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-- Mother's death from tuberculosis
-- Close-knit neighborhood "Back of the Depot"
-- Irish heritage, employment of Irish women as maids, importance of St. Bernard's Church
-- Childhood: schools, celebrations, Memorial Day, picking strawberries, iceskating, horsedrawn sleigh, pungs, cattleshow, circus
-- Poem of tribute to Terrence McHugh, Lexington Rd.
I was born in 1894 on Lexington Road and we lived there a
very short time and then my home was back of the depot. It was a
typical country neighborhood of many different people from
different countries, but they got along well. I never saw any
badness between them. What I saw was they were always helping
each other, very demonstrative. People had babies, everybody went
out to take care of them. People were sick, they went out and
took care of them. The fun times like the circus brought people
together. And holidays brought people together. There was always
good feeling between the Irish and the Italian. Not so much with
some of the Canadian people who lived there.
School was precious. When I walked into the 3rd grade every morning, I walked into another world, to good old Miss Clark. It was not only the reading and writing and whatever. She always had something about music. We learned about Mozart and we learned the minuet. She had an art day where she would bring an artist's pictures and tell us all about them. Then we had to know things that were going on about that time and about times before. We would learn some of that information from our parents. But as I say, school was the best.
My father was Irish. He didn't have much education, but over there they had to learn what he called the ABCs and how to do certain trades. But he was very involved and to him it was very important that we learn. When we came home from school at night, we had to tell him everything that went on that day, and we'd better have it right. If we were cutting up or not interested in what he thought we should be doing, we would have to go to bed. There were four of us in the family. I was the oldest and then Billy and Sal and my little brother, Mike. My mother died the year Mike was born. So it was very difficult, but then again the neighborhood came together. When my mother was sick, she was in bed so long with tuberculosis, the neighbors helped her all the time. There was one good neighbor, the Neilys, they lived this side of us. They were an elderly couple. They were so good and so thoughtful.
When my mother died and we had nobody to take care of us, the doctor said something must be done to protect us. We shouldn't be left alone and my father shouldn't be left with children like that. So the first person that took care of us was the lady across the street. She was very good to us and very thoughtful and very generous, but she couldn't do that any more. Then the authorities got two housekeepers in succession, and they moved in but they didn't stay because they were drinkers too and weren't dependable. But then we got a little old lady who wasn't much of a housekeeper but she was a great cook, and she was very, very fond of us children or any children, and that worked out beautifully. But the biggest thing in my life was my Aunt Mary. She was my father's sister and she took most of the burden of us. She took us over. She would come in in the morning before she went to work and she would come in again at night, when she was going home, to check on us. Saturday she would come down and do the things that we had to have done, like cleaning and some cooking and religion, catechism, church. If there's anything I should be proud of or they should be proud of, it's my Aunt Mary. We weren't the only ones but we were the most needy because of what did happen.
My father came from Waterford. Many Concord people came from that area, the McHughs, the Mansfields, the Sheehans, the Ryans. My father was John Peter Towler and my mother was Amy O'Brien Towler. She was born in Kilkenny. She came here after she read the English newspaper that listed jobs available in the United States. My mother and Aunt Lizzie and Aunt Sarah all came here. They came to Maine first. Then they met some working girls from Concord, and they said that Concord was such a great place to work and they should move there. So they finally decided to come to Concord. They got jobs here. Aunt Lizzie went to work for Mrs. Sherman Hoar. She was a chambermaid and the other maid was Ethel Fitzgerald, Rose Kennedy's aunt. They were [Rose's mother was a] Hannons from West Concord.
A lot of the Irish women work as maids. Everybody had a job. Everybody had to get an extra job. I have to say this, as far as I know, the people they worked for treated the working young people very well. Besides the Main Street yankees, there was Hurd's Hill, Nashawtuc Hill now, and they were the same, thoughtful. I never saw any Irishman that didn't work and many of them had two jobs. They would watch over each other and it was good.
My mother died of tuberculosis. It was a common illness, and it went all through our family before she died. Two of my father's brothers and a sister died of it. My mother was sick for a year and she was in bed most of the time. I knew she was sick but I didn't know she was dying. I might go into her and she couldn't open her eyes, she would be laying there, and I would lift her lids and she would smile. Mike O'Brien, my cousin, was to come down to sit with her and he would hold her hand. As far as me and my brothers and sisters and my cousins, the O'Briens, we looked out for each other pretty well.
St. Bernard's Church an important part in my life. In fact we had a Sunday school library. We used to get great reading from that and in grammar school you had to have extra Sunday school. Then if you wanted something special, there was an afternoon Sunday school class, and it was taken over by Mary Harrington. She had charge of the telephone company in Boston. But she was one of the best things that happened to me.
Then when we got Monument Hall, that was a great thing because we had plays and we had concerts and minstrel shows. Those were great fun. I was in my class play in high school. I don't remember St. Patrick's day being celebrated at Monument Hall. What I remember is most of the Irish people, the men and the women too, went to Charlestown and there was a big celebration in Charlestown. They had uniforms and all kinds of regalia and marching. I know my father and Uncle Dan and other men, in fact many people, from Concord went.
There is a picture in the History of St. Bernard's Church where there is my mother, my Uncle Deiglan and my Aunt Lizzie, that was taken on their wedding day at Lake Walden. It was a very popular place to go to. There was a dance hall there and there was a little railroad station. It was on the better side then because people gathered there for the dancing and the entertainment, but it's better now. Another thing we had in Concord, that was always happening in October, was Henry Higginson had a big field day for people, and everything was free. That was a big event. And of course, one of the nicest parades was Memorial Day because not only did they want the soldiers but they wanted everybody, whole families took part. Before Memorial Day happened, people would go to Hurd's Hill and pick flowers, lady slippers and solomon seal, and they would be brought to the Armory and made into wreaths. Then they would be carried by the boys in the parade. After the first World War girls could be in the parade as a memorial to the girls that also took part. It was something to remember because it was home, and it was yours and it was everybody. Everybody had somebody somewhere to be remembered. It was so from the heart like.
You know I think how treasured I am to have what happened to me. I never thought I was going for it or that I wanted it but now I'm where I am now and I look back and I talk about it to people, I realize how much I have.
When I grew up here, there was a lot of land to roam as a child. You know now where Concord is so important, well it always was, and in a different setting for me. I learned more and I learn more every day. The very nice part of it is there are people here that want to know and I like that. I'm pleased with that, that they want me to tell them.
I didn't go to school here in this building, the old Peter Bulkeley School. That's comes very much later. No, I went to old Emerson, and then I went to Ripley. I think this is about 75 years old. Eileen O'Brien went here and some people that come here to visit have gone here. Then I went to a wonderful high school and I had wonderful teachers.
As a child I lived on Byron Street and that wasn't far from Daniel Chester French's old house. The Bartelomeos had a fruit store and Sarah was still there. I had the Neily's as neighbors, and Dave Hayes and his family, and another family was the Loughlins. Mrs. Loughlin didn't live long after I was little but we used to go over to Brooks Street to play there, because there was a big trunk of a willow tree, and it lay across the brook from the street side to the meadow side and it was like a stage. We used to sit there and take a lunch there and have lots of fun. When we were going in the morning, we would have to go by Mrs. Loughlin's house, and she'd always caution us to be good now and behave yourself over there. Usually she would have some bread out, and she would butter some bread and make bread sandwiches, and we'd take them with us. Then we used to go over into Mr. Hubbard's farm on Sudbury Road, and he didn't like us there, he didn't like any kid.
I remember walking down to Daniel Chester French's old barn on Sudbury Road. I can see it now. Somebody from the Hollises always kind of supervised it. In fact Mrs. Hollis was a woman that was interested in children. She was very generous, very thoughtful kind of a lady. Some of us had dolls and she would question us about the dolls, and then she got to the point where she was making the doll's clothes. She had a friend on Main Street, Mrs. Sherman Hoar, and she would tell us to go to her and she would give us something. We had pieces of cloth galore to make things for the dolls.
I picked strawberries every year. That's the way we got our clothes to go back to school. I'd have a nice whole new rig to go back to school from the money I earned. Then also when the season was about over, the people on the farm would let you go in and pick what you wanted. You might pay a penny a box and you'd have enough to make a jelly or jam or whatever. Nothing was ever wasted. Somebody got it.
My father was a gardner and he was a pretty good gardner. He had some people that always had him, like Mrs. Richard Wood, an elderly lady who owned a good deal of land back of the depot. He worked at the King house and my Aunt Mary worked there every week, and then he also worked for a man who lived at the corner of Cottage Lane and Main Street, a retired General, Darling. I talked to Elizabeth Darling, his daughter, at the show ["Everything Old is New Again" in 1985] about Concord.
My brother Bill drove a cab, and he enjoyed showing people around Concord, and he became an unofficial ambassador to Concord. Billy took a lot of pictures of Concord. We had a terrible snow storm one winter. I often think of it now at this time of the year. He had a quite number of pictures. Some of them were in the Globe.
In winter we ice skated on Hurd's Hill or Nashawtuc Hill. We had to make up our own things to skate with. The boys used to ski with barrel staves. My father had a big square piece that we used for a sled because in the winter he took care of furnaces. We could get four people on that and we used to go down the hill on that. You needed somebody to push you halfway, it was so clumsy.
At Petty [Judge Prescott] Keyes's house, there were bonfires so people could skate at night. They would skate all around there. There was quite a crowd there. I remember the Vialle boys were really tops at skating. They would skate all the way to Fairhaven Bay and back. That's quite a feat. They would skate way down to Egg Rock. It was beautiful, they had a big bonfire and sometimes they had sandwiches. What I remember the most were the older people, they weren't old people, they were young old people and they were so thoughtful of kids, seeing that you got home. Even Judge Keyes, we called him Petty Keyes, he wasn't always very nice. He was apt to be gruff, and he could be real nasty but somehow or other he had a sort of a feeling for little kids. We used to say he was in love with my cousin Peggy O'Brien because anybody needed something, he'd do it for Peggy. He might give Peggy a ride but he wouldn't give us a ride.
We used to go on a horse drawn sleigh from McManus's stable and go to Waltham or we would go the other way. That was a big deal in the winter time. Some of the older ones, and as I got older, we would go to dances in Waltham or go to dances in Marlboro. McManus's stable was on Thoreau Street right across from where the depot is now. They also had trips to Lake Nagog in the summer. There was a month or two months that they made trips and just so many kids could go, you had to take your turn. Lunches were provided. We couldn't go in swimming, that was forbidden.
In the winter we rode on the pungs. That was the first traveling I did. We used to go up to Carlisle or Bedford after school. That was great. There were runners that were put on the sleigh, and you could stand on the runners. They were great big runners of heavy wood.
It seemed then there was a lot of snow. I remember the nice part of spring coming. And of course, summer was the cattle show field. And of course, the family holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We always went to Aunt Mary's on Potter Street. It was a grand old neighborhood of good people.
The cattle show field was an entertainment place for the circus and field days and that sort of thing. Jesse Livermore owned the cattle show grounds. He was big in Wall Street later. He was one of the big men who came from Acton and went to Wall Street and made a fortune and then he lost it all. But at the cattle show field, there was horse racing, and Labor Day was a big thing. Mr. Maker was a great man for having horses there, and he had a little black horse whose name was "Topsy M" and he used to win all the prizes. At May time there was a May Pole. There was this big old barn there, two floors, rickety old place, and when there were dances there, the floor would move up and down with the music. That was something special, really special, because it was some more of Concord.
After the circus was over, the men used to help the circus people bring down their stuff. On the morning before the circus started, the kids used to go over to the river and help the circus people feed the elephants, and the elephants would bring up the water and squirt it all over the place. That was big fun.
But you know, sometimes in reading some histories of other towns, there are similarities in the towns. New England isn't much different than the middle west.
My family came from Ireland and many Concord people came from the same area of Ireland, and the McHughs came here because some of their relations were here before. Terry was already settled in, so when other people came, Terry took them in, and then he would find them a job. It was good to have them. In a way my father is related to them in kind of an odd way. Terry's wife is Margaret Troy and she was the daughter of Patty Dee. My father married Ellen Troy so my father and Terry's wife were first cousins.
I wrote a poem about him.
"He welcomed them with open arms,
he may have found them work on neighbor's farms.
He made them laugh with words that were witty
and matched them up with girls so pretty.
On Saturday night and Sunday too
they gathered together for a drop of the brew.
They jigged and they reeled and they lifted the cup,
and they found their way home when the sun came up.
In this new land they found a friend
Terry McHugh from Concord's east end."
Anna reads another poem written by Nelly, When I Was Young.
"When I was young, it was a custom to often
visit St. Bernard's cemetery on Sundays and holidays.
Friends gathered there to say a prayer, to reminisce,
but I never think of them being there.
I see them as they were on the Mill Dam, in the
library, at celebrations, parades.
They have marched on but they are always in memories."