Family treks through Waverly were filled with many opportunities

September 29, 2001|By JACQUES KELLY

One morning this week, I took off for my neighborhood post office, the Waverly Station, a government building so far hidden from normal traffic and public view you need both a road map and compass to find it. A friend kindly gave me a lift to its Homewood Avenue location; in fact, we carpooled and gave a ride to a third fellow. All three of us agreed we'd never have found our way had I not been born in Baltimore's old postal zone 18.

We drove along Gorsuch Avenue, once the heart of old Waverly, and came upon the sadly closed A&P store I had known in my childhood. In the old days - before the government decided to hide the Waverly post office - it sat neatly behind the grocery store, just up the street from a Read's drug store. You could walk to them all. And we did.

The Gorsuch Avenue A&P was definitely an old-fashioned, walk-to market. The No. 8 streetcar passed a block away, on Greenmount Avenue. In the 1950s, you could still see the iron rails peeking through the asphalt on Gorsuch where the old No. 17 Waverly cars once ran. Neighborhood boys lined up at the front door to help you with groceries - for a tip, of course.

Wednesday was the sacred market day, a day set aside for this purpose and no other - except, in season, maybe an afternoon bolt to Pimlico.

We traveled by wicker baby carriage. This is to say, my mother, her mother, Lily Rose, and great-aunt Cora walked up a slight hill from Guilford Avenue to the corner of Old York Road and Gorsuch Avenue, where the blond brick A&P stood. You did not need a road map in those days. Our local businesses were in the center of an established neighborhood fully served by sidewalks, streetcars, buses and taxis.

That doesn't mean that's how we marketed. My mother pushed a roomy, utilitarian, no-frills baby carriage, which occasionally made the first leg of the trip with a package to be mailed at the post office. I often rode in its seat, often displacing younger siblings who preferred to walk. On the return trip, whoever claimed the seat was wedged in among the cargo of brown grocery bags.

We liked to travel the back alleys. They were always more interesting than traditional streets. No matter how rutted these lanes were, the old carriage was up to the task. Along the way were racing-pigeon coops, old roses, haunted houses and people whose names we never knew.

We've heard quite a lot of words these days about Smart Growth, town centers and traditional planning. Waverly, with its core of essential services, had them all. We didn't have fancy names for them; the idea that city planners would one day look back in deep respect would have made us laugh. We were just walking to the market, the post office, drug store and Woolworth's.

We appreciated our little collection of merchants, shops and services. Life would have been a lot less livable without a convenient source for the postage stamps and the apples Lily Rose would be making into the sauce for her fall pork roasts.

Each of those Wednesday morning treks through Waverly was a little expedition, a trip that provided its own set of opportunities. Was the traffic so bad on Greenmount Avenue that it took four minutes to cross the street? Was the pineapple preserve on sale? Were the firemen at the Waverly firehouse willing to show off their engines to my younger brother and sisters? What film was playing the Boulevard or Waverly theaters?

Or better yet, what bit of neighborhood news did we glean at the potato bin?

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