Interview with Nana Phillips, 1977 [Part I]
[Nana]: My mother and my brother Jim, my sister Anne, my sister Elizabeth came over from England. I don’t know what year but-
[Dave]: Like in the 1910’s?
[Nana]: Oh, for heaven’s sakes, I was born in 1908.
[Dave]: Yeah, and you were born here.
[Nana]: So that was a good many years before I was born.
[Dave]: Okay. So it was in the 1890’s or so.
[Nana]: It maybe was. Or maybe wasn’t that long. Because wait a minute now- there was Helen, and Agnes and Frank were born after they got here, and myself, so it may have been in the 1890’s or something, I don’t know. But anyway, they came over on the ship and they came steerage? First class?
[Dave]: Which one? Steerage?
[Nana]: Yeah, that’s when you’re down below I guess?
[Dave]: Yeah, that’s steerage, when you’re underneath.
[Nana]: Yeah, and when they got into East Boston, they came right to East Boston on the Cunard Line. And when they came to East Boston, my father was supposed to be there to meet them. And he wasn’t, and they had to stay in the place like a police station overnight. And then he came the next morning ‘cause he was working and he didn’t know they were there. So, he had an apartment all ready for them on Clayton Street in Dorchester.
[Dave]: So, he was already over here? And they were coming over.
[Nana]: Oh yeah, he had his job and he had sent the passage money for them. And my mother brought her canary all the way from England. I don’t know how many years she had it after she got here. They brought a lot of things over from England. And they had quite a trip I guess, you know.
[Dave]: Yeah, it’s a long way.
[Popcorn popping slowly]
[Nana]: Oh yeah, I don’t know how long it took them then.
[Dave]: It’d take a long time- three weeks, at least.
[Nana]: It used to take them two and a half to three weeks, yeah. To come over. And he worked on the- do you know where Freeport Street is in Dorchester? You know where you turn to go on the Expressway now? And there’s-
[Dave]: Freeport Street? Yeah, yeah, where the gas tanks are.
[Dave]: No, the one before that?
[Nana]: No, when you’re going in from Dorchester to go on the Expressway. You know that street? And there’s a factory right aside of it? That used to be a pumping station at that time. As they called-
[Dave]: Of water?
[Nana]: I don’t know whether it was water, or what it was. It was something to do- I guess it must have had something to do with water, but they called it the pumping station anyway, and he worked there. He was a stationary engineer. And I know-
[Popcorn popping quickly]
[Nana]: And now it’s burned, but I don’t want to-
[Pat]: You can tell, you’ll still-
[Dave]: Pops up a storm though, doesn’t it?
[Nana]: Oh, yeah. But ‘cept when it starts, and then you take it out-
[Dave]: Ma, you see all the condensation in there? You see all the water in there?
[Dave]: Yeah, the reason the popcorn explodes is inside each kernel of corn, there’s water. When the water boils, it turns into steam. Steam takes up a lot more space, that’s why it blows open.
[Nana]: So, when they came here, he had this apartment on Clayton Street in Dorchester and they went to the Gibson School.
[Dave]: Where’s that?
[Nana]: It used to be on the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Gibson Street. You know where it is in Dorchester there at the town fair?
[Dave]: Yeah, I know where that is. It’s not there now.
[Nana]: Noo, it’s an American Legion Hall or something.
[Dave]: Oh, down over that way.
[Nana]: Yeah, you know where the bus comes around to go there up the street, Neponset. Right there. And then they moved to Neponset after that. Or did they? Yes, they did. Yeah, my uncle had a duplex house and my mother lived in one side and her brother lived on the other with his wife. And that’s where I was born, that’s where my father died, there.
[Dave]: So he came over before then, I guess from England, though?
[Nana]: Oh, yes. He came over and worked and got their passage money, and sent it over and they came. And then they made their home here and they had three that were born in England and six that were born here. And I was the youngest of the nine.
[Dave]: How long was he here before they came over?
[Nana]: I don’t know exactly.
[Dave]: A couple years?
[Nana]: It must have been at least a year to get- or even more, maybe. I don’t know how the money was in those days, you know. And they-
[Nana]: And there was a strike on at the telephone company, and I was a strike-breaker.
[Dave]: Ah, you were a-
[Nana]: I was a scab.
[Dave]: A scab, that’s it.
[Nana]: That’s it. My brother got me a job.
[Dave]: Being a scab?
[Nana]: Uh-huh. I went to work every day, and the styles were long dresses, and my mother wouldn’t put me in long dresses.
[Dave]: She wouldn’t let you wear ‘em?
[Dave]: What’d you have to wear?
[Nana]: And what I used to do was- mind you, they used to have to wear them at knee length, and they were wearing them down to their ankles! So, what I used to do, was take my mother’s dress, and when I got downstairs in the outside hall, I’d switch and change and I’d go to work thinking I was Madame Godiva! And I had my mother’s dress on. But, I wasn’t going to be left out.
[Dave]: So what’d you do for the phone company?
[Nana]: I was a telephone operator, that’s right.
[Dave]: You worked a switchboard?
[Nana]: Uh huh. And I’d say “operator?”
[Dave]: How long did that last?
[Nana]: Well, full-time it lasted about two and a half years and then I got married. But then when your grandfather had his appendix out- no, when Winnie was nine months old, when she had the osteomyelitis, I had to go back to work to help pay for her bills. Cause you couldn’t go into the Children’s Hospital to visit them on Saturday- or during the week- but every Saturday was the day that that bill had to be paid in advance.
[Dave]: Oh, if you hadn’t paid the money, you couldn’t go see her?
[Nana]: And you couldn’t go see them, no sir. I used to meet him in Park Street, and he’d give me his pay, and then after she came home from the hospital, he was rushed to the hospital and had his appendix out. They were wrapped around his kidney.
[Dave]: She had appendix trouble too, right?
[Nana]: Oh yeah, and [?] did too. And so I went back to work for the telephone company and my mother watched Winnie.
[Dave]: Where was Dad working then?
[Nana]: He had his own trucking business then.
[Dave]: Oh, trucking?
[Pat]: When did you and daddy work in the shipyard? Or did you?
[Nana]: That was after Judy was born.
[Dave]: That was later?
[Nana]: Judy was six months old after he got out of the army. That was the beginning-
[Pat]: Weren’t you both welders?
[Nana]: I don’t know what he was doing.
[Dave]: You welded? What’s that, World War II?
[Nana]: I was Winnie the Welder, yeah.
[Dave]: Winnie the Welder!
[Nana]: And I worked there when he was in the army. See, what happened was, he wanted to get back in the navy. It would have been the grace of God if he had, but the time for him to be taken in to the army came before his papers- he had lost his originals, and he had sent to Washington for them- and, on the Saturday he was sworn in the army, and on the Monday his papers from the navy came. And he never forgave me for that. It wasn’t my fault, but that was it.
[Dave]: So, where’d you work welding?
[Nana]: Hingham Shipyard.
[Dave]: In the Hingham Shipyard?
[Nana]: Hingham Shipyard, and then he got a job there and I couldn’t stand working the same place with him, so I quit and went over South Boston Navy Yard.
[Dave]: I guess they needed everybody to work then, huh?
[Nana]: Oh yeah.
[Dave]: So what’d you do welding? You putting ships together?
[Nana]: Sure, pieces you know.
[Dave]: I know, sections.
[Nana]: They set them up and you weld that section.
[Dave]: You just do the line?
[Nana]: Oh, yeah.
[Dave]: How long was that for? Just through the war?
[Nana]: Oh, yeah.
[Dave]: You do that for four years?
[Nana]: Oh, no, no. He went in I think in September, and I went to work after that. And then I quit in April because he got discharged in April.
[Dave]: He got discharged in April?
[Nana]: Yeah. He was only in six months.
[Dave]: That was in the army, right? He was in the navy before that? When did he start in the navy before that?
[Nana]: He was in the navy when I first met him.
[Dave]: When you first met him?
[Nana]: I went to a farewell party for this redheaded kid. Should’ve said farewell! But, you know how it is. But, anyway.
[Pat]: Was my grandmother born here?
[Nana]: My mother? She was born in Liverpool, England. And your father’s people were born in England. My father was born in County Monaghan, Ireland. Which father is he?
[Pat]: How did they meet?
[Nana]: I didn’t ask them. He was in the English navy still. She lived in Liverpool, it’s a shipping place. She is a direct descendant from the people that own the Cunard Line shipping company.
[Dave]: So, was he a Catholic?
[Nana]: My father? My father was a Catholic. My mother wasn’t. She was a convert at nine years old.
[Dave]: At nine years old? She was Anglican before that- I mean British?
[Nana]: She was British, sure, but she was Protestant. And when her parents died, her grandmother brought her up and she had her baptized Catholic.
[Dave]: So he was an Irish Catholic?
[Nana]: Mmhmm. I always used to say to Jim, “You limey, you.” I’m Irish, my father was Irish.
[Dave]: But he’s a limey.
[Nana]: But he was born in England.
[Dave]: Oh, but he lived in Ireland.
[Nana]: No, my brother Jim. Jim, Elizabeth and Anne were born in Ireland. [?]
[Pat]: So did Jim have to take out papers here?
[Dave]: No, he’s still a citizen of England, or what is he?
[Nana]: When he became 21, he had to take my father’s papers and my mother’s papers down and had them turned over for him.
[Dave]: So he became naturalized?
[Nana]: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
[Dave]: Dad’s gonna wait till he’s 75, then he’s going to become naturalized.
[Pat]: He’s permanent, what else would you need.
[Dave]: He’s an immovable resident, he’s not a permanent resident.
[Nana]: [?] leave him alone. Have you heard any more about going to school?
[Pat]: I lost the ball. And she said, “well, is it one of these?” I’ll never forget. These are things I can’t forget. She had a whole basket. She used to collect all the balls that all the kids lost in that park. And I guess when some poor soul like me come along looking for a ball to play with, she’d give it to me. But that stuck in my craw because how many people go around collecting kid’s balls that they lose in the park. But she lived down there.
[Dave]: You don’t remember when the war started, though.
[Pat]: The only thing I can remember was we lived in some house in Neponset, it had to be in Neponset, and we had a porch in the backyard and we used to all sit out there after supper. And my nana had long, long silver gray hair. And we used to take turns brushing her hair. It was so beautiful.
[Nana]: Oh, yes, she had such wonderful patience. She’d let them put ribbons on her and put it in rollers and put it in curls.
[Pat]: And braid it. Her hair was so long she could wrap it and wrap it.
[Dave]: How old was she then?
[Nana]: Oh, about 75 maybe.
[Pat]: Must have been in her 70’s. But it was so long and it was thicker [she had it thick in a hair net], too.
[Nana]: Oh, she only had it cut a couple of years before she died.
[Dave]: She lived to be what, 93?
[Nana]: She was 93 when she died, yeah.
[Pat]: But things like that I remember. I don’t remember hard times.
[Dave]: Yeah, you remember when the war started?
[Nana]: Do I remember? Yes, sure. I remember the big Depression too. That was when my Winnie was a baby.
[Pat]: And the other thing I can remember about when we were all home is my mother used to put that Oleo margarine or whatever kind of margarine it was in a bowl and we used to have to sit and color it. They used to give you these tubes and you put the grease in and then you put the color in and that was your butter.
[Nana]: And you had to mix it all up with your hands.
[Dave]: Yeah, rationing too, huh?
[Pat]: Yeah, she used to cook and she’d say okay, I’m making the supper, somebody set the table and you sit there and you get that ready.
[Dave]: What’d you do for rationing? Did you get tickets or what?
[Nana]: During the- oh yes, that’s when I stopped using sugar in tea or coffee or anything.
[Dave]: Because you didn’t have enough sugar?
[Nana]: No, I figured my kids needed it more than I did. Things got too bad.
[Pat]: When they rationed it?
[Nana]: Oh yeah, it was rationed.
[Dave]: I guess everything was rationed, huh?
[Nana]: And I’ll never forget, I was telling Dottie [Hawkin] that I wasn’t taking sugar in my tea or coffee and this was when Dick went in Korea, so anyway, he had bought the television and she used to come up and want to watch the wrestling matches. It got to be a habit and then I said the heck with that. But anyway, I’d make coffee and I told her that I had given up sugar, and she said, “well try this.” Oh gee, you could hear me screaming everywhere. I said, “my God, you poisoned me!” – saccharine. Oh God. I said, “If I’m not gonna have sugar, I’m not having sugar. But I’m NOT having substitutes.” Oh, God, it’s terrible.
[Dave]: So you’re better off, right?
[Nana]: Yeah, so I’ve never used it ever since!
[Dave]: So she didn’t have a TV and you did?
[Nana]: No, we did, yeah.
[Dave]: When’d you get a TV?
[Nana]: When Dick went in the service for Korea.
[Dave]: 51? 52?
[Nana]: I don’t remember when he went in. Judy was about eight or nine and she was born in 42, so yeah, it might have been 51. Let’s see, when Jack went in, he bought me a mixer. Billy bought me the washing machine and Dick bought me a television.
[Pat]: What’d you do, you bought that wringer washing machine?
[Nana]: Oh no, yeah. No, that was the one. Yeah, that was it. Oh my God.
[Pat]: The wringer washing machine. That was the most unbelievable. My mother caught her arm- was it broken, or?
[Nana]: Oh no, see the difference in these two hands?
[Dave]: That’s what you did to it?
[Nana]: I pushed this right through the wringer.
[Pat]: See, there used to be like two wringers, and you’d push the sheet through, and if you didn’t get it right on the other side, it would go up the other wringer and everything would just keep rolling and rolling.
[Dave]: No, it was electric! I see.
[Nana]: Yes, it was electric.
[Dave]: I was trying to think how you could roll your own hand in it. I couldn’t figure that one.
[Nana]: Oh no, I had one of those, you used to hook it on to the wringer and wring it by hand, but this was an electric machine, yeah.
[Pat]: And sometimes when you put the stuff through and if it was thick, like a blanket or a heavy towel or something, the whole top would pop, so she’s [tied] her hand and she’s standing there with the thing in the machine and she’s screaming, “help! Help!”
[Nana]: I’m saying, “pull the plug out!” Rosemary’s standing there, taking things out of the bag from the convent with a platter full of hamburgers she tossed them up in the air, I said, “take the plug out!” And finally, she got the plug out, and the hamburgers were on the floor. But they picked them up and ate them that night.
[Pat]: Kiss them up to God. Every time something happened, my mother would say, “Kiss it up to God.”
[Dave]: Kiss it up to God, can’t waste.
[Nana]: You know who I get a big kick out of sometimes, is the [?] We’d be sitting at the table-
[Dave]: You got a quarter of your own to spend? Out of twenty-one dollars?
[Nana]: But I got my carfare money every day, and, you know-
[Dave]: Well, I mean 21, you got a quarter?
[Nana]: But that was my spending money.
[Dave]: How much could you spend a quarter on?
[Nana]: Well, it went pretty far in those days.
[Pat]: Well, Daddy told us you used to go to the movies with a dime?
[Pat]: Till back before my mother was born.
[Nana]: It cost a nickel for the movies and five cents for your candy.
[Pat]: Yeah, but then you got a bag.
[Nana]: Oh, yeah.
[Pat]: How many kids did she bring up?
[Nana]: Who, my mother? I was the youngest of nine.
[Pat]: And he was in the service most of the time, wasn’t he?
[Nana]: Oh, not after they moved here. No, he worked in that pumping station on Freeport Street.
[Dave]: Oh, the whole time?
[Nana]: Yeah, I guess. And then, my father died when he was only 35 years old. He had ulcerated legs and varicose veins.
[Pat]: He died of that? I guess they didn’t have the medicine back then.
[Nana]: Oh, they didn’t have the stuff in those years, no. You know, if you ever want to know folklore and know your history, you ought to get him over to see Mary [Hulse?]. She’s got all kind of pictures over there for me. And that, and I haven’t gotten over there to get them.
[Pat]: I know, we should get back to them.
[Nana]: I know, well, with the warmer weather I must call them, see how they’ve made out during the winter.
[Dave]: So, what, he died in like, the 20’s? He was 35?
[Pat]: So, she did more or less raise you guys.
[Nana]: Who, my mother? Oh, yes. Sure she did. I was only a year old when my father died and Frank’s about three and a half years older than me.
[Dave]: So what did she do, did she work part time, or-?
[Nana]: My mother was a nurse. She put us in- I was in St Vincent’s, well it was called St Vincent’s Orphan Asylum but, it was like, working mothers could put-
[Nana]: She’s off, yeah.
[Pat]: It sounds funny.
[Nana]: It was down on- it wasn’t on Harrison Avenue, it was further over, but working mothers could leave little children there you know, and she went and trained to be a nurse because Frank and I were babies.
[Dave]: Where did she work? Do you know what hospital?
[Nana]: She trained in the Grace Hospital out in Newton.
[Dave]: And so, she worked at being a nurse?
[Nana]: Oh yeah, for years and years and years. It was a doctor up in Dorchester on Bolton St, Doctor Kelly, and if anybody hated anybody, I hated that man- when I was a child. Because in those days, when women had the babies, they had them at home, you know. And they’d have a nurse come and stay with them- a week or sixteen days or whatever it was, you know. And my mother would come home and she might have a day off on Sunday, and she’d only be home for a little while, you know, you didn’t see her that often. And, if she’d be home for a couple of days, the first thing you know, who’d be ringing the bell, but Doctor Kelly. And I’d say, “He’s here again, Ma!” And she’d say, “what’s the matter with you?” “Doctor Kelly!” Oh, God. I remember one Christmas he came and he had all kinds of things for me. I didn’t want any part of it. You’re taking my mother!
[Pat]: She probably thought, “Oh, good, here comes money.”
[Nana]: Oh, sure, that was our livelihood. I didn’t know.
[Dave]: So, you stayed at- what was the name of it again, the orphan asylum?
[Nana]: St. Vincent’s.
[Dave]: St. Vincent’s. Till you started school?
[Nana]: I don’t know how long I stayed there. Maybe I did. Yeah, I first started over at St. Joseph’s in Roxbury and when I was in the second grade, we moved to Blue Hill Avenue and I went to St. Patrick’s then for the rest of my school.
[Dave]: And then, where’d you go to high school?
[Nana]: St. Patrick’s. They had a three-year commercial course.
[Dave]: That’s what you took? So you did typing and stuff?
[Pat]: What was that academy thing you told me?
[Nana]: Oh, that was during the First World War. I was up St. Anne’s Academy in Marlborough for a year.
[Dave]: That was after high school?
[Nana]: No, that was before. Sixth/seventh grade. Because they were all working in munitions factories, Frank was able to take care of himself you know, and I wouldn’t go in the house by myself so I was supposed to put the potatoes on and get things ready for supper. I’d be still sitting on the steps when they all got home from work. So it was cheaper for my mother to put me in the boarding school. Cause they were all making big money.
[Dave]: Working in the factories?
[Nana]: Oh, yeah. Munitions factories. That was a French academy, you could speak English one hour a day. I can’t remember hardly any words in French now.
[Dave]: Oh, you had to do French, though? So you learned some French while you were there?
[Nana]: Oh yeah, all the time.
[Dave]: That must have been fun, speaking in French.
[Pat]: What was it, the nuns?
[Nana]: Oh, yeah.
[Dave]: So, you had all parochial education then. So did all the kids?
[Nana]: Mmhmm. Oh yeah. Yes, God love us, as I always said, people used to say to me, “Oh, it must have been awful hard” and all this stuff. I said, I had a very good teacher. Because my mother sure was a wonderful person. She took care of us, gave us the best.
[Dave]: She must have seen a lot of different things in her time, huh?
[Nana]: Oh, she sure did.
[Dave]: Now, she came over from England, right? Then she lived over here.
[Nana]: She couldn’t have been over here- well, she was for a few years, yeah. I was gonna say she couldn’t have been over very long, but there was Helen, and there was another Winnifred you know. I’m the second Winnifred in the family. Hard luck me. And so I always say to my kids, “don’t ever name after anybody- like, if you have one, don’t name another one after that.” Cause people have done that- look at me. But, my sister was Winnifred Mary and I’m Winnifred Margaret.
[Pat]: What’s the sister’s name that become a nun?
[Nana]: Agnes. And my sister Elizabeth died at 13. She had heart trouble. And she was the one- when I was born, my mother said, “I don’t know what to name the baby,” and she said, “well, name her after the other Winnie.” So, that’s how I got my name.
[Pat]: So, how many years was she a nun?
[Nana]: Agnes? I can’t remember.
[Pat]: How old was she when she died?
[Dave]: Was she the one up in Halifax?
[Dave]: She was there during the explosion, right?
[Nana]: No. No, Agnes wasn’t there. She was gone then. I was married and had my kids when the explosion-
[Dave]: No, it was in the First World War.
[Nana]: No it wasn’t.
[Dave]: It was in 1917. Which explosion are you talking about?
[Nana]: No, no, no. It was something big. Oh, no it was the fire that went [out]. Oh yeah, yeah yeah, I remember.
[Pat]: It was that ship-
[Dave]: A munitions ship blew up, knocked down half of Halifax.
[Nana]: Oh yeah, in the harbor. My mother’s brother Vernon- Barney, they called him, he-