As you can imagine, now that my grandfather has lost my grandmother, he is quite lonely for any kind of companionship. My father told me as much, and said that the best time to contact him was at 0900. So, after staying up late last night doing crossword puzzles, I dragged my happy ass out of bed and went downstairs to get a Big Gulp of black iced coffee.
[Editor’s Note- you might think that going to a coffee shop and ordering a quadruple espresso is where you get the most bang for your buck…. not so. Because regular coffee sits in the basket so much longer than espresso, a simple large drip packs almost 300mg of caffeine. You’re welcome.]
Because I knew he was lonely, I did everything I could think of to keep him on the phone, and we talked for an hour. As much as I enjoyed talking to my grandfather, I was also proud of myself. Not only did I reach out to another grieving person, I called someone. When he picked up the phone, I could tell that he’d been crying, and I wasn’t about to try and get him to stop. I told him right away that although it was not the same losing a spouse and losing a mother that I could definitely feel his pain. I know, darlin,’ he replied… and I was grieving with you when it happened.
As time wore on, we changed to less loaded subjects so that we could both relax and enjoy each other. I learned a lot about my family history, and his own. For instance, I did not know that before he worked at Lone Star Steel as a public relations manager, he was also a copy editor and photographer for a daily newspaper in Longview and a weekly magazine in Greggton. There were two funny stories about that.
- His editor told him that for every writer, eventually their ignorance was going to show… but don’t let it in my newspaper.
- His editor’s other advice was never to use three words when one will do… write it tight. I told him that I had not mastered that part of it. Ever. It seems as if my personal motto is why use one word when a thousand will do?
After we talked about writing, we delved into genealogy, and that is the moment where the hairs on my arm stood up.
My grandfather’s side of the family originated in County Tipperary and moved to Boston, eventually settling in Bristol, Rhode Island. I can’t remember exactly how many great grandfathers this was ago, but the year was 1847. Originally, my grandfather wondered how in the hell he got his wife and six children to America. Thought he must have stolen the family silver or something to pay for passage… but no.
Most of the land was owned by absent Englishmen. Eventually, the Englishmen were worried that the peasants were going to die off due to disease and/or famine… and honestly, didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of the Irish anymore. So, the whole famn damily was offered passage to the United States in exchange for indentured servitude for two years in the lumber industry. I said to my grandfather, that’s not bad. Most of what I’ve read about indentured servitude was more like seven years. He said, well, it might have been seven, but his legs were cut off in an accident.
I am really bad with names, so I think it was my ancestor John Lonergan (no, I didn’t misspell that), who settled on a plantation in the wilds of North Carolina and raised a rebel militia to fight with General Washington.
In short, with the exception of my family being Irish and not Scottish, Diana Gabaldon could have been writing about my family. Talk about the things I dinna ken…
It really took me a minute to recover after that.
My grandfather also told me that another one of my ancestors, I think his name was Thomas, was murdered by a gang. I asked my grandfather if Thomas was somehow involved with the gang, or whether he was just an innocent bystander. He said that in those days, the Irish were treated as awfully as the Africans, and after becoming somewhat wealthy, gained a target on his back. He was an Irish immigrant who managed to buy a house for $300, and, of course, was stealing an American job… so he had to die.
It’s amazing to me how much Thomas’ story is so relevant today.
Perhaps it’s not as far from Tipperary to Sheboygan as we think, and I feel lucky to be a part of the people of faith that are rising up to fight injustice against immigrants, because my own past is full of it. The border is different, but the mental walls that have been built are the same.
We don’t need a physical wall to reinforce horrible treatment of immigrants. Those walls are already eight feet thick in the minds and hearts that need to tear them down.
Looking deep inside ourselves is the only way forward, and I can’t think of anything more introspective regarding the treatment of immigrants as learning the hardships encoded into your own DNA…………..