Driving to the shore was a chore and an adventure

Ordeal: Brushes with the law, and snakes, brought excitement during the annual pilgrimage to the water.

June 26, 1999|By JACQUES KELLY

IT IS AN ARTICLE of faith shared by Baltimoreans that the annual summertime getaway to the Maryland and Delaware beaches is long, exasperating and arduous. Even though the mileage from my family's Guilford Avenue doorstep to Rehoboth Beach is but 114 miles, that distance measured in mental anguish is regarded as halfway to Toronto.

The traffic was lighter and the roads about the same in the 1950s when my Uncle Jack Monaghan loaded his station wagon for the beach the last Saturday in June.

In those more leisurely days we closed the old rowhouse for the summer and took off for a little brown-shingle frame cottage perched on a sand dune. It was a grand way to spend the summer, provided you didn't require a decent bed, privacy or potable water. There was a pump in the kitchen.

That final June weekend was an enormous event in the life of my family. Baltimoreans to the bone, they hated summers here and wanted nothing else than to get out of town. From April on, each week brought more anticipation of the exodus.

We stayed away a long time -- well into September. I was too young to go to school.

It was very much a trip arranged by my grandparents, Lily Rose and her husband, Edward Jacques Monaghan, always Pop to his grandchildren. Both were in their 60s and had plenty of energy.

My grandfather had stopped driving to the Eastern Shore after a slight brush with the law. Decades before, while piloting a touring car through the fields of the Eastern Shore, he was stopped by a police officer and hauled into the Denton courthouse. Pop had no driver's license. He never had one. He paid a fine but not before he'd managed to sit on a square of fly paper during the ordeal.

In 1955, on a June Saturday I well recall, my mother was pulled over by the Georgetown, Del., cops for speeding. She too paid the fine and hung up the keys for good, never again to drive to Dewey, Rehoboth or anywhere else. My sisters, then little passengers in that car, have preserved the original copy of that ticket. It's a notorious family document.

In the early 1950s it fell to my long-suffering bachelor uncle, also an E.J. Monaghan, to load his Chevy station wagon with his relatives and haul everyone to the beach. He took the day in good stride. Like all of us in that household, he had little choice.

While he did the driving, my grandfather provided the running commentary, paragraphs and chapters of it.

Pop also paid the toll at the then-new Bay Bridge. Just to give the toll-takers a jolt, he always paid it in silver dollars.

As a 4-year-old, I inquired why he didn't use folding money.

He replied they needed some waking up.

Pop Monaghan was an engineer who specialized in water projects. He didn't like the way the Bay Bridge was built and issued a running commentary as we crossed it. He thought it was a waste of taxpayers' money because the structure was too small. Had he been in charge, it would have been six lanes wide -- with railroad tracks too.

Once we cleared the bridge, Pop surrendered this traveling show to Lily Rose -- and her cold lunch.

There was nothing cold about its preparation. No matter how hot Baltimore's June weather was, she baked a ham, fried her own chicken, then fired up the oven for date-nut bread. She even boiled water to melt the sugar to sweeten the homemade lemonade. She made enough so that we could feast upon the remains in case the local grocery stores were closed.

In the 1950s the car was king. On this one day of the year, we pulled over to a Route 50 picnic table. It was the one day annually when we lunched so casually.

This tradition lasted for a few years until great-Aunt Cora spotted a water snake in a drainage ditch. After that reptilian sighting, there were no more Route 50 outdoor repasts.

Besides, all agreed it was better to risk speeding tickets and hunger to get to our destination. An Army cot and worn summer sheets look pretty good after 10 months' imprisonment in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/26/99

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