The Irish-American Dream
Their smiles—two things that have never changed, not even with the dimples and wrinkles that came and went as the years passed. My grandmother is there on the right, hanging off the edge of a transportation bus on the streets of the Bronx. That pendant of the Holy Mother is slung around her neck, as it has been since the time of her mother’s death. She is wearing that watch, the same golden one that she purchased time and time again, as one broke and the other replaced it.
One of her brothers stand in the doorway, posing after a day of driving through the traffic of the city. His face looks the same to me in every photograph. With that distinct grin, you can almost hear the sound of his Irish brogue, the whistle of a reel between his false teeth.
Their smiles shine like the sun between the rainclouds of an Irish evening. I want to bottle it up and keep it in a locket, as though the photograph isn’t enough to sustain me. Are they laughing over a line of my great-uncle’s humor? It doesn’t matter, really—one can imagine the moment in countless ways. All that matters is the happiness in their eyes, the knowledge that their lives transformed, as both found peace on foreign land.
This photograph was captured several years after their emigration from the emerald land across the sea. My grandmother appears to be older than the wide-eyed seventeen-year-old who stepped aboard that rusted ship. Nevertheless, there are dreams in her gaze, for life did not end after her first grand adventure. Where does she stand in this moment of her life? Perhaps this depends on her age, which remains uncertain to me. She continued to live with a wild spirit, moving upstate and raising my mother in a house beside the lake.
When I look at their smiles, something turns within my spirit, lifting me out of the moment. I have memorized the chapters of their stories, the tale of their lives. Their decisions formed the hope of my existence, while their culture formed that of my own heart.
I wonder about the photographer, the one who privileged me with this image. Perhaps it was a stranger passing between the apartments of McLean Avenue, or the leprechaunish face of their youngest brother.
Decades have passed, and their smiles haven’t changed, though one has passed into the next life. My grandmother laughs whenever she sees this photograph, remembering the moment like it was not so long ago.
(a rough bit of work from creative writing class.)
~ Erin E. Forbes
Erin Forbes is the young author of the Fire & Ice book series. When she was sixteen years old, she published the first installment in the
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