Father's Day hooky sparks fond appreciation for fine city


This column was to have been a review of a concert presented by a fledgling chamber ensemble and a talented local soprano at St. John's on Sunday afternoon.

I never got there. I confess. On a breezy Father's Day in downtown Annapolis, I played hooky from the arts beat. With wife, children and friends on hand to tramp the streets with me on a cool June day, the temptation was too great.

While browsing the book and antique shops of Maryland Avenue, checking out the heap-big moving sale at Be-Beep Toys and people-watching at City Dock, it occurred to me that downtown Annapolis has been extremely conducive to enlightened fatherhood over my years here and that, on Father's Day, the hometown deserves a salute.

The talented career woman whom I married often works on the weekend mornings and, since she frequently works out of our home, that translates into an affectionate "scram" to me and our two kids.

And vamoose we do, often straight into Annapolis, where this dad's time with the children becomes a real treat.

The tour begins at the Green Street playground, a fine place for kids to start working off some of that Saturday or Sunday morning moxie. There's plenty of climbing, swinging and sliding to be done by all, but my two put their personal imprimatur on this kiddie spot years ago.

Benjamin, the 5-year-old, crawls into a wooden tube that becomes his magazine store. He calls me over, tells me what magazines he sells (they're so weird) and, as I select them, he tells me he's all out of them. When I get indignant, his cackles can be heard at the brunch over at Juan Alfredo's.

Joann, 7, used to climb the curved slide and, as I began lecturing her pompously about the meaning of existence, she'd gleefully slide down and around, leaving me talking to myself.

Well, who can suffer this abuse for long? It is time to begin the day's trek with a jaunt over to the Be-Beep Toy Store.

Be-Beep is a pleasant, higgledy-piggledy place that's one of the nicest upscale kiddie emporiums I've ever encountered. Manager Barbara Smith creates an environment that is inviting, informative and decidedly non-hostile to those who browse rather than buy in bulk. There are trains, tops, dolls and swords everywhere and the sterility of the mall stores is nowhere to be found.

Old-time Annapolitans frequently decry the demise of the "mom and pop" establishments as the national chains have proliferated on pricey Main Street, but the Nature Company will get no argument from me.

What a great place this is to hang out with kids. There are nature videos, posters, telescopes, globes, stones, gems, gizmos, gadg

ets, T-shirts, key chains that sound like crickets, key chains that sound like birds, key chains that sound like frogs and even a running fountain to keep us amused. There are always interesting things to look at and "noodge" Daddy into buying for you. Chain store or not, it's an indispensable stop on the tour.

There are others.

David Grobani, proprietor of the funky Briarwood Book and Card Shop on Maryland Avenue has a wonderfully mellow dog named Annie who occasionally spends her days snoozing in the store. As I bargain hunt and kibitz with David, the kids pet and talk to the dog.

The personal touch continues come lunchtime. Chick and Ruth's not only serves up hot dogs and grilled-cheese sandwiches for hungry kids (and corned beef for hungry dads) but chances are that proprietor and sometime magician Ted Levitt will stop by, say hello, and pull a handkerchief out of his finger as you munch.

Back down the street, you can not only buy fudge for dessert at Lennon's Fudge, but you can watch it being slopped on that marble tabletop, and shoveled and cooled before your eyes as the candy maven on duty explains the whole process.

To walk it all off, there is the stroll to the ducks at the dock, some boat-watching (Benjamin used to go "gaga" for the fireboat) and a stop at Crown Books. OK, it's soulless as bookstores go, but it sports the panoply of Berenstein Bears books, so don't knock it!

These days, the walk back to the car includes a stroll through Heaven on Earth, a store where kids of all ages can play with the fascinating Rain Sticks handcrafted by Annapolis' own Dusty Moore, as well as many other wonderful objects.

Well, we've reached the car. But with Annapolis, I tell you, it's a playground out there; a playground responsible for many hours of happy fathering for which I am grateful in the afterglow of Father's Day '92.

I am also thrilled to report that on Saturday morning my only sibling -- my sister Francey -- gave birth to a daughter who has all of us very excited. When little Jordan Fay visits us in the years to come, I bet Annapolis proves itself as amenable to "unclehood" as it's been to fatherhood.

Phil Greenfield teaches at Annapolis High School and, when he isn't playing hooky, reviews theater and classical music for the Anne Arundel County Sun.

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