In 1915, just after the start of the War to End All Wars, the one in which my father served in the Navy, a second child was born to Frank and Bessie Twining in the City of Torrington, Connecticut. They had a small farm just 30 blocks from downtown. Frank delivered the U.S. mail but soon started at the brass mills operating a lathe. The mills had poured and ladled, then ground, sanded, and polished metal parts for a hundred years. Most of the guns used in the French Indian Wars, the Revolution, the War of 1812, and those used by the Union side in the Civil War had come from the towns and Cities up and down those small river valleys in Connecticut. Rivers provided torque for gears and belts then lathes. The forests provided endless wood for furnaces to melt the ore found in mountains from Kentucky to upstate New York. Grandpa Reynolds lived with the family of four, Bud having been born two years before Virginia. Grandpa hunted and fished. Bessie worked as a saleswoman in a small department store in the town of 4000 folks. By 1920 Frank had bought a big touring car. The family went on long twenty mile trips, hiked, Picknicked, boated. Grandpa Reynolds could craft and make anything and once built a clock which kept good time when I visited in the mid forties. Virginia was an avid reader, bright, appeared in school plays, went to Methodist church socials, and on turning 18 went off to school. Torrington was a small Protestant community, almost no immigrants and almost no Catholics in town. Virginia went to Boston University and her brother Bud was at Babson Institue, also in Boston. It was a long auto ride to Hartford, then a long train ride up to Boston. Virginia graduated in the Class of 1937, having starred in school plays and earned top grades. She applied for a secretarial job at Leverett House in Harvard University’s administration office. Nearly 4 months later, a former Harvard football star who was managing the Harvard Business School dining halls across the Charles River came by about some payroll issues. The paper landed on Virginia’s desk and pretty soon the Irish catholic fellow asked her out. Her school friends didn’t really approve as he was 21 years older than she. He changed jobs later in 1937, leaving the Harvard Business School dining halls to manage the Harvard Club in downtown Boston. The club had purchased a large building at Commonwaelth Avenue and Marlborough, ten minutes away from the best homes on Beacon Hill. Harvard guys ran the Banks, insurance, food supply companies, importing firms, and just about anything that made money in Boston.
It was remarkable that the the newer members of the club had voted to have an Irishman run the club, even if he had been a star football player and a well known coach at Harvard. Club politics ebbed and flowed but it was a challenge twice a year to fend of the old guard Brahmins who wanted to throw the Mick out and revert to one of their own. The Harvard Club was where you stayed when in Boston if you were a Harvard guy, up from New York or Philadelphia. In August of 1940, Virginia ( my mother) married Charles Tierney (my father). Her parents were dubious and concerned for the age difference and especially for the religious difference. My father bought a 1939 Buick convertible, a four bedroom house in Arlington, Massachusetts at 27 Falmouth Hill Lane, where his father Daniel would live with them, and the newlyweds went on honeymoon to Mexico City. Entranced with the floating gardens of Xochimilco, they went boating day after day, failing to get to some sights North of Mexico City which they had meant to go visit. I was born one year later, four months before Pearl Harbor, on August 18, 1941 in Cambridge at Mount Holyoke Hospital.
Grandfather Daniel had raised several siblings in the North End of Boston, as both his parents had died when he was 15. Those siblings all had large families. Daniel ran the candy store in the basement of Fanieul Hall, near the Centers of power in Boston. He was friend to many Irish politicians and, in particular, Mayor Michael Curley. Curley went in and out of power and once for three years he went to prison in Danbury, Conecticut. He was always welcome Chez Tierney. When I was a child, he would come in a huge shiny black car, sit in the living room, drink, and sing with my grandfather at the top of their lungs as my father played the piano in the living room and I watched from the second floor bannister. In 1940, my father’s best man had been Dan H., a big beefy red faced irish fellow. Dan H. had been a Boston College footballer with Dad in 1916, had a knack for mastering foreign languages, and had become an accountant. In early 1940, he received an official looking letter which instructed him to appear at the US Post Office in Boston at a certain room. When he complied, he met two men from the OSS and the FBI. They requested that he take a job in Chicago, join the German Bund, pass on information to them about Germans being brought into this country as spies, and eventually go overseas. Dan told no one, as ordered, went to Chicago and rose fast in the Bund. When World War 2 commenced, he was in Germany, working with the Nazis at the highest levels, and was labelled a traitor by his former neighbors in Boston. My father alone resisted the rumors. When Dan H. eventually testified at Nuremberg and it was revealed that he had been a spy in Germany, people in the Irish community in Boston were amazed. My father was not.
My father was drafted in 1941. He reported (age 47). The recruiting office allowed as how there had been an error in paperwork. They were desperate for machinist mates ( his World War 1 status) but had missed his age in the files. He ran the Harvard Club during World War 2, coping with shortages of meat and butter and gasoline. My mother saved tin cans, raised a garden in the backyard, hunted earnestly for metal toy cars for her son ( which could not be found anywhere), and kept house in Arlington with folks from the Club coming by any hour of any day. They entertained often in the evening.
Grandfather Daniel Tierney travelled often to Boston by bus then subway. He had friends working in the boats along the several piers off Atlantic Avenue in downtown Boston. He would take me with him at age four or five, dressed in short pants, and a matching jacket and cap. We would walk down T wharf and he would chat with the men on every trawler tied up to the pier, then take me though Haymarket Square to what used to be Scollay Square ( now Federal Centre and Quincy Market). He would drink coffee with old friends then take the MTA back to Arlington, the bus to the foot of our street, then slowly (he was in his middle eighties) up the long hill to our house.
Dan H. Was given the rank of Commander in the Navy because of his OSS service during the war. He stayed in the OSS til it became the CIA, then went on in the CIA til the mid sixties. I visited him and his wife and son (who was in the Navy) in the early sixties in Virginia. He spoke 20 languages, had run posts in Africa, and East Berlin, was on many lists written in hostile foreign languages. I read his unpublished manuscript with secrets from dangerous post war years. He never forgot that, when his friends in Boston dammed his eyes as a traitor, my father had said to all who would listen it could not be so and there was something everyone was missing. It was a lesson taught to me in the very early forties in my house: you choose your friends by character. If they have it, then you give them loyalty through all that then comes to happen. Those choices, if well made, are to last for all time. The war ended in 1945. I remember my mother on her knees, picking rhubarb to make a pie, telling me slowly and gravely that the war was over – and that life was about to change.