Monday, February 28, 2011


Mom used to say about Dad that you could take the boy out of the country
but you can’t take the country out of the boy. This usually came after he’d
said or done something that would leave her shaking her head. But there
were two incidents that happened that more than proved she was right.

The first was right after we moved into Abington and our friendly neighborhood
teenagers tried the old “flaming cow patty” trick.(It may go by other names
elsewhere, but that’s the least offensive one I can come up with at the
moment. This trick is so old t I think Neanderthals played it on CroMagnon.
Man. Basically it involves putting the end product of bovine digestion into a
paper bag, placing the bag outside a door, setting it on fire and then ringing
the doorbell. The pranksters run and hide and watch to see if the victim tries
to put out the “fire” by stomping on it. The kids on this night probably thought
that because we’d moved to Abington from Boston that Dad wouldn’t know
any better. So they did the dirty deed and hid under a nearby tree to watch the

Dad came to the door, looked down, then went over to our fireplace in the living
room and got the small ash shovel beside the fireplace and used it to scoop up
the flaming bag. Then he flung the bag across the yard towards where he could
here those kids laughing.  They never tried that trick again,

The second incident happened a few years later. There were still some farms in
town in West Abington along Hancock St. One night Mom & Dad were coming
home from some function at the Knights of Columbus Hall when a horse came
out onto the road in front of them. Now this was in the age before cell phones.
They couldn’t call the police, so Dad somehow got a rope on the animal, got into
the car on the passenger side and had Mom drive slowly all the way across town
to the police station with the horse trotting alongside the car!

((358 Words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Dad did a lot of work on our house on Bicknell Hill Rd. A lot of it was landscaping,
like planting two weeping willow trees on the side lawn by the driveway and shrubs
and rhododendrons along the front of the house. Mom wanted a bigger set of steps
leading up to the front door so Dad made them out of concrete. He also made a
cement patio behind the back porch When Phil came along my room became his
room.By that time Dad had enclosed the back porch, putting up a  front and side
wall and the back wall was a huge sliding glass door. Dad was working in the
glass repair and installation business so he got it at a discount, along with the n
louvre windows he put in the front wall. I slept out there for one summer while
he worked on the big project,

This was the downstairs bedroom/playroom. He framed it and put up a plywood
wall. There was a bar underneath the stairs.and my bed was built into the wall on
the other side of the room. That was my room for thje rest of the time we lived at
that house and it was pretty cool, except for one problem.

You see, the area where our house was built had a high water table and the soil
was made up of a lot of clay. So every time it rained, water came into the cellar.
Most times it didn’t reach over close to my bed but a few times I got up in the
morning into a puddle of water. Dad tried to solve the problem by breaking a
hole in the floor over by the washing machines and putting in a sump pump
which worked most of the times. Of course the hole later became the hiding
place of a bunch of toads from Phil’s terrarium who escaped after his the
terrarium was smashed, so some nights I fell asleep to their croaks.

The worst basement floods happened to take place on Sunday nights when
a particular program aired, and my Mom was sure it had to be a curse. Of
course, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” was a pretty horrid program but
I doubt it could have caused cellar flooding.

It couldn’t right?

((388 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I was 17 years old when my younger brother Phil was born. On the morning
he was born, poor Dad who was usually unflappable actually did something
out of a sitcom: he loaded Mom’s suitcase into the car and then almost left
her standing out on the breezeway as he drove off. Luckily he didn;t get far
before he realized his mistake.

It was a school day and I was a junior in high school, so I had to go to classes.
I called the hospital a few times to check on how things were going.  It was
just before my science class with Miss Goldsberry that I learned I had a new
baby brother.

Dad stuck to his guns about not naming a son Floyd. Instead my parents
named my brother Philip John after Dad’s grandfather Philip Jonathan West.
As I said, I was seventeen years old when Phil was born and Cheryl was
twelve, so he basically grew up in a household with four adults. As he got
older he started watching the Bruins games on tv and his favorite player
was Phil Esposito. Sometimes he’d march down to the end of our driveway
and belt out “O Canada”!

By this time our parents were very involved in the Abington V.F.W. and Phil
spent a lot of time with them at events and watching them march in parades.
So it was only natural when he became interested in joining a drum and bugle
corps, an activity he continues to enjoy to this day.

((Word count 258))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge


We didn’t get any pets right away after we moved into the new house. I
think the experiences with Flipper and Peppy had put my folks off on
the joys of having a dog. But we were visiting  former neighbors from
Evans St, the Neenans, who had also moved out to the south of Boston
and they had a relative whose dog had just had a litter of puppies.that
were half Boxer and half Cocker Spaniel. Now my Uncle Ed and Aunt
Emily had a full blooded Boxer named Missy that was very lovable and
well behaved, so I think that was the factor that led to us getting one of
those puppies, a female to whom we gave the highly unoriginal name of

She was slightly smaller than a fullblooded Boxer and the original owner
had already docked her tail before we took her, but we never had her ears
clipped. Brownie a character right from the start. She chased rabbits and
field mice round and round the house and through the field across the
street and once got a running start, leapt, and snatched a tail feather
from a pheasant just as it took to flight.  She was the sort of dog who
would look at you like she understood every word you were saying to her
and would make little noises back at you! We all pretty much agreed she
was the best dog we;d ever had.

I have three vivid memories of Brownie. Two of them involve her own
litter of puppies. Mom was pregnant with my kid brother at the time and
I came home from school one day to find Mom stretched out on the
sofa and Brownie sitting in the easy chair nearby. Now this was a major
rule back then, no dogs on the furniture, and I tried to shoo her down, but
Brownie engaged in passive resistance. I was about to pick her up when
my Mom looked over and said “Leave her alone, we’re pregnant!” so
Brownie got to stay there.

When the puppies did come, she had the first one on top of the bottom
of my bed, which was one heck of a way to wake up. She had a large
litter, and Dad thought she was through and let her out. When she came
back in, she was carrying yet another puppy in her mouth and placed it
at Dad’s feet! We were able to find homes for all of the puppies, incluiding
one that one of our neighbor’s took and named Bella, who definitely was
not as friendly as her mother was. One pup we kept and named Saddles
but eventually we gave him to our friends the Pais family where he was
loved for years.

The third memory is a less happy one. Brownie liked to roam about and
one day came running out of the nearby Golf course and was struck by
a car. She got up and wobbled off for home. I know this because the driver
of the car followed her home and told me what had happened. She reached
the foot of the driveway and lay down. One of the neighborhood kids knocked
on the door to tell us Brownie was hurt but I was the only one home. All I
could think to do was call the Dog officer and then call my parents. Brownie
was dead before any of them arrived.

We had other dogs afterwards, some of them great dogs, but Brownie was
the standard that all of them were measured against.

((597 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge

Thursday, February 24, 2011


If yardwork at the new house was enough of a revelation, the start of my
sophomore year of high school was another. In Boston I’d taken the train
and bus to get back and forth to Cathedral High School, but in Abington
we rode those big yellow school buses. I also had the new experience of
walking to different classrooms for different classes.

I have good and bad memories of Abington High. I was the new kid in
a small high school where most of my classmates had grown up together
through the town’s school system. Some of the kids made me feel welcome,
like Steve and Jeff and Stephen. There was the bunch I worked with on the
school newspaper, The Beaver, in the Library Assistants.and on the Yearbook
Literary staff who were friendly and fun to know.

And there were the three or four guys who rode the same school bus as I did
and made the experience totally miserable. They also got their kicks knocking
my books out from under my arm as we moved between classes.  I was the
dorky kid who liked to read and who stunk at gym because none of the schools
in Boston had phys ed classes.

Eventually after a year or so they grew tired of it. A few of them got their drivers
licenses so riding the bus wasn’t so bad anymore. But those guys are the reason
I hate bullies to this day and oppose bullying for any reason whatsoever.

((252 words)) 

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Moving from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston to the suburban community
of Abington was quite an adjustment. I used to envy my Packard cousins who lived
in the nearby town of Hanson, imagining what it might be like to live “out in the
country” with a big lawn and with a collie.(The Packards had a beautiful collie).
Well, we had a medium sized lawn but the back yard was much larger. I was 
soon introduced to that institution of suburban teenage life:mowing the lawn.

Of course since the house was a newly built one, there were a few things that 
needed to be dealt with first. For one thing, most of the back yard was overgrown 
with weeds when we moved in. The houses on Bicknell Hill Rd were built on lots 
that used to be part of Wright’s Farm, so the weeds looked like a farm field in 
miniature. And there were rocks scattered about in there from construction. So 
Dad went out and bought what looked like a golf club with a serrated edge and we 
took turns “whacking” away at the weeds until we’d cut them down a bit. Then we
went through and found the rocks. and afterwards came the lawn mower which 
for at least the first summer was an old manual push mower.

The front lawn was a bit better, but for some reason they builders had left a small 
mound of dirt right next to the lamp post on the front yard which had sprouted 
another bunch of weeds that had to be whacked clean. Eventually that was 
cleared and leveled off.

One of the cool things about our new house was the big living room with the picture
window and the fireplace. It was nice to sit by the fire. It was not so nice dealing with
the woodpile. Dad would call upon his Maine roots and go out and get the logs. 
These were stacked outside at the edge of the backyard and every Fall I’d haul them 
downstairs into the cellar so they’d be available to be brought upstairs to feed the 
fire.  Then every Spring I would haul them back upstairs to be piled and added to for 
the following fall.

The romantic notion I had of living in the country wore off VERY quickly!

((388 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge

Monday, February 21, 2011


I graduated from St Matthews 8th grade in 1962 and that fall entered Cathedral
High School in Boston. Vernon Eldringhoff from the neighborhood was also
attending there, so we’d ride with Dad as far as the Forest Hills T Stop. Dad was
working for Jamaica Plain Glass then so he’d drop us off at the station on the way
to the shop. Then Vern and I would get off at Dover St and walk back to the school.
which was right next to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the chief church of the
Archdiocese of Boston. As grand as that sounds, it was located in what at that
time was a rundown neighborhood. I don’t recall much about that one year, other
than the poor drunk we discovered lying at the foot of the Dover St stairs who’d
either fallen or been mugged. We told the owner of a nearby barbershop who called
the police and the ambulance.

There is one other memory: the first day of classes we were standing in a line
and this boy nearby stared at me and then asked if I was Billy West who used to
live in Malden. It turned out her was Mike Tedesco, my next door neighbor and
playmate from Beach St!

After school, Vern and I would walk across the Broadway St Bridge  to the Red
Line station and ride the subway to Ashmont St Station, then take the Norfolk Ave
bus home.

But things were about to change. Alice and Phil Pais and their daughters Judy and
Little Alice had moved out of the second floor apartment to a house. I think that
was the impetus for my folks to find a house of our own again. The neighborhood
was beginning to go downhill and so they started looking at houses in the Boston

Eventually my parents purchased a new ranch house on Bicknell Hill Rd in
the town of Abington.

((324 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I'd been waiting for two weeks now for a piece of mail from the NARA with
the Naturalization Papers for my 2x great grandfather John McFarland. It
finally came on Friday and it proved to be disappointing. I had thought I had
the right John McFarland because the birthdate was close to the information
I had which was 28Nov 1852; the person whose record I obtained was born
29Nov 1853. But some of the information about grandfather McFarland had
changed from census to census, so I was hoping this might still be him.

But several items on the petition seem to indicate that this is indeed a different
person, the first being that this John McFarland states he'd arrived in this
country as a minor 28Apr 1868 and  and another being that he'd been a
resident of Massachusetts for a year. Now I know my McFarland had married
Annie Kelley in Edinburgh, Scotland on 16May1879 so that would mean
this couldn't be him.

Now there is a long shot possibility that it really is my great grandfather. This
was the era in which the Irish immigrants were starting to build their political
machines and it isn't outside the realm of possibility that my John McFarland
gave false information in order to get his citizenship. Family tradition says
he was one of the laborers that helped build the Boston Elevated Railway and
later censuses show him holding jobs with the City. Having citizenship might
have made it easier to get hired,

But for now I'm filing this paperwork under "not related". Ah well, back to
the drawing board!     


I think it was while we were living at 18 Evans St that our Mom got her stereo
console cabinet. It was a big cabinet as stereos were back then and it played
LPs and 45 records. Mom was a big fan of singers like Jerry Vale, Andy Williams,.
Nat King Cole and Mario Lanza, and would put a stack of albums on when she
was doing housework. She also had a “Best of The Lucky Strike Hit Parade”
album and I remember the “Shrimp Boats are A-coming” song from it. Another
of her favorites was a Mitch Miller “Sing Along With Mitch” album with the
“Yellow Rose of Texas” .

There was one of those classical music compilations that she’d bought at
the Stop and Shop so we listened to “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “Sabre
Dance” and there was a kid’s song album too with “I’ve Got Sixpence” and
other songs.

But there were two albums that were never played when we kids were present
or at least not until after we had been sent off to bed. This usually happened
when there was some party or get-together going on. The artist in question
was a female comedian named Rusty Warren whose routine was a
Unfortunately, despite being sent to bed and having  our bedroom doors shut,
we could still hear snatches of her routine, and one of us one day surprised
Mom by singing some of the lines to one ot Rusty’s songs, “Roll Me Over in the

That stereo was one of Mom’s proudest possessions and she had it for years.
Even after it had seen better days she still couldn’t part easily with it and talked
about tearing the stereo equipment out and making a planter out of the cabinet!  
In the end after about twenty years it was replaced by a Curtis Mathes Console
that had a tv, radio, turntable and 8track player which in turn lasted for another
twenty five years.

((330 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge


My maternal grandmother Agnes (Aggie) McFarland White had been one of
thirteen children, and one of the younger ones at that. There was eighteen
years between her and the oldest brother, Michael. By the time I came along
in 1948, many of my McFarland granduncles and grandaunts had already
passed away, and as I grew older, there were only three that were left to visit
and spend time with,

The eldest was Uncle Frank McFarland who was born in 1886. He was 62
when I was born and was a widower splitting time living either with his son
John in Andover or his daughter Mary in Hanson.He came to stay with us
at least once at Capen St and I remember he had trouble walking and used
two canes. It was during one of his visits that he taught me how to make a
tomato and mayonnaise sandwich. He was a big man and the fact that we
lived on a third floor apartment probably is the reason that he didn’t visit us
there very often.but we’d visit him at his children’s homes, most often up
in Andover.

Next was Uncle Tommy who was born in 1893. Uncle Tommy was a
distinguished looking gentleman with white hair and he smoked a pipe.
When I was in college I started smoking a pipe too and I used the same
tobacco Uncle Tommy had used, Middleton Cherry Blend. Tommy had
been in the diamond business and many of the younger cousins would
go to him to get the diamonds for their wedding bands, He lived with his
wife Frances and her sister Katy in a nice house in Milton, along with
their Boston Terrier Mr Chips. I recall visiting them, being in awe of the
bookcases with glass doors in the living room and being treated to the
homemade ice cream and lemon meringue pie Aunts Frances and Katy
had made.

Lastly was Aunt Peggy, the youngest who’d been born in 1903, five years
after my grandmother. Aunt Peggy had married Leo McCue and had five
children. She could play the piano and lead everyone in singing “Heart of
My Heart” or “Those Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of
Mine”. The McCues had a cottage in the Houghs Neck section of Quincy
atr the end of the seawall just below Nut Island Road and we spent some
hot summer days in the water there or playing with her grandchildren on the
rocky beach. I can remember being in the car with Mom and Aunt Peggy
shortly after Mom got her driver’s license and laughing when Aunt Peggy
would stick her arm out of the window to point across the top of the car roof
to signal a left hand turn for Mom!

I can honestly say that all my memories of the three of them are happy ones.
It struck me as I started this post that when my grandnephew Noah was born
two years ago, I was nearly the same age Uncle Frank had been when I was
born back in 1948!

((516 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The third episode of WDYTYA was the best so far this season and has
replaced the Vanessa Williams installment as my all time favorite in the series.
Rosie's mother died when Rosie was a child so a lot of information about
that side of the family tree was missing so that was what she focused her search
on. It was a great display of solid research techniques such as starting what
records you already have, what information another family member might have,
and in Rosies's case, a mysterious photograph. With the usual assistance
along the way, she made use of census records, newspaper articles, church
records and obituaries. Rosie took notes and seemed quite comfortable operating
microfilm machines when necessary.

I especially liked that Rosie and the viewers were made aware of multiple
spelling s of names. In her case, the further back she went, her maternal Murtha
line became Murtaugh.It was also nice to see them show how investigating
a collateral line can be just as engrossing and emotional as your direct line.

Rosie's search took her from Brooklyn to Montreal and finally to a poor house
in County Kildare Ireland. Her discoveries touched her emotions and in the
end changed her outlook on her own life.

There were three things Rosie said that rang very true to me. The first was her
remark was that "This isn't going to be as easy as it looks on tv!" Nope, it never is,

The second was a statement to the effect that we Irish Catholics don't like to
talk much about the sad things in our lives. I saw this in my own family in the
way my Mom would rarely say anything about her father who hadn't kept in
touch with his children after he and my grandmother Aggie divorced.

The third was after she toured the poorhouse. Rosie was visibly shaken and
in tears at one point speaking about the horrible conditions her ancestors had
endured there.Then she looked at the cameraman and said "Now get me the
hell out of here!" It was so much like something my Mom would have said.

All in all, an excellent episode . I hope Rosie keeps on with researching the
rest of her family history, because as many of us geneabloggers can tell her
there are many other stories out there waiting to be discovered.

Friday, February 18, 2011


One of the best things about living in Dorchester was the Boston Public
Library system. I lived within walking distance of three branches and I
made use of all three of them during the summers. The closest and largest
branch was in Codman Square. I’d walk down Evans St to Milton Ave, then
over to Dorchester High and cut across Roberts Field to Washington St
and then to the library. The second branch was in the Lower Mills section
which was a longer walk in the other direction down Gallivan Blvd past
the Stop & Shop. Finally there was the Mattapan branch which was over
on Blue Hill Ave.

During the summers I would take out around 18 books every two weeks,
read them, and then bring them back form the next bunch. Getting my
paper route made things very easy because I used my empty newspaper
bag to lug the books back and forth between the library and our apartment.
It also made it easy to read a book while I walked whith the rest in the bag!
Things became even easier once I’d learned to ride my bike, because it
made the trip home faster and I could lie on my bed and read, or maybe
sit outside on the frontsteps with whatever books I’d chosen. My only
problem was remembering to return the books to the branch I’d borrowed
them from!

That was how I discovered Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, the sports
books by John R Tunis, historical novels by Rosemary Sutcliff, and the science
fiction and fantasy novels of Andre Norton. Those were great books for kids and
they made me a great lover of books.So much so that fifty years later I’m a
bookseller veteran of twenty-two years recommending those same books and
others to a new generation!

((304 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge

Thursday, February 17, 2011


We hadn’t had a dog since we’d left Malden. We did have our first cat,
Mittens, when we lived on Capen St. Up until then Mom had been against
having cats, even citing the old legend that cats would suck the breath
out of infants as one reason against owning one. But during one trip
uphome to New Hampshire someone’s cat had had kittens and we ended
taking one home.

Mittens was a character. He liked to sit on the back of the toilet and watch
Dad shave and would swipe at the soap suds floating in the sink. Cheryl
would dress him up in her doll’s clothes and prop him up sitting in the
corner between the refrigerator and stove. Mittens was also how we
found out Dad was putting a little wine in the spaghetti sauce, because
we fed the cat some of the meat sauce and while it wasn’t enough to
give a human problems. apparently the wine gave poor Mittens a buzz.

When we moved to the first floor Evans St apartment we didn’t get a dog
right away but at some point my folks got us a small dog we named Flipper.
I think at some level my Mom missed Saddles. Unfortunately, Flipper was
the first of what would be a string of eccentric pets. He had house training
issues. Dad decided that Flipper’s breed was a Sooner, because as Dad
put it, “That dog would sooner sh*t inside that outside.” I can’t recall how
exactly Flipper left us but I think he had a fatal encounter with a passing
car (which probably proved that he was right to want to stay inside).

The second dog we had there was a large Alsatian shephard named Peppy
that belonged to some work friend of Dad’s. Apparently the dog had been
confined to a small backyard and been kicked in the head by an intruder
climbing over a fence. After that he became unmanageable so the owner
gave him to us. The problem was he was unmanageable. One day I took
him out on a leash for a walk and one of the kids in the neighborhood got a
bit too close. Peppy grabbed hold of the sleeve of the heavy winter jacket
and pulled one way while the kid pulled another. Well, the dog won that
tug of war and ended up tearing off the entire sleeve from the jacket.

We shipped Peppy off to a friend living in Hanover, a suburban town south
of Boston, where we later heard  the dog had a new pastime, chasing after
cars and ramming into them headfirst.

It was a few years later after we moved to Abington until we tried our luck with
dogs again.

((459 words))

Written for the Family History Writing Challenge