The Waverly farmers market pops up like a mushroom once a week in a parking lot across the street from the library, evaporates at the stroke of noon and appears again seven days later, 52 weeks a year. It is part of my usual Saturday morning ritual.
On this day, it's an end-of-summer riot in a concrete oasis of sound, color and smell. Serious shoppers dart between casual browsers, babies in strollers take their parents for a spin, pierced and inked kids work their way toward the coffee stand, and romantic young couples try not to trip over others as they gaze into their beloved's eyes.
I stroll up and down the aisles to preview who has what for how much before diving in, although in the height of summer, "strolling" is a misnomer. It's more like swimming with a school of fish, going with the flow until you see something you want and working your way over into the eddies where you can tread water while you make your purchase before you are pulled back out into the current.
Vendors who know me by sight greet me warmly, which makes me feel like I belong (despite a whisper from my cynical alter-ego that "being nice is good for business"). We chitchat as I peruse their wares, mindful of the balance I am always trying to maintain between patronizing my favorite vendors and spreading my "largesse" around — a bad joke considering the meager size of my single-status purchases.
This has been my favorite market for 20 years, though it's been around for more than 30. I take personal pride in the perfumed bins overflowing with nubby Eastern Shore cantaloupes, the mountains of sweet white corn with baby teeth kernels, the glowing piles of local tomatoes. I feel an inordinate sense of ownership that moves me to promote this village market, which has the audacity to stay open year round, is strictly producer-only from May to December, and shuts down with the precision of a German train schedule when the clock strikes 12.
It must be the only place in Baltimore where you can listen to live free outdoor music every single week of the year. Where else can you go on any given weekend and hear a solo accordion player, a jazz sax duet, a trio of fiddlers — even on the most frigid of winter days?
In the early years I came here with my husband to celebrate food and companionship. We would return to the suburbs loaded with provisions and spend the rest of the weekend cooking and eating sunshine on a plate. Later, we came just to have something to do. Finally, we came because we had nothing else to do. In the end, the market was one of the last tenuous threads that held us together.
Coming back here shortly after my divorce filled me with some trepidation. But unexpectedly, that's when it really became my market. In search of a way to get out of my head, where things were looking rather bleak, I managed to hit the Saturday morning trifecta. I discovered one of Baltimore's mysterious Bermuda Triangles, what I like to call the Three Block (Or So) Rule.
In my quest to make new neural pathways of joy and connection, I could trek over to the Book Thing (three blocks) to offload gleanings from my personal library, offset by the inevitable uploading of treasures that still pepper my bookshelf today. Or I might claim a shady bench in the sculpture garden at the Baltimore Museum of Art (three blocks) to read the paper and pour my broken heart into my journal.
Almost always though, I ended the morning by sharing a couple of Danishes from the market with E, my aunt-in-law who lives at Roland Park Place (three blocks). Our visits, filled with cards, coffee and conversation, stretched into many lazy afternoons. That was my routine for the past four years.
Now change is upon me again. E has been ill and in declining health. The card game, which was the anchor of our long, schmoozey afternoons, dissolved a few months ago, and the visits now are much shorter.
The Book Thing burned down over the winter. Even when it is restored, it will never be the same, like a greasy spoon diner that gets a makeover. There was a patina of warehouse chic, dim musty corners and mismatched shelves that can never be replicated.
I am not the same either. I too am moving on to whatever comes next, graduating with a four-year degree in post-marital studies, enrolled in a masters program in dating and working on a PhD in life. I'm not sure what the future holds, but I do know one thing: The market will always be there for me if I need it.
Ruth Goldstein coordinates the Pikesville Speaker Series, presented by Friends of Pikesville Library, which kicks off its 15th season of 23 free weekly lectures Wednesday, Oct. 5th. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.