21 Vincent Street

by Tom Murphy

Frank Murphy & son Tom Murphy on stoop of 16 Vincent Street

Catherine (McDermott) McGrath (seated) and her sisters
Mary and Fanny in the back yard of 21 Vincent Street.

I know that many of you have been enjoying Charles McGrath's stories of his father and his uncles in his "Little Down-Neckers" series. The McGrath boys had two sisters, Annie and Catherine. Catherine was my grandmother. After the last of the "Little Down-Neckers," Uncle James, married in 1935, Granny moved into Aunt Annie's household in a little duplex on Vincent Street.

Charley has some wonderful memories of visiting Granny and Aunt Annie there in the 30's and 40's. My memories are from the 50's and 60's. In the 50's, with her children grown, and Granny no longer with us, Aunt Annie moved out into an apartment in the "Pru." (The Chellis Austin Apartments on Oxford Street -- built and originally managed by the Prudential Insurance Company). My grandparents moved into the Vincent St address -- to keep it in the family. Considering that

In 1959, when my grandfather died, my grandmother and her three youngest children moved out of the house at 21 Vincent St. and we moved in. Compared to the cold-water flat we'd lived in before, it seemed huge with bedrooms upstairs and a large backyard, and a "stoop" to hang out on in the front.

The first floor consisted of a living room in the front, and a kitchen in the back. The stairway to the second floor ran along the wall we shared in common with number 23, the other part of the duplex, and started about three feet beyond the front door (just enough room for a doorway into the "Front Room." The cellar stairs were directly below the other stairs, and began in the kitchen and faced forward.

The Front Room had an alcove with a set of bay windows. The Christmas tree went in that alcove, and it was used as the setting of all the important pose in your nice clothes "occasion" photographs: Proms, Christenings, First Communion, Confirmation, Graduation. My mother's and father's wedding pictures were taken in that alcove when Aunt Annie still lived there.

When indoor plumbing was added to the house (long before my time, but the results were obvious), the back porch was converted into a bathroom and a new back door was built next to it. This required building a structure over the cellar door, more of a little wooden bridge than a back porch.

Upstairs, there were three bedrooms. The front bedroom was over the Front Room, and included an alcove, just the size of a bed, over the landing at the foot of the stairs. The area over the kitchen was divided into two bedrooms and a small hallway.

The smaller bedroom was barely large enough for a bed and a chest of drawers. My brother and I shared that room. We had bunk-beds.

The house was heated by a coal-burning furnace in the cellar. Imagine a pot-belled stove with a big kettle welded on top, water pipes and steam pipes attached to the kettle, and the whole thing wrapped in asbestos, and you get a picture of the furnace

The coal bin was just under the bay-window, where there was a small cellar window through which the coal chute could be placed when the coal was delivered.

Eventually it became my job to bank the fire at night and stoke it in the morning. I'd get up about half an hour or so before anyone else, and pad down to the basement, Shake down the ashes, careful to just uncover the embers, not to shake them down as well. Then I'd throw a shovel of coal on the embers and open the vents in the door, so the fire could get more air, and shovel the ashes out of the lower chamber where I'd shaken them.

About half-way through breakfast the pipes would start clanking as the steam pushed it's way through to the radiators. A few minutes later, the radiators would start to feel warm. As the warmth started filling the house, my brother and sisters would start to stir. Invariably one of them would complain "It's too cold to get up."

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