Born in Baltimore and moved by the bridge disaster

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I was born in Baltimore at the end of 1961.

I was only in Charm City for the first months of my life, and was younger than a toddler when my mom and dad traveled back home to their native Philadelphia.

Both of them were down there on borrowed time: My father was finishing up his last year at the University of Maryland, College Park, and my mother found a job as a bank teller.

I remember my mother telling me on more than one occasion that she sometimes wished they could have stayed in Baltimore. She loved the city, used to take walks near the harbor which, to be honest, was not the grand and glorious inner harbor of the present day. Baltimore, like Philly, was a lived-in city with neighborhoods, people who had accents, strangers who smiled and the best seafood in the world.

It was a smaller cousin of her hometown, and she felt as if she could start over there. But they came home, and my first words were pronounced in a Philadelphia accent.

I wanted “wooder” in my sippy cup. And yet, for some strange reason, I have always had a profound love for my birth city.

If you asked me questions about its history, I could probably dig up a few tidbits about how Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem, and that Nancy D’Alessandro went on to be the first female Speaker of the House, and Old Bay Seasoning goes with everything, including peanut butter sandwiches. Don’t ask, it’s an acquired taste.

But it’s not the accumulation of trivia that fuels my love of Baltimore.

It is this sense that even if you are uprooted at a young age, something of the place where you were born remains embedded in your heart. It’s probably the fact that the air that first fills your lungs as you yelp and scream on that delivery table marks you forever.

Even though I have spent more than 60 years in Philadelphia, and even though my conscious memories — glorious and tragic — are all centered in neighborhoods like Logan and 49th Street and South Philly and a smattering of places in the ‘burbs, there is something very Baltimore in me that hasn’t died.

It burbles up from that unexpected deep-down place when I drive by the Inner Harbor and see the Domino sign, still majestic and presiding over the Chesapeake. It pops up when I see a black-and-white video of the Colts, narrated by Philly legend John Facenda.

And just when I feel like a little bit of a fraud, appropriating memories and events that aren’t my own, the Key Bridge is gutted, and I feel my own gut punch. When I saw the film of the iconic bridge crumbling into the Patapasco, it felt as if a friend I hadn’t seen in many years was involved in a horrific car accident and I heard about her death on social

Someone who worked at immigration for many years and who had always been kind to me was killed when her car collided with one that had sped through a stop sign. I hadn’t seen her in years, she had retired and moved away, but the announcement of her death elicited a physical reaction.

The Key Bridge was not a person. Iron girders and arches don’t feel pain. Crumbling extensions don’t shed blood.

But that is clearly not the point. When something becomes a part of you, whether it be human or inanimate, it takes on a dimension that defies easy measurement.

I cannot presume to understand the grief of Baltimoreans who traveled that bridge every day, going from home to work and back again, taking children to visit relatives or on vacations, fishing under it, or simply gazing at it framed against autumn sunsets.

But I can imagine how I would feel if the steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum were destroyed by some cataclysmic bomb blast, or William Penn’s Statue tumbled from its pedestal, or the river drives were destroyed in catastrophic flooding, or the fountains in Logan Square were removed from sight, or the Liberty Bell were shattered by some
vandal’s hammer.

I remember how I felt when Notre Dame was swallowed by flames a few years ago, and it was as if I had lost a family member.

I am certain that Baltimore is feeling that now.

So here, from a distance, I send my thoughts and my prayers for a city and a group of people who were my first companions.

Copyright 2024 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected].

Christine Flowers is a Philadelphian who loves the Eagles but can leave the cheesesteaks. She writes about anything that will likely annoy the majority of people, and in her spare time practices immigration law (which is bound to annoy at least some people.)