The other night we were seated in my brother's Poultney Street house discussing a family anniversary. Had my mother lived, she would have turned 90 this week.
Her first name was Stewart (maiden name Monaghan) and with that came with all the variants, including Stew or Stu, which she liked. She had another name, Marjorie, which she did not use or like.
Stu Kelly had a connoisseur's love of Baltimore and was perhaps happiest while on foot, bus, taxi or streetcar moving quickly around the city. As a young woman she earned a master's degree in social work and had clients, as she called the foster parents she visited, in every corner of the city. As a result, you could not stump her on urban geography or faze her on the human condition.
My mother's fondness for Baltimore ran all over the place. I can see her at the finish line at Pimlico, the platform at Camden Station, Row D at the Mechanic Theatre or at Kresge's standup lunch counter. She was as much at home at Hutzler's dress salon as the cut-price Mart or Julius Gutman's on Lexington Street.
She had a passion for the Belair Market in Oldtown, where she was a customer for pickled pigs' feet and tripe. She also liked the Lexington and Hollins markets and their atmosphere. Never much of driver, she traveled with a brown paper shopping bag on the No. 8.
Her standard Marconi's lunch was a double vodka martini, crab salad and the chocolate sundae - but a lunch out with family or friends could be anywhere in the city limits. She was not big on Towson, and in later life, developed an affection for Glen Burnie and the Ritchie Highway.
She was made to order for Baltimore because of her lack of pretense and her love of people, whom she cultivated by the hundreds. She was a great worker of the telephone - her calling hour began about 9:30 at night and was accompanied by clouds of Lucky Strike cigarette smoke. Using a clip board, she was a letter and note writer and could say much in few words. She wrote quickly and kept the impressions coming. Alongside her telephone-tobacco chair was a pile of murder mysteries, many from the Pratt Library. She venerated novelist Anne Tyler, who she said truly understood North Baltimore.
She loved her Roman Catholicism and was quite proud that she was fired from her presidency of one parish council. She then took herself to the next parish and gained the presidency anew.
One of my proudest moments was the afternoon in 1961 when she swept through the prize board on WBAL-TV's Quiz Club. A contestant on the live quiz show, she walked off with an armful of gifts and correctly identified the mystery name - Jacqueline Kennedy.
Her idea of a spectacular day was one where she'd successfully chased a six-alarm fire. She would have my poor father do the driving or hail a cab. Then, as if nothing were the matter, she tell the unsuspecting driver, "Follow the engines."