Memories of summer days gone by in Baltimore

Memorial Day weekend marks the arrival of the Baltimore summer season. The markets are full of tiny sweet peas, strawberries and rhubarb. Families start organizing crab feasts. And on a warm night, snowball stands attract lines for a cup of ice flavored with chocolate and marshmallow or any other combination of citrus and sugar.

In years past, it was a time when ambitious Baltimore cooks made homemade strawberry shortcake. Those who couldn’t be bothered went to a bakery for this summer dessert that arrived around six weeks before peach cake.

Home seamstresses visited department stores to buy their cotton, linen and seersucker for their summer-fashion sewing chores.

In the days before air conditioning, Baltimore families spent their evenings on front porches and steps. The city’s awning companies were busy in the final weeks of May, installing their canvas-shading devices. People dragged porch gliders and swings out of storage, gave them a wash down, and added aluminum chairs to set up a summertime conversation oasis.

The last days of May were a time when the head housekeepers laboriously vacuumed winter rugs, rolled them up, and hauled them to basement storage racks. They changed their heavy winter curtains for room-darkening blue, roll-up blinds. They stored their woolen sweaters in moth-proof bags and sprinkled moth crystals for added protection.

It was a time to visit the cellar or basement and retrieve window screens, wash and install them before the insects took over.

Memorial Day also unofficially kicked off another kind of season. Baltimore kids collected pickle jars, punched ventilation holes and went in search of lightning bugs.

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