MY GRANDMOTHER, Lily Rose Stewart Monaghan, never liked hot, muggy weather. I think that's one of the reasons she expired during an August heat blast precisely 30 years ago.
I can't remember her age. She guarded her birth date. Let's just say she was born on Aisquith Street in the 1880s, moved to Broadway in the 1890s and to Guilford Avenue in 1915. That's where she died in 1970. Like many non-mobile Baltimoreans, she lived in but two postal zones during her 80-some years. What trips out of town she did make, she didn't like much.
Lily Rose was the undisputed boss of the house where I grew up. No one contested her authority. Besides, she was our hardest worker -- and the quickest too.
A neighbor, Audrey Eastman, once reported hearing noises in the dark. She went to the window and looked down on Lily Rose in the blackness of 4:30 in the morning. She was chatting with her sister Cora as they adjusted the laundry lines.
As a child, I appeared downstairs and Lily would have the evening's supper all made at the breakfast hour. The oysters were padded. The crab cakes were formed and lined up on cookie sheets. The vegetable soup was made. The potatoes were peeled. Her cinnamon cake was already out of the oven and cooling. This by 6:55 a.m.
Lily Rose, our house dynamo, had more than a few categories she didn't touch. After some sort of a dust-up at her childhood parish, she personally had little to do with the Roman Catholic Church, except sending her children to Catholic schools. (At her death, there was no church requiem, just prayers on the West Baltimore hill where she rests.)
Her own feelings were hers and did not extend to others. She would turn the household routine upside down for priests she liked and entertained. She would drop-kick a dinner into the refrigerator at a moment's notice and substitute another if a Jesuit priest named Aloysius Mack happened to call.
She didn't like school. She asked her father to have her excused from completing Eastern High School, much to the embarrassment of her four sisters, who each held Eastern diplomas proudly on high. On the other hand, she delighted in academic excellence -- in others -- and had a sack of silver dollars ready when I got some good grades.
Others in the family belonged to clubs and organizations. Not Lily. She left the house only for marketing and trips shopping at Howard and Lexington. She would not eat in Hutzler's tea room -- only the basement luncheonette, where her meal was vegetable soup and a chocolate ice cream soda.
She considered a visit to Roland Park to be venturing into the country. She acted as if our summer trip to Rehoboth Beach was a trek of rigorous proportions. (She donned a special costume for the ride down the Ritchie Highway to the Bay Bridge. She wore an anti-wind head shield and a time-battered dress.)
She herself never dressed stylishly but had a couple of twenties (or more) ready for anyone else who wanted to look their best.
Lily possessed a tremendous capacity for love, the kind that doesn't come with strings attached. If you were on her team, there were no questions asked.
A neighbor who observed the goings-on in our household from a few doors away -- remember, we lived in rowhouses and privacy is preserved by only a couple of courses of brick -- once assessed Lily Rose. She said that others in the house may have gone to church more often, but Lily was the better person.