Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who put the Irish in Lizzie B.? or A Leap of Faith & Love

Thanks to Leon for leaving a comment. It's gratifying to hear from readers. It makes this less of a one-way conversation!
After days of rain, it's a beautiful sunny day here in NEPA. I hope the sun is shining and the waters are receding where ever you are!

Who Put the Irish in Lizzie B.? or A Leap of Faith & Love

As it's St. Patty's Day Eve, I decided to retell my version (as with all good and often-told stories, there are several versions) of the story of my Irish grandparent's journey to Ellis Island and these American shores. As always, I hope you enjoy it!

Once upon a time in the 1920s, in a place called Kilkenny, Ireland, lived a young woman named Mary Browne. People affectionately referred to her as "Molly," not to be confused with the "unsinkable Molly Browne" of Titanic lore.
Molly was a small girl, short in stature but well-endowed, with wavy auburn hair and large, kind blue/gray eyes. She was humble, yet strong and carefully outspoken. Molly was Earthy and wise from an early age.
In this same place, lived a wild young man named John Brennan, or Jack to those familiar with him. Jack was tall and impressively built. His face shone with dancing brown eyes, round, ruddy, high-placed cheeks, a strong nose that turned up ever so slightly when his full, sculpted lips parted in a smile, revealing beautifully straight white teeth. His head was crowned by thick, wavy brown hair.
Jack was a sight to behold, but given his tendency to dive head-long into trouble, he wasn't the sort of young man a father would trust with his daughter. Jack had fought bravely and was decorated for heroism in World War I. But he came back to a world of political deception, and he reacted as many young men might, with passion and unwise furor. But enough about that aspect of the story.
Young Molly's father had promised her hand to an admirably thought of and much-sought after young soccer player. Molly would have none of her father's arrangement. Being a respectful young woman of carefully chosen words and definitive actions, Molly quietly arranged passage on a ship to America.
Always with his ear to the ground, so to speak, Jack caught wind of Molly's plan. You see, Jack admired and came to love Molly from a far. Somewhat of a rogue, but still deep down a respectful gentleman, he didn't dare defy Molly's father while on Kilkenny's soil.
But Molly's daring plan changed everything. Jack's heart leapt with promise and joy, and his keen mind quickly led his feet to the docks, where he secured a job on the ship Molly would be sailing to America on.
As far as the years have told, both Molly's quiet escape and Jack's plan to win her went off without a hitch.
The years, and Molly's modest ways, have blurred the details, but I like to imagine my young, beautiful, hopeful grandparents, on the cusp of the greatest adventure of their lives, holding hands in the moonlight poised against the ship's rail, as they gazed out into an ocean of possibilities.
As the ship entered New York Harbor, the drama intensified, if only momentarily. Jack had no papers. So Jack being Jack, determined and bold and strong and in-love, leapt from the ship's deck into the Harbor and swam for shore. It makes sense that my family's life in America began literally with a daring leap of faith.
He and Molly met in the City, and began a life that would include 9 children, many grand children, and great grandchildren ranging (today) in age from 25 years to 1 year old, and knowing my younger cousins, there will likely be more descendants in the days to come!
I will always be hugely grateful to Jack & Molly for the bravery, determination, and love that led them to these shores. I surely wouldn't be who I am if they hadn't persevered.
Molly loved her children, grand children, and the two great-grandchildren she met here on Earth, and she loved her new country. She voted in elections until her death at age 89.
She died on April 29, the anniversary of her marriage to Jack. Upon her death, I imagined through tears and pain that Jack was waiting for her, hand outstretched, eyes dancing with delight, as they set off together down a new path to a new adventure.
Jack enjoyed life, without a doubt, but he wasn't blessed with longevity. I only knew Jack through my father's loving revelations and visits to his grave, marked by a Celtic Cross and under a towering old evergreen tree.
I liked to imagine that Jack lived on in that tree, nourishing its roots, just as vibrantly as he lived on in me and my siblings and cousins.
Molly now rests under that tree with Jack, and with her brother & his wife, a daughter & her husband, and a son beside her. My father and a beloved brother lie just up a hill from Molly & Jack. Molly's nephew, whom she sponsored as an immigrant the year I was born, and his young son, a wild colonial boy who died just as he came into adulthood, also rest nearby.
Today, I miss Molly as much as I ever have. I gave birth to a daughter, also named Molly, a little more than 9 months after Molly died. She is beautiful and strong as Molly was, well-endowed and short of stature, as Molly was. My daughter has Jack's large, dancing brown eyes and mane of sun-kissed brown hair. My daughter is adventuress, fun-loving, and independent.
Molly was full of love and strength. And as I end this tale, I will repeat a sentiment that Molly quietly shared with me and lived by and that I now live by:
"Always hug the children, so they will feel your love."
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Be well & happy!

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