Memoir reveals ups & downs inside large Melrose family

... Courtship letters, diary and more buttress 'Picnic for Twelve'

By Jack Driscoll

What's it like to grow up in a family of 10? Make that 12, counting the mother and father.

Frank and Mary Driscoll brought up 10 children, mostly living in Melrose.
Two years ago I decided to write a memoir about my family for the benefit of my late parents' 41 grandchildren and who-knows-how-many great grandchildren. The total is a three-digit number. In the course of doing research and writing I discovered that non-relatives were curious, too, even though big families were not that uncommon when I was young (I'm 78 now).

Perhaps curiosity is piqued because it is so difficult to bring up a couple of children in this day and age let alone 10. Perhaps it's because the family lived in Melrose for 50 of the 65 years that the memoir zeroes in on.

Or perhaps it is because I was the beneficiary of so much inside information that was written down in various forms, especially by our mother and father, Frank and Mary, reflecting the impact on average people of such major events as World War I, a global/local flu pandemic, the Depression and World War II. I did a lot of research and had my own experiences to convey, but mostly I relied on my parents' courtship letters, my father's letters to her during their early marriage years when his work involved mid-week travel, diary-like notes she kept on day-to-day events but mostly of funny comments by the children, and two scrapbooks for each child, one of photographs and the other a catch-all of memorabilia that included strands of hair from first haircuts, spelling papers, drawings, diplomas and the like.

As if all that weren't enough, I was handed on a platter a remarkable 38-page typed family history composed by my mother between 1957 and 1970. How she got it all into so few pages I will never know. And there are only few typing errors that were x'd over as we all used to do before the advent of the typewriter.

Author Jack Driscoll at Guinness Museum in Dublin.(Photo by Jennifer Driscoll)
I missed out on a lot as the 9th of 10 children, so I also had to draw on interviews with my brothers and sisters that take the reader into our home with all the bedlam, troubles and joys--mostly joys. The title is Picnic for Twelve.

I made a decision to focus on the immediate family, restraining myself from doing a full genealogy study of the Driscolls and the Fallons (my mother's side) beyond 1850. So I did trace both sets of their grandparents and parents. My mother was born in Ireland (1898 in Drumkeeran, County Leitrim) and came by ship to the U.S. when she was 5. My father's family came from Cork in County Cork. He was born in Holyoke in 1889. Coincidentally, the house where my father died, at One North High Street on the corner of Vinton Street, is right around the corner from a section of Melrose known as "Cork City".

The family ended up in Melrose after mostly living in Western Mass. in the 1920s and then in California in 1929 and through the height of the Depression. Certainly the roller-coaster life in California, surrounded by movie stars, adds spice to the family story, but so too do the trips to and from the West Coast: By cruise ship (SS California to get there and in a 1927 Packard with seven children to return to the East.

I also owe public thanks to the Melrose Mirror and writer Don Norris in particular, for adding details to the stories of my oldest sister and older brother when they served in Europe during World War II and somehow engineered two meetings, one in North Africa and the other in Italy.

And then there was brother David who I enlisted to write an Epilogue regarding my mother's late years, given that he lived with her for seven years after my father died. She lived alone for another seven years.

Besides my own first-person observations and my research, it became clear to me that what got the parents through the hard times with such a large family was a positive outlook, a clear discipline system and humor. They turned every day into a picnic.

All ten Driscolls gather at 1993 retirement of youngest brother David. Front, from left, Betty Connolly, Mary Liz Sheehan, Eileen Scott, Pat Scarpa, Kay Bistany and Jean Cain. Rear, Jack, Bob, David and Jim

Picnic for Twelve is available for ordering in paperback or e-book form from most major booksellers, or from its publisher: By phone at 603-431-2100 or by internet using PayPal at http://piscataquapress.com/piscataqua-press/ The book, which includes numerous photos, mostly from scrapbooks, is 360 pages in length. The Mirror plans to run excerpts in its January and February issues.

December 7, 2012

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