Editor’s note: Click and to read Parts I and II of our Orchard Hills Series.
Sharon Patterson Denitto felt she never really got to say goodbye to Orchard Hills.
She spent a childhood on Warwick Drive in the 1950s and 60s, but was flabbergasted, while attending college in Texas in 1966, to learn her family had sold the house and moved to Florida.
Orchard Hills was no longer the neighborhood she’d ever come home to.
She didn’t come back again until 1986, and when she did, she felt a bit like an oddball.
“I had never, ever gone back to the house,” said Sharon, who now lives with her husband, Gary, in Sarasota, FL. She and Gary had spent years traveling overseas in the Foreign Service, raising their daughters, when eventually they were required to return to the United States.
Sharon’s desire for closure caught up with her.
“My husband drove me up to see the house. We were sitting there, and a woman came out and wanted to know what we were doing there,” said Sharon, who had tried to look inconspicuous, parked outside her old house. She grappled with her emotions, but knew she was attracting attention from the watchful homeowner.
“I said, ‘I used to live in this house, and never got to say goodbye to it,’” Sharon said.
The woman, reassured, invited her inside, and the memories came flooding back.
“I went in the front door, and there was the house, just as I remembered it,” Sharon said.
There was the step-down living room, and there were the stairs where she had descended, feeling like a queen, dressed for the night of her first prom. There was the kitchen, and the backyard through the windows. There was the bedroom window flowerbox, where she had hidden her cigarettes as a teenager. There was the basement, with the same bar her father had built.
The basement’s wood paneling he’d installed, however, was now painted white.
“My father had this wild idea when he got the wood paneling up, and it was real wood, not sheet paneling,” Sharon said. “He actually took a drill of some sort and made these grooves all over it.”
And there were the grooves… just white.
Sharon was 39 years old when she finally said goodbye to her old house that day, but she felt like she was 8 again. Today, at age 64, she feels the same way, remembering the new neighborhood that was still being built when she moved in, in 1955.
“There were a lot of dirt roads,” Sharon said. “I don’t even think we had a full sidewalk at the time. We would go outside, there was no grass, and we would come home covered in mud, which would just horrify our mothers. I remember a lot of housewives working in the yards where there were no flowers or grass in shorts and halters, while the construction men roamed around.”
This was the age of the eggs and milk in glass bottles, delivered to the doorsteps, and telephones that used the party line. These were the years where Sharon wore saddle shoes and was content at a picnic, sucking on a lemon wedge through a peppermint stick.
This was the era when riding a bike down a hill felt like flying, and trudging back up was your biggest worry.
Sharon was friendly with some neighboring girls—two Susans, Candy and little sister Jaci, and Sharon’s own little sister Becky. The new community was slowly becoming more and more populated.
“We would roam all over the neighborhood, in the houses still being built, and collect the mosaic tiles scattered in the houses, that weren’t being used,” Sharon said. “We’d glue them together and make little placemats.”
The girls also threw fairs in their backyards—easy to do when there were no fences yet—and hopped in a neighbor’s brand new “Esther Williams” above-ground swimming pool for the allowed half-hour a day.
“We all died for that one half-hour to go swimming in the Esther Williams pool,” Sharon said.
One particular winter brought all the girls, and their parents, together.
“The snow was literally up to the second floor bedroom—it was huge high drifts,” Sharon said. “The men got out there and made little canals so people could get from one house to another.”
The Pattersons had a gas stove in their kitchen—many other neighbors had electric stoves, and the power was out.
“They came over to our house where the women sat around, drank coffee and talked,” Sharon said. “Us kids went and played games in the basement, because we had the gas fireplace. The men went over to Candy and Jaci’s house and played poker all day. Everyone could not move for a week.”
Sharon’s sister Becky remembers digging igloos into the drifts that came to her bedroom window.
Seasons passed. Becky remembers sitting on the curb, in the summertime, popping the tar bubbles in the new road, waiting for the ice cream man. Sharon remembers staying outside until 10 p.m. catching lightning bugs. Becky, five years younger but so tall, had to switch desks with Sharon at Lutherville Elementary School when she was in first grade and Sharon was in sixth, because her legs were too long for the small desks, and Sharon’s were barely long enough for the big ones.
Sharon remembers walking to school while Becky remembers waiting for the bus. Memories are tricky things.
The girls always felt safe outside, even at night. A teenaged Sharon walked home from her job at the York Seminary Pharmacy, next to Food Fair on York Road, at 11 p.m. with the next day’s newspaper, a bag of chips, candy and magazines, and never felt frightened. She wound her way through the streets to her home, where she would read and listen to music all night.
“In the community, we could go anywhere, and our parents didn’t worry. It was so safe there,” Sharon said. “At 11 o’clock at night, I never felt afraid. It was such a safe neighborhood to walk around at night.”
Sharon was only 14 when she started working at the pharmacy, but she was hired because of a fib.
“I told them I was 16, and they hired me,” Sharon said. “I worked there for four years. When I turned 16, they thought I was graduating and they threw me a party. I said, Oops! I had to tell them I lied.”
Sharon skipped her senior prom to attend a double-header baseball game at Memorial Stadium. No stranger to Memorial Stadium, she’d been catching the trolley to 33rd Street, on her own, since she was 9. She had even been on the field. Her Towson High cheerleading squad cheered for Calvert Hall, on Thanksgiving Day, when they beat Loyola for the first time in 30 years.
Sharon graduated in 1965 and left for college in Texas in 1966. She never knew that was the end of her life in Orchard Hills and of the home she “knew every inch and corner of.” Today, she is fascinated to learn of the changes in the neighborhood, trying to see satellite images of the homes on Google Earth.
“Everything we had was small—the trees, everything,” Sharon said. “And then I looked at it on Google and I couldn’t believe how everything has grown.”
She added wistfully, “It has been 50 years. I have to keep remembering that.”
Sharon and Gary are currently packing to leave their Sarasota home to be closer to their two daughters and their two new grandchildren in England. They have been keeping in touch with their daughters using Skype, so we’re sure they’ll find the technology to keep reading Lutherville-Timonium Patch from overseas. We wish them luck and happiness in their new life.