Mother of 10 found second career as merchant


AT FIRST GLANCE, IT would appear that the story of Charlotte Nicodemus, while fascinating, is shared by many of her generation.

She was born in 1920, went to college, married soon after and stayed home to raise her family.

She gave birth to 10 children in 20 years: two sons -- the youngest and oldest -- and eight daughters, including one set of twins.

But then you hear about the Parasol, a consignment shop in quaint, little Lisbon that Charlotte opened after the children started growing up. Many say Charlotte has come to mean so much to this community that people come to the shop on Whitefoot Alley behind the Citgo station on Route 144 as much to see her as for her merchandise.

The building that houses the Parasol is not much to look at. But inside is a myriad of delicately decorated paper and parchment parasols, huge hand-hewn rough wooden ceiling beams and an assortment of tastefully displayed items.

The Parasol is a shop that has an ambience that reflects its surroundings in Lisbon, where beautifully preserved older homes and storefronts evoke the charm of a bygone era. A cash register nearing its 100th birthday sits on a counter near the door.

Only a few minutes past the 10 a.m. opening on a recent Saturday, Charlotte was busy tending to customers interested in a solid, wooden executive desk.

An attractive, tall, slender woman with short, well-coiffured gray hair and sparkling green eyes, Charlotte radiates a warmth that makes visitors feel welcome in her store. It is easy to see what is so special about the Parasol's proprietor.

Charlotte Kuhns was born in Baltimore the year Warren G. Harding was elected president. She graduated from St. Mary's Junior College in St. Mary's -- now St. Mary's College -- and married Howard Nicodemus in 1942. In 1944, the day after she came home from the hospital with their second child, Howard -- Howdy to his friends -- left for World War II.

In 1950, the growing Nicodemus family moved to Woodbine, where Charlotte and Howard still live. Howdy purchased a car dealership where the Citgo station now stands and acquired a Chrysler-Plymouth franchise.

He eventually sold the business but kept a large outbuilding in back, renting part of it to an auto body shop. Charlotte raised the children and tended to home and garden. While she says she loved every minute, by the time her youngest child was 12 she was ready for a change.

"It's in my nature to be busy," she says. "And with children leaving the nest one by one, I wasn't as busy as I had been. Unfortunately, I had no experience at anything except motherhood and PTA functions. And even with the PTA I was always only vice president, not president, because I was always pregnant."

With well-developed people skills and a love of antiques -- but without the capital to start a business -- Charlotte decided to open a consignment shop. She approached her husband about renting the unoccupied half of his body shop building.

"If I clean it up, can I have it?" she asked. The answer was yes. The Parasol opened in 1975 just as secondhand was becoming fashionable.

Charlotte accepts women's and children's clothing, furniture and bric-a-brac for consignment. Clothing is a big seller, but Charlotte's real passion is the furniture.

Her furniture room is decorated with her not-for-sale collection of wooden antique ironing boards. Charlotte, who traded her station wagon for a van, no longer drives around to auctions and sales, so she relies on her good customers to bring their treasures to her.

"I wanted some other interest in my life," said Charlotte, "and I certainly have found it here. My greatest asset is my customers."

Her customers might not agree about her greatest asset.

Most of the parasols that hang from Charlotte's ceiling were brought in unsolicited by friends she acquired through her business. Customers says visits with her can be therapeutic. They talk, she listens, and friendships begin. On days when she is not in her shop, people ask, "Where is Charlotte? I have something to tell her."

Donna Honeywell of Mount Airy echoed the feelings of many when she said, "I really enjoy coming to the Parasol. It is so relaxed, and nobody bothers you. Charlotte is just a delightful person. People come here to shop and to spread a little news. She provides a great service to people who come and talk to her. She is a very special lady."

The Parasol is not just Charlotte's business, it is her love. She nurtures it just as she has nurtured her 10 children, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Daughter Ann Titherington of Dayton has nothing but admiration for her mother's independence and initiative. She sees her mom as a feminist role model, a bundle of energy and a gracious lady.

"To think that at the age of 78 she would still be moving furniture and having fun doing it should be an inspiration to us all," says Ann.

Charlotte is proud of her independence. She continues to pay her husband rent for her shop. "Howdy could rent this building any time," she says. "He could easily make other use of it."

And she finds her age an asset in this. "As I've gotten older, I've done things I thought I'd never have the courage to do," she says.

The Parasol is open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Golf tournament

Cattail Creek Country Club in Glenwood was the site of a golf championship Monday to benefit the American Cancer Society. It featured former Oriole great Boog Powell, the honorary chairman.

Proceeds from the outing will be donated to Hope Lodge, the cancer society's home away from home for patients receiving treatment in Baltimore.

Hope Lodge provides friendly surroundings, transportation service and activities -- free -- for people who otherwise would have to make daily commutes or stay in expensive hotels.

Call 410-931-6850 to find out about corporate sponsorships for next year's tournament or information about how to help with this project.

Library program

The Howard County Public Library is sponsoring "Grandparents Give the Best Hugs," a story and activity program to be presented at 10: 30 a.m. Sept. 14 to children ages 2 to 5 at the branch at 710 Lisbon Center Drive, Woodbine. Grandparents are invited to attend with their grandchildren.

Registration will begin at 10: 30 a.m. Monday and can be made in person or by calling 410-489-4290.

St. Louis dance

Dance, dance, dance Sept. 19 to the music of the 1940s, '50s, fTC '60s and '70s in the auditorium of St. Louis School, west of routes 108 and 32 in Clarksville.

Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the dance will feature disc jockey Keith Thomas, who will play, on request, favorites ranging from Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller to Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys.

The $15-per-person price includes food, beer and soda. Doors open at 7: 30 p.m. Dancing will be from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Tickets will be sold at the door, or mail checks payable to the Knights of Columbus to P.O. Box 0085, Clarksville 21029.

Information or table reservations: Ronald Fiskum, 410-531-5124.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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