Neighbor leaves cherished memories

October 31, 2012|Kate Coleman

My friend Mildred "Neale" Baltz died last month, just weeks shy of her 103rd birthday.

Despite our 40-year age difference, we shared a lot in the nearly two decades that we were next-door neighbors.

I wrote a story about Neale in 2005 — its hook the fact that she was still playing golf at nearly 96.

Her golfing longevity was remarkable, but it was just one part of her extraordinary life.

Mildred Neale was born on a dairy farm in Bealeton, Va., the fourth of nine children of Wayland Dunaway and Mary Virginia James Neale.

I cherish the wonderfully detailed stories she'd tell me when we had supper together or when she'd deliver my mail nearly every afternoon.

For example, I shared cherries from an orchard stand and was treated to an account of the Neale family's "black heart" cherry harvest.

  There were two tall cherry trees on the farm. When the cherries were ripe, "Mama" and any of the children who were there would take the empty milk cans out of the farm wagon, load the wagon with buckets and take the dirt path to the trees.

They'd all climb — "Mama, too" — and always come back with the three big buckets full of cherries.

Using a hand-cranked pitter, "the cherries and juice went one way, the pits the other." They'd can and make pies and preserves.   

 "We were a family who had breakfast, lunch and dinner together," Neale told me. "Papa was on the board of education. We loved to hear all the board of education stories after Papa's meetings."

Neale graduated from high school at 15 and earned a two-year teaching certificate in 1928. She taught for two years in a one-room schoolhouse, was awarded a scholarship to the University of Virginia and graduated with a bachelor's degree in education in 1932.

She was supervisor of schools in Greenville County, Va., from 1932 to 1936. During the summers, she earned her master's degree at Columbia University in New York City.

In 1936, she took it on the road to 32 states training teachers to teach reading. Ten years later, she opened and supervised the school for children of Americans serving in postwar Berlin.

Neale had met Dick Baltz at a party on a school rooftop in New York City in the early 1930s. She, wearing a white dress with ruffles at the neck and bottom, was swinging on a swing. They dated, but then Neale got her traveling job, Dick served in the Navy in Europe during World War II and they lost track of each other.

They reconnected via letters while Neale was in Germany. After corresponding for more than a year — having not seen her in eight years — Dick Baltz proposed. Miss Neale said yes, he met her ship and they were married a week later at her parents' farm in September 1947.

They moved 23 times in the first 28 years of their marriage, but settled in Hagerstown in 1962. Mary Frances, their only child, was 5, and they made a commitment to stay in one place until she graduated from high school.

Dick died in 2004. "I miss him," Neale said shortly after his death. "But we always had fun."

Neale once told me that there was a "big hall" in many places they lived. They'd always go to hear the big bands and dance.

I invited Neale to the 2008 MSO Pops concert, which included classics by George Gershwin and Cole Porter and a couple dancing a la Astaire and Rogers.

 After Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," Neale leaned over and whispered, "Dick and I used to dance to that."

The following Monday, Neale waltzed in my back door singing, "Heaven, I'm in Heaven, And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak; And I seem to find the happiness I seek, When we're out together dancing, cheek to cheek."

I treasure that memory and many others.

I miss her, but we always had fun.

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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