Who Beats this Drum that I March to?
By Joe McMaster - Click for Bio
The night wind softly sighed and moaned as it played about with the unlocked gate, causing the old wooden gate to swing back and forth through the dark muddy puddles. Time and again the tired old gate crashed up against the dilapidated gatepost, which shivered and shook with each new blow. Try as it may, the soft evening rain failed to soak through the newly thatched roof, which covered the small, whitewashed house. Allowing those already wrapped up snugly in their patchwork quilts to stay warm and dry in their beds.
Her siblings, by this time, were sound asleep as they lay beside her and dreamed their dreams. For they had places to go and things to do in their dreams! It was only Jeannie who was still wide-awake, listening to the soft ticking of the clock on the mantle piece. The old windup clock, which sat high and dry above the smoldering peat fire below.
All the while just lying there listening to the soft rhythmic ticking as the pendulum swung back and forward in its own little world. A shinny brass pendulum within a carved wooden case, counting out the seconds of life behind a daintily scrolled glass door!
Tomorrow was to be a day of decisions, plans had been made and dreams had been dreamed and just like her sisters, Jeannie too had her own dreams. Dreams of a better life in a far away land! For it would seem that somewhere deep within the soul of the Scots-Irish there sometimes burns the desire to go and see what life has to offer beyond the bottom of their own little country lane, the little country lane, which leads to the road. The very same road, which leads to so many other little country lanes!
Fate itself had come along in the form of a young man who had presented her with a choice and given her much to think about. This was the same young man who had just recently entered into her life. While sweeping her off of her feet, he promised to take her away from a sometimes-unhappy childhood. A childhood spent growing up on the small farm. A small piece of land, which her family had called ‘The Rye Ground.’
Like so many other things in life, the new dream had come at a price. She would have to give up the idea of going to America with her sisters. The young man told her that he had a mother to look after and care for and so for him, the leaving of Ireland was out of the question. America, the land of opportunity, which was to have been a brand new chance at a brand new way of life, was now out of the question for Jeannie.
With just the soft ticking of the clock for company Jeannie realized that for her, a dream had died in the middle of the night. And never would she get to live in that land far and away across the wild Atlantic.
Her older brother had his own plans. To try and escape the life, which he had been born into, he thought it better to join the army and fight in the bloody fields of France in ‘The Great War.’
So it was, that in the wee hours of the morning, in that magical time when the fairies are known to dance and play in the woodland clearings, Jeannie made a decision. Love had won the battle. Her love for the young man had proven much stronger than her desire to seek out the new land ... the land far across the cold grey ocean.
At the young and tender age of seventeen she married the young man and started a family of her own. Jeannie remained in Ireland and never did get to realize her dream of living in America. Throughout good times and bad times she brought nine children into this world.
Life for Jeannie was often harsh as she toiled away at a job in the local spinning mill, where she worked eight hours a day in her bare feet. Shoes had proven no match for the wet floors caused by the hot water constantly spilling off of the spinning frames, which she looked after.
The course linen threads had to pass through the hot water on their way to the various sets of rollers before falling down to the fast spinning bobbins below. The end result was the fine linen thread needed to produce the Irish linen cloth, which was then shipped all over the world. And all the while she raised nine children ... without complaining.
Catherine also worked in the same mill. The same dusty, dirty noisy spinning mill!
On each and every payday without fail, Catherine would place all of her earnings on the kitchen table so that the family had enough food to eat and clothes to wear. Asking absolutely nothing in return for herself.
Both were remarkable women, living in very difficult times who to me symbolized the heart and spirit of a bygone Scots-Irish generation.
Jeannie lived long enough to bury one of her four sons, the one who had remained in Ireland, the one she had cared about so much. Perhaps because he had been there for her while the others had not.
Out of her nine children, seven were born with the wanderlust of the Irish burning in their souls, and so they followed their dreams and bid farewell to the green fields of home.
I don't have any ancient ancestors with fancy titles to talk about, and so perhaps that’s why I’m telling you my little story.
Jeannie was my mother and she died in the year 1981. She left us much too soon for she still had more love to give. Catherine was my wee granny and she gave us just as much love …just as often. She died in the year 1962.
And yet the memories that both of these women left behind, still brings smiles and tears to my face.
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