Selma – and places nearby

So, a week ago, I went to the movies.  We saw Selma, on the first day it was available here in Phoenix.  It was a winner and I recommend it.   The acting is excellent.  Within moments, one forgets that it is not Martin and Corretta.  Their likenesses are so close and the cadence and tone of their speech is so perfect.  The musical score is excellent and I note that the CD has vaulted to the top of the charts.  The photography is extraordinary and the black and white footage that swoops in and out at some of the crucial moments is well done and serves to validate the movie’s authenticity as to the events on the bridge and in the streets.  I believe that the movie is one of those game-changers that we occasionally see.  We have had oblique swipes at the subject matter, in “the Butler” for example.  We have had movies on the holocaust too numerous to count.  We have not had any movie about the civil rights movement, the boots on the ground and the tough decisions wrestled over by the makers of the movement, Abernathy, King, Lewis and the others who had to pilot the movement along a tightrope wire to keep it from falling and splintering.  This is the first of what may become a string of 2 or 5 such movies, now that we are on a 50 year mark for the first Voting Rights Act…

There was a point at which I was a bit player in all that struggle in the streets, never in Selma but in places somewhat nearby.  In Brandeis, from my start in 1958 as a freshman, the student body was in the forefront of the student movement regarding the civil rights demonstrations occurring in the South.  Woolworths Lunch-counter sit-ins commenced in 1958 in Virginia and, within weeks,  students in Boston were picketing the Woolworths Stores in the Boston area. I was in our group from Brandeis and we went to different neighborhoods, getting a fairly hostile reception from the passersby, but no violence such as the students in Virginia went through.  This and things like it went on year after year.  I was so visible in it early on that as a young sophomore I ran for and was elected to the post of Treasurer of Student Council.  We had a significant fund from student activity fees and the money went for things that the University Administration got concerned about.  We had two student council committees on civil rights in the South, one for Alabama and one for Misssissippi.  I was Chairman of the committee on Mississippi Civil Rights.  In late December 1961, after he had been cashiered from his Jackson law firm, a young Harvard  Law Graduate drove onto the Brandeis Campus to start a 6 month fellowship.  I met him, Bill Higgs Esq., as he and his young wife drove onto campus and stopped at the information booth where I was working over the winter recess.

Higgs had graduated in 1959 from Harvard Law School, been in a big law firm in Jackson, and had announced that he was going to represent the Freedom Riders when they were pulled from busses and beaten then arrested for disturbing the peace in 1961.  The firm said NO then fired Higgs, who represented the beaten riders one by one as they had to return to be tried for disturbing the peace in Municipal Court.  Most would wind up in Parchman Prison serving long sentences.  Within weeks of meeting Higgs, the student council committee funded our first of several trips to the South.  We removed the back seat from a 55 Ford 4 door sedan, loaded it with student-council-printed literacy test materials and headed off to Tougaloo University in Jackson.  It was a 24 + hour road trip, one guy sleeping on the materials piled up to the seat top in the back, 3 people in the front seat. We drove the Skyline Drive through Tennessee in the night in rain and lightning.  The Tougaloo students unloaded the car.  We went with them in a series of visits to tiny Black churches in the Delta and to the North,  These were churches in which frightened and deliberate people studied to be able to pass the absurd tests that the County Registrars in the Courthouses employed to make sure no Black could vote.  I was scared every time we left Tougaloo and travelled to the countryside,  The white power structure in Mississippi was out of control.  We were dogged by the White Citizens Council who seemed to know where we were going long before we got there. The mood on the streets in Downtown Jackson was murderous and in the Churches, out on the dirt roads, the mood was euphoric and almost fatalistic.The poverty in the rural churches was beyond my wildest imagination.  People had no shoes. They had no food, no medical care, and they were regularly treated badly by racist folks with there being no chance of justice for what occurred.  I met Medgar Evers, James Meredith, and Aaron Henry, and I learned from my mentor about Missisippi survival, Bill Higgs the young lawyer.  After January, 1962, we made  several more long chancey trips down to Jackson with printed materials, materials that would not get printed anywhere in Mississippi.

I worked nights while going to Harvard Law School my first year.  I did not return to Mississippi in the summer of 1963 as I had to work to make money to return to Law School.  But late that summer of 1963, 2 months after Medgar Evers had been shot in the back , dying at the front door of his house, I captained one of fifty-five busses from Boston, busses full of folks attending the Poor People’s March on Washington.  In late August under a tree that was not far from the steps of the Lincoln Monument in Washington, D.C., we stood all day to hear the various speakers, including Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave the stirring speech that is so often quoted today, “I have a dream…”  Late in the afternoon, I walked down the mall and connected with the small Mississippi contingent, friends from the previous scary summer.   We talked about the death of Medgar Evers and the pressure being brought to bear upon James Meredith as he tried to survive as the lone Black in the University of Mississippi.  I did not return to Mississippi in the summer of 1964, either.  Instead, I held a job in the Labor Department in Washington D.C. as a law student intern, working on field office appeals in the Bracero Program concerning agricultural workers.  But people that I had known in Mississippi made headlines, none that I had wanted to read.

Bob Moses was the head of SNCC (Student nonviolent coordinating committee).  Tired of seeing his Mississippi voter registration workers beaten up in rural Mississippi with local and federal law enforcement agents sitting on their hands, Moses trained 400 student-aged people in Oberlin College in Ohio.  Early in the summer of 64, the 400 (in 2 shifts of 200 each) took up residence in Black homes and taught in Freedom Schools held in churches all over Mississippi.  The White Citizens Council (which had followed us when we were there) vowed to run them out of Mississippi and the Klan renewed its recruiting in the State.  The Klan become visible and then, a week into the venture, 3 of the 400 disappeared, Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman.  All summer the 400 workers were harassed, abused, beaten and two were raped.  Blacks attempted to register to vote and were turned away and Moses’ people taped and movied what was happening.   The disappearance of the 3 civil rights workers made the news night after night and, across the Nation, people were glued to their TV sets as searchers combed the woods and swamps, following leads and tips.  In early August the 3 boys bodies were found under an earthen damn in Philadelphia Missisippi.  The 1964 Democratic Convention commenced 2 weeks later in Atlantic City…

Moses’ people and 47 Black Missisippians appeared and held forth on National TV before the Credentials Committee.  They wanted the all white delegation from their State to not be seated and for the convention to recognize the Freedom Democratic Party of Mississippi, i.e. them.  The committee narrowly endorsed the white delegation (after President Johnson and Hubert Humphrey twisted arms) and the graphic lengthy hearings turned the stomachs of the viewers across the Country, as persecution was demonstrated by affidavit, film clip, and live testimony.  Moses’ 400 young workers had paid a high price and the 47 Black delegates then returned to harassment and persecution that you and I cannot understand.  Those who had sheltered the 400 were burned out and ruined.  My friend Higgs and R.L.T.Smith (a Black grocer at whose home I had once stayed) had their lives upended and their homes destroyed.  Medgar Evers had lost his life the year before and James Meredith was hounded out of Ole Miss – but local lawyers put their lives and their law practices on the line and out of State lawyers lined up to help.  Cases were presented to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Tuttle upheld one after another judgment against officials.  The Country changed.  The 1964 and then the 1965 civil rights acts were passed.  The South left the Democratic Party.  By 1975,  55% of office holders in the State of Mississippi were Black.  James Meredith’s son was selected by his peers in 2007   as the Outstanding Business School Graduate for that year…

It ain’t over yet –  but we are seeing the end of the beginning of the end…




Chutzpah and the Mayonaise

So, I got good grades in Hingham’s high school and a spectacular score on the SAT Exam, interviewed at colleges around Massachusetts (I was going to need a lot of scholarship help), and got into a couple of good places.  Among the interviews was one at Brandeis University and my mother, who was high up in the administration at Boston University, noted that I would get the best education of all the schools at Brandeis.  I started in 1958 and Brandeis was then less than a decade old. There had been only a handful of classes graduating before I entered – but there were teachers of undergraduate courses like Leonard Bernstein in Music, Henry Levy in Constitutional Law and History, John Roche in Politics, Heinz Lubash in History, Richard Smith in Child Psych, and Eleanor Roosevelt in … Eleanor Roosevelt.  The competition was fierce and the change in culture was dramatic.  I was an ace in Chemistry in my high school and a babe in the woods next to students from Peter Styvesant High School in New York.  My first year I studied hard but got mediocre grades. I then studied nights that summer while working days for the Trees and Parks Department in Hingham, riding my scooter at nights into the Quincy Public Library where I could listen to classical music while reading what I bought would help me in my sophomore year.  I was Deans List from there on out.  I was desperate to live and work away from home for my second year summer. I consulted with my Dad who said, “well you know something about the restaurant business.  See if you can get work in a resort kitchen, maybe in the salad bar.” I wrote 150 letters (on a manual typewriter), got 5 responses, and motorcycled up to Marblehead Massachusetts for my only interview.  I overdescribed my skills to the Owner of the resort, was hired as the salad chef at Lakewood Inn in Skowhegan Maine, that is french-speaking Northern Maine.

I reported for duty after an 8-9 hour rainy hair-raising motorcycle ride there and the Chef, just in from Florida met me as I parked the bike and stiffly walked into the kitchen of the large resort hotel.  “Tierney”, he said, “get 2 heads of lettuce from the walkin cold-box refrigerator.  I want to show you how I expect every salad to look.”  I exited the cold-box with 2 heads of cabbage in hand and the chef said:  “Tierney, it is gonna be a long summer.”  At 6am the next morning I was in the salad bar ready for work in my newly starched whites… We were to do the breakfast service, fruit, cereals, etc. then gear up for a house count of 240 plus a buffet add-on of about 80, then dinner for 240+.  I had 4 helpers, all of them Harvard kids, and I was the head guy, although just as young and inexperienced as they were.  The chef called me in and said:  “Tierney, make 30 gallons of mayonnaise.”   I left without a word, waited 10 minutes, thought to myself Helmans small bottle with a blue cap,  and went back and said:  “Chef, do you have a particular recipe that you want me to follow?”  He had expected me to have my own…  He handed me an index card, with not a lot written on it.  I went to the salad bar area, started up the big power mixer with the wisk mounted in its arm, cracked and separated 200 eggs, got 4 large cans of dry mustard, about 6 big square cans of salad oil, salt, pepper, a few listed spices, and about 3 tall square cans of vinegar.  The recipe card said nothing about the order for mixing the ingredients so a few minutes later I looked in the rapidly turning 30 gallon bowl and saw the wisk chasing around the bowl a late ball of eggs affected by the vinegar..  The Chef came over, looked in the bowl at the ball of 200 curdled eggs and said “Tierney, it is gonna be a long summer.”  And it was.  My chutzpah for trying for the top spot as salad chef had landed me in that job in a locale where there was simply no way they could replace me… They simply had to teach me every thing that a salad chef would have to know…  We (me and my 4 guys) would make 25 pounds of potato salad, 30 pounds of chicken salad, serve them plus cold meats and made to order salads and cold plates for 300 by 1pm – and be getting ready for the dinner crowd at 5pm.  It was 18/7 hours for the whole of a “long summer”.

A few days into the start in June, the Chef called me into his office regarding the noon buffet, saying,”Get a 25 pound ham and meet me in the kitchen.”  With ham in hand, I met him at the range before midmorning.  He carved on the ham a little bit then said to the head cook, “Put it in at 450 degrees, about 10 hours.”  Nine hours later he called me over and had me watch as he glazed the ham heavily before its final hour at 450 degrees.  I thought to myself, what the heck is he doing! This ham is going to be as hard as a rock, overcooked by a factor of 3…  Next day, the chef explained that this same beautifully glazed ham would be cooked for several hours and reglazed once every week for the rest of the summer.  Each day when the 80-100 noon buffet guests came to the buffet, there would be 20 different dishes and one would be a huge platter of fresh ham slices around this massive and beautifully glazed ham,  But after each noon buffet, the ham sat untouched on a shelf in the walk in refrigerator until the next noon when it would get just 2 hours of exposure before returning to the refrigerator.  In late August as the season came towards its end, I asked the chef if he had any plans for the ham.  Puzzled he said, “no plans”.  It was an exhausting long summer with a hundred things to learn and relearn every week.   There was no social life.  On the last day of the season, about August 29, 1960, my assistant and I took the ham “out” – in a rented canoe.  We paddled to the center of Skowhegan Lake, on the shore of which the hotel was located.  After a few appropriate words, we dropped the ham in the center of the Lake, where it rests today on the bottom.  It is an artifact that will confound anthropologists in 2160, an ossified ham perfectly preserved in the Lake.

I was a salad chef for one more year, on the Cape in Massachusetts at the Cape Codder Inn in 1961.  The chutzpah stuff had served me well and had passed. I never had to make mayonnaise that summer.   It wasn’t nearly as long a summer that year, in 1961.



The war – and dishwashers

The politics of the Harvard Club changed overnight by 1950. Suddenly the Brahmins were in control and it was not desirable to have an Irishman, albeit an alumnus, running the Harvard Club on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.  My dad was out of work, cashed in his insurance policies, sold his home, and chose a huge Restaurant in Hingham that he would purchase and operate starting in March of 1950.  My mother, instead of running a household of 5 with some help, would run a dining room (front of the house, as they say) in the Country Fare Restaurant located at the junction of Routes 3 and 128 in South Hingham.  The restaurant seated 220 at a sitting at the start and was in the largest (physical acreage) township in Massachusetts.  It was a long way from downtown Boston, in every way.   To manage the 20 waitresses, 3 busboys, 5 cooks, 1 baker, 2 salad people, 5 dishwashers, the staff on an early summer day, was going to be a big job and it was 24/7, living in a small apartment over the restaurant.  My dad brought in Mrs. Daley, who had run the front of the house for him at the Harvard Club.  She came by bus every day from Dorchester and returned home by bus at night.  Day by day, for two years Mrs. Daley taught my mother how to run the dining room.  The chef was Al Cosley, a tattooed wiry quiet-spoken Navy cook, only 6 years out of the service.  He hired ex Navy guys as cooks and they were all serious capable people.  The dishwashers were another story. They were all just a year or two past high school, came and went like their tribe had no limit, and they studied books when the dishes weren’t piling up.  Our family ate all our meals at a table in the dining room, New England country dishes and plenty of it.  The schools were located at the other (seaside) end of the town where almost all the residents of Hingham had rather grand houses near the Harbor.  The residents were essentially all some stripe of protestants and the social life of the town seemed to be totally wrapped up in church-related organizations.  One of the churches was made from the timbers of a wrecked ship (in 1628) and was the oldest continually functioning church in the 13 colonies.  Hingham was formerly called Bare Cove, back when the settlers in Plymouth had moved up there in 1624.

Hingham was a long way from genteel Arlington.  When I went to the closing days of 4th grade in the early spring of 1950, I wore short pants that matched my jacket and hat.  Everyone had jeans and sneakers.  It was a little hard to adjust…  Where we lived was surrounded by forests that stretched for miles with essentially no roads.  There was a lake a half mile away.  Houses and other children were few and far between.  Downtown, my peers took after school jobs in drugstores and bowling alleys.  I had a 7 mile paper route (rain or snow or heat) and then an off again on again beaver trapline.  Pelts were worth $3.oo each, a princely sum for a 9 year old.   The life saver in our remote area was the one room lending library in a tiny building up near the lake on the road to Rockland, a town full of tough mill-workers’ children.  A group of 5 women at the end of WW2 had collected their sons’ books and some donated books and there was about a 1000 book lending arrangement, nickel a week for a book, open Saturdays 2-4:30pm, staffed by the volunteer ladies.  It was mostly children’s’ books from the thirties, heavy on the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, the Boy Allies in France, the Boy Scouts in the North Woods, but some classics as well.  I got a shopping bag full about every other week riding there on my bicycle.

The rule from on high was that I had 3 choices, to study piano an hour a day, or to play football, or to clean restrooms, wash paint, and rake leaves for an hour every day.  In a brilliant move, I passed on the piano and the football, both subjects at which my father had excelled at (the Oedipus thing) and I chose to wash paint in the restaurant.  Every chair, table, banister, countertop, etc. had to be washed every day or so.  Floors had to be mopped, buffed, and polished. Every day,  after my hour of work, I was off into the forests, usually by myself.  At some point, I realized that the dishwashers were disappearing.  The United States had sent soldiers to South (and then North) Korea in September of 1950.  The U.S. regular army was down to almost no men, so we had sent out reservists and National Guard troops.  They were poorly trained and badly equipped, and not well led, it seemed.  When they got there to Korea, their places were filled by new high school graduates and then those men were called up by the thousands.  Just about every dishwasher had joined the Army reserves or the National Guard and they were called up at a great rate, “emptying the pipeline” of dishwasher candidates.  I paid close attention because I was hoping that I would not find myself washing dishes and could continue to save my skills for all the other drudge work tasks, but not the dishes.  One by one, the word came back regarding each of the dishwashers who had been working there at the Restaurant:  shot dead at Pusan, killed at Inchon,  mine explosion in Wonsan, bayonetted in Hungnam, froze to death in the 1000 mile retreat from the Choisin Reservoir in North Korea when the Chinese troops overran our troops every day so that 46 man platoons had 4 left alive at the end of the retreat.  The older ex-servicemen cooks in the Restaurant didn’t have to go, just the dishwashers – and they never came back.  Truman recalled General MacArthur and it seemed that there might be civil disobedience over that.  The schools in Hingham held once a week drills where we students were required to crouch under our desks. Rampant atomic bomb fears about a feisty Russia and serious polio scares alarmed the parents of the students.  None of the dishwashers returned.  It was the Korean “police action” and it was going very badly for a surprised and concerned Nation.  Gas rationing went into effect and the people of Boston stopped driving South towards the Cape Cod beaches.  The restaurant business got bad in 1951-52  – but there were no dishwashers.


Mom’s “gift”

My sister was born in 1943, October.  She had a habit of throwing her socks out of the crib, “booties” we called them.  I took to calling her Bootsie, and the name has stuck with her for some 70 years now.  A lot of people on Martha’s Vineyard know her only as Bootsie.   When Bootsie was about 4 years old she had a boy friend who lived just down the block.  Just past the Katanis’ fabulous lawn and brick mansion, slightly down the hill toward the Country Club in Arlington, Massachusetts, 15 miles from downtown Boston.  Andy Anderson was a pilot for Eastern Airlines and his 4 year old son, Andy Anderson Junior, had thick flaming orange hair.  The Andersons had an enormous house with a large and wholly fenced yard and the home was located on a low bluff, bordered by a fast road, beyond which was an 18 hole golf course and the Club.   On a spring day in the afternoon, I was in school and the maid (3 days a week) had the day off.  Dad was at work in the Harvard Club.  Mom was volunteering at the Heart Fund offices in Boston, something which she did from time to time and when there was the equivalent of “day care” that could take care of Bootsie.  My grandfather, Daniel, age 85, was at home.  Bootsie was down at the Andersons, playing in the huge yard with Andy Junior.  Shortly after lunch, the 2 kids found a place where the ground had sunk away from the fence and, out of sight from the porch, they slipped under the fence and went for a walk.   They slid down the bluff and walked along the fast and busy road.  Bootsie was walking behind Andy and she was struck from behind by a 10 ton trailer truck, traveling at about 50 miles per hour.  She flew a hundred feet through the air, landed on her forehead, and lay in a heap.  Drivers then cops collected, Mrs. Anderson came down from the house, and Bootsie went off in an ambulance to the local hospital (where she remained in a coma for months, eventually waking up and amazing everyone by being AOK but with a scar on her forehead to this day).

In Boston, at a time that had to be when the accident occurred, my mother put down her pencil, got up from her desk, went to her supervisor, and stated that she had to go home immediately “because my little girl has been hurt.”  Oh, said the supervisor, “did someone call to tell you?”  Mom said, “No, I just ‘know'”. She drove home, as she had the 1939 Buick convertible with her that day at the Heart Fund Offices.  She arrived to find only Grampie at the house on Falmoth Hill Road and she then drove straight to the local hospital in Arlington. She climbed the stairs, got off at the landing at floor 3, and asked the nurse for Marietta Tierney’s room…   No one could ever explain how it was that she had “known” to just leave work and come home or explain her going to the right hospital and the right floor.  It was just folklore in the family that she had a “gift” and no one made much of it or spoke much of it.

In 1957, I was 16.  I had worked three summers as a Dairy Queen iced-milk maker and soda jerk.  Now,in my senior year of High School, I was working two afternoons a week helping pump gasoline at a service station just across busy Route 3 from my father’s large restaurant, the Country Fare located at 1217 Main Street in Hingham Massachusetts.  It was just a moment after 5pm and almost time for me to quit and go home to supper at the family table in the front of the restaurant.  A drunk in a 1956 Blue Buick four door hardtop was speeding North and, just at the gravel apron driveway to my Dad’s Restaurant,  directly in front of the gas station, he sideswiped a green Pontiac,  hard.  It rolled over and over and across the gravel apron kicking up a huge amount of dust. Traffic snarled and my coworker, Gino, a former policeman from Colorado yelled to me, “get in the car”. Gino ran to his 1957 Chevie Black and White Impala 2 door.  When I ducked in, he swerved out of the Esso gas station, heading left and North, hot on the trail of the Buick’s hit and run driver.  As we headed up the long hill, Gino yelled, “get his number”.  I had no pencil and I had no paper – but I had a jackknife and my wallet.  When we passed 100 miles per hour, I was hard a work carving the number in my wallet.  About 7 or 8 minutes into the chase, we were right close behind the Buick, which was all over the road and doing 90 mph.  At about the border between Weymouth and Hingham, Route 3 takes a sudden and pronounced veer to the left.   The road veered – but the Buick did not.  At the far right edge of Route 3, there was an open and deep granite quarry.  The Buick made it quite far out into space before it went 65 feet down to the bottom of the quarry, essentially flatly pancaking on the rocks forming the bottom of the unused quarry.  We braked and the Chevie skidded to a stop at the edge of the road, up on the verge,  where we stood and watched the smashed Buick just starting to leak smoke.  Cars began to collect behind us.  Gino began to climb down the wall,  the blocks of the quarry where irregular cutting had left ledges. I followed and, in a moment, we were below and at the car. With windows smashed and doors crumpled, it was starting to leak smoke from the engine compartment and through the dash into the car, where two forms were crumpled in the front seat.  Gino hollered that I should go get the extinguisher.  I went up the wall of the quarry then down with the extinguisher and he flushed the small flames from the crumpled front of the car,  and then began breaking the safety glass windows on both sides with a large rock.  Flames began to lick from the bottom of the Buick and Gino reached in and pulled out the male driver, bloody and smelling of smoke and alcohol.  I took the woman.  We inched back up the wall with our “packages” and there were a lot of faces at the top of the quarry, with the sounds of sirens coming closer.  The Buick began to really burn and we struggled up.   And then I saw my mother.

She had been at dinner with my father at 5:15pm.  As he told it, she put down her fork.  She said:  “David is in trouble.  We have to go, right now”, and got up from the white table, walked ten steps to the doorway out of the restaurant, and walked out toward the car, standing looking North then South then North…  My Dad followed, his keys in hand.  They got into the old red 1948 Mercury 4 door that my Dad drove and she told him to go North on Route 3 (instead of South out the other driveway to Route 128.   They drove for about 15 minutes (at a sedate pace) till they came across the knot of people and police cars.  When I came climbing up over the lip of the quarry with the bloody form of the woman passenger in my arms and hands reached out for that woman, my Mom was standing a few people back, arms crossed, saying not a word.  I rode home with my folks an hour or so later.  My mother never talked about the incident – and but there were two other occasions which gave her a chance to exercise “the gift”, though the incidents involved less events, and both times involved my sister.  It didn’t always work.  When I was almost killed in 1981 December by a drunk driver in Phoenix, she had no “vibes” back on the East Coast in Hingham and she learned of it a day later on the phone.

The woman passenger lived and the male driver went to prison, as he had sideswiped more then one car driving drunk out of Plymouth, heading for Boston.   Gino came to a bad end after some events with a woman.  The quarry is still there and the road still has the bend to the left in it, as it did in late 1957.


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.



Wow. Unexpected and invited gift – and a new challenge. I mean, what if I make typos and what if it is not that interesting? So, here is a start, an old story about my dad, Charles, born 1894 in the North end, then the Irish ghetto near where Logan airport is in Boston today. The Irish had just become so numerous by the end of the 1800’s and so organized that they were getting close to taking over the apparatus of the City of Boston – but it was still nearly 2 decades before that would occur. One by one, they were taking over the wards. As of 1916 my father enrolled in the only college that would accept the Irish, Boston College. He attended nights as a freshman. In the afternoons, he played football for B.C.His position was tackle and he was really good. They played with no pads and skintight leather helmets.
President Wilson gave in. The U.S. stopped just supplying shells and guns and meat to the Brits. Our army was tiny and essentially all on the Mexican border. The Navy was puny. Everyone enlisted. Training was minimal. My dad went into the Navy as a seaman, and promptly was selected for training to be a machinist’s mate on a hundred foot boat. He knew nothing about machinery. The boats were hastily mass produced and were crude things, designed to hunt subs in the North Atlantic. No aspic. No sonar. The plan was to cruise endlessly and spot a periscope (the other side didn’t have sonar either)… At that point, using signal flags, one rushed the boat to the site of the spotted periscope and four of the crew went to the stern. Depth charges were ashcan sized metal drums, packed with TNT, sealed tight and weighted. You wound up the ticker- fuse (setting it for 400 or 500 feet depths) then kicked the ashcan off the back of the boat. The boats had a crew of 18-20 and crude crew compartments. There were two 16 cylinder motors and they ran on gasoline and spewed out fumes.
Two years after the Halifax disaster ( where 5 munitions ships blew up in a Canadian harbor and flattened everything for 25 miles around) dad’s boat and a hundred others sailed for a Bermuda rendezvous with another hundred of the same. You fueled when a launch loaded with fifty gallon drums of gasoline pulled alongside and a pump and hose was inserted in a drum and some sailor turned the eggbeater handle and pumped gasoline up, cross deck, and into your tanks. With 200 boats in harbor, all needing gasoline to go to the Azores then North to Cobh (now Cork) in Southern Ireland, sloppy work on the fueling lanches led to a thick film of gas and oil on the harbor in Bermuda. Fire started late one afternoon and the slick burned furiously with choking smoke. All the boats were loaded with ashcan depth charges lashed to the decks. Every captain made haste to get out of harbor.
In Cobh (the Irish were still ruled by Britain and were giving the U.S. A Naval base there) the boats were three weeks out then I week at the base. Wherever they docked the boat, when the crew got liberty, my father was a favorite. He played the piano by ear and could play anything and could play for hours without repeating his repertoire. He did not drink so the others got free drinks while he played in bars in Ireland and in England. The usual duty was to sail East then North up through the Irish Sea, East again over the top of Britain, til on station in the Baltic, near Kiel, from which German submarines left to hunt merchant ships in the Atlantic which coming to supply the Brits and our tiny army, newly in France in the trenches. The boats operated in extreme cold with no insulated crew quarters. The Navy paid the Captains a sum to provision the boats so the crew could eat. The Captain of my dad’s boat was a drunk and a womanizer. He used up the food allowance for the crew on other pursuits and the crew was always short of food. Often, the duty was to minesweeper, as mines were sowed everywhere and were a constant danger. They were just a few feet below the surface, carefully weighted, attached to long chains with anchors below. Two of our boats would attach a chain to the stern, spread out a quarter mile apart, then proceed carefully into a minefield, spotters on the bow. The long chain would drag, then sever, the mines’ chains. The mines would bob up on the surface, floating free and pitching in the waves. A dozen boats would enter the wave-swept quarter mile full of bobbing mines. In ten degree weather, wearing pea coats, watch caps, and a mitten with one hole in it three of the crew were issued Winchester rifles and a box of ammunition. Standing on a pitching deck, they shot mines. When you hit a plunger on the mine, it exploded and a geyser of water went up.
My dad’s boat got lucky with a depth charge run. The U32 was damaged, came up onto the surface, and commenced a life or death deckgun duel with a half dozen of our boats. U32 had a 3 inch gun. Our boats had 2 inch guns each and ineffectual machine guns. My dad’s boat was hit. He worked down in the engine room which filled with choking fumes – but ceasing to man the engines was not an option. The black gang worked on in darkness and fumes to keep the boat operating and moving until U32 sank.
The boat then came down the English Channel and put in at a French port where there was a huge field hospital near the shore. Several sailors and my dad went ashore and checked in at the hospital, gassed by the fumes in the engine room from the boat having been damaged in the encounter with U32. Days passed. Bored, and feeling restored, the several crew members conferred then forged passes and went off base from the hospital to see the earlier and now emptied battlefields. The War was entering its close in 1918. The field hospital was immense and the crew members figured they would never be missed for few days.
Meanwhile, my father’s father (Daniel) operated a candy and cigars store in the basement of Fanieul Hall, equidistant from the Boston City Hall and the State Legislature, about five blocks from each. He was friends with Martin Lomasney, Honey Fitzgerald, and other Boston pols, later with Mayor Curley, who was not yet on scene. President Lowell of Harvard was debating on the front page of the Boston Globe with an unknown young law professor at Harvard Law School, one Felix Frankfurter. The dialogue was whether Harvard should admit Jews and Irish “on quota”. Debate was intense but then Lowell yielded and ’twas done. Daniel went to Lowell’s office and told Lowell that he had a great tackle that Lowell could have for the asking… producing some clippings raving about my father’s prowess on the gridiron. Lowell bit – and called a young under-secretary of the Navy, one Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt signed orders that Charles Tierney, as a matter of National security, was to be returned by ship immediately to the the Naval base in North Boston and discharged. The telegraphed orders reached France and hospital staff searched for Tierney, who could not be found for several days. When he was found, the Navy decided to make no issue of his having gotten lost for a few days… They simply shipped him home – before a hundred thousand doughboys waiting for their travel orders.
Charles Tierney’s paybook was lost but orders from Roosevelt resolved the snafu and he was discharged in time to report to the football squad in late 1918, class of 1922 at Harvard. It was a famous class at Harvard. On my wall in my office at home hangs the team picture from the 1919 Harvard Yale game. In white on the ball in front of the team, it says Harvard 9, Yale zero… In the top row, third from left is a clear eyed smiling Charles Tierney, starting a three year storied career as a star tackle. He later became the line coach at Harvard, and there is a fat book of rotogravure clippings to attest that he was a successful coach.
By the way, Frankfurter, Lowell, and Roosevelt went on to do pretty well in their own right. Charles Tierney finished at Harvard Football in 1929, went to Venezuela in ’29 on a venture involving buying Panama hats in bulk for resale to the U.S. , managed the Commander Hotel in Cambridge til 1933, managed the Harvard Business School dining halls til ’37, managed the Harvard Club in Boston from ’37 til ’51, owned and managed the Country Fare Restaurant in Hingham Massachusetts til ’62, died in 1988 at 94 years of age. In all the years after he left the Navy, he had difficulty whenever sitting in a darkened movie theatre, remembering a frightful few hours working on the engines in smoke and darkness, while his boat chased U32 around the surface of the Baltic hoping to survive a three inch deck gun’s pounding.
I saw the movie Unbroken today. It was a good account of young men doing difficult service in war. This is a story with some of the same content, just a little earlier in time.

Dave Tierney

UPDATE 12/26/14 by Sean: I haven’t taught my Dad how to use the multimedia features of WordPress yet so I’m appending these primary source materials. Below is a scan of the actual furlough order from Roosavelt that he mentioned.

roosavelt-order-grampeeAnd a few other awesome news clippings involving my grandfather:

Convincing the big guy to write publicly

This is Sean Tierney, David Tierney’s son. Unbeknownst to my Dad I’ve set up this blog as a Christmas gift for him this year. I’ve been encouraging him to write publicly for awhile now and I’m hoping that by presenting this as a gift he’ll be more obligated to accept the challenge and start writing.

I won’t write a huge intro here but I wanted to say a few things:  my Dad has read more books than you have probably seen on shelves in your lifetime. When you read as much as he does (primarily historical nonfiction) you form an incredible breadth of knowledge spanning a variety of topics. My Dad can begin talking to you about the battle strategies employed in the Crimean War and transition in the same breath into a discussion on how those strategies are applicable today in the context of a trial defense in a construction litigation. Beyond book knowledge though my Dad is a “do’er” involved in somewhere on the order of twenty pro-bono volunteer efforts around Phoenix, AZ. He works daily behind the scenes in all kinds of capacities to make the City of Phoenix a better place for everyone.

I know I’m inherently biased here because I’m his son but he has hands-down some of the most fascinating stories to share. He’ll tell you about getting shot at while smuggling books to minority voters in Mississippi back in the 60’s, developing the vehicular traffic infrastructure for small towns in Venezuela while in the Peace Corps, BS’ing his way into becoming a salad chef as a summer job to pay his way through Harvard, defending underdog clients against well-funded bullies… and winning.  Anyways, he’s got stories.

I’ve seen him speak at his Hon Kachina award acceptance, the Justice Learned Hand award acceptance and at the Harvard Club in Phoenix.  The bottom line here is he has a wealth of experience and ideas to share but is humble to a fault and therefore needs to be coaxed into writing publicly.  I’ve been fortunate to glean some of his wisdom over the years through dinner conversations and hot tub sessions and I’m hoping with a little chiding here he’ll see this blog as a unique way to both share stories, OpEd and insight on the causes he works with from the Irish Cultural Center to the ACT Health Fair to the Tool Bank project, RJRC and numerous other endeavors.

So here’s what I ask you to do: if you know my Dad (or even if you don’t yet) leave a message below on this post so when he gets this on Christmas morning he’ll see that he already has a few readers. You can tell him what you want to hear about, just say hi or anything really. He’s been winding down his caseload with Sacks Tierney the past year, shifting emphasis more to the pro-bono endeavors and therefore finally has some time available to write. My goal is to “prime the pump” with a few readers so he gets excited about posting here regularly. The stories I’ve grown up hearing over fishing trips and dinner conversations will blow your mind. Let’s convince him to share them here with everyone else.


Sean and Dave