Family home contains closets full of memories

November 12, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

The other night I gave three short doorbell blasts at my old family Guilford Avenue home. Soon my two twin nieces, Mary and Katie, were working the locks to admit their uncle, whom they informed was late for dinner. I was. I had missed a bus.

My sister Ann ushered me into the kitchen and offered a chair at the table. As she put it, it was Pop's chair, meaning the seat and place normally reserved for my grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan Sr., who died in 1963. After all these years, it's still Pop's chair, except for the days when Father Al Mack, a Jesuit priest, occasionally visited and took the honored seat.

I chuckled that other night. Decades may have passed, but labels and tags still remain around the house. I think this is because there were so many of us, 12 at one time, spread over three generations. It was also a house of distinct personalities who left their mark all over the place.

I think these generations of Stewarts, Monaghans and Kellys as being generous and giving. But there were little rituals of ownership that made me smile. To put it another way, everything in that cavernous house had its place, a place of jurisdiction that implied ownership and occasional responsibility.

As a child I was startled to learn how my grandmother and her sisters divided the cleaning responsibilities. Lily Rose had the duties only so far up the front staircase, to a certain spindle on the handrail. After that boundary post, her sister Helen took over. That was on the second floor. The third floor went to another sister, my great-aunt Cora.

The sisters also portioned out the pantry. Shelves belonged to designated ones; there was a strict, self-imposed, no-trespassing rule. So too the refrigerator. Lily Rose created the rubber-band marker. Soft drink bottles with a red rubber band stretched around the neck indicated her ownership.

I would also giggle at the storage arrangements in a large closet that connected two second-floor bedrooms. This closet, tailor-made for hide-and-seek games, was wedged full of mothballed inventory. My mother was something of a shoe collector and stacked her collection in their original boxes on high shelves.

She used Windsor Red (Wallis Warfield was much discussed and generally approved of on Guilford Avenue) nail polish to mark the shoe boxes. Her standard code was Stew, short for Stewart, her somewhat unusual first name, which had been her mother's maiden name. In a short essay she wrote for a college publication, she related just how much she liked that curious name.

My grandmother never abbreviated Stewart. It was always spelled out.

My grandfather Pop was given a few inches of space in the closet for his suits. He also claimed a small extra amount of room for his private collection of Wight's Reserve, a Maryland rye whiskey absolutely necessary for life on Guilford Avenue.

I ran into traffic congestion on my name because we had three Jacques under the same roof, two on the third floor and one on the second, all three around the dinner table.

My grandfather was Ed or EJ, and to his adoring grandchildren, Pop. His son, although a full-fledged junior, got the use of the middle name, Jacques, always pronounced Jack. When I came along, I got it as a first name, but the house name givers were running low on variants. I became Jackkelly, somewhat rammed together, with a Stewart and a Harry added for four-initial confusion.

Now comes my christening day, April 1950, when the priest, in full Latin, has to render aloud my name at the baptismal font at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church. My mother had imported more Jesuits for the day, including the one who had his own chair. That name? Jacobus Henricus, and for many years after I was known as Jakey to those who witnessed the act.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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