Jacques Kelly: The simple charms of a beach cottage in the 1950s

July generally ushers in Baltimore's most beastly weather. And since the lone cooling device we had when I was growing up was a canvas awning for the front porch of our Guilford Avenue home, my family beat the heat by leaving the city and not looking back until Labor Day.

My grandfather, E.J. Monaghan, known to me as just "Pop," directed these family excursions.


He always had a few tricks for the trip. His favorite was startling the toll takers by paying in silver dollars.

After growing up in a three-story Charles Village house with tall ceilings and hardwood floors, I found our summer accommodations in Dewey Beach, Del., somewhat primitive. We had an indoor toilet but an outside shower and some basic electricity.


But the Rodney Street cottage, which sat atop a sand dune and overlooked the Atlantic, also had simple charms that were contagious. We were never lacking visitors.

The number of those visitors could vary widely. On overflow weekends, we stretched hammocks across the porch. I slept on a canvas cot and occasionally had to surrender that berth to more senior arrivals.

The beach wasn't just about escaping the city heat. It was a relief to turn your back on department stores, movie theaters and bus lines as you crossed the Bay Bridge in the 1950s. We slept on old sheets, often ripped and patched, ate from cast-iron frying pans and went to sleep to the sound of the waves.


Part of the spell cast by the weathered cedar-shingle cottage stemmed from the lack of communication devices and their accompanying noise.

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We had no radio, television or telephone. There were hand-delivered telegrams when something dreadful happened in Baltimore and a pay phone a few blocks away at the store that sold the suntan oil and beach chairs.

Our communication during the summer was more of the neighbor-to-neighbor variety. On many nights we dug a pit and built a bonfire on the beach with pieces of driftwood. If you had a package of marshmallows, you had a crowd.

That lack of communication with the outside world played a part late in the summer of 1954, when the rains started and the waves kicked up.


Soon a Delaware state trooper was knocking at the door and advising us to leave. We learned then that we were in the middle of Hurricane Carol.

My father pointed his Dodge in the direction of the Bay Bridge and Baltimore, and we were soon on Route 404. As we hydroplaned through standing water, I can recall my mother appearing unimpressed. Then she launched into her recollection of the August 1933 storm that walloped Ocean City.

Evacuations? Just a part of what happened in the summer.