For all of us whose lineage traces back long in this country, there are not one, but
many stories of the reasons for the coming of our ancestors. Behind those stories
are more than a few times pain, for pain it was that drove our ancestors more often
than not from the places that were all they had known and all those who came before
them had known. The stories are not the same. For some it was religion, for others
escape from a debtor's prison, or a chance to have what a younger son could not
have, for some it was as simple as an empty stomach. But almost all the stories have
two common denominators: Pain brought them, and hope beckoned them. If there is
a synonym for America, let it be "hope". Here is the story I think might have been told
by one of those ancestors, if she could but speak.
Yes, a story, I will tell you the story of how it is your gram came to be in this country,
and why it is you call yourself an American.
Da swore it came from the very pits of hell, and perhaps he was right. In wafts of
sickening hellish odor it came, creeping its way in stealthy strides from one field to
the next, the black evil splotches claiming the potatoes and turning them to a
sickening gooey mush that turned our hearts to stones in the pits of our stomach.
The potatoes that were all that stood between ourselves and the gnawing hunger.
And without the potatoes, without a livelihood, how then were we to pay the English
lord for rent on the land that ought by rights to have been our own? The hovels we
called homes turned to piles of straw and wood and stone before our eyes and
naught for it but the open road and no destination. The open road it was, or debtor's
prison, as we were driven away from all we had and cast upon a world that opened
not its arms, for none there were to open. Not in the world that was ours.
Around us, the hunger made desperate people of our neighbors, until it made them
kinder or it made them strangers turning their backs upon those they called neighbors
and family and friends. For how can one offer what one does not have to put in one's
own belly? And to survive a heart must turn to a stone, and a back must turn. Times
it was I thought the blight had claimed more than potatoes, and touched our hearts
with its evil black splotches as will. And in all cases it made us leaner, or left us in
unmarked graves beneath the sod, unmourned and no time for the things we had
always done to tell our own goodbye. For myself, the day I saw Gram die, twas
relief I felt, yes and when Da was gone as well. They had gone where hunger was
And what was there to eat? The animals we had called pets? The seaweed? The
grass? When hunger gnawed bitter, times there were we boiled water to pretend
that it was soup. And the wind whistled a devilish tune promising the leaness of
these times nothing compared to the winter that would come. And the times made
gaunt skeletons of living people, and carved lines in young men's faces. Dancing Irish
eyes dulled and glazed some more until they were little more than vacant windows in
a condemned house. For there was naught to see but worse to come wherever one
looked. When there is naught to find but a dark tunnel, no hope, no way around or
out, a heart turns to a cold stone that lies in the pit of an empty belly, a head goes
numb, there is not energy to summon a tear, nor to scream the cry that lies hovering
on a lip. So it was when one tiny glimmer of light flickered we dared, in a secret
place inside, to dream a tiny dream.
America, the dream on many a lip, but where the coins to pay the passage? And
yet if one could find a way, food there was, a way of growing one's own, freedom
from the lord that waited on blights and troubles to take what little livelihood we had.
America.. a light when the fire of the hearth had been smothered. It was a hope, the
only hope, and when we found a way, it mattered not how long one must work on the
other side to repay. America, where hunger did not live.
And so it was I came. For all the pain that still was before me on a ship no better than the land I came from, for all the pain that awaited on another side where my people numbered so thick I wondered were there any left in Ireland, I am glad. Still twas a place to be carved in a city filled with too many and all too often they not wanted, still were not streets paved with gold. Still there was the wondering over those left behind, and the pain of knowing one could only hope to bring loved ones too, in time, and perhaps that would never be. We dare not let our hearts thaw from stone to human ones just yet. Still there were battles to fight and naught but those left with a spirit to do so would find the hope they came sailing for. But hope there was, and I see my grandchildren not knowing what it is to be hungry and more than a few with a spot to call their own. Yes, twas hope brought me here, and I am yet left with it. Who knows, in this land that stretches so wide and so far, what may yet be?
There it is, a story, do what you will with this story. But be glad it is I came.
Just a thought,
(Note: Afternoon Rocking messages are meant to be passed on, meant to be
shared...simply share as written without alterations...and in entirety.