into to Baltimore society
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Intro to Baltimore Society, 1972

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After law school, my husband, Gary, clerked for the chief judge, Edward S. Northrop, on the Federal bench in Baltimore. Also on that court was Judge Abraham (names have been changed), the father-in-law of Gary’s moot court partner, Frank. Judge Abraham was given security protection because of a desegregation case that he was presiding over. During the trial Neo-Nazis would come into the courtroom and salute with “Heil Hitler.”

One day in late fall, Gary was in the elevator with Judge Abraham, who said “Frank and Paula are coming into town this weekend. Why don’t you and your wife come to the house, Saturday at seven.”

I am notoriously late. We were new to Maryland and living in Columbia at the time. We were not sure how long it would take us to get to their home in Baltimore County. With no GPS in those days and Gary, with his notorious bad sense of direction said, “We can’t be late, the judge was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.” We got there early and sat in our car for awhile until Gary thought maybe they will think we are those Nazis. We decided to go in and that started an evening of faux pas that obviously I’ve never forgotten.

Doing as my Mother Taught Me

My mother brought me up properly and that there were rules of etiquette to be followed. Besides being on time there were hoops to jump through before we got there: what to wear, what to bring. I was 25 with a body to match. It was the height of the mini-skirt. In the ’60s and ’70s, it was almost a mandatory trend, with boots. I was so proud of myself. I wore a red knit, long sleeve mini dress with an empire (also the style) navy velvet ribbon under the boobs. It matched the navy boots that also had blue velvet at their top near my knees. A navy purse finished the ensemble – I thought I was the cat’s meow. Gary wore a dark suit. Men are so lucky sometimes!

My mother taught me you couldn’t be invited to someone’s home without bringing something. Not wine, we were going to a judge! So I brought a box of candy, nicely wrapped at the store.

The Event

We rang the bell and it was answered by a black man in a formal uniform. What do I do? I had never been in that position before. If I put the candy down or gave it to the man, the wife wouldn’t know that I did as my mother raised me. If I held on to it, would it seem I didn’t trust him and be insulting?

Obviously, we were the first ones there. Eventually more people came, maybe 50! Most of the men wore suits, though some were in tuxedos but ALL THE WOMEN WERE IN LONG DRESSES! Even though I kept trying to pull down my dress, wool only has so much give. There wasn’t even furniture that came up to my hem.

We thought it was only going to be the family and us. Did 7:00 p.m. mean it was dinner or after? In case it was the latter, we decided to have a late lunch or snack, yet still be hungry enough to eat if it was dinner. There was a lovely array of appetizers like steak tartar, celery sticks filled with cream cheese topped with red caviar and the ilk. At 8:15 we assumed it was just a cocktail party, not dinner. Starving, we decided to dig in. At 9:00 it was announced the dinner buffet was in the library. That was followed by dessert.

I was so embarrassed but it was not my fault. On the way home we decided it was probably a formal dinner party, including invitations requesting RSVPs. When some people declined, the judge’s wife said, “Why don’t you invite Frank’s moot court partner and his wife.” She should have called me, not “sent a man to do a woman’s job.” Being a man, he gave Gary the minimal information.

Times have changed so things are different but ever since then, when I get an invitation I do a cross examination. I think when you invite someone to something, the cardinal rule is that they should have a good time. They won’t if they are made to feel uncomfortable and out of place. That is what I told couples when I was a wedding planner.



I give this illustration. We found a lost relative who designed outfits for Boy George. A friend of hers asked if she would design a black see-through bridal dress for her wedding. The relative said, “I can’t do that, I’m a nice Jewish girl. What will people think?!” She was finally persuaded to do it.

I explain that it is the bride’s day and she should get her wish since it only involves the couple. If someone doesn’t like the bridal dress, that’s their problem. If there isn’t food for guests to eat (i.e., kosher — today, vegetarian, gluten free etc.) that affects others. BTW, at the wedding the designer got five commissions.

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Read more by Ada Mark Strausberg.

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