Remembering the last-minute shopping for Easter

March 26, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

EARLY ON, I realized that life as lived in the city was not as it was portrayed on 1950s television. We were different.

I can still see the No. 8 streetcar riders that Holy Saturday afternoon of 1957 or 1958. The trolley was packed with weary workers and homebound shoppers; some passengers toted packages which I suspected would be soon unwrapped, and their contents donned the next morning.

Not all those Baltimore Transit Co. patrons transported Easter finery. Some balanced potted hyacinths and lilies that produced botanical scents so strong you might as well have been in the Druid Hill Park Conservatory.

As the motorman applied the brakes at Green Mount Cemetery, I heard the sound of the chirping, live baby chicks being taken home, not for some distant dinner, but as retail contraband, small animals, given as gifts at Easter.

On one of these Easter expeditions, it would not be unusual to see a pasteboard carton of infant ducks - or a live, terrified bunny rabbit in a paper bag with vented holes. The shivering chicks (no incubators on Eutaw Street) were routinely sold at three for a dollar, brown bag included. I also observed the hideous practice of selling peeps that had been dyed fluorescent and pastel colors.

The cheep-cheep-cheep noise continued all the way to 29th Street, where my mother pulled the buzzer cord.

My mother, a sensible person and an animal fancier, took a dim view of a routine springtime occurrence in Baltimore.

Itinerant sales vendors, the kind who also sold balloons at parades, made quick cash selling chicks, rabbits and ducklings along the streets outside the city's markets. Well-intentioned family members bought them; oblivious as to the fate of a vigorous baby duck that happens to live on to, say, July 4? I'm not sure it was legal to keep ducks and chickens in city back yards at that time.

As weird as the animal markets were, the real markets also delivered the gore. I can also see the skinned muskrats lined up for immediate stewing outside the old Belair Market. Now that was a sight.

There were laws against the sale of live animals on street corners; but, then as now, Baltimore is a patsy town regarding nit-picky regulations. The police had better things to do - such as direct the surging crowds that gathered on Holy Saturday to wrap up their Easter shopping.

Despite my mother's protests, the little animals somehow arrived and stayed a while.

As my sister Mimi reminded me yesterday, somehow these Easter pets survived - often in back yards of pure city concrete.

Let us now move on to June or July. The chicks are now chickens and the ducks are noisy, even making appearances in our home movies. It is time for them to make a trip to the country, where we found a home for them with our Baltimore County friends. Once the adoption was complete, we asked no more questions.

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