Edward Jacques 'Pop' Monaghan, a gentleman of a different time

January 31, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

One of the blessings of my life was growing up in an extended family that included grandparents, aunt and uncle, parents and five siblings. As long as nobody demanded top billing, life in the Guilford Avenue household was peaceful, comforting and endlessly colorful.

Pop Monaghan, my grandfather, was the senior member of the household. Edward Jacques Monaghan was a character out of another age. He smoked cigars. He used a shaving brush and circular cakes of Williams' shaving soap.

He did not carry a suitcase. He carried a portmanteau. He used fountain pens and had a fine Spencerian hand. His bold signature on a check was a work of art.

He loved reading about the Civil War and kept his uncle's pistol that had seen action at Gettysburg ready to defend the 2800 block of Guilford Avenue.

He told time by a Hamilton pocket watch and considered men's wrist watches to be effeminate. He detested Baltimore Transit Company buses and would go out of his way to catch a streetcar. His world came to a stop when Groucho Marx or Ed Sullivan came on television.

He also chewed tobacco. A lot. Even by the standards of the 1950s, this habit was considered old-fashioned -- fine for baseball players but otherwise crude. My grandmother, Lily Rose, his wife, often tried to cure him of this practice. But my mother, Stewart, his daughter, encouraged him in it. One birthday she presented him with a new cuspidor she'd found in a Gay Street junk shop.

Mother and daughter were working at cross purposes. The cuspidor went into daily use in the bedroom where my grandparents resided, the same room where Pop had his work desk, easy chair, book shelf and Philco radio. The cuspidor sat beside his chair, desk and metal ash receiver.

The cuspidor was porcelain enamel and should have lasted an age. But within a few months, it developed a hole and had to be retired before its time. We never solved that mystery. Was it metal failure or had my grandmother taken an ice pick to his birthday present?

Another time, long before I was born, he'd driven my mother to school at what is now the College of Notre Dame. One of the sisters popped out and asked if he'd drive her and another nun back downtown for a medical appointment. On this occasion, Pop was forced to swallow his tobacco wad. My grandmother thought he'd learned his lesson, but it had no effect.

Lily Rose was determined that her husband could have his vices, but on her terms. My grandfather loved an occasional shot of Maryland straight rye whiskey, particularly the late but well-remembered Wight's Sherbrook. You knew you were an honored guest if he offered you a drink of this stuff.

Once again, my grandmother got into the act. She was a strict teetotaler. She spent 47 years of marriage trying to break Pop of his rye nip.

One of her favorite ploys was to pour alcohol out of its bottle and make up the difference with tap water.

This was ironic. By profession, Pop was an engineer who specialized in water projects. He put the big jetties in Ocean City at the Inlet and spent a year living in Annapolis putting the bridge across the Severn that is now being replaced. He designed the Susquehanna River dams at Safe Harbor and Holtwood.

Toward the end of Pop's life he was called out of town again, this time as an engineer designing buildings at the Breathedsville reformatory in Washington County. After a day's work in a guarded office he'd walk into town and hold court at a little general store he liked.

One of his favorite sagas was how they used to halt passenger trains in Maine and make all the able-bodied men fight a forest fire. It made for a good story.

He got back late to the tightly locked main prison gate and began crawling around on the dirt. The watch guard trained a spotlight on him and asked what was going on.

His rely: "I'm looking for the key. I left it under the mat."

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