I never wanted to come to America.
One evening, my father walked into our kitchen and announced that we had to leave the only home I had ever known. My mother was
weak. She loved my dad but feared him with the same heart. He wasn’t a very large man. He was small, smaller than his older brother
who commanded respect.
What happened to my family? Its love, support, compassion, it all died in a moment.
My grandfather, his father, had passed one month ago. His will was law and laws needed to be followed. We had no choice but to
leave our ancestral land and home. The house, property, everything was left to his older brother, my uncle, who defended his birthright.
He was first birth, baptized for success.
We were trespassers, squatters, homeless, no currency, only my father’s will to survive. I saw these types in the city, people spat at
them to hide their fear of their own frailty. Torn apart by greed, money, more money, blessed money.
At first, my mother cried, hid within herself. I was young, my brother was younger. He didn’t understand what had happened. We
were suddenly alone in the world.
We took only what was allowed, all else was taken, sold, given away to those less fortunate.
I remember the boat. It was cramped and cold. The filth and the sea punished equally. America, amber waves of grain. Where were
these purple mountains?
We eventually arrived in New York City. My uncle’s sole act of charity was to write a fellow man of wealth and tell him that my dad, his
brother could farm the land. We were stripped, washed and trucked out to a small farm town called South Hampton. Everything and
everyone looked different from our country. The air was different, less sweet. People spoke funny and I didn’t understand what they were
saying. Their accents were strange, their stares condescending. Why were their skins so white against the blue sky?
There were estates located alongside the ocean. My people were servants, belonging to those who were titled. We would never
belong to this America.
I lived my life under a magnifying glass. Every move and action were reviewed, corrected and noted by the town’s folk. My father
worked, I rarely saw him. My mother worked in the big house; soaked her feet every night in a metal pail used to wash the master’s dogs.
We were no different.
We lived with several other families in a cramped wooden shed slapped together with no privacy. The summer heat baked us red. The
winter chilled some to death. No one cared about my family, not even me.
I wanted to leave but didn’t know how; one less mouth to feed, one less tear to dry.
There were plenty to work the land, generations of future laborers born every spring. Our women, their land, both were soft and fertile.
Fed by God’s tears, the plantings grew strong. They were colorful; deep red, waxy green, yellow and purple black. Food enough to feed
a village, rotted and tossed, one family, we starved. No one cared.
Before my grandfather died, we ate together. There were no rich, no poor, only family. I was no man’s enemy. I had to leave.
It had been six years since we arrived and I wanted a life. My father’s will to live, broken like his body, began to fail him. My mouth was
a burden. I cut him with words and eyes that cursed. The land had torn apart a once proud man. In the end, it traded its bounty for his life.
We were never going to survive America.
I shook my brother awake and took his hand. We crept silently and walked past those who slept in exhausted comfort on the wooden
floor. The moon illuminated the land and I could hear the ocean waves crashing against the shore. The rhythmic pounding of the surf was
hypnotic, calling me.
I returned to the sea and learned how to fish with men who didn’t judge. Hands were raw, sweat was shed equally and muscles ached
in unison. The mansions looked different from the sea, smaller, less ominous. At night they disappeared. The ocean’s power was felt, vast
in comparison, silent, always there. Only fools disrespected it.
I still remember the day when it rose up and destroyed the monuments. The sky blackened and the wind screamed loud, then louder.
The water pushed in, further and higher than any man had ever dreamed. Wooden homes were the first to fall. Brick crumbled as stone
walls rolled back into the sea, ripped apart with each surge. Death followed, my mother, the masters, all gone. The ocean did not care.
The wind died when the water returned to the sea. First there was silence, then tears. Always tears.
My arms and hands were made strong from the same ocean that hid my mother. Her body was never found. No one cared or
remembered her name, I did.
Land was cheap, the salt left it barren. I labored for myself, demanding more than fair wages. The coastal island was destroyed. It
would take three generations to rebuild. I bought their once proud land. No one, not my uncle or society, would take it from me or my
brother, family. Never to be divided. Our families would never be without. They would never know my hidden hunger or aches. My
children learned as I continued to push. The fear of being without never leaves you, it drives you forward.
I proudly returned to Ireland in 1990 a rich man, never forgetting all that America had given me. The air was unchanged, the hamlets
still there. I visited the family plot to pay respect to my uncle’s grave and bury his memory. It was uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable.
Ireland was no longer my home.
I returned a changed man. I lost the weight pain carries, no longer bitter of those who created me. I had a family, grandchildren, life.
New roots were planted that tradition could not destroy. First, last, they were all family.
South Hampton was no longer words, it was our home.
God Bless America.