It has been nearly 100 years since the start of World War I-- the war to end all wars. To mark this anniversary we will be writing about this era over the next few months and sharing our family history as it relates.
I thought I remembered everything. Well, everything long-term, not short-term at any rate. I've had a manilla envelope full of about dozen letters from my mother to my Grandma Lucas that I'd never taken the time to read. As I continue to sort out my papers though I have to face these things down. Today I began to open them.
If you read the entry "A Broken Home and other terms that pissed off mom" you may remember a reference to the tweedy furniture that ended up in our garage post divorce. Imagine my surprise when one of the letters I opened today contained a swatch of that black and brown houndstooth. My memory in this instance was as good as a photo. It is exactly how I remembered it and it was an incredibly odd sensation to hold the fabric in my hand and see it as brand new. Unlike the long lost couch it once covered, this little piece of fabric hasn't seen light in 46 years. I was immediately transported back to Spring Valley in a brief, unexpected bit of time travel that made me queasy.
I read on and this is where I can't believe I didn't remember. "Jennifer has her bar for feet --Uses it at night and doesn't seem to mind." Wow, what a thing to forget. I needed a brace on my legs. How did I forget that? It clearly didn't make a huge impression on me unlike when my elementary school friend wore leg braces in third grade. Her mom had to make her pants to fit over them and I always walked behind with her to recess.
I'm the kid who always folded my stick of Juicy Fruit over my front teeth to simulate orthodonture that I would never really need. You'd think corrective bars on my feet would have made a dent in my psyche good or bad. However, if I hadn't read the letter I would never have remembered them for the rest of my life. I am certain.
I called Diana. She remembered them because she was jealous of them. Kids are hilarious. But the most curious thing about these letters is why they may have been kept. Why just this year and just one letter from 1960 about my brother as a baby? Was it just the years of most change? The family was started in 1960 and it was complete in '67 and it was divided in 1970. I will continue to read and see what else I've forgotten, or never knew. It's funny how one little line in a letter written so long ago changes the memories as I have had them ordered for so long.
In 1993 I was having a bad year.Not as bad as my mother mind you but let’s
just say I didn’t handle her death as well as she did.I felt lawless, hateful and even resentful
at those women her age who were still alive.But why wouldn’t they be alive? Mom was only 55—just a week from
Above all else though I was so utterly sad.I got fat.I developed IBS.I developed
asthma as soon as I quit smoking.My
periods became ridiculously heavy and unpredictable and worse than all that was
the physical fear for my life I felt from my brother.He had stolen everything in our house before Diana
and I had a chance to sort our things.Without
our mother running interference, we felt he might kill us. Well kill Diana for
sure,I’d be collateral damage.It doesn’t matter how realistic a threat
might be, if you perceive it, you suffer.But that tale is for another day.
My state was fragile.I felt like an abandoned kitten one moment crying piteously for my lost
mother and the next I felt like a tiger needing to bolt for freedom in the unknown having found my cage unlocked.My friends tried so hard to help me through but really I just needed to
cry until I could cry again.I thought
about running away so many times.Maybe
I would do “Teach America” I thought or, better yet, just go west and try to
find work on a farm.What to do? What to
do?Diana wanted me to come to
California but we fell out.We were both
so hurt we couldn’t help each other much less ourselves.It was just easier to not talk for a
while.So we didn’t and instead of going
to Cali for the month of August as planned, my friend Patsy asked me to come to
Ireland where her family had a farm.In
turn, I asked Lori to come with me.
Dancing to the Wolfe Tones
Me and Strawberry on the neighbor's farm in Kilcummin
Patsy’s family lived in Kilcummin just outside Killarney.Lori and I stayed in a B&B in town and
set off to help move time forward.Well,
that’s what I was doing.I was just
getting through the days.I was the girl
who lost her mother and I didn’t have an easy time stepping out from under that
Killarney is a very popular tourist destination but it was
relatively unspoiled back then.It was
small and had a number of pubs that had not changed in decades.It also had trusty tourist shops and pony and
trap drivers to take you down to the Lakes and Muckross House.
It was the Gap of Dunloe, however, with its wild, lonely
scenery and Macgillycuddy's Reeks that made me fall in love with Ireland.The Ring of Kerry was at once a promise of
the beauty still to be enjoyed in the world and a reminder of its ever- difficult
terrain.There is no easy passage
through life but there is much to enjoy along the way.
By the end of the trip, I was fully aware that I was not
much fun to be around despite what look like very happy photos of me.I had more
running to do before I could even begin to seriously face my loss. I’d be back to Killarney again though.Many times.
Two weeks before we left for Ireland I was in a panic about still not knowing where my Irish Sharkeys emigrated from and I've been looking on and off for 20 years. I wanted to know since we'd be in Ireland so long and I didn't know when I would be back there again. I've been to Ireland a lot for other reasons (explanatory blog post to come) but this was likely the one time I'd get to travel around a bit.
The summer my mother died I found out a great deal about the Sharkeys--even found their graves thanks to an irritable cemetery secretary. Her annoyance with having to look up 100 year-old burial records was obvious in her tersely typewritten answer on the same letter I had sent to her. But she did answer. For the record, if I were a cemetery secretary, and frankly I think I'm suited to it, I would love to help people find their family bones.
Getting back to my panic, it was 20 years as I said since I last contacted that cemetery and since then I've found many related Sharkeys whose records might reveal necessary clues of parentage and origin which is why this past May I thought I must write the cemetery again. Thinking cemetery secretaries are usually "of a certain age" I can't lie, I thought she'd be long gone since I last made a request of her but there her name was. Damn it all. I still mailed it off and hoped for the best. Two plus months later and I've heard nary a boo from her even though I so sweetly began my letter:
Twenty years ago you so kindly helped me find my relatives......
This woman is a wall. She will not be moved by age, flattery or sentimentality. And she sure didn't care about the time crunch of my Irish trip. But believe me, I knew better than to mention it in my letter. I thought for sure that would double my delay.
Without holding my breath I tried other things. I knew what I knew and kept hammering away on every free site I could online when, thank you Irish Times, I found not a Dominick and Honora Sharkey but a Dominick and an Honor Sharket who married in Castlereagh, Roscommon in 1871 exactly when Dominick and Nora Sharkey were married. It had to be them. The parish was Kilkeevin. The family is so hard to track because there were many little clusters of Sharkeys in that area and up a little further north in Sligo. I can't tell you why I'm sure it's them especially because Sharket is not their name but it was pretty much their first names together on the same page and I've never seen that before. And the year was right so Roscommon was added to our itinerary.
It was late in the day when we arrived in Castlerea at The Armcashel B&B. The very kind and helpful owner Rita told me Sharkey was definitely a local name and pulled out phone books for me though I knew I wouldn't be calling on anyone living until I had more information. My heart was set on finding Kilkeevin Cemetery and Rita knew how to get us there but was uncertain of its accessibility. The sky was dark with the threat of rain. Rita warned us to wear our boots because, if we were able to even find it, the cemetery would be overgrown. The directions were simple; drive back through Castlerea to the roundabout at the prison, take a right and turn up the road to the water treatment plant. Can you picture that?
It was pouring by the time we got out of the car at road's end just next to a fly tip (aka some woods). The situation looked all but hopeless when we found a large gate blocked the grass tract that lead to what was sure to be the fields with my ancient dead. Thinking us at the end of the line, I stopped and looked into the distance unsure what to do when Richard walked over to the gate and undid the latch. Oh. We're really doing this.
It was spooky, wild and windy as the rain pelted us. We were soaked through in a matter of minutes but we pressed on. Ellie was loving the lark of it all. I questioned my judgement. Was I endangering everyone? What if there was a prison break or "a randy bull in top field"? We had no phone, we were miles from anyone but cattle, sheep and ghosts.
Then we saw it across a small creek and up the embankment! We circled around the stone walls looking for a way in but found the gate on the far side was locked tight. I stood on the outside looking in trying to read stones through my rain-splattered glasses. Then Richard realized there was a stile built into the wall. With the utmost care the three of us climbed the slippery stones and dropped down into the field of overgrown meadow grass and tombstones.
It wasn't completely abandoned. Some graves were relatively new but stones that might name my ancestors were weathered bare and no paths were cleared. Still we were there and through the rain I yelled hello to my family and told them they were not forgotten even if I didn't even know there names yet. Then Richard yelled "Come out and show yourselves"
Ellie and I both screamed "NO!"
Stay put, for goodness sake don't get up on our account. Just know we're thinking of you.
When we were passing through my m-i-l’s house on our recent trip over the Pond, I made a dash up the road to do a little bit of Find-A-Grave at St. Swithun’s--a wonderful old church and yard.
It was a gorgeous sunny day as was the peace of my solo walk through the village. While walking down Church Lane I was a bit startled to see this out by the recycling.
Upon closer inspection I was more impressed than fearful. Still, odd and random I thought. Then I found a few more offerings and I figured there had to be a reason. Sure enough, I found a bill tacked to a pole announcing a village scarecrow contest. I wondered if any of the ones I’d seen had been the winner. With all due respect to Dorothy’s friend the Scarecrow, (not a euphemism), we could do so much better in the US with our native scarecrows. The plaid shirt and jeans look is so overdone. Our scarecrows are just friendly icons of the fall, not something that would give a bird a pause before proceeding, much less a human.