Six 100-word Memoirs
From the sunroom off the parlor, now converted to his sickroom, my father would call out as I left the house, “Remember you’re Irish.” I believed his good-bye to be ironic. Unlike his own father, a zealous Fenian, my father was pleased and proud to be American and had no interest in supporting or celebrating Irish causes. Another of his valedictions was for any family member heading off to Mass. “Remember me to the Reverend Maurice.” Father Maurice O’Connor was pastor at St. James, classmate and close friend of Cardinal O’Connell. My dad thought both men too full of themselves.
My father’s hobby was woodworking. I can just barely picture him at his cellar workbench—when I was a child he was a dying man—but several of his wood creations remain—the massive workbench itself, the miniature toolbox he made for me, and the platform, built so that we could share the workbench. For the beach he made a scow and tugboat. That tugboat is a masterpiece—iron keel, dowel smokestack, intricately carved pilothouse and gunwales. He built a second cellar stair railing, low, at just the right height. I suppose that it’s still there in my childhood home.
My mother called our neighbors by their surnames—Mrs. McCabe, Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Porter. Her life was circumscribed by my father’s long illness, which kept her homebound. Groceries were delivered from the Arlmont Market. When the “Arlmont man” came, he waited in the kitchen until mother had accounted for each ordered item. One year she did venture from the house, enrolling in a Red Cross home-nursing program. Mrs. Riemer told me later that my mother mastered the hospital tuck better than any of the other women. I was not surprised, only delighted that my mother’s extraordinary competence was on display.
IN THE KITCHEN
I was probably seven or eight when I had my tonsils removed by our family physician, Dr. Carl Barstow. The procedure took place in the kitchen of my home. Why at home? To save hospital costs? A family tradition of home tonsillectomies? I don’t know. I do have some clear memories of the day. I was placed in a kitchen chair, my folded arms tied to it with towels. Gauze, soaked with anesthetic, ether I suppose, was held beneath my nostrils. All went well. Later that day I walked across to Robbins Farm and watched my friends play tag football.
In 1948 the great Red Sox infielder, Johnny Pesky, conducted a baseball clinic in Arlington. My brother loaned me his Bobby Doerr glove for the occasion. At the clinic, we young infielders gathered around Pesky. He asked to borrow a glove. I held the Bobby Doerr out for him. Pesky fielded ground balls, emphasizing positioning, balance, and footwork. When the clinic ended he handed the glove back to me. “Nice glove, son.” I ran to where my brother had been watching. “Nice glove, son!” He would not have heard that. I was pleased to report Johnny Pesky’s amiable professional judgment.
The Little Building, a blocky structure on the corner of Boylston and Tremont, is now an Emerson dorm. But in its heyday between the wars it was Boston’s largest office building. Trips to Boston with my Aunt Molly included a visit to the office of her childhood chum, Nora Hurley. There, in a room cluttered with bolts and scraps of cloth, Nora embroidered—altar cloths, priests’ vestments. But Nora’s eccentricities interested me more than her needlework. You could not mention FDR in her presence; you could not convince her that her refrigerator light shut off when the door was closed.