, "Chick Lord."
That stopped the conversation. The man gave a long pause, then finally said, "I'm going to his house!"
The man's childhood friend was Harry, Chick's brother. The two had kept in touch after spending a lot of time at Harry's house in their youth. Nancy accompanied the man to the house where her uncle and her late father had lived. They talked for more than an hour, and together they called her uncle on her cell phone.
When the two parted ways, the man said to Nancy, "Your father did a great job."
What a gift to a daughter, especially two weeks before Father's Day and to one who has lost her father.
The day after I heard Nancy's story, I was not at home in Roland Park, but out in the Hamptons for a wedding. Our hostess, my husband and I took a morning to go to the Pollock-Krasner house in a less glitzy area of East Hampton known as The Springs. This is the area where many abstract Expressionists, including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and Willem de Kooning, lived and worked.
We stopped at the gas station/general store, where Pollock had sometimes traded paintings for food. The old pumps are still there. The floor is wood. The screen door snaps.
My husband was wearing a faded New York Times hat as he entered the store. A woman, wearing a New York Times lanyard, stopped him and asked if he worked at the paper. As he removed his cap, he explained that no, it was a gift from a friend who works there.
I joined the conversation, and we chatted with the woman for 10 minutes.
"People from the Springs speak to each other," the woman said before we all started shopping.
As we left, I thought of a memorable time when I had spoken to a stranger. My sister, her family and I were sitting at a lunch after my nephew's college graduation. We were lingering at a long table to enjoy a final visit with him and his friends at their college.
A couple sitting beside me had to leave for another graduation, so their two places became empty. In a few minutes another man and a woman who appeared to be his daughter entered the dining room. They came and sat in the seats beside me, with the woman right next to me.
After the woman spoke to one of the boys, I introduced myself to her. She replied, "I'm Eileen Growald, and this is my father, David Rockefeller."
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You just never know whom you might greet.