By Tom Mulvoy
Last Saturday morning, two days shy of her 96th birthday, Elinor (Harrington) Barron died where she had prayed she would – in her home of 52 years in the Waban neighborhood of Newton. It was the end of a life that began in May 1914, three months before the Guns of August announced the beginning of The Great War, and that endured through close to a century’s worth of turmoil and high drama in the larger world.
In the smaller world where families live and work and have children, my Aunt Elinor was for ten decades an active participant in the comings and goings of a large Dorchester family that saw closeness as a virtue even as it grew to number dozens of members.
Middle child in family of seven
Elinor was the fourth of seven children born to Frank and Elizabeth Harrington, who had a home in Dorchester on Allston Street, a couple of blocks down from Codman Square and just about as far from the family’s second home, St. Mark’s Church on the avenue. The Harringtons were all Dorchester as the years moved into the ‘20s and the ‘30s and ‘40s: Elizabeth often played the organ at St. Mark services, Frank worked in the Post Office at Fields Corner, a brisk walk down and back to home on good days, and the children attended local schools and were very much engaged in parish activities like the choir, the Scouts program, the Holy Name Society, and the womens’ Sodality.
Add independence to a joie de vivre
The middle child in a family always on the go, and, over time, very productive (28 grandchildren for Frank and Elizabeth), Elinor learned to adapt from early on as she showed a joie de vivre that was contagious and an independence that later on made her a go-to aunt for the stories behind the story of the Allston Street Harringtons.
That independence found her in the 1940s working at the Barron-Anderson Topcoat Co. down near South Station. There she met a scion of the enterprise, Harry Barron, who soon enough proposed marriage, a notion that carried an arresting fact for El’s family and friends and neighbors back in St. Mark’s Parish: Harry was Jewish.
So at a time when students in Catholic schools like St. Mark’s Grammar School were being taught by the nuns of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur that the Jews had killed Jesus Christ, here was Elinor Harrington marrying a Jewish man.
Sacred vows, clinical ceremony
The process of making such a marriage official and sacramental in the Roman Catholic Church of 1947 seems outlandish 63 years later, but rules were rules. The church itself was out of bounds, and the assigned parish curate refused to officiate, so Elinor and Harry made their vows quietly in front of a friend, Rev. Bob Adams, in the waiting room of the parish rectory with only her siblings, Anna and Vincent, in attendance to witness a clinical private ceremony.
So now all the Harrington grandchildren would have a Jewish uncle and as time went by until Harry died in 1989 after 42 years of marriage, his in-laws and his 24 nieces and nephews were graced with the presence in their lives of a fine and generous man, husband, and involved father of four of our cousins, Paul and Bobby and Richie and Joanie, the aspersions cast on his faith so long ago assigned firmly to the ashcan of history by those of us who came to know and love him.
Lessons in tolerance, the value of true love
So it was that Aunt El gave us all a lesson in tolerance and in the high value of true love and she has left her children and their families and her larger family with the clear memory of a life well and properly lived while she was raising her children, helping out at her church, volunteering for community affairs and at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and loving Harry.
On Saturday, it was time finally to slip away from her family. She leaves her children, her sister, Mary Louise Harrington Cyr, who is, at 89, the last of the Allston Street Harringtons, and with whom she talked daily over all the years of their lives together.
Elinor’s funeral Mass was said yesterday at St. Philip Neri Church in Waban and she was buried in Newton Cemetery, at peace forever next to her Harry.