Some memories just stick with you, no matter how much you try to shake ’em off. And more often than not, these recalled events happened while you were eating, perhaps at a posh restaurant, a friendly neighborhood noshery, in a relative’s dining room or your own kitchen. Of course, they’re not always about the food but the people.
I’ll never forget having a breakfast meeting at Miller’s Deli in Pikesville one wintry Friday morning when the late, great Jerry Esterson bounded through the doorway. A bespectacled man with a mischievous smile, Jerry was a prolific commercial photographer and a community scenester, always quick with an amusing anecdote about some showbiz type or politician he’d recently snapped. A true Pikesville character who grew up on Ulman Avenue in Lower Park Heights, Jerry and I hadn’t seen each other in several years.
After walking into Miller’s and noticing me wave at him, Jerry snapped his fingers in the air like a matador, turned quickly on his heels and walked out toward the snowy parking lot.
“Something I said?” I asked my colleague sitting across the booth. A few minutes, Jerry returned, walked up to us and dramatically slammed down his hand on the table surface in front of me. When he pulled his palm away, much to my surprise and horror, there was a wrinkled, weathered newspaper clipping of myself, at the highly awkward age of 13, in a kippah and tallit. It was my bar mitzvah portrait and announcement.
Swallowing hard, as my colleague laughed uproariously, I said, “Um, Jerry, why exactly do you have that? And why are you doing this to me?”
Jerry explained that his wife, Lois, made him clean out all the old newspapers and magazines in their Ranchleigh basement. From what I gathered, it was something akin to the cluttered, musty catacombs of the Library of Congress, or at least how I imagine them.
While poring over thousands of pages of Life, Sports Illustrated and myriad local periodicals — just trying to make sure nothing “important” was discarded, and thus cheating posterity — Jerry happened to see my ancient bar mitzvah announcement and immediately cut it out. (There may have been an ad for Cohen’s Clothiers next to the dreaded announcement, but who can remember?)
“I figured one of these days I’d run into you somewhere and give it to you, so I put it in the trunk of my car,” he said. When I asked how long he’d been driving around with this dog-eared announcement of my entrance into Jewish adulthood flailing around in his cavernous trunk, he said, without hesitation, “Oh, I don’t know, probably seven or eight years now.”
Sadly, quirky, colorful characters like Jerry, once so plentiful in these parts like bison on the plains, are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. They live on in our hearts and memories, as well as on the pages of such books as Michael Olesker’s “Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore” and “Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album” by Gilbert Sandler.
Nonetheless, Charm City remains a great haven to grab a bite and see an old friend, with amazing culinary options by the score and popping up seemingly on a daily basis, contributing tremendously to the fabric of our town and its cultural life. Please enjoy our annual “Food Issue,” chronicling the vibrant food scene around us and helping Baltimore retain its reputation as a city with truly great taste.
Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief