Beloved waitress writes fiction
Everyone in Baltimore, it seems, knows Peachy.
Leonora “Peachy” DePietro Dixon has waited tables at Sabatino’s restaurant in Little Italy since 1974. (She received her childhood nickname for her peaches-and-cream complexion.)
With a wide circle of friends from all over Baltimore and celebrity acquaintances, she is well known for her warm-heartedness.
Among the famous people she rubbed shoulders with at Sabatino’s and other local restaurants are Frank Sinatra, Cardinal Keeler, Ted Kennedy, Mother Teresa, President Jimmy Carter, Johnny Depp, Debbie Reynolds and Muhammed Ali.
A few years ago, Dixon, now in her 70s, discovered another talent in addition to being a people person: writing.
“I always thought about writing, but my parents never pushed me. My brothers have college degrees, but as a girl I was expected to get a job after high school,” she recalled.
Her writing career came about as a result of an accident. A pickup truck swerved into her, injuring her knee. Spending long hours on her feet as a waitress slowed her recovery. But during that time, an aunt reached out to her and revealed some family stories.
With the stories, Dixon said, “Memories started flowing out of me. [My] sister came to read what I wrote. We both started to cry. ‘Peachy, you have something here. Don’t stop writing,’ my sister said.”
A lucky break
Finding an editor for her first book was a great struggle. But she was helped along the way by a Sabatino’s customer who was an editor, and by Michael Olesker, a former Baltimore Sun columnist. CityLit Press published A Peachy Life in 2011.
As the title suggests, the book is autobiographical. It deals with her early years growing up in Highlandtown, her family life, and her strict Catholic upbringing with a father who worked at Bethlehem Steel.
These vignettes are followed by her rape on a blind date, her subsequent pregnancy and then disastrous marriage to the man, who was an abusive husband.
But she also writes about her two wonderful daughters and demonstrates her resilience.
“Peachy is a good storyteller, and she has the kind of life that deserves to be in a book,” said Gregg Wilhelm, publisher of CityLit Press. “She and I worked really hard together crafting that manuscript, but it’s all Peachy.”
The book launch, held at Sabatino’s, was “one of the highlights of my publishing career,” Wilhelm said. The line outside the restaurant stretched around the block, he remembered.
“All the celebrities who have ever been through Sabatino’s — the news reporters, the athletes — everybody showed up,” Wilhelm said. “She was in her glory.”
At Peachy’s request, Wilhelm said he “ordered what I thought was an insane amount of books for one event — and darn if we didn’t sell all but two.”
First book led to three more
The second book, A Peachy Business, published in 2015, is about her short stint in the restaurant industry and the many challenges involved in being a female restaurant owner in the 1980s and 90s.
Two years later, she published her third book, My Peachy City, about authentic Baltimore. Descriptions of significant local people past and present — such as former Governor William Donald Schaefer, Congresswoman Helen Bentley, Senator Barbara Mikulski and their accomplishments — add a touch of nostalgia.
Dixon’s personal experiences with the Orioles, the Ravens, Patterson Park, Haussner’s, and H & S Bakery resonated with Baltimoreans.
A stab at fiction
Dixon’s fourth book and most recent endeavor, The Baltimore Bookies, is her first attempt at fiction. In the book, the Little Italy bookies and Highlandtown bookies are in competition with each other for customers.
Drugs are involved, especially fentanyl. A woman is beaten up in a schoolyard in Highlandtown, and a mutilated dead body is found near the Department of Motor Vehicles in Glen Burnie.
High drama transpires in well-known places, such as the Inner Harbor and The Horse You Came in On bar in Fells Point. Descriptions of the Italian, Polish, Irish and German immigrants who settled the area add interest and authenticity to the tale.
The book is expected to be available at Sabatino’s in March.
Family ties and local admirers
Dixon’s daughter Anna Maria Carpenter, a former schoolteacher and currently a benefits manager for Calvert County, is proud of her mother’s strength.
“She is in her late 70s, still very strong and still working. She is sharp, witty and funny, and loves the people she serves,” she said. “Her life was a struggle, and she came through it all.”
Longtime friend Reverend Robert Albright first became aware of Dixon in the early 1990s, when he saw her in a television advertisement.
“I was surprised to see a hometown girl promoting the Orioles,” said Albright, a retired Catholic priest. “It reminded me of my own working-class background growing up in Pittsburgh in an area known as the slums.”
At the time, Albright was a professor of religious studies at Towson University. He took some of his students to Sabatino’s to meet the waitress, and the two became friends.
Although officially retired as university chaplain, he is currently an instructor with the Osher Institute, also at Towson University.
Albright has read all of Dixon’s books, of course. “Her first three books are extremely authentic because of her experiences and willingness to meet people. Peachy exposes Baltimore and its history.
“She is a marvelous example for retired people,” he added, working part-time in her late 70s and writing books. The older she gets, he said, “the more exciting life is for her.”
Her daughter, however, focuses on her mother’s wide popularity and big heart. “People love my mother. It’s a huge blessing to have people admire her and hold her so dear. They always ask for her at Sabatino’s.”
Dixon’s books are available at Sabatino’s, 901 East Fawn St., Baltimore. For more information, call the restaurant at (410) 727-2667.