Ladies couldn't be boxed in by storage

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I OPEN MY mail this week to find three different catalogs containing an inventory of boxes, tubs and racks designed to organize a home. I guess all these containers are designed to camouflage the post-Christmas clutter - and maybe put things in order for the new year.

I grew up in a house full of inventory, and yet for the most part, there was very little left in a jumble. There is nothing quite like a big Guilford Avenue rowhouse to neatly contain the accumulations of a lifetime or two. The only thing better would be a bigger house in Roland Park, Catonsville or Guilford.

As a child of the 1950s, I was constantly fascinated by all the storage cabinets, bins and cupboards dedicated to whatever my grandmother, Lily Rose, her sister, Aunt Cora, and my mother kept on hand.

As an old family story goes, when the two elder women made on inspection of the house in late 1914, just before signing on the line with its builder, there were two extra rooms that could have been finished off as baths. Then as now, I guess price was an issue, but they told the builder they did not need extra bathrooms. What they wanted were closets.

And until the day those grand ladies died, they knew they had made the right choice. Aunt Cora's closet was packed to capacity at all time. I was allowed to enter it because, in addition to her extensive wardrobe, winter and summer, she kept an A&P; bag of snacks and goodies that changed every week and were open season for all her six nieces and nephews. Talk about generous.

One flight down, her sister had a room of about equal size, which, because of the way the house was constructed, had two mahogany doors, one outfitted with a full-length mirror. This chamber held a number of never-opened steamer trunks, all monogrammed with the Stewart or Monaghan family names. It was also the shoe repository. My mother, who loved to save and organize in her own signature fashion, had large feet and complained it was hard to find her size.

She was an excellent, enthusiastic shopper who was not a conservative buyer if the shoe fit, was of good quality and had been drastically reduced. In other words, she too liked inventory.

Her method of identifying her collection was effective and ingenious. She stored her footwear in their original boxes, but for easy identification, she used her Windsor red nail polish (after all, this was Baltimore of 1955, and wasn't everyone still talking about the Duchess of Windsor?) to document the shoeboxes.

As a result, when you entered the closet, and scanned the top shelves, you might see a box so labeled, "Stew's old Cox flats." That was household Morse code for Stewart's (her given name) old flat-bottom shoes purchased at Herbert T. Cox Co. on Liberty Street. It was something of a household tradition that possessions tended to carry the name of their owners. One of my favorite keepsakes of an earlier era is a wonderful 1930s Hutzler Bros. box written, "Stewart's Christmas garden toys."

The men and boys in the family did not get so much storage space, but then, we didn't want it - or in the case of my Uncle Jacques, always known as Jack, he built his own in the basement, some of which is only being investigated a decade after his death.

His father, my grandfather, E.J. Monaghan, had his own way of dealing with storage and orderliness. He was allowed to have about a tiny corner of the master closet. And it in, he kept, for sharing and good times, his best bottles of Wight's Reserve Maryland rye.

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