Cruising Waverly in sturdy wicker pram


April 30, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Under the cellar steps of the old house on Guilford Avenue sat an impressive wicker baby carriage. Heavy and seemingly indestructible, it was the Mack truck of baby coaches.

The well-built vehicle was in every sense a carriage. It had a tough metal frame with springs, a brake and metal wheels coated with India rubber. The sides were woven wicker. The carriage was boxy and had room for three. Its bulk and weight prevented it from turning over. I often thought the conveyance was made by the same people who made the rolling chairs that carried people along the Atlantic City boardwalk.

Beginning in the 1950s, in the heyday of the carriages, the six Kellys went through three of the vehicles -- one of white wicker, the others dark brown -- in about a dozen years.

It's hard to think of a day when the carriage wasn't taken to the back alleys of Charles Village and Waverly, with the ladies of the family doing the pushing. The preferred neighborhood expressway was the back alley, with its uncertain paving. The carriage bumped along like a country buckboard. No wonder there was competition among the Kelly children to get a ride in the carriage.

Being older than my five siblings, I should have walked alongside the carriage. But the others claimed that I was always the first one to climb aboard and try to knock someone younger out of a ride. Two children rode in the seat and another in a kind of rounded boot at the bottom.

The main destination was the Waverly business district. The carriage might be bursting with prekindergartners on the way to the stores, but on the return trip, somebody had to surrender a seat -- or two -- for grocery bags, the occasional Christmas tree or sacks of dog food. When dropping into a Read's drugstore or the old Crown 5-and-10-cent store, Mom parked the coach on the pavement. In the stores with wide aisles, the carriage went shopping, too.

The route never varied along that ancient thoroughfare, Vineyard Lane, which managed to outwit the street pavers and city planners.

Most of it has disappeared today except for a stretch between Greenmount Avenue and 30th Street. The lane also is part of the history of the International League Baltimore Orioles. It formed the western boundary of old Oriole Park, which burned down on the morning of July 4, 1944. The lane's main address was the actual Vineyard mansion, the neighborhood's great 1790s haunted house.

The carriage climbed the hill on Vineyard Lane like a mountain goat. Its wheels clattered as loudly as the Kelly clan and our inevitable question, "When do we get there?"

The carriage seemed right at home as it made its way along the broken concrete and macadam in the alleys. We passed pigeon coops, back porches, honeysuckle arbors, rose gardens and every wash line in this end of Baltimore. There was never a privacy fence to obstruct the view from the ramblin' and joltin' baby buggy.

The carriage did not always have sole possession of the alley. There was often a horse and wagon, a rag-and-bone man or a scissors grinder passing through.

Come summer vacation, the white wicker carriage went with us to the ocean, where it was a big hit on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. As late August rolled around, our landlady suggested we winter it there because we had a brown wicker spare at home. So we did.

All was well until March, when a huge storm struck. At last sighting, the baby coach was floating out to sea.

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