published Friday, August 10th, 2012

Leber: End of an era -- saying goodbye to snowballs and history

I'm dismayed. Appalled. Stunned.

My mother just told me Fields is closing.

That means nothing to any of you who aren't from Pikesville, Baltimore County, Md. Imagine there was an establishment you'd been patronizing since you were a child. Your mother went there when she was a child, and maybe your grandmother did as well. If you have kids, you've taken your children there, too.

That's Fields for me.

It's a 120-year-old lunch counter/cosmetics store/card shop/pharmacy (the pharmacy part closed in 1998) -- think a mini version of Woolworth's. It's been a part of my life since before I can remember. What I do remember are the chairs with the thick blue plastic mesh seats on which I used to bounce enthusiastically, the chocolate sodas, the waitress who has never changed and who calls everyone "hon." (That actually describes every waitress in Baltimore, since the beginning of time.)

I remember french fries and gravy -- for anyone who has ever seen "Diner," Barry Levinson was not making that up. Trips to Fields are the only times I remember my mother eating hot dogs, split lengthwise, wrapped in a piece of bologna and cooked on a grill. I ate chicken fingers there long after I was old enough to know that chicken fingers, while delicious, are not a nutritious meal.

I went to Fields every time I visited my grandparents, and every time I've been in Baltimore since they both passed. When I was young, my grandmother used to let me excuse myself from the table after we ordered so I could go look at toys or cards or, later, makeup.

And the snowballs. Oh, my goodness, the snowballs. Snowballs are a real Baltimore treat. Far, far superior to the Hawaiian shaved ice we enjoy (or ignore) during the warmer months here, Baltimore snowballs are rough shaved to avoid the rapid melting into a watery mess. Best of all, they are traditionally topped with marshmallow sauce. Fields chocolate-with-marshmallow snowballs are my family's absolute favorite.

And now they're going to be gone.

I hate that this is happening. I just hope that it's replaced by a good family business that adds some character to the area. If 120 years of history ends up being replaced by a Cracker Barrel, I am going to be thoroughly annoyed.

Right now though, I'm a little bit heartbroken.

Despite the abundant amount of time I spent in Pikesville during my life, and the familial connection there, I have never actually lived there except for the summer of 1985, when I stayed with my grandparents because a new house, a new baby and a mischievous, glory-seeking 5-year-old would have driven my poor parents beyond the edge of sanity.

After my grandparents died, visits there became more rare. It's actually been about three years since I've been to Baltimore, and thus the same amount of time since I've been to Fields.

But it's been a part of life, always. That town, those streets, the house that no longer belongs to us, and I hate that it no longer belongs to us.

Fields. The counter. The way it's smelled the same since the 1980s. The bouncing blue chairs. The snowballs.

I thought it would always be a place I could go back to, that it would always be waiting for me.

My mother said she wants to buy the snowball machine. I hope she can. I'd love to have a piece of that history. Plus, I'd love to be able to have snowballs whenever I visit my parents.

She'll have to find out where to buy the right kind of marshmallow.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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