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Growing Up At “The Elms” 296 Nahant Road Nahant, Massachusetts

The Elms was an Inn owned and operated by my great aunt and uncle, Mary Agnes (Linnane) and her husband Tom Scally between 1930-1955. Aunt Mary was my father’s aunt, and she and Uncle Tom brought up my father James “Buddy” Linnane, (or as he was also called “Red” Scally). Aunt Mary and my grandfather’s family came from County Clare, Ireland, and Uncle Tom and his brothers, James and Patrick, came from County Mayo. Aunt Mary and her first cousin Nan (Linnane) Scally married two of the three Scally brothers. Patrick picked a bride from the Callahan Family. I was the first grandchild of four in my family who spent a lot of time at the Elms, in addition to a number of cousins. My parents lived at 5 Summer Street Court when my sisters and I were very young. (That’s actually where I was born, making me a real “Townie”.)

“The Elms” was named after the elms that at one point formed a canopy over Nahant Road, before Dutch elm disease hit most of them. It operated during the late 30’s through the mid 50’s. As Aunt Mary was the cook, her days were pretty much spent in the “Elms” large kitchen on the ground floor. She did most of her cooking in a huge “Walker & Sons” black cast-iron stove (circa 1850) which was built into the wall and was heated by both wood and coal (no thermostat). She also used an old Glenwood stove, which was old when it came in. The kitchen was a large square room with one wall of upper and lower cabinets and a counter, and a large working table in the center of the room. The meals were sent upstairs to the dining rooms on a dumb-waiter, which was a source of great fascination to all of us kids! As Saturday was baking day, we would set the beans to soak overnight, and my job was to pick out any that weren’t suitable for baking.

On Saturday mornings, Aunt Mary made the dough for Parker House rolls, loaves of bread, and apple and/or mince pies. She put up her own preserves that she used all winter, and she and Uncle Tom made their own ice cream in the summer. There was always a huge pot of soup simmering on the old cast iron stove any day during the winter if I happened to come in. Uncle Tom would open the grate of the old stove and pull up a chair for me to sit on to take off my boots so I could hold up my feet to get warm and dry. Then Aunt Mary would make sure that I had a bowl of hot soup. Of course, they would do the same for any friend who happened to come along with me. My friends all called them Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom too!

I remember sitting in the yard on Sunday mornings after church with either Uncle Tom or my mother and a bushel basket of peas or green beans to prep for dinner and a large pot before us. It seemed as if the alarm would always ring in on Sunday’s around noon-time or one o’clock, then the Coast Guard “duck” would come roaring up the street heading towards East Point. I don’t know if they ever had a real crisis up there, but it always sounded like it. Nahant still had the old gas-light lamps on Nahant Road in those days (through the 1940’s), and old Mr. Killilae, the lamplighter, would come down the street with his ladder over his shoulder to light all the street lamps every afternoon.

Uncle Tom was a call firefighter and when the clock on the Village Church rang in an alarm for a fire, the fire truck (coming from the back of the Town Hall) would slow down in front of the Elms just long enough for him to jump on the back of the truck. (He did this up until he was in his 70’s). He was the sextant at St. Thomas Aquinas Church for many years and he drove for Father Somers. He passed the collection basket at each Mass along with old Mr. White (Bill’s father). I was sure that St. Thomas’s Church was named for Uncle Tom because he worked and spent so much time there. My sisters (Cathy, Christine and Celia) and I spent as much time at the Elms as we did at our own home when we were growing up. I actually lived there off and on over the years while I was in high school. (I was the only kid whose day started by bringing in a basket of firewood before I went to school and laying a fire in the old stove). We celebrated most holidays and family events with an endless succession of cousins from both sides of the family. As a result, we grew up knowing all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins.

As the family stories go, in the summer of 1938, President Roosevelt’s son John married Ann Haven Clark at the Village Church on Cliff Street. A couple of secret service men stayed at the Elms. And, occasionally, Aunt Mary would buttonhole one of them at the door and tell him “… you paid for your meals, and you’ll stay and eat!” They would say “yes, ma’am” and head right back to the dining room. (I guess the president could wait!)

There were regular guests as well as seasonal ones. The regulars were Colonel and Mrs. Frank (Alice Sigourney) Converse, and their maid Mrs. Woodhouse (“Woodie”), Miss Jane Kelly (Nahant’s Remedial Reading Teacher), and Uncle Tom’s handyman Clyde Sweet generally knows as “Sweet”. There was Ms. Kitty Galligan, Mrs. Dorothy Lavender (“Lavie”), Miss Amy Heffernan, Miss Nell Murphy, two Miss Fallons (sisters), and Miss Mary Murtaugh. Kitty was a sturdy older woman with a hearty laugh. She attended many of our family gatherings. Lavie was a retired school teacher with no family. Miss Heffernan seemed tall and slim and very neat. She always wore a cameo pin at her throat, and wore a Marcelle hairdo. Miss Murphy was probably the most striking of the group. She was nearly 5ft. tall in her very high heels, and she wore a deep red wig, full taffeta skirts, a big picture hat, and always had a cigarette in a long holder. She might have stepped out of an old black and white movie!

The Edgehill Inn was directly across the street from the Elms. During the summers, you would often see Shrubie Devens coming or going to play golf, or Lucien Price, who was also known as “Uncle Dudley” for his column in the Boston Globe. He usually wore a beret, an ascot, navy blazer and light summer slacks. The beret and ascot set him apart from most of the others coming and going from the Edgehill.

Various family members, and sometimes town folk worked at the Elms, especially during the summer, Helen (Bowers) Clements and Barbara O’Brien did. If the season was busy and there was an overflow of guests, some might be sent to stay at Bea and Fred Shea’s, who lived next door to the Elms, or Irma and John Greenlaw, who lived next door to the Shea’s or sometimes down at Stacia and Tom O’Brien’s (they lived on the corner of Nahant Road and Summer Street), they would still take their meals at the Elms.

Then there was Madge O’Rourke, a neighbor who lived in the big house on the corner of Nahant Road and Winter Street. Madgie had hennaed hair and rouged ear lobes. She had an older brother, who was a Monsignor, and two sisters, Lulie and Tessie. I never laid eyes on any of them, as Madgie was the only one who ever came over. They had the only house in town whose yard was tiered, and edged with empty (cobalt blue) Milk of Magnesia bottles. It looked really pretty, until you got to thinking about who used all that Milk of Magnesia… When Madge visited, she would come through the back yards between the hedges, and if Uncle Tom saw her coming first, he would beat it as fast as he could – lest she catch him to do one job or another.

In addition to a huge garage, Uncle Tom had a cottage out back that he called “Mora Castle”, where he went out to take a nap every chance he got. He kept a hen house that was attached to the left side of “Mora Castle”. Along with chickens, Uncle Tom kept a rooster who didn’t much like folks coming into his territory. He particularly disliked my father, who got bitten about the ankles often. One year Uncle Tom raised a pig in a space at the right rear side of Mora Castle. (Obviously, this wasn’t the norm, even in those days). So every time the pig made a sound, one of us had to go out and give the pig a plate of leftovers to keep it quiet. (This happened one Easter during dinner. I was about five at the time, but Uncle Tom and I were the first to hear him. We both got up from the table at the same time to head for the kitchen for something for me to take out to give the pig). Then one morning, Uncle Tom spotted Madgie on her way in, and he scuttled right out of the kitchen – through the dining room where he passed me on my way to the kitchen. Madge bustled in the kitchen door and said “Good Morning, Mrs. Scally. It’s a lovely day. Do you know on my way over, I could have sworn I smelled a pig!” Uncle Tom had a dish towel up to his face, to cover his laugh and beat it upstairs. Rose and Jim Devereaux lived across the street on the opposite corner (from the O’Rourke’s) of Nahant Road and Winter Street. Jim would visit with my uncle and grandfather at the Elms during the weekends. Discussions took place from the issues of the day – to what a fine man Mayor James Michael Curley was, etc. And if the Devereaux family got tired of waiting for Jim to come home on a Saturday evening, one of their kids would come over to ask him for the keys to the car and to take home hot rolls and fresh baked beans.  More family members and friends would pour into that kitchen on Sunday mornings after church than anyone could believe.

Friends and family always came in the side door from the yard. If the doorbell for the front door rang, I, being the youngest and most agile person in the house, would run up the stairs to answer it. However, being all of six, no one ever knew what I would say when I got there. One day when the doorbell rang and I dashed off to answer it, and there was a man and woman there to see Colonel Converse. I asked them to wait while I went to get him, and I closed the door on them while I went down the hall to get the Colonel. He asked, “Who is it Suzie? And, where did you leave them?” I told him that “I left them on the front porch” and said “I don’t know who they are, but they look like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee”. That caused the Colonel and Mrs. Converse to roar with laughter. Needless to say, the Colonel came right down to the front door to greet them and let them into the parlor. To his chagrin, he had to face Governor Paul Dever and his sister Helen, while trying to keep his face straight.

Another day when the doorbell rang, I dashed off to answer it. There was a woman there in full black riding habit, hat, boots, etc. (whom I had never seen before), and an arm full of dozens of gladiolas. She asked for Mrs. Converse. I asked her to wait, went down the hall for Mrs. Converse. She asked who it was and I said “I don’t know who she is, but I think she might be a clown, and, she has a lot of really big flowers in her arms”. When she stopped laughing, she asked the Colonel to go see who it was. That day, it was Mrs. Converse’s sister, Miss Catherine Sigourney. (My sister Cathy couldn’t manage to say Mrs. Converse, so she just called her “Congie”. Mrs Converse loved it, and she was “Congie” ever after). One night, when I was considerably older, I served the Colonel and his guest, Senator Leverett Saltonstall. The Senator came in sporting his straw hat and his bow tie. He really was a lovely man.

Often, Jimmy Marks, the Superintendent of the Lynn Schools, would call and make a reservation for lunch at the Elms – for himself and the Principals of the other Lynn Schools. (I behaved quite well at the time – considering I had no idea what their jobs were, or how they might later impact me!) Growing up downstairs at an Inn is certainly an education in itself, and worth the experience for learning about people. (Not that I knew that at the time!)

Thanks to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom and the Elms, my aunts, uncles, and my many cousins and friends, we all had wonderful times at the Elms! Aunt Mary and Uncle Tom closed the Inn in 1955, when her health made it too difficult for her to continue. She passed away in the spring of 1958. Uncle Tom passed away in the fall of 1962. Their passing was truly the end of an era for all of us.

By Susan (Linnane) Bonner