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Mapping Norwood

Mapping Norwood: An IrishAmerican Memoir

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Mapping Norwood
    Book Description:

    As the title indicates, this memoir is an act of map making, of plotting out overlapping territories—topographical, temporal, and psychological. Centered on family life in a Massachusetts town from the 1920s to the 1960s, the author’s investigation extends outward to include the Boston area from colonial times to the recent past, encounters with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and with Harvard College, the American Civil War, and Ireland and Germany in the nineteenth century.Charles Fanning recreates the landscape of childhood and adolescence in a place and time both ordinary and rich with possibility. An expert on Irish immigration, he was born and raised in Norwood, Massachusetts, twelve miles outside of Boston, where Yankee and Irish cultures bumped against each other. The narrative traces his personal growth, shaped by family, school, baseball, radio drama, and art. He was the first in his family to attend college, and the book ends with his undergraduate experience at Harvard, class of 1964.Along with this comingofage story, Mapping Norwood features forays back in time, including chapters on each of Fanning’s parents and historical excavations and meditations on three ancestors. Guided by his own experience as a scholar, the pressure of these chapters is epistemological—the thrill of the hunt toward knowing. Fanning’s greatgrandfather, John Fanning, disappeared from the family in the late 1880s, and a chapter chronicles the discovery of “Walking John’s” fifty years of hidden later life in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he died alone in 1946. Fanning’s greatgreatgrandfather, Winslow Radcliffe, was a veteran of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry in the Civil War, and the author traces this regiment through the horrors of Antietam and Fredericksburg, by means of diaries and letters by four men from Winslow’s company. The evidence gleaned helps explain Winslow’s suicide after the war. An Irish immigrant ancestor, Phillip Fanning, came to Boston from County Monaghan just after the Great Famine of the late 1840s. Relying on historical research, Fanning imagines vividly the lives led by Phillip’s family and thousands like them in the wake of Ireland’s nineteenthcentury catastrophe.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-021-5
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 Place Lore of Norwood
    (pp. 1-34)

    My brother and I walked the downtown streets of Norwood, Massachusetts, with our mother on Friday evenings all the year round in the early 1950s. We had moved from Winslow Avenue up to Walpole Street in the summer of 1951 when I was eight and Geoffrey was six. Our sister Patti had been born into the new house in September of that same year. As part of the old Post Road between Boston and Providence, Walpole Street had been a major artery since colonial times. It was less than a mile to the intersection of Walpole with Washington Street, “the...

  6. 2 My Father’s Chapter
    (pp. 35-80)

    The picture I’m looking at is a schoolroom shot. Everyone in the class must have had one taken. There’s a blackboard behind the boy with what looks like a poem chalked on it. He’s wearing a coat that’s too big for him, double-breasted and rumpled, and a clumsily knotted tie. He’s holding an opened book with both hands. His hair is carelessly combed, and a cowlick falls just above his right eye. There’s a fresh-faced openness and innocence, a touching vulnerability, about him. This is my father, Charles Frederick Fanning, at ten or eleven. The picture is mounted in a...

  7. 3 Young Winslow Radcliff
    (pp. 81-110)

    When I consider the small but misery-laden body of information available about my Yankee ancestor who fought in the Civil War, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s powerful story “Young Goodman Brown” comes to mind.Young Goodman Brown came forth, at sunset, into the street of Salem village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife.Her name is Faith. Just three months wed, the young man looks back with regret, resolving never to leave her again after just this one night away. Plunging into the dark forest, he meets first a man of...

  8. 4 Mapping Monaghan
    (pp. 111-141)

    All students of Irish genealogy know that journeying back into the nineteenth century is not easy. In June 1922 the Irish Civil War began with the bombing by provisional Irish government forces of Dublin’s Four Courts building, a beautiful Georgian landmark on the River Liffey which had been occupied by members of the un-disbanded Irish Republican Army. These IRA men were opponents of the treaty that had ended the Irish Revolution in December 1921 but provided for the partition of the island into the Irish Free State and the Northern Ireland statelet: six Ulster counties still under British rule. An...

  9. 5 My Mother’s Chapter
    (pp. 142-179)

    I’ve always loved D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Piano,” but I didn’t know why until I started to think back to my childhood. I realized then that the poem echoed one of my earliest memories. I am playing with blocks—ABCs in primary colors—on the yellow linoleum kitchen floor of our family’s apartment in Norwood. As we left that place in the summer of 1947, I was no older than four. I am sitting under the ironing board on which my mother is ironing shirts for my father. I feel the thump of the iron and smell the crisp, clean...

  10. 6 Ars Brevis
    (pp. 180-218)

    My short life in art began with small-scale models made of clay inspired by religious, historical, and literary scenes. I had begun fooling about with this stuff around the age of four. On Sunday mornings, when my mother would go downtown to church on her own, leaving my father, my two-year-old brother Geoffrey, and me, making things out of clay was one of our favorite activities. I recall that we began with whales, my father’s idea and inspiration, though I don’t know why. Shaping hefty chunks of gray or brown clay, smoothing the flanks, sculpting out the mouth and tail,...

  11. 7 A Prelude
    (pp. 219-269)

    Fair seed-time had my soul, I am fortunate to be able to say. (William Wordsworth’sThe Preludesupplies all of this chapter’s section headings. I’m no Wordsworth, but his extraordinary poem describes a fairly ordinary upbringing—like mine—and that’s the point.) In childhood and early adolescence, the compass directing my attention had four cardinal points: the radio, the library, the playground, and school. This compass was familiar, mundane, predictable for an upbringing in American towns or city neighborhoods in the 1950s. Two of its points were solitary pursuits—listening to the radio and looking into books. These, along with...

  12. 8 A Thousand Days at Harvard
    (pp. 270-326)

    Applying to Harvard College had been my idea. Though it wasn’t the high-flying, ne plus ultra, success-assuring brand name that many perceive it to be these days, Harvard in the late 1950s was certainly a prestigious school, a glittering prize, and I was much impressed by descriptions of the famous faculty, one-on-one tutorial system, and college life in idyllic “houses” along the Charles River. Also, I had done the research about the combination of scholarships, loans, and on-campus jobs through which, the brochures had insisted, anyone accepted at Harvard would be able to attend. On the other hand, Tom White,...

  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 327-328)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-329)