The elderly woman entered the inn clutching a plastic bag o hot red peppers and green jalapenos between her gnarled fingers. Over a ruffled blue dress, she wore a wool sweater with a name tag that read: "Mrs. D. Hugh Wright, charter member, past president."
"I thought somebody might like hot peppers," the 80-year-old said by way of explanation.
Mrs. Wright didn't have to look far for takers. She had come to the Elkridge Furnace Inn Oct. 3 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Howard County Garden Club with 41 other women, including two other charter members.
During the salmon steak luncheon, Mrs. Wright and the other founding members -- Mrs. William Bickley and Mrs. Andrew Adams Sr. -- reminisced, trading news and stories. Although the women came together ostensibly to celebrate the club and gardening, their conversation touched on it only occasionally.
"You remember how Mrs. Lee would fall asleep and then they'd make her chairman of something and when she'd wake up there was nothing she could do about it?" Mrs. Bickley asked at one point.
All three howled with laughter.
During the afternoon, conversation shifted from children to grandchildren; from friends who were still alive to those who had died; and from how much Howard County had changed to how it used to be.
Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Bickley, who moved out of the county years ago, were shocked by the number of housing developments that had sprouted up on old family farms.
"I never saw anything like it in my life," said Mrs. Bickley, 77, who now lives near College Park. "So many houses. That's why I left."
Mrs. Adams still lives in the county and sees it a little differently. She and her husband own Ten Oaks Nursery in Clarksville. Residential development has created a huge market for their landscaping business. Columbia "was a lifesaver," she said.
The women, who wore hats and gloves to their meetings decades ago, also lamented how informal society has become. When a local photographer asked for their names to identify them for a newspaper photo, they insisted on using their husbands' first names instead of their own.
"I'm Mrs. Hugh Wright," Mrs. Wright said. "I'm tired of being Helen to people I don't know."
Mrs. Adams agreed, saying she did not like to be referred to as Mrs. Roberta Adams.
"That sounds like you're divorced," she said.
The three women seem to have remained active. Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Wright, who lives in northern Baltimore County, still attend meetings regularly.
Until six months ago, said Mrs. Adams, a spry 86, she worked at her nursery beginning at 7 each morning.
Mrs. Wright drove a green MG until a few years ago, when the chassis rusted out. She now drives a Ford Escort, which she finds far less exciting.
The Howard Garden Club began in 1932 as a group of friends meeting over tea to discuss flowers and gardening. When many of the members started having families, the meetings became luncheons so that members could greet their children when they arrived home from school.
The club holds luncheon meetings 11 times a year at the homes of some of its 40 members. During the meetings, members and others present informational programs with names such as "The Shady Garden" and "A Closer Look at Geraniums."
In addition to field trips, the club has done landscape design and plantings for the county historical society.
An interest in plants may have brought these women together, but it is companionship that keeps them that way.
"What I've learned about gardening is great, but I guess the foremost thing is the friendships," said Mrs. David Clarke, the club's current president.
"Today, anything that lasts 60 years is kind of a miracle."