Each day's own music marked the hours Like chimes: A clock made of sounds measured the delightful rituals and pleasant routines that gave a house its life.


THE DAILY PACE of the Guilford Avenue house where I grew up was governed by a dawn-to-dusk routine marked by distinctive noises. These comforting sounds reoccurred day after day, each in its place, providing some auditory punctuation to the day.

The first one, generally sounding about 6: 55 a.m., was an exclamation point.

The Croswell Ring -- It consisted of three sharp, deliberate peals on the house doorbell, a brass cylinder that could have been heard a block away on Calvert Street.

Dorothy Croswell, our next-door neighbor, took many a meal with us, especially a cup of coffee and piece of toast before leaving for her job. She announced her early entry with her calling-card triple ring, the same in 1990 as it was in 1950. I often wished I had a photo of her fingernails -- bright red -- pressing the button alongside the front door.

Dorothy was a woman of ingrained habits. Her entrance, signaled by doorbell, was worthy of the Autocall bell at the old Hochschild Kohn department store, the place, incidentally, where Dorothy bought her nail paint and had her hair done.

Her entry ring was one of the delights of our Guilford Avenue home.

The Tomato Factory Whistle -- This was a mournful steam whistle on some distant canning house.

On a humid morning, it carried clearly; after the Croswell Ring, it was my personal call to the breakfast table. We always left for school early, and the cannery blast got us on our way.

The Hoopper Honk -- Julia F. Hoopper was our next-door neighbor to the south. The long-time librarian at the Montebello School, No. 44, at 32nd and Harford, she was punctual to the second.

Each morning as she drove off, she passed her home and respectfully -- but quite audibly -- tooted to her parents, who stood devotedly on the porch with a return wave ready for their departing daughter. It was a charming send-off.

"Tea's Made" -- Come the lunch hour, a loud call resounded up the stairwell. My grandmother, Lily Rose, was never separated from her sister, great Aunt Cora. The sisters, though substantially different in personality, never varied in the way they announced lunch. Their code phrase -- "Tea's made" -- was called up the stairwell.

This meant that the hot tea for lunch was steaming. For some reason, hot coffee was served only at breakfast and dinner. Tea was the beverage of choice at lunch.

The Pipe Bang -- For those who didn't post promptly for supper, there was a special invitation -- a wooden kitchen spatula rapped against the heating pipes. It worked.

The 5 o'Clock Key -- My mother, who had six children, liked to get out in the afternoon. And with a mother and aunt at home, there was always a baby sitter available. Mama had her weekly shopping along Howard and Charles streets, medical appointments, excursions to the race track with her female friends, school teas and extended luncheons.

No matter how much she had on her social platter, though, her key was turning and clicking in the front-door lock at 5 o'clock. Always just in time for the bountiful meal that went on the table at precisely that hour -- served, of course, by her mother and aunt.

As the two older women set out the meal, my mother delivered the day's social news.

I could never understand which commodity was more popular -- the food on the table or the paragraphs of social commentary. Both were dished out in large portions.

The Go-to-Bed Window. This was a summertime-only sound that signaled the end of the day.

Each evening, after dark, my grandmother Lily Rose got out of her wicker chair on the front porch.

She was the undisputed chief, the matriarch, the one who paid the city property taxes. She also locked up at night. The ritual began in the kitchen, where she propped a chair against the door.

The sound that said "call it quits," though, was that of her lowering the living room windows. These sashes were expansive, heavy. As she reached up and brought them down, the chains attached to the lead counterbalance weights made a metallic noise. Hardly romantic, but her sign -- and ours -- that the day had come to an end.

Pub Date: 8/15/98

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad