After nightfall, family would get second wind

April 06, 2002|By Jacques Kelly

THE CONCEPT of daylight-saving time did not arrive smoothly at the Guilford Avenue house where I was raised. There were six young children to be put to bed at an early hour; getting us quieted down while the light still shone through the shades tormented my mother.

Beside, it was fun to stay up and observe the customs and rhythms of that house in the later evening. I've mentioned before that some of my relatives were confirmed morning people, but that didn't inhibit them from their 9 p.m. rituals.

Call it a second wind that swept through the place - there was indeed some delightful stirring as the sun finally disappeared over Calvert Street. I guess today we're terrified about crime. We lock our doors, turn on the television and dissolve into its powers of sedentary stupefaction.

We've lost the marvelous evening scurrying about - the last of the day's walks to the drugstore soda fountain or a convenience shop or, in the deep summer, a conversation on the front porch purposefully extended until the house had cooled down, at least a little, maybe with a dash to a snowball purveyor, too.

I think of the time after dinner as the homework and newspaper-reading hour. We had all three of Baltimore's daily newspapers in the house. Each was read for content and then subjected to a criticism no journalism professor could deliver. Forget Milton Berle on television. It was far more fun to observe my elders rip apart - or highly praise - a written news report. They could roast a padded story; they delighted in a feature they felt captured the tone and style of the old Baltimore they so admired. They also devoured crime news; a good poisoning in Guilford sent them into orbit.

But there came a time in the evening when their reading eyes gave out and their appetites returned. On many a night, someone volunteered to make a run to the village Hendler's ice cream vat - the Guilford Pharmacy, full of friends and neighbors on similar nocturnal missions. I'll never figure out how master dipper Cookie Hudson, who staffed the soda fountain, could pack a brown grocery bag with eight or 10 ice-cream cones, packs of Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields (don't forget the matches) and chocolate Cokes. And when it all arrived home, every snacker was satisfied.

Not every evening included a trip to the drugstore. Sometimes my grandmother had her 9 p.m. dish of cottage cheese and a swig of Pepsi. Aunt Cora added A&P pineapple preserves to cottage cheese and a small glass of Hires root beer. She occasionally made her own and called it sarsaparilla. They also liked soda crackers and yellow cheese at this hour. Grandfather Edward Jacques Monaghan had his private stash of limburger cheese.

On Saturday nights, from September through late April, Lily Rose got the jump on Sunday by making the batter for her buckwheat cakes. If she ran out of yeast, she dispatched my ever-patient father to a grocery store that kept extended hours. Once mixed up, buckwheat batter sat in the pantry overnight.

What really signaled lights out to my eyes was their routine of securing the old house for the evening. This was more ritual than reality - they all slept with opened windows, and burglar alarms were something the Provident Bank had, not us.

But they checked their beloved old manse, peered about, visited the cellar, turned out lights and maybe glanced out the windows, just to observe that all was well, that no one had left a door open. Then, lest invaders come up through the alley, my grandmother threw two bolts on the kitchen door and turned over a chair and wedged it under the doorknob. No thief could ever lay hands on her buckwheats and Pepsi.

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