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'Dewey Beach History' brings memories back to life


THE SUMMERS of 1953 and 1954 must have made an impression on me, then a 3- and 4-year-old. I certainly recall so much about my family's Dewey Beach years, when from June through September we left the Guilford Avenue rowhouse and lived in a wooden beach house built on a sand dune at the ocean end of Rodney Street.

It all sounds romantic, and it was, quitting Baltimore for the Delaware shore and a then-little hamlet with nightly beach bonfires (no rules), no phones, no town water and swarms of mosquitoes. The beds had thin mattresses; I was assigned to a canvas Army cot. We abandoned Baltimore's formality and city ways and loved every minute of it.

I'm reminded of all this by Baltimorean Barbara Quillen Dougherty's newly expanded second edition of Dewey Beach History & Tales. The author, who grew up in Ten Hills and is a 1959 Notre Dame Prep graduate, lived in a family beach house a few streets north of us. Her chatty and delightful 136-page book, loaded with the best kind of family pictures, describes the summer experience I knew so well. I wish I'd known her then, but, in Baltimore's ways, found out only this week that we have plenty of friends in common.

Here we were, my extended Baltimore family, moving away from our reliable plumbing, Oriole stoves, washing machines and sandless bedsheets to dwell in a little house that looked as if a good storm would sweep it away. Today, as many of my friends buy beach homes, where even the mud rooms have granite countertops, I think of the primitive nature of post-World War II vacationing and having to make do with screens and dubious toilets.

The Bay Bridge was practically new and still a big deal when we crossed the first time. I can't be sure but I'll bet my grandfather, E.J. Monaghan, paid the toll in silver dollars because he liked nothing better than to startle one of his victims with his good-natured little pranks. Soon after arriving, he made a hit with one of our neighbors, a young woman I recall as Lee Hopkins. He called Lee over one day, and presented her with a kite. Judging by the look on her face, you would have thought he'd given her a good watch.

We always had a stream of company from Baltimore who had no issue with lazy, sand-dune hospitality. When my mother's pal and fellow social worker Bertha Hutzler Hollander came and took to a hammock on the porch, she told us she was enjoying a "weak spell" and wanted to entertain no ambitions that day. The arrival of the Friday and Saturday night cars from Baltimore brought more guests and family members, and the house seemed empty when they left and took the cars.

We were car and driverless for much of the time. Great Aunt Cora, always one of the family prime movers, walked daily into Rehoboth for Mass but was frequently driven home by a Mrs. Fabrizio, the wife of the owner of the lovely old Henlopen Hotel. Cora's arrival in the Cadillac made for much talk.

Cora was a light touch at Wilson's store, where we got our mail in the general delivery category, and there was the town phone and, more importantly, the soda fountain.

Speaking of phones, I'll never forget how we got the message it was time to go back to Baltimore one rainy day. It was a knock on the door from a Delaware state trooper, who informed us we had to leave. A hurricane was upon us, and we had no Weather Channel to rattle out nerves.

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