Did He Leave

He must have stood on the pier, Stephen did.

It’s where they all leave from.

When he stood there, did he stand with his hands in his pockets.  Or were his hands full of satchel or rucksack and everything he had, everything, for a journey he would not return from.

Did he stare back at his home while he waited for his boat.  Ingraining every detail he already knew, as it was embedded in the very cells of his body.  But did he look, because he knew he wouldn’t look at it again.

Or did he keep his back to the past and look forward to the future.  Gazing into what he dreamed and imagined.

Did he stand there alone.  Or did family go, to spend every last moment they could with him.  Did he stand there as a lone traveler, or were there a group of them going out together, taking comfort in someone familiar.

Did he leave eagerly.

Did he leave fearfully.

Did he leave hesitantly but with a nervous energy.

Surely he knew, or didn’t he, that he would never return.   Here.

Was home too small and confining.  Did he know everything on it.  Did he see sameness every day.

Was home too safe and comfortable.  Did he leave it to help others.  Did he dread never seeing it again.

Was the wind blowing, or softly whispering by his ear.  Did he smell the turf burning.  Did he have warm tea for one last time, sitting at the table, or standing by the fireplace, at home.

Did he ever imagine that when he left Ireland he would go to America and create a family that grows to this day.  And will grow beyond this day.

Did he ever hope that his son, or his son, or his daughter…would venture back to Ireland.

To try and capture his world.

Step up on to that pier, and see all that there is.  Stand at his own father’s grave and recite a prayer.  Stand in the doorway of his very own home, and imagine it when he was there.  Walk the very paths he must have trod a million steps.

Here.

Where Stephen left.

44 thoughts on “Did He Leave

  1. I wasn’t sure to be happy or sad, like all the questions of Stephen’s future and his past that you proposed. It must’ve been daunting for the millions of Irish that have left there Ireland to go to America and beyond. A beautiful piece of writing Colleen, so very touching, and I’m sure you are touched too, enjoying and reliving your heritage.

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  2. Poignant piece. I remember how moved I was to stand in the middle of Ellis Island and try to imagine what it was like to arrive there, alone, on a ship with so many other hopeful immigrants. It would be sweet to be able to stand on their homeland as well, and relive that kind of emotional exodus. Nicely done, C.

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  3. As I learn more and more about my own family history, I often ponder the state of mind that various relatives had along the way through their life’s adventures.

    I have had two wonderful pieces of good fortune. One being a work diary that for the most part was a brief summary of the day’s work on as a farmer but it gave life to all the people into the community and later I saw familiar names in future generations in which one named family married another from the same town. And being fortunate enough to see the home that he lived in and another home his wife lived in after her passed…it was quite moving.

    The second piece of abundant information came from the county itself which published up to five different papers throughout the generations. Newspapers that report so much of the town folk happenings…I discovered who my relatives were, their contributions to community, their joys in weddings and sorrows in death. They became so real to me…all of them good, hard working and benevolent people. It really changed my life learning about them.

    I too, have Irish kin on both paternal and maternal side…though I have discovered my paternal Irish is really Scots. Still working on the other side…and asking a lot of the questions you pose today.

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    • Mrs. P, I love those old town newspapers that report the daily and family activities. They are treasures. I have long appreciated learning anything I can about my family. I want to know more of course. But the things I want to know aren’t documented. I want to know the feelings of the leaving, or the feelings of the ones staying or the feelings on arrival, of new experiences….

      I will keep asking these questions. 🙂

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      • I have to admit that I love the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” For that exact reason. Not only are we getting the feelings of the star’s emotions but it conveys the immigrants as well.

        One day, I wish to trace my Irish/Scottish roots, in the way you are doing. I have researched the time and the history and both have very different stories.

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  4. thank you Colleen for this touching story. It´s very emotional and there are surely sad and happy feelings, if you think of this historical moment of life. A little version of this moments you have several times in your life. Like last day in primary school, leaving home to go to university, seeing someone the last time before he passed away….these are all moments you think back with sentimental nostalgia, but this is part of life. I can not imagine how it is to live moments like this in full awareness, what will be or what can be.

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  5. Very special thoughts and ones many of us should occasionally contemplate when we think of the decisions made before us. My grandmother came to the United States from Scotland as a teenager and I think of her leaving a young man she was in love with and being uprooted along with her brothers and sisters. They had very good lives in Scotland but had a father who was quite the adventurer. My grandmother had NONE of that adventurous spirit in her, so it was tough. Listen to me…you got me going. LOL! What a lovely post, Colleen.

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    • it is so powerful what depends on such decisions and as life changes not only for oneself. And yet the greatest power remains sometimes in other hands. In the family of my grandpa, f.e. they saved money for one kid travelling to America. The oldest brother of my grandpa should go. I think he got ill, shortly before the ship was leaving, then they just have taken the next son.

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    • this was certainly not easy for your grandmother and certainly there was long time bitterness and reproaches …. but now look at you! So you’re what you are now, because they left …:)

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      • Our great-grandparents and grandparents, whether they came to America from another country or were born here, had such different life experiences from what most of us know. I have a new grandson and my daughter-in-law chose his first name, August, from her great-grandfather, telling me that he was the one who brought their family to the United States from his original birthplace in Germany. I loved the idea that this young woman wanted to connect this “next” generation to that man. She spoke of him with admiration, although, yet of course never knew him except through family stories. Your great-grandparents must have also sacrificed much to see to it that at least one child made it to a new life in America. No matter how many movies I see or books I read that describe immigration in the early part of the 20th century, I am not sure I really can understand the yearning or the cost. Thank you for adding such a thoughtful addition to my original comment, Marvel.

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        • Dear Debra, thank you for your great answer, you are so right.
          This reminds me a lot to a really lovely book full of facinating illustrations…a recommendation for all ages…absolut stunning: shaun Tan, the arrival:

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  6. Colleen I couldn’t imagine leaving all that I know behind to start a new life in a different world. I know people who have done that very thing and the hardship it was and has been for them. My heart goes out to those who are less fortunate than we. We who are living the “dream”.

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