Uncover the furniture

vacation is over and autumn is moving in

September 03, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

IN THESE EARLY days of September, more than at any time of the year, I think I feel a change move through my life. I notice it in the change of light in the mornings and evenings, but it also has plenty to do with a life spent in Baltimore with relatives who had their own ways of doing things.

I've not been home from my vacation for long, but when I left Baltimore three weeks ago, we were in the midst of a humid and draining summer. When I returned, it was clear something else was in the air.

I was reminded of vacation arrivals back many years ago, when the old house on Guilford Avenue had been largely shut down, or at least emptied of most of the family for big chunks of June, July and August.

When my grandmother, Lily Rose, and her sister, Great-Aunt Cora, closed down housekeeping, they meant it. I can well remember entering the hot and darkened house at the end of summer. The rooms were eerie; they smelled of being closed up -- and more than a little of the moth flakes and balls they had dropped around as some sort of insect preventive they felt worked.

Baltimore neighborhood movie theaters in the 1950s regularly screened idiotic horror films for the Saturday afternoon children's audiences. But the way our otherwise normal place appeared on the first day back from the beach made The House on Haunted Hill appear normal.

The rooms were dark and musty. There were ripped white sheets draped over chairs, tables and bureaus.

Aunt Cora, a careful and tough cleaner, also took down lamps and all her dressing table items and placed them in a neat heap on the bed, which she then draped in more wrappings.

As a child, I thought all this looked like some creepy theatrical show, but Cora offered a ready explanation. Baltimore summers were dusty; all she had to do was lift off the sheet and her belongings would be ready for the fall. Once again, her logic had some credibility, if you didn't mind plugging all those lamps back in. Come to think of it, I think I was summoned for that task, and then tipped a quarter to go out and see another horror movie.

The other part of the end of summer I'll never forget is the enthusiasm with which the sisters hit the kitchen after a good vacation, after just making do along the ocean with simple dinners of fried scrapple and tomatoes.

It was as if they had been denied something. The full Maryland summer harvest was coming in and they were not about to be left out. Cora adored peaches and enjoyed them three meals a day. My two favorite September odors were the scent of stewed peaches and the labor-intensive, homemade tomato ketchup, redolent of vinegar, sugar and spices, they made at this time of the year, often on a humid day.

Some items dropped out of production about now. We lost the nightly servings of homemade iced tea completely. Dinners grew more complicated.

Desserts involving baking chocolate also came back, but only tentatively. The chocolate items they made required a lot of stove time, and Baltimore is still plenty hot in September. Then, one Saturday, Lily Rose, the oldest of her five sisters and the domestic law giver, would declare summer officially over. She told my mother to go to the Belair Market in Oldtown, not far from a childhood home on Aisquith Street. There she would pick up a sack of buckwheat flour, the first of many to be savored over the fall and winter breakfast season.

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