Countless times over the years, I walked into Fields of Pikesville, sat down on a swivel stool at its fabled lunch counter, ordered one of those legendary, uber-thick milkshakes, and chatted for a few minutes with the waitress, Sharon Arnberg.
I didn’t actually know her name at the time, but I knew her face pretty well. She was usually smiling. She had red hair and glasses, with a pencil nestled behind her ear, and appeared to be somewhere in her 60s. She was pleasant and amiable, but you could plainly see that she was a hard worker as well.
I also used to occasionally see her walking along Reisterstown Road, or hanging out at the Park Heights JCC, and think to myself, “Where do I know that lady from? Oh yeah, she works at Fields!”
Sharon was what I call a true-blue Pikesville character, and I often thought about getting to know her better and writing about her. I wish I had. She was one of those unheralded people you recognize in your community and enjoy seeing, just like those old, kitschy, blue-and-white plastic chairs in Fields’ dining area. (Man, I miss those chairs.)
And here I am, finally writing about Sharon. Unfortunately for a sad reason.
Sharon, who lived at Weinberg House, passed away the other day. Check out the Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home website and you’ll see dozens and dozens of people (mostly former customers) expressing their condolences and grief, saying how Sharon, in her kind, understated way, touched their lives.
For 36 years at Fields, and even before that as a waitress at the old Galley in the Alley restaurant in Pikesville, Sharon served them all. With her heart and soul.
Folks like Arlene Mirsky. Mirsky, who lives in Pikesville, got to know Sharon years ago when she used to go into Fields with her late father, Reuben Finkelstein. Sharon was there with a kind word and a smile, always interested in how their family was doing.
When Finkelstein eventually moved into a nursing home, Sharon used to go visit him there, especially when Arlene was out of town. She was just that kind of person. She cared about people. She had that empathy gene so many people seem to lack these days.
“Sharon cared about everyone and served everyone with love,” Arlene says. “She made you feel special. Her family were the people who came into the restaurant. She liked my dad because he was a real kidder.
“Sharon was just special.”
Everyone knew that, including her former boss at Fields, Jeff Levin, who eulogized Sharon at her May 17 funeral at Levinson’s, with Beth El’s Cantor Thom King officiating. Levin hired Sharon in 1976, and both of them were there on that sad August day in 2012 when Fields closed its doors forever.
“She certainly was a highly regarded employee, very cherished,” Levin, a man not given to hyperbole or over-sentimentality, told me the other day. “She touched a lot of people because of her gift for making people feel at ease and because she was really interested in them. It was a natural thing for her.
“She was a good employee and she did her work,” Levin says. “She understood it was a business and that you needed to help the customers first and foremost.”
One of Levin’s favorite Fields stories is when a newspaper sampled all of the milkshakes in the area and selected Fields as the best. “Sharon made that milkshake,” he says. “She just was a very competent server and a very good listener. She was conscientious. That’s something you can’t measure or manufacture, but she had it. It was in her soul.”
One thing Sharon was not, however, was a kvetch, a complainer, says Levin.
“Remember, when you’re a waitress, you’re on your feet all day long,” he says. “It takes a toll, especially when you get older. But she didn’t complain and she didn’t really miss any time from work. Even when she once sprained her ankle, she was back the next day. That was Sharon, a first-rate employee.”
When Sharon was in failing health toward the end of her life, she didn’t even bother mentioning it to Arlene Mirsky when they occasionally chatted on the phone. That wasn’t her style. She preferred to be upbeat and hear how others were doing.
“Sharon was a wonderful person, a wonderful character,” Arlene says, “and I’m really going to miss her.”
A lot of people will, even if they were like me and didn’t really know her name. I only wish I would’ve written about her when she was still with us. She would’ve known how many people she genuinely touched.
Turns out Sharon Arnberg was the real deal. May her memory always be a blessing for all of us who encountered her.
Photo of Sharon Arnberg taken from YouTube
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