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.


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