The Neighborhood Turned Out To See Our Annual Escape From City To Beach

June 30, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

The final Saturday in June was the day we dreamt about all year. For a family with deep Baltimore roots, all we wanted to do was beat it out of town in advance of the July heat wave. The backyard garden walk and the alley behind my family's Guilford Avenue house were the beginning of our evacuation route. And it seemed as if the whole neighborhood was out to observe on the day the women and children were sent away to the beach.

Packing involved assembling a summer wardrobe to last a month or six weeks. There were never enough suitcases; the overflow went into cardboard cartons marked with black crayon.

Uncle E.J. drew the short straw and had the responsibility for driving his parents, Aunt Cora, his sister, and his nieces and nephews. He had a two-tone 1954 Chevy station wagon that was just large enough. My grandfather, another Edward Jacques, insisted on paying the Bay Bridge toll in silver dollars. My grandmother and her sister bound their hair as a precaution against the wind. The last thing in the car was Cora's oversized Ecuadorean straw beach hat.

The night before, we packed another vehicle, my father's car. He would arrive later Saturday evening, often taking the circuitous route to Rehoboth or Dewey via Delaware Park, where he covered racing for the old Washington Evening Star. He did double duty, working a full day before becoming a moving van. The men, except for my grandfather, wisely returned home after the first weekend.

Our neighbors turned out to observe the departure. Those old houses had sets of wooden back porches off the first and second floors. They were not used too much -- not like the front porches. But on this day, onlookers filled the rear galleries.

Our neighbors seemed to catch the spirit of the Saturday morning and would send us out appropriately. There were no parting gifts exchanged; perhaps a few weeks later, they would drive over the Bay Bridge, their trunks filled with bakery goods.

Elderly Clarence Dankmeyer and his frail wife, Mary Kellogg, appeared. They waved handkerchiefs. Often the Smiths and the Carpenters came out for a last look. Steuart Hoopper, who had been an accountant for the old Merchants and Miners Steamship Co., rolled up the morning paper into a kind of trumpet and sounded a call he might have used if the steamship Chatham were departing Pratt Street.

When the Chevy drifted down the alley toward Ilchester Avenue, I knew there was no stopping. The trip took a little less time than it does today because traffic was so light. The worst part was getting out of Baltimore. Some things never change. Russell Street was a mess then and it remains so today. By the time we touched down in Stevensville, we'd break out cold chicken-and-cream cheese date nut bread sandwiches.

I wondered about our neighbors. We were certainly the largest, loudest and youngest household on the street. Did the Hooppers and the Dankmeyers return to their Saturday morning breakfasts, roll their eyes and think, "Now we can enjoy the quiet"?

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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