Johannah studied the fire as though the flames reaching up into the chimney would tell her what she wanted to know. She whispered the words, the ones she heard from the hiss of the peat as it breathed into the darkness: John will be alright, one day you will all be together again, John and Johannah, Timothy and Patrick and wee Bridget, the way it had always been, the way it was supposed to be.
She crossed herself and let the tears fall, silent tears, wiping them away when they threatened to drip from her chin. She had promised John she would be strong. She promised him she would not let the bairns see her tears because that would most certainly scare the daylights out of them. Mammys and Das are supposed to be the strong ones, the ones who never get frightened, who never weep loud tears, and Johanna was not about to teach them different. She would weep her heartbreak from the fire to the bed up in the loft of Philip’s house, wiping the last of the tears when she slid into bed, sliding the child closest to the edge of the bed over, making room for her.
Ah, she was thankful John’s brother made her and the bairns welcome when John and Andrew set off for Amerikay. Philip said he didna want to leave his home, but he blessed his brothers who had different ideas. Now the older brothers were off to find a new place to live, a place where Uncle Billy had written there was food a plenty for everyone. A place where a farmer could own his land and sell whatever he wanted to, or keep whatever he wanted to.
John and Andrew were going to family, their mother’s relatives who had sailed to freedom and food long ago. Now there was a real Irish community, even a Catholic church over there in Pennsylvania, so it would not be so bad. Why, once they got settled, it would be like home, only better. Lots of Irish family and friends, and no English to exact their tithe.
Johannah pulled the rough blanket over her shoulders, tucking it in around the little ones, praying the while for the day she lay next to John once more.
All that took place 170 years ago, and these words are mine as I imagine it, with my great-greatgrandfather on his way to America to make the home they would share up on Irish Hill in Standing Stone, Pennsylvania. In fact, if you look up in the corner of this map, where it says Mercur, then down to the D in Standing, their farm would have been right there between the two words. Anyway, it came to me today, these words, as I thought about my great-greatgrandmother, courageous in the way mothers must always be.
I write these words because I think she would be glad they had been laid down on paper. Glad that she had done it, left her home, her parents and cousins and aunts and uncles for a better life for her children. I think this is a good place to honor her, right here, where the children of other mothers and fathers like my own great-great grandparents, immigrants all, might read it. And I pray that we all will honor their sacrifices by living lives worthy of theirs.
fireplace image borrowed from https://www.curbed.com/2016/3/24/11300930/rumford-fireplace-design-historic-home