Written by Claire Frances McCarthy Murphy

Still in the state of numb mourning for our assassinated President, it has been a time of looking back, of remembering, not only of his life and times but of our own. And since I find that you, at least, Donn, have some strange idea that your grandfather appeared out of the mist sans family or background, I think I have some recalling to do for you. We apparently have not talked sufficiently about our families.

Grand-Uncle John Morton did a splendid job of bringing the Morton side of the family into focus, in The Morton Family Tree, making it all real and interesting. I wish someone had done the same for the elder Murphy family side. All we really know is that Dad's father and two sisters, half-sisters, I think, came from Wisconsin to Montana, directly or not, again I do not know, but I think so. One of his sisters, Aunt Rose, had no children. The other, Mary, had one daughter I believe, Eunice, who is now Eunice Bucklin - and two sons. I think you may have met all of these people when you were very young.

And so to the McCarthys.

My father, Henry McCarthy, Senior, did not "come out of nowhere, wearing a sailor suit." In fact, he was never in the Navy, although for some time he was a civilian employee at the Boston Navy Yard. His father, whose first name I have forgotten, but whom I did know, came, I believe, from Quebec. He was a small French-looking man with a pointed beard, and he died suddenly when I was quite small. My grandmother was no doubt of Irish descent (as he must have been, too, from his name) but I do not recall her at all.

Living in the Big House
Great-Grandfather-McCarthy, small, pointed beard
living with children Nellie and Willie
[other children John, James, Henry
& Mary McCarthy Brinnin lived elsewhere?
Living in the Cottage on the property
Henry McCarthy, Senior + Carrie French McCarthy

Until I was ten we lived in a cottage on the same lot where my grandfather's house stood, a large French-roofed house, and when I first remember, he lived there with one daughter, Nellie, and my uncle Willie, who was my godfather. Willie was a large, handsome man who seems to have been of some affluence, and after my grandfather died, he and Aunt Nellie remained in the big house, while we continuted to live next door.

Without records, I'm telling you only what I recall, and a child's observation can be wrong. My younger sisters, Gertrude and Mary, may know much more. However, I believe there were two older brothers, John (probably) who I am told went to California, did very well financially, and has a street named for him in Los Angeles. This we were told a few years ago, by a cousin who went out to visit him. Was he married? Did he have children? I don't know. I got the impression that he was not. So perhaps there's a rich uncle in the family, though he would be pretty old by now.

Then there was the man who was Frank Fontaine's grandfather - and I think he was James, but I never met him. They lived in Cambridge, which in these days is very close to Somerville, but by street car, transferring once or twice, it seemed a long way and we went there seldom. This man's eldest daughter must have been much older that the girls we knew. (I think there were only girls) because she married (Dionne) and lived in Somerville, and her oldest child was my age and we played together now and then, though we lived a mile or more apart.

Then, there was Uncle Willie, who was, I believe, older than my father. One morning after breakfast, so Aunt Nellie reported, her brother, Willie, who was living with her, dressed up in his best derby, overcoat and so on, and said, "I won't be home for supper. I'm being married this morning to Elizabeth Leveroni," whom none of us knew, of course. She had a sister Elvira Leveroni, who sang opera and I suppose the older members of the family knew of her. Much, much later we met Elizabeth and liked her. They had two children, boys who were both dark and curly-haied like their father, instead of blonde like their mother. We lost track of them after we moved away from Boston.

Aunt Nellie stayed on in the house, but before I get onto her I'll mention the other sister, Mary, older, too. She married a man named John Brinnin and lived on Barlettt Street in Somverville, where we also lived after we left the small house on Fiske Avenue.

Uncle John, I knew only slightly. He worked for a cranberry company in Carver, Mass, on the Cape and stayed there most of the time. The two younger girls, Bess and Anna visited there in the summer, and sometimes I also went. He died in a flash fire in the storage plant, but Aunt Mary and the family stayed on in the house, a large a beautifully furnished home a few doors from us.

There were several Brinnins. Florence, the eldest died only recently. Mother still went to see her each time she was back in Boston, which used to be every summer. Lou married a man from Dartmouth, a professor, I think, named French (the same name as my mother's family but no relation). These girls were all older than I, so I am not too sure about it all.

Then there was the beautiful and rich one, Mamie, I believe - she naturally awed me on her infrequent visits home. She had married a member of the Dagges family (candies-Boston) but lived in Paris most of the time. It was she who accounted for the furnishings and paintings in the house. she died when I was about twelve, on a visit home, so I do not remember that.

Then there was John, something of an artist, I think, who went to live and work in New Brunswick (again, I think) but our Mary Sterner tells me that the recent book, The Third Rose, a story of Gertrude Stein, is by his son, John Malcolm Brinnin, and that the son was a friend and speaking tour guide of Dylan Thomas when he spoke here.

Then there were the girls I knew better. Bess married someone named O'Neill, of whom her mother did not approve, and on the same day, Anna married George Kiley, of whom they did approve. I was bridesmaid for Ann. But both marriages ended shortly in divorce, and even now the two women live together in Boston. Mother also visited them, and a few years ago Gertrude and May visited them and reported a most lively visit Ann has a wonderful sense of humor and apparently total recall on all the funny things that happened in the family.

But it was my immediate family you asked about. My father, Henry, died when I was 17, Gertrude 12, and Henry and Mary younger. I should know more about him after that many years, but somehow I'm still only learning.

There was what today we refer to as a drinking problem, and so, much of the time conversation about the family just didn't exist. I remember that he was an extremely well-liked man; popular, and a remarkable dancer. In those days prizes were given at parties for the best waltzers and I think he had many; with my mother, I suppose. Again, I simply accepted what I heard and did not question. However, he did teach me to dance and it was a great help later on, when I saw friends struggling and embarrassed.

When I was small he used to take me on walks on Sunday mornings - for some reason against my mother's wishes. I expect I was too dressed up in a ruffly dress to be taken to inspect the city stables, where he had friend who were wonderful to me. As I recall, they were very clean places and the horses would be brought out shining to be shown off.

I recall something else later, too: that while we had no family prayer as such (children said night prayers, of course), my father always knelt for a few seconds in the kitchen before he went out, either to work or to look for work.

I don't know how long he was at the Navy Yard, nor why he left - perhaps to do better, or perhaps a cut-back (such as is being ordered now again). Anyhow, from then on it seemed there never was money. If I am right, it seems he joined a union when the were very new; and over and over again, he would be ordered to leave a job because non-union men were brought only You can imagine my mother was not happy over it and my feelings of antagonism against unions - even though I know intellectually that they were a good and necessary thing - was pretty much conditioned by all that. No doubt he paved the way for the work patterns that the present unions set; but I was too young to look that far ahead.

To return for a moment to Aunt Nellie, who never married. She adopted a daughter named Abby (whether before Uncle Willie lift or afterward, I don't know. Perhaps afterward, for company). Anyhow, we grew up with Abby for a cousin - she was a year or so older than me. These were the years when Nellie would tell us the most hair-raising ghost stories; stories of children being buried alive when only in a coma, not dead; stories of undergroujdnstreams when houses would suddenly fall in he night. It was always night it seems. I still have phobias about dark waters; and only an understanding of modern embalming methods settles my mind about the buried-alive bit. And caves! How frightening they were, and to me, still are.

Henry and Caroline McCarthy
Caroline [Claire]

Frances + died in childhood

Irene + died in childhood
Henry I - died in childhood

Henry II


Anyhow, when I was seven, Abby (eight) [Nellie's adopted daughter], Frances (six), Irene (four) and Gertrude (two) [before Henry and Mary were born], we were all stricken with scarlet fever and diphtheria, for neither of which was there any cure: one survived or one did not.

My mother was pregnant and also ill and was moved across to my grandmother's apartment, and I guess my father stayed in the house. I think it was winter. Mother had whooping cough and the son that was born to her while she was there died of it. We never saw him, but he had been named Henry, and so I assume was baptized.

I seem to have had the lightest case of these diseases and so was able to help a little taking care of the others. But Frances and Irene did not survive, so when spring came there were only two children left.

My mother took us to Sharon, Massachusetts, where her best friend lived. They seem to have had a small farm or garden - at least there were chickens and always fresh corn so we all somehow survived. You can understand how Gertrude would have been a favored child, the youngest left, and looking exactly like Frances. But then later Henry and Mary were born. As you know, Henry died not too long ago - 1951 - on his 25th wedding anniversary which they were celebrating at Saint Andrew's Seminary with Alan, who was just beginning his priesthood studies.

For some reason along here somewhere my grandmother moved from her apartment in with us, and we, of course, soon had to have a larger place. It seems as if the small house had been given to my father, perhaps even built for him by his father - but nothing was ever in writing, and Uncle Willie decided that since Nellie was unmarried, she should have it for rental.

I guess it was all right with my father. I never heard him say. There was still, of course the drinking problem and perhaps this was the reason, or perhaps just not enough money for school clothes and shoes and so on. At any rate, I left high school before the end of the first yea and went to work. Of course I soon realized I needed something more - my father, incidentally, was the one to push for more education - with with the help of one of my high school teachers I had a little tutoring and started out to complete a business course - and much later, to get into history, literature and a little language.

My father died, on February 23, George Washington's birthday, quite suddenly during the night, of a heart attack. He had not been ill. I had company in during the evening and he had talked with us, feeling apparently well, but by morning he was dead.

I was 17, and had been working for some time. Gertrude turned twelve on the 28th. My grandmother was still with us and we had all been living in an apartment in Medford, Massachusetts, in Saint Clements' parish which was just then being established, with Sunday Mass said in a large tent.

We then left that apartment and moved to Bowers
Street in West Medford. Then, in November, my grandmother died. Mary had not even started school yet because she had been staying with my grandmother while Mother and I worked. I can't recall that grandmother was ill particularly, but she was forgetful and was apt to turn on the4 gas and not light it, or hurt herself in some other way. After she died we moved again - in fact two or three times - before Mother took Henry and Mary and Gertrude to live in Atlantic City, while I stayed behind. My mother simply liked new apartments, she always found something a little newer or a little fancier.

My grandmother of whom I speak was really a step-grandmother, or perhaps technically a foster-grandmother. My real grandmother died when Mother was a baby, and so she was adopted by Harrison French, my grandfather's uncle, and his wife Anne (who was really from Ireland). My grandfather was FWarrenFrnedch, whom I knew very slightly; and I had never met Harrison.l He must have been much older than his wife. They did have a son, Walter, who was brought up with my mother, but who had left home before I can remember, no doubt before Mother married. Sometime before marriage, my mother had become a Catholic and I think that ended whatever little contact she had with her father. (However, he later married a Catholic woman and had another daughter, also Catholic, and two Catholic grandsons.)

Mother's own family was from Maine, Kennebunkkport, I believe, English, and I liked them all. Mother kept in touch with several of them, and there I loved to visit. These were the Kyle's, her MOther's people - although there was an Aunt Emma French, whom we also kept t in touch with until she died not too many year ago. Perhaps I kind find out what relation she was. There was a maiden aunt - Flavie Kyle - who I believe kept house for her father, my mother's own grandfather, whom we knew well and who lived to 93 or 94. I have, your remember, the framed sampler made by Roanna Soper, who must have become Mrs. Kyle. Later one Kyle became a Spaulding and her son and daughter were people my age and again whom I liked. This is mentioned because more ofte3hn were taken to visit the relatives of my foster grandmother, and somehow I didn't find rapport with them; and they found me much too dignified ("stuck up" probably) for a child. Gertrude fared better, but says now she didn't really enjoy it but they made such a fuss over her, she liked that.


I guess I didn't mention that my father was in the Spanish-American War - 5th Massachusetts Infantry, probably, and spent his time in the south, never getting to Cuba. He is buried in St. Paul's Cemetery in Arlington, Massachusetts and his grave is cared for by military organizations, I'm not sure which. He did not have a military funeral, which i learned later bothered my mother, and she felt that his cousin was in some way responsible for neglecting it. It pleased her that Henry, later, did have such honors and is burled in a military cemetery on Long Island. Mother is buried at Saint Mar's Cemetary in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

1964 - Claire Frances Murphy

Comments Index
Website Home


eXTReMe Tracker