... Excerpts about the family's live wire taken from memoir, 'Picnic for Twelve'
Eileen Widdowson Scott, the third of ten children in the Driscoll family of Melrose, died in a hospice center near her home in Ocala, Florida, on January 9. The Melrose Mirror ran Part One of a two-part series from a recently published Driscoll family memoir entitled "Picnic for Twelve" in the January issue. Part Two was advertised to draw from chapters depicting the highs and lows of the post-World War II period. However, Eileen was the live-wire of the family, so it has been decided to publish excerpts about her growing-up years. Not covered in the book are her adventures in later years when she was: (1) a hostess for major local restaurants; (2) a cooking consultant for Boston-area grocery stores; (3) manager of a Florida resort owned by billionaire John MacArthur, who stayed there several years before his death at age 81; (4) innkeeper at the Turk's Head Inn on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and (4) operator for a one-person Ocala tour company which not only showed the mansions and storied horse farms to tourists but brought the tourists inside homes for coffee with the owners or into barns to see famous horses or foals trying to stand on wobbly legs. Her obituaries appeared in the Melrose Free Press and at Legacy.com.
What follows are excerpts about Eileen from "Picnic for Twelve", written by Jack Driscoll with Epilogue by David Driscoll:
BLESSED, AUSPICIOUS EVENT
Frank [father of the Driscolls] was away for an eight-week stretch early in 1923, training salesmen in cities between the East Coast and the Midwest. He didn't like being away from his family. He didn't like the travel. But his salary -- yes, he relented and accepted a salary -- was substantial enough to pay the back rent he owed and reduce their furniture payments. But the last straw came in Chicago where he was told to lay off three of his trainees. Frank was convinced the company was well off enough to carry these employees, so he quit in protest. That was two weeks before Eileen was born. Mary was dumbfounded. When he returned home as if he didn't have a care in the world, he presented her with a rose robe that she loved. He stayed with the family at his mother-in-law's Westfield home while he looked for a job and awaited the arrival of "the blessed event", as they called it in those days. Eileen Frances was born on March 9, 1923, at Noble Hospital in Westfield.
On the home front, the family was settling in, making lots of friends in the neighborhood. One of the closest was their landlord, Mrs. Gold, who lived upstairs in the two-family house and would bring chicken soup with vegetables for Mary and Eileen's lunch once a week. Mary said the girls loved it.
They played well together and were always happy, according to Mary. At times they were "little tricksters.” One day she "found them under their bed with a stick of butter each, and they were eating it. Ach!"
Young Mary and Eileen slept in the same room, except on weekend nights when Dad and Mother went out.
"I had to sleep in my parents' bed," said Eileen, "because we giggled and fooled too much."
THE LESSONS OF DEATH
On November 1, 1927, Nana Fallon died, a traumatic event for Mary [mother of the Driscoll family] who was so close to her mother and counted on her for advice about bringing up the children. Even when they weren't living with her, Nana saw a lot of the five children.
"I remember Nana Fallon would stand at the top of the cellar stairs," Eileen recalled, "and say, 'If you children don’t quiet down, I will put my foot in the fire.' And, of course, we would scream, 'No, no, we'll be good.'" In those days there was a coal burner in the cellar with a chute from the window into the cellar coal bin. On the front of the burner was a little door with a window through which you could see the flames. "When Nana Fallon died, I asked Mother why she was crying," Eileen recalled, "and she told me that my Nana 'had gone to heaven to be peaceful, and your mother will miss her.' Mother was sad and happy."
THE PANAMA CRUISE
(In 1929 the Driscoll family pulled up stakes, moving to California. They made the trip by way of the Panama Canal aboard the USS California)
You can imagine the apprehension of the steward that first night as he prepared the big, round table for two adults and six children. Traditionally tips are given on the last day of a trip, but Frank wisely gave the steward a large tip that first night. After that the steward couldn't do enough for them.
The pool attendant also was tipped the first day (and later, too), assuring special treatment and an extra watchful eye when the children were in the water.
"We caused quite a commotion the first night when we trooped in," Eileen said. "But it was drilled into us before we left our rooms that we had to behave, so I guess we brought our best behavior with us. Mother was very proud of us."
Every night there was entertainment, popular among all the passengers. At one point there was a fashion show that included an audience-participation contest. Eileen donned her Sunday best, a pure silk, peach-colored dress that her mother finished off with a sash made of crepe paper. She had her hair done up in long, brown curls. With a little rouge on her cheeks she was the perfect kewpie doll, walking off with third-place honors. Vaguely remembering the honor some years later, Eileen said, "I was crowned Miss Something-or-other."
In 1923 baby Eileen is held by her father with older sister Mary sitting on the running board of his Star Car.
ONE OF THE BOYS
The Driscolls settled in Glendale, California, in an elegant Spanish-style house that exceeded their means.
Frank even had four sets of twin beds custom made. Kay's were painted ivory and green, Mary and Eileen's in ivory and orchid, Jim and Bob's in a brown and American walnut in the master bedroom. Mary and Eileen's room had a balcony off of it with no roof. Sometimes at night when all was quiet they would drag their mattresses onto the balcony and sleep under the stars...
Most of the homes in the neighborhood were either new or in the process of being built. When Jim, Bob and Eileen talked about “playing house”, they were talking about real houses. On weekends when the workmen were gone, the terrible trio would roam the insides of partially built houses. Their favorite activity was sliding down the steep laundry chutes. One Sunday they heard a sound. Someone was there. It was the boss of the construction project making his rounds. Jim and Bob scooted; Eileen was paralyzed. “Who's there?” said the boss.
Eileen was the favorite aunt among the children in the family, shown here with grandniece Claire Driscoll, then age 4.
“It's me,” squeaked the 7-year-old's tiny voice. “Who are you?” he said, trying to keep from laughing. “I'm the President of my brothers' Boys Club,” she responded boldly. “Well, you better run along,” he said, now barely containing himself.
Off she went, surprising even herself with her answer. It didn't deter her. She continued to lead the pack when it came to mischief. Not surprisingly she ended up being the most creative of the clan.
(In 1933, battered by the Depression, the Driscolls returned to the East, driving across country, the parents and seven children. The oldest child, Kay, had returned earlier to attend nursing school in Springfield.)
Every morning when they started out the first thing Frank would say was, “Now we are going to start the day by saying The Rosary.” Looking back on that routine, Eileen chuckled: “The little ones jabbered and we used to get silly but Dad would patiently pull us together. He always got them through it somehow.”...
A KISS IS BUT A KISS
Eileen was the most creative member of the clan, so it was not surprising that in her senior year in high school she won the leading lady role in the Drama Club's annual play. She was Grazia in Death Takes a Holiday, prompting her mother to raid the Salts' Box to buy her an expensive white dress, perfectly fit to her slim frame. The play ended with Eileen being kissed by the lead actor, “Death.” And Eileen ended up being hopping mad at him for his open-mouthed overacting of the kiss. Eileen graduated in 1940 and for a time was a telephone operator at the phone company facility on Foster Street. Her mother thought this was great and continually called her to the point where Eileen got in trouble. It seems supervisors could listen in to monitor the work of their operators. Personal calls were considered a no-no. One day the supervisor walked past Eileen and said, “I understand your mother is out of bread.”
("Picnic for Twelve" was published by RiverRun Select in Portsmouth N.H. For more information, go to www.piscataquapress.com/picnic- for-twelve)
February 1, 2013