The last Saturday in June was the day we said goodbye to Baltimore and packed it up for the summer. As a child, it was a day I anticipated all year, then remembered for its unforgettable set of rituals.
By the end of June the pace of our domestic life was slowing. The heat had set in, and, as a neighbor once observed, there was never an electric fan in our home. Baltimore was just different in the summer. The downtown department stores closed at noon on Saturdays. As you walked the streets you heard Orioles games on radios through all the open windows.
My relatives were industrious morning people who worked hard before the summer sun got going. For weeks before that June Saturday we collected cardboard boxes for packing. We went away for a month or more, sometimes the entire summer, and took necessities such as traveling steam irons and cast-iron frying pans.
At about 9 or 10 on that Saturday morning, we finally cast off from the alley behind our Guilford Avenue home, the neighbors assembled on back porches and waved us off for a happy departure; most neighbors indulged in the same practice a few weeks later when they called at our summer addresses and spent some time. Those without cars arrived via the Carolina Trailways bus, which served the Eastern Shore and Delaware on curiously zigzag routes that involved excruciating traveling times.
My elders traditionally dressed formally but not on a travel day. They acted as if crossing the Bay Bridge were crossing the meridian. For this arduous, 114-mile excursion of three hours (tops), my grandmother and great aunt wore elasticized turbans atop heavy hairnets. My grandfather, rarely seen without a suit and tie, produced a khaki shirt and khaki trousers, along with a matching canvas cap with broad visor. He could have been on an archaeological dig.
The then-new Bay Bridge was a talking point. Some days there weren't enough toll takers on duty. That occasioned my grandfather to give one of his sermons on the complete and totally inefficiency of all Maryland governmental agencies. He also paid the toll in silver dollars, just to get a reaction from the unsuspecting collectors.
A civil engineer, he habitually rapped the bridge's design, which he held should have been four lanes wide, with a pair of train tracks down the center. In 1954 it was one lane in each direction.
As for the old Kent Narrows drawbridge, that was insane, he thought. He had contempt for both "the jerks" who designed it (far too small) and the pleasure boaters who demanded that the draw be raised at their whim. Federal maritime law was on the boaters' side and our trip to the ocean wasn't complete without a Kent Narrows delay.
We passed such Anne Arundel County eateries as the old Barn Restaurant, the Wagon Wheel, Busch's or the Log Inn, which only served to remind us that lunchtime was approaching. By the time we passed Holly's and the Circle — just across the bridge — it was time to stop, but certainly not at a counter. Buying a lunch would have been too easy. My grandmother had earlier fired up the oven and baked homemade date-nut bread that was spread with cream cheese for sandwiches, fried chicken and made lemonade. She used a thermos bottle just once a year, on this day.
Bridges and lunches out of the way, we moved deep into the Delmarva Peninsula and went into alert mode. To wary Baltimoreans, the peninsula was troublesome for its speed traps. If the police didn't bag you in the Caroline County town of Denton, they snagged you in Delaware. Each year, there were stories about sneaky officers who secreted themselves behind loblolly pine trees.
Our seasoned drivers thought they were on to the minutiae of local traffic enforcement. The results were often a draw, like the time my mother got hauled into the Georgetown, Del., courthouse on a traffic issue. It made a good story, like so many on the last Saturday of June. She talked herself out of the charge.