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Baltimore l940's-50's
Best of times, Worst of times  

  I spent my childhood in a ramshackle house at 400 Venable Avenue in Waverly, Baltimore, Md. My mother caught the number 8 streetcar out to Black and Decker's for her wartime job. My grandmother took care of old Mr. Stonewall Jackson Bosley (deceased, 1955), a well known patron of Stoler's saloon who lost his vision in later life. (Remember when Stoler's had a spectacular fire?!)  Myself and some of the other little children in the neighborhood might be waiting for my mother around 4 o'clock in front of Lacey's store at Venable and Greenmount,  where she disembarked from the trolley. The other kids shouted “Miss Mary, Miss Mary” and I started calling my mother the same name.

 I remember the day World War II ended. The intersection of Greenmount Avenue and Thirty-third was packed with people that evening. The parade was like Halloween, only better. I asked my grandmother if this was a holiday that happened every year. She said no, only every few years!

 I spent my pre-school days in mostly joyful bliss playing with other children, or sometimes just playing in my own mind. There was no mandatory kindergarten, no pre-K and no pre-pre-K for me. There were no play dates. If someone wanted to play with you, they just stood in front of your house and called out your name.
  Going up Venable Avenue were the Popps, the Wilkens', the Hardings, the Childs', the Goldstraws. Birkwood Place faced my house at Venable and Barclay, and there could be found the slightly more affluent Lorchalks and Kalils. Going north on Barclay, past my house, got much more problematic! Some very sweet Black people lived in that block, but they could never move one or two houses away, or on Venable Avenue! I well remember Marlene, Violetta and dear Mrs. Maisie. Past this small Black community, at the corner of Barclay and Calvin, lived the three Scalley sisters. One was a longtime schoolteacher.

 The third house on Venable, going up from Barclay, was also problematic. During my childhood, a murder occurred there. A loving-looking couple lived in one of the apartments. One day the woman was taken out dead with multiple stab wounds. People assumed that this carnage was the handiwork of her boyfriend, but no one could prove it.

 I loved Friday nights. My mother would have brought home her paycheck, after which my grandmother, Kate, would take me around Greenmount  Avenue. I can still smell the candy in Woolworth's 5 & 10 cent store, where some items actually were those prices. Evening in Paris perfume in the small bottles was 25 cents cheap! I was always permitted to buy a whistle or a rubber ball or some other toy. Kate and I would roam the whole of Greenmount  Avenue. We'd look around the Crown 5 and dime, we would window shop in the shoe stores or at Adler's. In Read's at 32nd and Greenmount, I would always get treated to ice cream, and could buy a comic book as well. Coming out, the smell of hamburgers and onions from the Little Tavern beckoned. If we'd walked further south on Greenmount, past the fire station, we would have encountered an Acme foodstore, Schaub's Icecream Parlor, and an Arundel. Other nearby eateries included the White Coffee Pot and, further north, the Run Inn and Nick's. These trips were never complete without my grandmother's buying 3 bottles of Gunther beer to carry home.  (R. In yard at 400 Venable Avenue.)

  We did food shopping at Wagner's or A&P. The latter was on Gorsuch Avenue, near the Post Office and the now defunct Tinges Lane. Sometimes we might stop in the Green Door on Old York Road, where Kate would have a beer and I'd have a coke.
  Sometimes we'd take a shortcut down Merryman's Lane. Here, a disgrace to the times stood, in the shape of a wooden two-room schoolhouse with a wooden potbelly stove. This pitiful building was the schoolhouse for the Blacks.
  Thursdays were boring. This was my grandmother's day at the Boulevard Theater. I was judged too young to be left alone, so I had to sit staring up at the ceiling “When's this gonna be over?!” while Kate watched some Bette Davis sob story. Thursday was always Chinese Food day, where we got a carryout at a small Chinese restaurant that was wedged in between a beauty parlor and a hardware store. I am sorry to report that my dear grandmother would say “Let's go to the Shine Knee.”

  Saturday morning, however, was the cowboy movie at the Waverly Theater: Roy Rogers, Gene Audrey, Tim Holt, and if one was really lucky, Whip Wilson or Lash Larue—and of course the wonderful serial! The theater was always packed with kids, the floor filled with popcorn and gum.
  When I was 6, St Bernard's School entered into my life, at Gorsuch and Independence Streets. (No children of color there!) I would get a nickel every day to buy candy. In addition to the candy the nuns sold, there were two corner stores directly across Gorsuch Avenue from the school. Sometimes walking home I would wander across Public School #51 playground, dangerous territory, since the nuns didn't want us anywhere near non-Catholic schools. Near that school was another penny candy place named “Knieval's.” (L. Waverly, Greenmount Ave).

  One day there was a fire in St. Bernard's Church. As I remember, this wasn't a school day but almost instantly word reached 400 Venable Avenue. (No phone there; we had to go to one of the phone booths at Burris and Kemp, where Miss Ethel manned the soda fountain, if we wanted to make a call. An eyewitness told me that Sister Raymond was sobbing as the organ was carried out in chunks. Ah, Sister Raymond! She would turn beet red as she pounced down the classroom aisle like a cat, rosary flying after her, to bump a child who might be standing an inch out of line.

 

  Of course, I remembered the big parade when the Baltimore Orioles came to the city, in 1954. (54 was also the number of games they won that first season, losing 100). Who could forget Bob Turley, Don Larsen, Clint Courtney, Eddie Waitkus, Bob Young, Vern Stephens, Cal Abrams, Chuck Diering—and manager Jimmy Dykes? One time that first year when the Orioles moved here from St. Louis, the team actually beat the Yankees, 10-0. I was so happy that night, drifting off to sleep as I listened to the baseball traffic on 33rd Street. The next day, the old News Post had that 10-0 victory in the large headline.

 What have I forgotten? There were two great bakeries on Greenmount, Arthur's and Rabby's. At Greenmount near Venable there was an eatery with booths, referred to as the Tobacco Shop. The booths were usually packed with high school kids. The nightclubs, Sweeney's and Judge's, were off limits to me then, although I checked them out later.

  These were times when ignorance was bliss. These were times when, if a Black person went into the downtown Read's at Howard and Lexington (after they could even get to that soda fountain; at one time, they could not), they were given their colas in a paper cup so as not to contaminate the glass ones. These were times when few Black players could get into major league baseball. I believe the first Black player in the American league was the Red Sox' Pumpsie Green. So I don't really want to make these times sound like the Rapture. Too many people weren't even invited to play the game (of life). Women could not really play. If a woman worked outside the home at all, and had the education, she could aspire to be a good secretary, a nurse, or a schoolteacher
 
Yet, life had a much less complicated rhythm then. You didn't have to worry about gas prices because you didn't have to keep a car. A man might be satisfied with a steady job, his rowhouse, his evening meal, his few beers, and his watching the three black and white television channels that the tube yielded up. I am contented to move on, and let the past bury the past.   (Below: R..Steps leading up to 600 blk. 31st from Frisby Street, L.St Bernard's 8th grade 1955)
                                        -DB