Aspirational Chat with Patricia Greenwald
I first met Pat Greenwald when I was invited to give a design presentation to her gardening club (she’s a Master Gardener). I arrived flustered after having to buy a new projector on the way to the presentation, but that’s another story for another day! Pat is a retired middle school teacher (is there a tougher job?) who now runs a homework club at a one room schoolhouse. It’s safe to say that she’s an educator at heart and has combined that interest with her interest in history, by saving one-room schoolhouses. She’s the 1st Vice President the Howard County Historical Society and lives in a house with a bit of history, too! I really enjoyed getting a first hand look at her lovely, historic home and learning more about her volunteer work, where she’s really making a difference in the lives of kids.
AFP: Your house and grounds are beautiful. How long have you lived here?
PG: We moved in in 1991. It was basically falling down when we moved in. We had to pour new concrete footings. The whole house creaked because you could only jack the timbers up a couple of inches at a time, they ran from the foundation up to the third floor. So it was in pretty bad shape.
AFP: So this is a labor of love! Tell me about this room that we're in.
PG: This is the newest part of the house, and it was added on in 1889. The house is a "Maryland T." The kitchen area and everything above was from 1720. You'd pay taxes on how much ground you covered. So, it was three stories tall but only one room big.
AFP: Okay, got it.
PG: And then you started paying taxes on your frontage to the street. So in 1769, they added on the dining room, the entryway, and the rooms above that. And a lot of the old houses in Maryland, the old farmhouses, are called "Maryland Ts." In this house, it wasn't until the 1950s that the owners finally decided to accept the concept of indoor plumbing and they added on a tower of bathrooms. And so that is pretty much the history of the place!
AFP: That's fascinating!
PG: The porch was off when we bought the house and there was a stone patio slanting toward the house. I wanted to have a porch, but I didn't want to lose the natural light in the front rooms. Finally, somebody at the museum in Sykesville found a photograph of the house taken just before a cyclone in 1895. From the photograph we knew what the porch looked like and once I saw that I thought, "Okay, the house needs its porch back."
AFP: It’s lovely! When you have a high enough roof line, you still get some light in here. It looks like it's a comfortable spot!
PG: I go out there to read and the dog loves coming out there. Late afternoons she'll hit my legs and walk to the door, "It's time to go sit on the front porch!".
AFP: I know you're involved in the Howard County Historical Society, is that something that it's been of interest to you for a long time?
PG: My husband went to graduate school at Dartmouth, so we were up there for four years, and we didn't have any furniture. What do you do when you're in New Hampshire? You go to barns where people are selling old stuff. We accidentally walked into a Shaker chair that was covered with layers of paint, and I stripped it. After that I found a book about antiques and that kind of gave us the bug! Most of the things you see, we bought when we were starving graduate students.
AFP: I love it. You've got a really neat mix of pieces.
PG: We try to do Victorian things in the 1889 section, but then the corner cupboard wouldn't fit anywhere else.
AFP: Did you paint the inside of that blue?
PG: There were traces of the old blue paint. The outside is still original, but the inside had just little bits of the paint. It was the late sixties when you stripped and painted everything, we wrecked lots of antiques. [laughter].
AFP: It's really striking and really shows off the China. What are some other favorite treasures in here?
PG: A lot of the things in here reflect travel, particularly to China.
AFP: I love that! And I love having pieces from your travels because you remember the trip and you have a story to tell. Tell me about your kitchen.
PG: When we moved in there was no counter, a sink and a couple of things pushed up to the walls, little cabinets and odds and ends. So we felt in the kitchen you have to function.
AFP: You might need a countertop, maybe a stove and a dishwasher. [laughter] Clearly you must love to cook with some of the pieces you have in here.
PG: Yes! But it does get frustrating because there is so little counter space. And I've often discussed, much to my husband's dismay and even our builder says no, doing a pop- out here and rearranging a little to allow for more counter space. But I don't think that's ever going to happen.
AFP: You mentioned your kids. Did they grow up here?
PG: Two were in college and one was still in high school when we moved here.
AFP: You clearly love this house and it reflects you very well, do you have a favorite room?
PG: Probably two of them; the library because it is very calm, the colors are very peaceful, and the tiny pink bathroom because of the deep tub in there.
AFP: Do you have a favorite or most comfortable chair or a place to sit?
PG: Probably the sofa in the library, again.
AFP: Back to the library! You have so many great treasures, do you have a favorite?
PG: I don't know if it's because I'm sitting here looking at it, but my grandfather's confirmation Bible. It's in Swedish, but usually at Christmastime I open it to the Christmas story in Luke and put the little readers on top of it. It's of no monetary value...
AFP: The best things aren't, right? You've mentioned a few things you have in mind for the house, but seem content and pleased with it currently. What are your aspirations for living going forward?
PG: There are a few things I want done in the garden and I'd still like to put in a garage. I still have things I would love to do, like popping out the kitchen, but at this point I think we're content. I also dream of a bathroom on the third floor. Because now there are grandchildren who sleep up there and there's no bathroom.
AFP: That's a biggie considering the house, right? A bath on the third floor is a big logistic project. What are your aspirations for your life moving forward?
PG: I want to be able to keep doing the activities I'm doing as long as possible. My biggest one is a homework club at the Historic Colored Schoolhouse, it's in the middle of subsidized housing. A lot of the people have been very, very successful because of education. They've moved on to wonderful careers. Others are still living there, mainly single mothers raising kids and that's who we do the homework club for. Half of them made Honor Roll last year. That is probably the one that's most important to me because I think we are making a difference.
AFP: It sounds like you are, that's wonderful!
PG: It would be nice if we could keep up with those kids and stay a part of their lives to help guide them beyond high school because they really don't have anybody in their circle who knows how to apply to college.
AFP: It’s a whole new world for them. That's amazing. It’s not surprising that you are drawn toward helping kids — you were a middle school teacher, correct?
PG: Yes, for 22 years.
AFP: I'm going to take my hat off to you because middle school has got to be the toughest years.
PG: After teaching elementary school for many years outside of Maryland, I started teaching middle school at Oakland Mills. It was one month into school, and the teacher had quit after one week. They had 3 people come in ahead of me for a week each as weeklong subs to try out to see if they wanted to hire them. I was the fourth and by then the kids went, "Okay, we've already gotten rid of three teachers!" And they told me, "We're going to get rid of you, too!"
It was awful and at the end of the week the Director of Personnel called and said, "The principal has selected you.” I told them I couldn't do it. They said, "Well, you're never going get a job in Howard County if you don't teach middle school." I started there the second week of October. In November, we were coming home from something in DC and I was talking about school and my husband said, "You know, you're starting to like it." I said, "No, I'm not!" [laughter]
Then I realized, yeah I really do like these kids. They were neat little kids and they were going to be neat big kids, they're just going through this rough patch when their hormones are tap-dancing and they don't know who they are. Then I ended up in the GT program where everybody said I had the cushy job, but gifted kids have just as many problems as anybody else.
AFP: All kids that age have a lot of emotions, I'm living with two. Hats off to you!
PG: And lots of times there were things they didn't want to talk to the parents or even the counselor about but they were working with me on projects, and so I was just another set of ears for them.
AFP: That's great. And I love that now, even though you're retired you're still using those skills for something that means something.
PG: It just boggles my mind that at all that brightness could just be wasted. If we could just break the cycle for a few of them.
AFP: I agree, it does make a difference. Congratulations on being elected to the Howard County Women's Hall of Fame. Tell me a little bit about that.
PG: That was funny because it was based mainly on saving one-room schoolhouses. I'm working on the third one, which is actually an eight-room school and it's the oldest, from the late 1700s in Ellicott City. I was shocked when I got the letter saying I was in. The whole ceremony was incredible, with a string quartet playing. They kept us in a private room across the hall and then we were each announced as we walked in, it was neat!
AFP: That's really awesome, congratulations! Did I see that one of the historic school houses is in Rockburn Branch Park?
AFP: I know that one. You are one of those very active retired people.
PG: Well, when you retire you get to choose what you want to do.
AFP: And I love that! So you probably spend a lot of time on all these different activities and events, what do you do in your free time?
PG: Gardening and projects in the house. I try to take some art classes. I really enjoy flinging the paint around. I just wish I had more time to do it.
AFP: What about your favorite vacation spot? It seems like you travel frequently.
PG: We travel a lot and we try to alternate between comfy and cozy trips, which usually means France or England, or something more challenging. We take local trips, also. My favorite one ever was South Africa, I absolutely loved it. We've been to China, we've been to Japan a couple of times. This winter we're going to do a sailboat, which we've done a few times, we start in Phuket, Thailand and we go along the Thai coast. Each day you're in a different port. For the second part we're in Malaysia and our daughter, who was an exchange student there, is going to go with us. Then we end up in Singapore and we'll spend a few extra days there.
AFP: That sounds like a great adventure. Well now I really just have some fun, easy questions. Coffee or tea? Tea.
Cats or dogs? Both equally, but we cannot have a cat. Our son, who lives locally, is allergic to cats so we only have dogs and I can't live without one.
Morning or night person? Night.
Cake or pie? Pie.
Netflix or movie theater? Movie theater.
Summer or winter? Summer.
Chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Chocolate.
Online shopping or shopping in a store? Online because of the time involved, but I much prefer shopping in the store.
Favorite holiday? I'd have to say Christmas. I love doing all the decorations.
Favorite food? Oh gosh, I don't know. I like so many things.
If you could live in a different state or country where would you live? Different state: New Hampshire. Different country: Probably Sweden but it'd have to be summer.
AFP: That’s is my last question. Thank you so much!
I know where you’d find me if I lived in Pat’s house — on that porch! What a great spot for a drink and a conversation. The view is pretty nice, too! I hope you enjoyed this look at her historic home and treasures (that pink bathroom!). I loved learning more about her work with schoolhouses. I love hearing how people combine their passions after they retire so they can continue to make a difference. What’s your favorite part of our Chat?