I was introduced to Jane Allan by the Queen of Carnival. 1971. In that fall, I had just begun my second year in Annapolis at the Naval Academy desperate for refuge or something resembling the life that I knew in New Orleans before joining the Navy.
We lived on 622 Adams Street in New Orleans in a duplex shared with Christine Westfeldt, a classmate of JA’s at Hollins College. Although unassuming and far beyond our social circle of Italian Catholics in parochial schools, we all knew that Christine came from the Westfeldt family where everyone became the King or Queen of Rex riding in the big float on Mardi Gras day. To me, Christine was the young, older woman upstairs who let me use her apartment to study afar from the mayhem of the four women and one bathroom in our own apartment.
Then was the time of telephoning Information Baltimore to ask the operator if there “is a number for a Christine Westfeldt somewhere in the city?” There was; I called; she invited me to West University Parkway (was it 853?). “What an amazing neighborhood,” I thought as I arrived one Saturday after noon meal formation at the Academy. “You can walk to Memorial Stadium to see the Colts.”
It was fun from the beginning to the end, a total of about 3 years until I graduated in 1974, fully convicted never to return to Maryland or D.C. and, especially, Annapolis, ever again. Of course, several years later I married someone from Maryland at a ceremony in D.C. I was in Annapolis, at the Naval Academy, last week.
If I could, I’d tell these simple stories about Jane Allan only after we’ve poured a cup of the richest, darkest cafe au lait. Coffee in her apartment was ever at the ready. Strange to me, initially, was that she could cold-drip the chicory and then refrigerate the two inches of brew in a glass jar. It would keep for days or weeks or I don’t know how long?! I’m not sure that I ever saw her actually make a pot of coffee. From invitation to milk steaming to the ratio of 9 parts milk and one tablespoon of refrigerated coffee took a couple of minutes. Who needs a microwave?!
Over our years, I converted numerous fellow midshipmen to avid coffee drinkers as they sought to replicate that first fix from Jane Allan’s kitchen.
Across the hall from the apartment were 3 guys and a girlfriend. I recall that they had only two albums and both were Jethro Tull. Two of them had just served in the Army and dealt with the transition to civilian life by smoking pot a lot. So, we joined them. Sat on the floor, listened to Aqualung and got smarter with each toke. It was a blast. You may purge any adjectives that reflect poorly on The Junior League.
Christine was the connection, Jane Allan became my friend even though a woman 6 years older and out of college, with a job, an apartment, who knew the secret of exotic coffee, who could contribute something to every topic of conversation, who was primed to laugh at every moment, who knew everyone and everyone in Baltimore County, seemed ages beyond my age. She even taught me how to iron a shirt, the irony of which amused her as she thought of her own friends perceiving such instruction by her.
Over a short time, the trips to Baltimore from Annapolis multiplied. We’re talking no Harbor, Route 40 into town, Urban Homesteading where one could purchase a row house for $1 (the one that Jane Allan and I looked at is maybe right field at the Orioles Stadium but time distorts personal geography) and Bertha’s at Fells Point was about the only place there worth the risk of a car-jacking.
As I visited more often, I was accompanied by fellow refugees from the Academy: Nadolski, Sharpe, Warden, McBrayer, Murdoch and the three girls from Manhattanville College. Jane Allan’s living room floor could be configured for whatever number of unannounced guests and her closet provided bedding for all always.
One Thanksgiving, she invited me to her parents home in Lutherville. A military flight cancelled at the last minute stranding my roommate and two others at…Friendship Airport. So, they were invited to dinner as well. We spent the late morning and early afternoon listening to Mr. Bowie’s tales of out-running the Gestapo in Hamburg while in the Merchant Marine and a tour in Burma as a surveyor where his team got lost and found a squad of Merrill’s Marauders. At dinner, Mrs. Bowie cleared some of the the 5,000 publications and books of hers. We sat together where she questioned us and amplified nearly every remark that we made with a relevant and interesting point or personal connection. We overstayed our welcome meaning that we were supposed to return to Annapolis by 4:30pm. One of us was sure that it was 6:30. We called the Academy, Mr. Bowie explained the situation, we were granted liberty until 8pm and he drove us all back.
I could go on with the story of how she helped me prepare for a picnic with the latest most beautiful girl that I’d ever met in the summer of 1973. This one from Seattle. Jane Allan recommended a picnic at Loch Raven Reservoir and a bottle of white Burgundy. I’ve never encountered either since. The LMB girl returned to Seattle.
Jane Allan’s friends were neat too. I guess because Hollins girls seldom met Mids? They were always older but still in there 20s (I’m cracking-up to think of such a characterization), serious, fun and curious about our lives in the Navy. Truly boys amongst women. And persuasive. Ken McBrayer of Atlanta studied hard to be accepted by the Navy’s new medical school program. He worked day and night, mostly on organic chemistry. I dragged him from Bancroft Hall to Baltimore over one three day weekend. JA introduced us to a friend, Ann?, who studied sculpture in the area. So smitten was Ken with the West University Parkway (WUP) retreat that when Ann mentioned that the sculpture studio used live models. Ken, without compunction or hesitation, either agreed or volunteered to be the unclothed, aka nude model for the next class on the holiday Monday. Ken did not go to medical school. He left the Navy, became an investment banker at Sandler O’Neill and died on 911 in the World Trade Center. At his memorial service, I related the moment that he drove my van with the wide mirrors and decapitated the mailbox of a Bowie neighbor in Lutherville.
My naval service shipped me out to the West Coast and beyond. My last tour of duty was in DC. I just remembered that my sister, her boyfriend and I had this idea to print Jazz Festival posters because of our New Orleans connection. We had no clue how to find a printer in the area. Jane Allan did. One of the resultant 4 color lithographs of Billy Holiday hangs in my office.
We last met in 2007 when our family of four visited Baltimore for the Army-Navy game, but not at Memorial Stadium. She took us to Cafe Hon for a drink and a midnight tour of the backroads of Roland Park which only a Bowie would know. BTW, I never made the Bowie, Maryland connection until that time.
I’ll forever, whether watching The Wire again or wondering what the Orioles are up to or when someone mentions all that Fells Point has become, drift to a picture of Jane Allan with the bow in her hair, the smile that signals that she is ready for anything and my eagerness to ask for another cup of her cafe au lait. I only wish that I had been a better friend.