376 Brush Hill Road – Part XV – Grammy and Mr. Crosby – Unknown History Revealed

Photo above: Grammy Flynn “Ma” with Mary and Joe(?)  1917(?)

When Uncle Joe and Aunt Rosemary brought my grandmother to see Mary’s new home shortly after moving day, the story she told them was an incredible surprise–yet no surprise at all. Joe pulled his car into driveway (oval cedar shrubs on the left, a massive conifer on the right). With Rosemary sitting beside him, Grammy in the back seat, he cruised past the big white shingle style house with its gables, bays, and wide front porch, continued past tree-size rhododendrons (on the right) and an overgrown perennial border (on the left), circled the raised circular island anchorage for a majestic shag bark Maple in front of the cupola-topped barn, and back again rolling to a stop at the front door. Joe wanted Ma to get the full effect. But Ma was unimpressed.

“I’ve been here before,” she said as she climbed out of the back seat.

“I’ll tell you the story when we get inside.”

797 Morton Street, Mattapan

Ma’s story goes as follows. It was back at the time when she and Phil and the four older children lived in the triple-decker they had purchased at 797 Morton Street. Pa was sick and had been out of work for a while. They had enough income from the two upstairs apartments to keep up with their mortgage payments to the bank. But there was a second mortgage; it was held by the man who had built the house—none other than our Mr. Crosby. Ma decided her only option was to ask Mr. Crosby for more time. And so she got herself dressed, put the baby in the stroller, and set out to walk to Mr. Crosby’s house well over two miles away. Her route would have taken her down Norfolk Street past other triple-deckers built cheek by jowl for blocks, along Blue Hill Avenue, through the business district of Mattapan Square, over the Neponset River Bridge and into Milton where everything was suddenly more spacious—and more green. Blue Hill Avenue converged with Brush Hill Road, which she would have followed to her destination; there was a sidewalk for a mile or so, fronting modest single- and two-family homes that looked out on the river; then the sidewalk stopped and the road veered left up the hill it was named for (allegedly the “brush” was cut and used for cover by Colonial soldiers during the Revolutionary war).

She would have trudged uphill, between wooded acres on the her left, and on her right, for a quarter of a mile or more, the imposing two-tone pink and grey stone wall that shielded the Hollingsworth Estate from curious eyes. Finally, at the crest of the hill, she would reach her destination: driveway marked by the brass numbers “376” on a wooden plaque nailed to a cherry tree.

I’m visualizing Ma’s conversation with Mr. Crosby taking place on the front porch, but maybe she was invited inside. Ma explained her predicament to Mr. Crosby, who by this time knew her well enough to have formed a very favorable opinion. (At one point, in fact, Mr. Crosby had proposed that she and Pa purchase the additional triple-deckers he was planning to build on that block. They could own and manage them all, he urged, and create for themselves a very nice living. Ma, with her characteristic gumption and self-confidence would have done this. But Pa, with his characteristic conservatism and tendency to worry, “would not go for it.”) Now, here she was, dependent on just the rents from the two upstairs apartments to pay the first mortgage, and unable, for the time being, to make her payments on the second.

What did Mr. Crosby have to say? “

Mrs. Flynn, take all the time you need, “he said. “You pay your mortgage to that bank in Charlestown. Just keep them happy, and you won’t have any problems from me.” The hard times were overcome, of course; the family paid what they owed, moved on, and their contact with Mr. Crosby ended. Who would have dreamed that four decades later, Ma’s daughter and her family would be living in Mr. Crosby’s house?



About the Baby in the Stroller:

My guess is that the baby in the stroller was probably the child always referred to in family lore as “the Jewish baby.” she took care of for at least a couple of years, as her own four children had all been born on Silver Street in South Boston, before the family Ma bought the house on Morton Street. (We were always told that Ma bought the house, and told Pa about it only when it was fait accompli. Quite an independent woman, especially for her day.) And how did Ma end up caring for this baby? Tragedy struck the young Jewish couple living on the third floor. The wife died shortly after giving birth, leaving the distraught father with a newborn. None of the child’s relatives would agree to care for him—or even come near the house—because the mother had died of the “Spanish flu.” Ever practical, and fearless, Grammy agreed to take care of the baby. How else could the father go to work—and pay his rent.


Note: In the photo above, I’m guessing Mary was perhaps four years old. If so, the picture would have been taken in 1917. Joe was born in 1915 and would have been two in 1917.