I may or may not be a Hon.  It depends on how narrowly we wish to define  the term.

Some background for readers who are (1) not from  Baltimore or (2) not  John Waters fans.   A “Hon” (pronounced like “hun” with a funny  “y”-ish sound in the middle, you have to hear it to know what I mean) is, in the narrowest sense, a woman from one of a couple of neighborhoods in Baltimore – Locust Point, Hampden, Highlandtown, Pigtown, etc.  The “Hon”  in popular culture – and for this, see, oh, any John Waters movie, but if you’re squeamish see “Hairspray –  has big hair, often rendered as a bee hive;  cat eye glasses; heavy make-up;  and often a scarf tied at the neck.  Bubble gum is usually in evidence with a good deal of popping and snapping.  Throw in your obligatory “down de Ocean” with the classic  Baltimore O and a reference to steamed crabs and you have your archetypal  Hon.

That is NOT me, although I have had to work really hard on my O’s, and I occasionally slip a casual “Bawlmer” in when I’m not paying careful attention.   Three years of being tortured on a daily basis by my law  school friends has made me gun shy.  (Though, I have  to say, watching a bunch of New Yorkers and one Rhode Islander (hi Vinnie) try to pick crabs one year more than made up for that.)

Where am I going with this?  The past year here in my beloved hometown has  seen a tempest in a crab pot  by way of  a certain restaurant called  Cafe Hon.  Historically it’s been  much-loved for its celebration of Hon culture coupled with the annual  “Honfest”  in Hampden.  Until Denise Whiting, the owner of the cafe, filed an application to trademark  the word “hon.”   She already owned the rights to “Cafe Hon” and “Honfest”  and various derivatives, but when she moved to trademark the word itself, a lot of people got very upset about it.  There were some really snarky newspaper articles and editorials.   Local politicians and “community representatives” came out of the woodwork to wax self-righteously about the sacred nature of the Hon, and to condemn anyone who  might seek to remove the word from the public domain. Which isn’t, in fact, what the trademark would have done,  and some of  the lawyers who were coming out against the trademark conveniently overlooked that part of the discussion, but, I digress.

The “debate” was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.  Okay, maybe not the stupidest because I do get FearNet on my Verizon Fios cable.  But definitely one of my top ten stupidest.

Now I’m going to  say this: I would sort of like to see the pink beehived, bespeckled pop culture Hon fade away.  It’s a caricature, and a silly  inaccurate one, of women who deserve better.

Let me tell you about Hons because I come from a long line of them.   My Hon grandmother,  Margaret Simpson Uttenreither, took the bus – long before they gave it a cute  “Charm City” name – damn near every day of her life to her job at one of the neighborhood markets.  Maggie kept a bowling pin just inside the door of her home  on Streeper, and God help the stranger who didn’t get on Maggie’s good side real quick.   You best kept your feet squarely planted on those marble steps, my friend.   She once – somewhat famously – ran off a would-be robber who made the mistake  of coming to her market stand.  I have heard conflicting versions of the story,one involving a cleaver and the other a  butcher knife.   Suffice it to say, she took no crap.  My grandmother cooked a sauerbraten you would not believe, and raisin cookies that I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to recreate, but she was stubborn and she took all her recipes with her when she passed.   She got to see me get married and in law school and I’m glad of that.

My mom is  also a  Hon.  She was the only girl in a family with three brothers and when she was growing up money was not to be wasted on things for girls.  So she made her own opportunities.   She put herself through college and then through graduate school and taught generations of young women at the Institute of  Notre Dame on Aisquith Street.   She was, I think, heartbroken when I chose a different high school, but I grew up understanding that education was everything if you didn’t come from money so I got one.   I like  to think  that I’m a Hon too.

The pink boa-fication of women like my Mom and my Grandmom makes for good media but not much else, so when men  – yes, weirdly, mostly men – started bitching about  the trademark I was just a little taken aback.  They wouldn’t know a Hon if they stepped on her (and some of them probably have).   A real Hon is  made of uncommonly strong stuff;  you can put a beehive on a Guilford-ite and she ain’t never gonna be a Hon.

So, as  far as I’m concerned, Hon Cafe  and Honfest and other things Hon are cute and playful and represent the means by which people can make money from a mostly inoffensive,if inaccurate, cultural stereotype.  I’ve always liked Hon Cafe and I’ll keep eating there.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the Hampden boys who jumped up and down when they found out about the trademark application were just ticked off not to have gotten there first (and beaten by a woman,  damn it!)  And my East Bawlmer  sisters will be just fine.