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Of Daydreams and Wishes

By Joe McMaster - Click for Bio

"Come walk with me now," the soft voice whispered in such a soothing manner that in all truth I did not have to look around me to see who spoke those words. And the ghost-like sound of the footsteps falling into perfect rhythm beside those of my own brought with them an unexplainable comfort.

As we walked along in peaceful silence, light from the newly awakening streetlamp seemingly tumbled down andGas Streetlamp in Rain appeared to dance along the narrow street ahead of us. Like a carefree child, it skipped along and splashed in and out of the many pools and puddles of water lying all about.

I could not help but notice that by this time, the gently falling rain had caught the soft glow from the old streetlights gas mantle, and magically transformed the cool night air into a thousand tiny diamonds sparkling in the mist.

Still quite unaware as to the smell of any salt sea air, we walked along in quiet harmony with only the clicking sound of our footsteps echoing along the cold cobblestone street to keep us company. Then as I began to look around me some more, I started to notice how all of the shops were shuttered and barred … all except one. And that most of the old wooden doors were padlocked shut with large clumsy locks which would require large clumsy keys.

It was as if by some unspoken agreement that we stopped in front of a little shop with its oil lamps still burning in the window. As we stood there beside each other in thoughtful silence, I found myself looking through a window that bore the soot and the grime of a small back street shop. Aye! a little shop set amongst the smoking chimneys of a working class poor.

It seemed to me on a damp and dreary night such as this, the smoke from the old red brick chimneys tumbled Chimney smokedown and danced around as if wishing to play with the falling raindrops before they finally came down to land on the cold grey slated roofs. While the coals in a hundred open hearths below those same red brick chimneys, glowed and burned and tried to bring some small measure of warmth and comfort to the houses and homes in this place they called Belfast City.

Inside the shop, at first beyond reach of the warm pastel glow, I could now begin to see on display all manner of posters and pictures proudly proclaiming to the weary and the willing, the sailing of the square-rigged ships outward bound for the shores of America.

As we stood there together, each of us with our own quiet thoughts, the weather beaten old door beside us with its faded flakes of peeling green paint groaned and creaked as it began to move. Then slowly, ever so slowly it opened inwards, as if to invite us to come in.

As I cautiously ventured inside this small shop, tinged as it was with the same black sooty grime, I noticed that over in the corner there stood an old fashioned clerks desk. Aye! an old desk perched high on top of long spindly legs. Legs so tall that any clerk wishing to make use of this desk would have to stand up to his full height just so that his elbows could rest upon it.

Sitting on top of this old fashioned desk there burned a candle, or if I was to tell you the truth I would tell you that only half a candle now burned in the antique brass candlestick. The same brass candlestick whose unpolished sides held fast to the cold grey wax which once upon a time, had been the other half of that candle.

It was then that out from behind a decrepit and dusty old curtain, which rustled and moved only once …there appeared before us a clerk, or a clerk of sorts. He was dressed in clothes so tattered and worn that Dickens himself might very well have described them as being better suited for the local workhouse.

Yet he stood there before us looking serenely proud and tall. And all the while on top of his head and almost hiding his long wisplike hair sat a fancy top hat, a hat that had without question seen the colour black in much better days.

I noticed at once how on the left side of his rather large bulbous nose there grew a wart, a wart so plump and so portly that I could not help but stand and stare at it. And this I did in all ignorance towards this man’s feelings.

But the clerk paid no heed to my stare as he somehow managed to shuffle over to where the tall desk stood, while dragging what remained of his leather shoes along with him.

He then picked up a pen and dipped it into an old discoloured ink pot, all the time trying to look like a man far beyond his station. “What ship and where bound sir?” the clerk asked, and a voice beside me spoke up almost at once and told him he wished to sail onboard a ship which was called by the name ‘ The Mary Ellen’ hopefully still sailing on the early morning tide.

So as not to be misunderstood, or so it seemed to me at that time, this same voice quickly added for good measure, “on the same day which is to be the first day of the month of October in this the year of our Lord … eighteen hundred and forty five.”

Again the clerk dabbed his pen at the inkwell as if in pretence that more ink was needed to load up his pen andInkwell and Pen asked if this was indeed the same ship which was to be outward bound from Belfast harbour to New York city. The voice beside me acknowledged without any hesitation whatsoever that this was indeed so.

The clerk then glanced at me with ice cold eyes before proceeding to write down a name and a date and some other words unseen by us, into a large open book which lay on the desk before him.

Taking the time needed to hastily compose a short note on a crumpled piece of paper, he bid us a good night and then handed to me this very same piece of paper. Immediately a strange feeling came over me and while looking into his eyes I felt he had something to say to me, but perhaps restrained by unseen hands …could not.

It was just about then that the person beside me with the soft voice whispered, “come with me now for the hour is getting late” and so we in turn bid the clerk a friendly good night as we made our exit from the little shop just as the last of the flickering oil lamps died in the window in the darkness.

As we turned around the next corner, there stretching out before us was a long wooden pier with its shimmering oil lamps gently swaying back and forth on their long wooden poles in the soft evening breeze.

By these same flickering lights through the falling rain we could see a forest of wooden masts of all shapes and sizes, and ropes upon ropes tied up in all manner of sailor’s knots. It was just about then that the pungent smell of the salt sea air rose up from amongst the decaying strands of seaweed floating in the harbour and greeted us. Welcome it all seemed to say, aye! welcome indeed to the time of the tall sailing ships.

While off to our right and not too far distant from us, and we being thankful for it too, lights from ‘The sailor’s Return’ shone out.

It might well have been the friendly sound of the laughter and the music as it spilled out through the pubs open windows which invited us to come inside out of the cold night air. But regardless as to whatever it was, it was an invitation which we both heartily accepted.

I can only tell you that we spent what remained of that pleasant night in the smoke filled boisterous company of near drunken sailors and half dressed wenches. Wenches only too willing and happy enough to be a true friend to any sailor found wanting on a night such as this.

And so the strong amber ale in our old cracked alehouse mugs soon danced around and swirled about to the music and the laughter which was all around us, as we both sat there in the corner in contented silence.

Two people from two different times it seems we were, gladly sharing this brief moment together and neither one of us wishing or needing to ask why.

It was just then as the magic hour of twelve o’clock struck that I now found myself sitting alone again in the corner of this once small back street pub. And as I sat there in my own quiet solitude I slowly began to remember in sober hindsight now, how my thoughts earlier that evening had strayed to the very last night my great grandfather had spent in this same town before sailing on his long arduous journey to America. And here was me wishing that I could have somehow bridged the gap between the generations and shared that special moment in time with him.

As I sat there wondering as to how an evenings worth of daydreaming could have by this time become so real to me, the bartender came over and handed me an old crumpled up piece of paper. “I think you dropped this on the floor sir. Aye! sure indeed you did, just there now as you were leaving the bar.”

In polite bar room chatter he went on to ask me about my vacation and did I have any luck at all with my family research here in Ireland. As I nodded to him in the affirmative he also inquired as to what time my flight departed in the morning, and then he wished me a safe trip home.

Pointing to an old faded poster hanging up on the wall he jokingly remarked as to how times had changed. “Many a fine Irish man and women left the green fields of Ireland behind them in the likes of her sir, the Mary Ellen, that’s what they called her … The Mary Ellen.”Schooner

I looked at the old crumpled piece of paper which he had placed in my hand and when I opened it up, there written in faded blue ink were the words.

‘Passage paid in full to sail onboard the good ship The Mary Ellen, recorded on the evening of September 30th in this the year of our Lord 1845.’

At the bottom of this note, written in the same scribbled handwriting were some other words, words perhaps chosen as a fond afterthought by a gentle soul regardless of his station in life.

‘May your god speed you safely on your journey home.’

As I got up to leave I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of how a simple daydream had become a door …a door that opened up and allowed me to take a journey back in time.


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