Baltimore didn’t invent the concept of The Stoop. I’m sure there are row houses in cities all over the world that have steps leading up to the front door but Baltimore stoops are special.
The marble that the steps are made of was pulled from the quarry in Cockeysville where marble was plentiful and in high demand.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s it was considered a symbol of both status and community among the working folk in the city to have polished marble steps leading into their home.
It was a source of pride for people in Baltimore to know that part of their homes were made from the same material that makes the Washington Monument in DC.
The stoops were lovingly cared for and polished to a shine.
I bought a house in the Hampden neighborhood with a mix of row houses – some with porches and others with stoops.
I’m glad I chose one with a stoop. If I had chosen one with a porch then I would have had a very different experience here.
When I first moved here I was alone. I had recently ended a relationship of six years and my daughters had more recently moved out of the house to go off to college. I was experiencing the empty nest in a way I never imagined I would.
I always thought I was too independent and imaginative to flounder when the girls went away. I thought the empty nest syndrome was for someone with less gumption than I had but I was wrong.
I was profoundly lonely and my sense of purpose was shaken to its core.
At the end of every day I found myself sitting in my house with feelings of anxiety, looking around for some distraction.
I found it on my stoop.
It started out simple enough. I poured myself a cup of tea and stepped outside to take in the sunset.
Other folks were just getting home from work and passed me with a quick hello or a short exchange about something going on in the neighborhood.
Gradually a few neighbors had become friends and the chances were good that when they saw me sitting out there they would walk over for a chat.
Eventually they started bringing over a cocktail or a snack of their own and we would sit for some time and visit.
There were days when we would have six or seven houses on the block represented on my stoop. We would share our stories of the day and laugh about the antics of the people who pass through our neighborhood.
The idea of Stoop Storytelling came naturally to me so when I heard of the event at the Creative Alliance with the same name I was instantly interested in finding out more.
The idea behind the show was that seven people would come up to the “stoop” and each would tell a story that was unpolished and unrehearsed – like we did on my stoop each evening.
During the break, three people from the audience would be selected to share their own story.
Each night was dedicated to a theme and the storytellers would be chosen based on their connection to that theme.
The show was accompanied by the sweet sounds of Caleb Stein and the Brakemen and after the first show I was hooked.
I had been going to the show on a regular basis and it had grown so much in popularity that it had to move out of is spot at the Creative Alliance and into the much bigger arena at Center Stage.
The themes were posted on line and one day, when I saw the theme was about “Going broke, breaking even or striking it rich.” I knew it was time for me to tell my story.
I sent off an email and was invited to participate. I tried to write out my story to see if I could condense it to seven minutes but I have a tendency to be a bit long winded.
I did rehearse. I practiced in front of the mirror and I paced in my living room telling the story repeatedly to my utterly disinterested cat.
There was only one meeting before the show where we all came together to see where to stand and where to sit and what our order of storytelling would be.
We told each other our stories and the brilliant hostess and producers of the show, Laura Wexler and Jessica Henkin, gave us some pointers about how to keep our nerves at bay.
The next thing I knew I was standing in front of a crowd of 600 people with lights so bright in my eyes that I couldn’t see even one of them but I could hear them.
I heard them laugh and sigh and groan as I told the story of how loosing everything taught me how much I had to be thankful for.
When I finished I heard them cheering and clapping and I stood there thinking how much I love Baltimore and how great it is to have a stoop to sit on when I want to feel the love of this great community.
If you are interested in hearing the story you can find a podcast of it here.
Nancy Murray is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and the Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. She is a playwright who as enjoyed full productions of her work at Fells Point Corner Theater, Silver Spring Stage and the Montgomery County One Act Festival where it was selected as The Best of Festival. Most recently she has been enjoying participating in the Submit 10 Series as both a playwright and as a performer.