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D. R. Crews

The Dundalk Maryland Neighborhood Where I Grew Up
By David Robert Crews
May 8, 2008 - 12:06:39 AM

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A Mod kid from the Baltimore suburbs.

There I am in 1966 or '67, at 16 or 17 years old. I'm sporting an elongated "Joe College" hair style, and wearing a Mod flowered shirt. That's a wide Mod belt holding up some tight fitting, Mod hip-hugger pants. I'm standing in my suede Mod boots, while standing on a rottin' Mod log. I'm holding up an old Mod door, in front of the fallin' down Mod shack that it fell off of. When I went Mod, I went all out for it.

But I could not grow my hair into a long Mod style, because I was still in school. When I graduated from Dundalk High School, in 1968, most Maryland schools did not allow a male student to wear his hair one fraction of an inch down over his ears. Long haired boys were expelled.

And Hippie hadn't hit Baltimore yet. Except inside of publications like Life or Look Magazine.

That amateur fashion shoot, up there, was shot right over in a thin strip of woods that runs along side of the railroad tracks behind my family's Dundalk home, on Dunmanway.

That busted up shack was an abandoned "colored people's house", on railroad property. The railroad never allowed anyone to move in after the previous family had left. Which had made sense in the modern 1950s, when that last family had left, because there was no running water in the place. The railroad had not allowed any such improvements, just a little electric service.

Inside of that moldy old shack was where I fell for the greatest practical joke of the 1960s, when I tried smoking dried banana peels.

They tasted lousy.

And didn't do a thing for me.

A San Fransisco Haight-Ashbury Rock n' Roll star,  Gary "Chicken" Hirsh, of Country Joe and the Fish, was credited with starting that ridiculous, substitute for reefer, rumor. Way back then, in much of America, a lot of us kids had only heard of pot smoking, but never had seen any weed. It was already being smoked heavily in Frisco though.

I had heard of several ways that you had to prepare the banana peels to smoke them. There were recipes for boiling it in water, or rubbing alcohol; and then drying it in various combinations and ways of drying it slow or fast or in complete darkness, or up under your left arm pit while you flapped your arm or something. Or whatever some birdbrain could come up with to try and prove they were hipper than thou.

It was written later that the Rock star rumor starter had read that there actually is a psychoactive substance in the white lining of banana peels. But a lot of, freely circulating, opposing falsehoods were written and/or spoken about the origins of that zany idea.

About a year and a half after I had tasted the bitter smoke of that great, practical joke, I am in Patten Maine on a Saturday night. I walk upstairs above the stores in town, to a small apartment or rented room up there, where some buddies of mine were hanging out. I walk in, and there are three or four of them up there just a grinning and a giggling like fools. I look over to the far side of the room, and there's one of 'um flippin' banana peels on the hot radiator by the window, to dry them out.

I laughed and said, "I know what y'ur doin! You're dryin' out banana peels to smoke 'um. I tried that once, but it didn't work."

One of 'um replied, "Yeah, well we're still gonna try it. We can't get any pot to smoke up here in Patten, and we want to try something. You're not going to tell anybody, are you?"

I was grinnin' and gigglin' almost as bad as they were by then, when I replied, "Shoot no man, I ain't gonna tell nobody! I just told ya that I smoked it once myself."

Smoking dried banana peels didn't do anything for them either.

Drunk on Naty Boh? Oh no!

I was not drunk, or any other kind of stoned, when that photo of me laying there in amongst a pile of old junk was taken. The empty beer bottles are simply part of a conceptual piece of instant on the spot junk art--something to express the rebellious and avant-garde artistic flavor of the Mod experience.

Although I did way too much underage beer drinking over around that old shack--it was a very popular neighborhood place for that illegal act--I can 100% absolutely guarantee you that I did not drink the beer that was in those empty National Beer, Nat'y Boh, Nasty Boh bottles. I never drank a quart of National or a long neck, deposit bottle of that watery crap in my life.

After I got out of the Army, in '71, and I was drinking a little too much beer almost everyday, my father usually had part of a case of National cans in our refrigerator. I never took but one, one time. It gave me a headache. And, during my entire thirty-one-year alcohol consumption career, I never again drank any of that most famous Baltimore beer, with Mob Town's (Mob Town is Baltimore's Civil War legacy nickname) beloved, famous, winking Mr. Boh on the label.

Thirty-one-years full of heavy drinking times, not drinking times, heavy drinking times than not drinking at all again was enough.

I'm retired now.

My bedroom circa 1967.

This is my 1966-68 bedroom at home on Dunmanway. I had curtains that matched the bed spread.

And I had bought a record album carrying case with the same design on it. In 1968, I packed that case full of records and took it to Maine with me.

The photos on the walls all came out of magazines that I sure wish I had copies of now. I read the best Rock mags on the market, and they are worth some money now. The only magazine name I can remember right now is Crawdaddy. And there must be some photos up there on the wall that came out of Life or Look Magazine. All from what are some of the more valuable collector's issues now.

The photo on the wall that is at the bottom left is of Frank Zappa and The Mothers. That photo up above the Mothers and to the right could be Jim Morrison sitting behind the TV in a closet. The red one at the top with its head missing is The Crazy World of Author Brown, with his flaming hat on. I liked his one song, Fire, and the wild photo, but never had any of his albums. That is Cream--Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker on the railroad tracks, in the photo at the top, middle. On the far wall, at the top, is my favorite drummer of all time, Ginger Baker. I'm lost on the rest of it.

Floating eyes.

This is my bulletin board, with a well thought out collage on it. What I was thinking at the time, though, I couldn't tell ya'. And the eyes were on a mobile.

In the lower left corner of the bulletin board, it seems like that could only be Janis Joplin belting out a blues wailer. I got real artsy-comical with the feet under the tomato, and it is probly Jack Bruce as the tomato's harmonica playing head. I believe I spot a black and white shot of Ginger Baker playing his drums near Jack's head. To the top left, in red and playing left handed guitar is Jimi Hendrix. I see another shot of Hendrix in red all the way over to the right, middle. At the top left, that double image is of Owsley Stanley, the Grateful Dead's longtime soundman, Bear. The regal black woman in the magnificently colorful dress was simply a great centerpiece for the collage. The WJZ TV bumper sticker was there at the bottom of the bulletin board's frame because of the goofy elephant graphic and whatever goofy graphic was at the other end of it.

That round disc of cardboard tacked into the top right corner of the wooden frame is a Sgt. Pepper Album cut-out insert.

I have an uncut Sgt. Pepper cut-out insert sheet in my living room. It is made of light cardboard and it's almost the same size as an album cover--the cut out is 12 x 11 13/16. I paid twenty bucks for it at an antique show, a few years ago. The disc on my bulletin board looks like I cut it out from one of those famous cut-out sheets, but I didn't. Nobody did. A machine did it. Because I bought the Pepper album a few days after it was released, and I will never forget how overjoyed I was when I opened up the album, carefully slid out the paper sleeved vinyl disc and along with it comes a whole lap full of separate cut out inserts.

"What's this?" I joyously shouted to my parents and sister, who were in the living room with me. The whole cardboard sheet cut out version came in later runs of the album. So there's a bit of Beatles collectibles trivia for ya'. If you ever see a used Sgt. Pepper Album at a yard sale, flea market, etc., or in a dumpster, check that baby for the machine cut cutouts in it. That would be a very valuable find.

Patricia McNeil

That hip looking, long haired young lady is one of my best friends from high school, Patricia McNeil.

Pat designed, created and sewed most of her own clothes. She was fashionably far ahead of the other girl's at school, with her own natural sense of style. But she never acted like she was or would ever say so. Her clothing creations were visually pleasing and very attractive; but not attractive in a "look at me" kind of way. Her handmade dresses, blouses and skirts seemed to gently flow from within her, and she looked just exactly like she should have. She probably made the pants she is wearing in the photo. And she may have created her coat too, or at least redesigned it to some degree. Her best work, though, was in creating her beautiful blouses, skirts and dresses.

This photo of Pat had to have been taken on a Saturday or other day when there was no school in session, because girls had to wear skirts to school. It was probably taken after an afternoon spent together in downtown Baltimore, while shopping and hanging out with our usual group of friends who also dug the hip places in and around the once bustling Howard Street corridor.

Pat and I and about a half dozen of our other friends all walked part-ways home together from Dundalk High School, everyday during our senior year.

About the only major difference of taste, or opinion, in our shared teenage lifestyles was: Pat and Nancy Becker could not talk me into listening to any of their acoustic Bob Dylan albums.

I had Dylan's electric Highway 61 Revisited and was a serious listener of it. When I told my group of friends that I had begun to really get into all of the music on Highway 61 Revisited--to me, it was all as good as the '60s anthem from that album, Like A Rolling Stone, that we have all heard many times--Nancy and Pat got all too gushy like and said, "Ohhh Dahhve. If you like that, you have to come listen to his first few albums. The lyrics are so good."

But I had heard bits of his acoustic music before that, and it wasn't for hard rockin' me. Till about fifteen years ago, when I began to collect, and listen to, all of Dylan's early stuff.

Each day after school, Pat and I were the last two walking together--after all of the others in our after school quorum of hip, high school kids had broken off to go their shortest routes to their homes. Then Pat had to take a left at Robinwood Rd, and I went on the farthest of all, to Dunmanway. But many a day I walked with Pat up to her house. Then we hung around the bird feeder, out in the front yard, for a while, sharing warm and humorous conversation.

I took that photo during the last half of our senior year. I'm glad I did.

Sissy O'Baker

This was my longtime next door neighbor, Carolyn "Sissy" O'Baker.

Sissy is sitting cross legged in the back of her brother's Blues Rock band's hearse. The band's name was The Psychedelic Propeller.

Our families had each bought brand new homes next to each other, in the 7600 block of Dunmanway, five days apart, in 1955. I have a younger sister, Jeanmarie, who is Sissy's age. Sissy has a brother my age, Austin. "Aussie" and I were best of friends, and Jeanmarie and Sissy were good friends. There were a dozen or so other kids on our block, who's families had also moved there in 1955.

It was a good place to live.

There were four Baltimore County Recreation Department baseball fields right across the street from our entire block. Plus two soccer fields; one of which was also used as a football field. The competitive sounds along with the spectators' cheers of little league baseball, football or soccer games being played there was a lively and welcomed addition to the soundtrack of my life. I never got too into playing organized team sports, but I sure had fun over there watching games and hanging out with all the other spectators.

I did play in a lot neighborhood pick-up baseball and football games over there though. I preferred the casual atmosphere of pick-up games to the oft uncalled for dirty tactics of trophy-minded parent-coaches, plus the aggravating rule book pounding antics of player's parents. And, as you probably also know from national new reports, it gets a lot worse with some parents and parent-coaches at 21st Century children's competitive games.

Dunmaway was a good place to live.

Behind the entire block, of the 7600 block of Dunmanway, is pair of train tracks; for freight trains only. Slow moving freight trains, which virtually eliminated any danger to us kids who grew up while often playing "up on the Tracks". Because from anywhere back there on the Tracks you will hear then see the train when it is plenty far enough away to allow you to get off the tracks before it comes any kind of close to you.

And, yup, the first letter in "Tracks" should be capitalized, because to us kids in the neighborhood, it was a specific geographical location.

We always referred to the location as, "up on the Tracks," because the Tracks are on a steep, raised embankment. The railroad tracks were there long before the houses we lived in were built. The raised embankment was built to keep the Tracks evenly level with higher ground just further up the Tracks. But it worked perfectly as a physical deterrent to smaller children who have to practically crawl up the steep, slippery embankment. It also worked as a psychological boundary between the Tracks and the backyards there, for everyone. It did not seem that that tracks were in our backyards, but more down there just past the ends of our backyards.

Those raised train tracks have always served as a nice way to present, for your viewing pleasure, the powerful, modern steel, American industrial beauty and awesomeness of huge freight trains. I have always enjoyed watching trains going up or down the Tracks. My sister lives in the house we grew up in, and if I am there visiting and hear a train a comin', I will go out back to watch it go by.

In the 1950s and '60s, when we often had plenty of extended family over for birthday parties and picnics, the other kids in our family were fascinated by the trains going by behind our home. Naturally, after hearing trains going by several times a day for years, my parents, two sisters and I would detect the faint sound of an approaching train long before our visitors could. We always called out to all the visiting children in the house that, "A train's comin! C'mon kids, go to the dining room window."

It would take a few minutes for the train to get there, because it had to go slow for the unguarded road crossing a half block up the street. That made it even better for the mysteriousness of how my parents, sisters and I knew the train was coming. The kids would always be pressing their faces up against any of the six, large, glass windowpanes of the dining room windows, while jumping up and down and saying, "Where? Where? Where is it? I don't see it. We don't see it!" Then they'd be tickled pink when it came rolling on by back there.

That was for inside parties, which usually occurred in the evenings.

All family picnics were held in our backyard, because it was the biggest and best backyard of anybody's. We had a picnic on every Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. On the Fourth of July, Maryland's biggest and best Fourth of July Parade ended three blocks away up on Dunmanway. Later, at nightfall, Dundalk's fireworks were viewable from the slightly higher ground of the Baltimore County recreation property across the street.

When trains went by up on the Tracks, we picnickers would all be out there luvin' it, the children gleefully so. We would all wave to the train's engineers, and they'd smile and wave back. Meanwhile, a few of whomever were down at the bottom of the yard, playing Badminton or Croquette, would always give the passing engineers the old yankin' an invisible-cord-to-a-whistle arm and hand signal. The engineers 'id give 'er a few friendly toots, and the family would send back cheers of joy to the engineers.

Back during those years, three or four trains a day made round trips on the train tracks behind my former home. They came from the rail yards of Baltimore City down to the Bethlehem Steel Mill in Sparrows Point. There, they exchanged strings of rail cars full of steel making supplies for either emptied supply cars or cars loaded down with massively heavy, freshly made steel products. Then the same train came back up the Tracks again. Every time I saw one go by, I enjoyed it.

But the trains don't go by up on the Tracks very often anymore. Bethlehem Steel once employed over 30,000 men and women, including many members of my family. But there are now fewer than 3,000 total employees working there, and not a one is related to me.

A half block down the street from my house was Baltimore County's Merritt Beach.

When I turned 11, I began taking Red Cross swimming courses "down the Beach". I went every summer, until I was 14, when I passed the Junior Life Saving test. The only difference between Senior Lifesaving and Junior was that you had to be 16 to take Senior, they swam more laps than us and had to swim out three times as far to save a 'drowning life guard', to pass their test.

Entrance fees for the Beach were a quarter for anyone 15 or under, and fifty cents for anyone over 15.

But then, I was a neighborhood boy, weren't I. And there was a locally well known way to sneak into the Beach without paying. It was a path through shoreline trees and bushes, way across the other side of a school field from the ticket booth. It was on the other side of Merritt Elementary School--my Alma Mater. And young Dave, that'd be me back then, was probly the best there was at utilizing that free path to fun in the sun.

If you got caught sneaking in, the lifeguards told you that you had to help them clean up the day's litter from the beach, along side them at the end of the day. I never got caught more than twice. But it was a lot of fun when two or three of us younger teen sneakins on litter patrol got to making horse playin' challenges with any of the 16 to 20 some-year-old lifeguards, who would gladly wrestle any two or three of us aggravaters into the sand. I never knew any guy who got caught sneaking in to not show up at the end of the afternoon to pick up beach litter, like the lifeguard had ordered them to. It was all part of the fun. The Beach was one of the best local teenage hangouts there ever was, anywhere, in any century. There was no way we locals would ever get ourselves barred from there for not showing up at the end of a great day at the Beach to work for the entrance fee we had tried to sneak past.

The Beach was often packed with picnicking families, especially on weekends. Down there at the former Merritt Beach, there is still a very cool, breezy, large, nicely spread out picnic area under great shade trees at what now is called Merritt Point Park.

There were times on the sandy part of the Beach where you could not find a place to lay a beach towel. A beach house at the top of the gently sloping beach sand had a little snack bar, a wall of vending machines and one kick-ass jukebox. I can hear the long ago sounds of bare, happy, sandy feet shuffling under the young dancers there right now. It was a great place to meet chicks.

Anytime I snuck into the beach, that two-bit ticket price I saved by sneaking in bought me one ten-cent twelve-ounce soda, full sized candy bars were a nickel, so were small bags of pretzels or chips and also any one great Rock n' Roll song on the jukebox played for a nickel. But there were times I snuck in 'cause I didn't have a quarter. Even though my father had a good full time job in a steel mill, and my mother had a good part time job at Hutzler's Department Store in Eastpoint Mall. That's the way it was with all middle class Americans back then. We always had a nice, comfortable home, enough groceries and good clean clothes to wear though. And I never heard of any family around us ever loosing their home due to foreclosure or eviction.

In 1965, Merritt Beach was closed to swimming. It was the summer before I turned 16 and was old enough to take my Senior Life Saving there. It was closed due to the terrible water pollution caused by the Bethlehem Steel Mill, in Sparrows Point, over across the back waters of the Chesapeake Bay that we swam in down the Beach.

I had planned on becoming a lifeguard down the Beach.

Then I had planned on getting my driver's license at 16. So that I could meet girls at the Beach, or coming out of the Beach, and then give them a ride home.

An any hot summer Saturday or Sunday, when the Beach was still open for swimming, but was getting ready to close for the day, a steady stream of families in slow moving cars came up past my house on Dunmanway. Along side of the cars, in the street between the moving cars and the neighborhood cars parked along the curb, was a steady stream of tired, walking teenagers, along with any of their younger brothers and sisters who had gone to the Beach with them. They were all worn out from a day of fun in the sun. The girls would often ask me and/or Aussie O'Baker and/or any other possibly-16-years-old looking neighborhood guys who were relaxing out in front of our houses, while enjoying the parade, if we could give them a ride home. We young teenage guys in front of our homes on Dunmanway and the thin, steadily moving crowd passing by were joking and laughing with each other the whole time, till the last weary straggler struggled on by.

The loss of swimming down the Beach was very bad for me.

But the neighborhood was still a good place to live.

David Robert Crews Copyright 2008

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