He was born in 1884, in a facility called the Tewksbury Almshouse which later became the Tewksbury State Hospital. It was, among other things, a pauper’s home, a place of last resort. I know nothing for sure about his parents, although it is likely that they were first generation immigrants from Ireland.
He died in 1975, when I was 16. For the last ten years of his life, he lived in an apartment near us. There’s a life in between those two events, and I wish I knew more about it. I know some of it, and here’s an outline.
He would not talk about the Tewksbury Almshouse. At all. Ever. He ran away from there in 1897, when he was 13. He rode freight trains west, and worked on ranches and farms, finding work where he could, sometimes for nothing more than room and board.
Somewhere in those early years, he lost most of his hearing. He wasn’t completely deaf, but it was close. Even with a hearing aid, when I knew him, you had to talk loud, and he didn’t like the hearing aid, so he wouldn’t wear it often. A mixed blessing, though. Because of his hearing loss, the Army passed him over for World War I. Later, he was drafted, when the need for men was greater, and he went through training. He was on a troopship ready to sail for Europe when the Armistice was signed.
He came back east as an adult, married when he was 36, and the next thing I know about his life is that they had one son that died as an infant, and then had my father in 1933, when he was 49 years old. They were living as tenants on a dairy farm in upstate New Hampshire around that time. This is the earliest picture I have of them. No electricity, no running water or indoor plumbing. No motor vehicle. There were cows. Important enough that the only other picture I have from that day is this. I have no other pictures of them until 1951. I know that they moved into a larger town when my father approached school age because his mother wanted him to go to Catholic school and next time I will resume the story there. The quote below is something he used to say to me, I just found out today that he didn’t make it up himself.
It’s a great life, if you don’t weaken.
–John Buchan, Governor General of Canada, 1935-1940