Turning the Page Back to the '50s

JACQUES KELLY'S BALTIMORE

September 24, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

It was a Sunday-morning ritual. There would be a housefly trying to get at the Golden Crown table syrup. The kitchen smelled of the sage in the sausage and the splattered grease from the Oriole range. There was a hint of scrapple mixed in with the buckwheat hot-cake flavors.

By 9 o'clock you could tell if Sun Magazine was a success. If its pages were coated with dabs of butter and the signs of sticky breakfast hands, the publication had done its job well. A few minutes later my grandfather would be calling out, "Who's got the Brown Section?" That was the term that so many Baltimoreans once used for the rotogravure part of the paper. Back then, this magazine was printed in distinctive sepia-toned ink.

Its last page was usually an ad for Stieff silver flatware, which my grandmother had but only used on some birthdays and on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The lavishly illustrated feature stories were bracketed by Formstone ads. Somebody often commented, good or bad, about the week's A. Aubrey Bodine photo.

It amazed me how Baltimoreans (and Marylanders who revered or cursed Baltimore as the big city) really bought into this publication. It was theirs. It was a magazine about the way we lived. I still remember the story about the Walbrook man who kept pet alligators in the basement.

For one thing, you had the time to read the magazine back then. You weren't really pressed in those Baltimore Sundays of the 1950s. The days seemed slower. A few corner drugstores were open for business, and Colts football games were on television in season. There also were some restaurants that catered to the family trade on Sundays, but not much else sought your attention on that day. You tried to shed your church clothes early. It seemed as if part of the day was spent just visiting family.

I didn't have far to go.

There were an even dozen of us in the Guilford Avenue rowhouse where I grew up. The patriarch of the family was my grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan, born April 1, 1884. He was Pop to me and a person who couldn't walk down Greenmount Avenue without saying hello to 20 people and having 25 come up and greet him. He loved people.

His wife, my grandmother Lily Rose Stewart Monaghan, did not share his enthusiasm for the human race. She was, however, the undisputed ruler of the house.

My grandparents' two children never left home. My bachelor uncle (E. J. Jr.) lived there with my mother (named Stewart after her mother's maiden name) and her family. And when brother and sister died in 1993, it was within six months of one another. They were never separated for long.

My father, Joseph B. Kelly, courted my mother for many years before their 1949 marriage at St. Ignatius Church. I came along in 1950 and was quickly followed by Ellen Cora, Mary Stewart, Eddie, Ann Rose and Josephine.

Added to this crowd was Great Aunt Cora Stewart O'Hare, my grandmother's sister and first vice president of domestic authority. Like my mother and her brother, these siblings were never separated as well. And they seemed to live forever in the old house. Their personalities were as different as two sisters' can be.

By the time I was old enough to start cutting up the pictures from the Brown Section for my scrapbook, it dawned on me that other families were not just like ours -- at least in the Baltimore of that period. There were so many generations under one roof, so many personalities and so many ways -- sometimes strange -- of doing things.

My grandmother made her own soap and tomato ketchup, cured her sauerkraut and rolled out oyster potpie crusts. Friends just appeared for her Friday seafood spreads -- steamed shrimp, fried oysters, crab in season and broiled fish. The shrimp went first but it all disappeared fast.

My grandfather's travel habits stick in my mind. His preferred mode of travel between cities was the railroad. At home, whenever possible, he rode only the No. 8 streetcar. He would take it and walk a distance rather than transfer. He preferred silver dollars to paper, and put his trust in bank vaults that had survived the 1904 Baltimore fire.

As for my mother, I think she was among the very last customers of Howard Street's department stores.

The household members were all sharply opinionated, gobbled up newspapers and books, and wrote great letters.

My father supplied great Sunday outings. We rarely left the city limits, though. We drove from Fort McHenry to Carroll Park, Highlandtown and Canton to Druid Hill Park. Along the way my father supplied neighborhood history and accounts of great news stories of the past as they related to the areas.

On Sunday nights, with the family in tow, he delivered some of his work (he was a reporter for a Washington newspaper) to the old Western Union office at Baltimore and St. Paul streets, then stopped by the Horn and Horn restaurant just down Baltimore Street. A carful of Kellys then filled a couple of tables.

Back home, the big old house, with the dozen at dinner, supplied a potent setting for life. It all worked fine as long as no one demanded top billing.

We lived well but thriftily, and Sun Magazine had a part in this lifestyle. Like the fat scraps that got saved for my grandmother's bars of soap, the Brown Section was put to other uses. I remember that as a third-grader I would gather up the syrup-coated pages come Sunday night and take them to my teacher on Monday. She used the issue in her lessons about Maryland history.

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