Last November I found Sam’s Bagels in Baltimore’s Federal Hill District.Sam’s is a tiny corner shop, barely enough room to squeeze around the five or six tables to get to the counter to order. The walls are warm, old brick, the cafe-chairs are candy-apple red.
But what caught my eye as I ate my delicious hummus on pumpernickel were small patches of yellow legal paper around the dining area. They were glued to pink paper – their edges trimmed by pinking shears, and laminated.
Handwritten in beautiful penmanship were inspirational quotes by Hermann Hesse, Joseph Addison, Seneca, Blaise Pascal, Abraham Lincoln, Henry David Thoreau, Edith Wharton and many others. These little signs ran along the chair rail, around the window and door frames, and the edge of the counter. There had to have been 75 or more of these patches of encouragement.
I imagined the paper train a civics class, class project. The students researching famous people and their famous quotes, writing essays on the words. How did they chose? What prompted the project? How did those quotes affect the students? What a cool project!
I had to ask the woman behind the counter about their story. It turned out the notes are a part of her story.
Ean Joo Suk and her husband own Sam’s Bagels and arrive every morning between three and four to bake fresh rolls. She emigrated from Korea and hinted at a sad past, but then her eyes brightened. “But I’m very happy now. I looked up the sayings to keep me happy.” She posted the notes to share with her customers. “Maybe they make everybody else happy too.” She smiled and I could tell she truly wished that for everyone who came in.
She’s studying for citizenship, her materials and notebooks tucked under the counter ready for spare minutes of cramming. She’s finding the work challenging, not knowing the English language as well as she’d like. She kept apologizing for not expressing herself very well. I assured her she was doing better than she thought. Joo plans to redo the signs with new quotes.
I took another look at her little project before I left, amazed by the varied sources and themes. I wondered which new quotes she would chose, how those words would affect her.