MARY FELL ASLEEP ALMOST as soon as her head touched the pillow. She smiled as her mother tucked her in and kissed her goodnight whispering, "Sweet dreams my little one." She replied in turn holding her precious dolly Maggie in the crook of her arm. A long time later Mary was awakened by the sound of her parents talking softly on the other side of the wall. Mary looked across the room to see if her brothers Liam and Ryan had been disturbed.
They stirred and turned over in their large bed but resumed their sleep. Mary listened to what her parents were saying and her heart began to pound in her tiny chest. At five years of age she was very impressionable and emotional and the words coming from her father gave her much room for concern.
"We will have to move from Ireland, Erin. We cannot last another winter here what with the depression getting worse and my workweek being cut down to two days. It's hardly enough to keep us in food let alone to be able to pay the rent on this shack. We're not getting ahead and the children are growing and require food and clothes. Liam will be twelve soon and Ryan is not far behind at ten. There is no future here in Ireland for them."
"Where will be go, Patrick?"
"I've been doing some asking around the docks and some of the men have decided to either to Australia or to America as soon as the next is leaving," he replied.
"But how will we live in our new country?" The worry and fear were all too evident in her voice.
"If we go to Australia it would require we homestead in order to live. It is a harsh land and we would have to work from dawn to dusk and I just can't see us leaving one country because we are starving just to take on another with the same possibilities. I believe we could do well in America and our chances are much better. New York City is large and bustling with many opportunities for all of us. The children will be able to attend school and I will have work on the docks." Mary could imagine the look on his face was both and hopeful as he waited for her reaction.
Erin said, "I will be sad to leave my beloved Ireland, Patrick, but I have to agree with you. We both have our children's welfare at heart and I'm already worried about the coming winter, just a few months away. I say, yes, let's go. We'll tell the children in the morning."
Mary's little heart was about to burst with the realization of what she had just overheard. How can Mom and Dad leave our friends and relatives just like that! She turned the words over in her mind trying to put them away so she could go back to sleep, but it was well into the night before she finally fell into an exhausting sleep.
"Good morning little one," her mother said. "Breakfast is ready. Liam and Ryan have already eaten and gone off to play."
Mary looked as though she hadn't slept for a few days and her mother became concerned. "Mary, are you all right, dear? You look quite pale."
"I'm fine Mom, just tired is all." She couldn't look her mother in the eye and instead, studied the bowl of hot porridge in front of her.
"Let me feel your forehead. No, you don't have a fever.
What's troubling you child?"
Mary screwed up her face as though she was about to cry but gulped back the lump in her throat. She blurted out, "Mom, are we really going to move to America? Is it really true? I woke up in the night and heard you and Dad talking. I didn't mean to listen but I just couldn't help it."
Erin sat down beside her little girl and stroked the raven hair back from Mary's forehead. She looked into her child's deep blue eyes and said, "Yes, my darling. We have no choice in the matter. Dad is having trouble finding enough work to keep us and we have decided to take our chances in another country. You mustn't trouble your little heart with grown up problems but we need you to be strong and brave because you will have to say goodbye to everyone we know. We haven't told the boys as yet. Dad thought it best that we talk at suppertime when we have finished our meal. Please don't tell Liam and Ryan until then, promise?"
"I promise Mom. Can I go play now?" Her question had been answered, and the hope in her mother's face had replaced the worry lines that claimed her countenance every morning as she prepared herself for the day's work.
Mary picked up her skip rope and went outside to play in the summer sunshine.
* * * * *
THAT EVENING HER FATHER had exciting news. As Liam and Ryan sat at the table their faces lit up and they became very excited. "Are we really going to America, Dad?" they asked in unison.
"Yes, lads, and we leave in two weeks time. The voyage will take a few months but we should be there by the end of the summer, just in time for you all to start school. Mary will be six years old in a few months, and she can begin grade one at the same time you enroll. I have signed the papers that require that I work for the owner of the shipyards for five years and after that I will be a free man to pursue whatever work suits me."
"Where will we live?" Erin asked. "The company provides us with an apartment in a large housing complex. It is called a tenement or a cold water flat, and we have to share the bathroom facilities with two other families, but we won't have to go outside to the outhouse in all kinds of weather. Now, how does that sound?"
"That sounds wonderful, Patrick. Now how much baggage are we allowed to take on the ship?" Her common sense attitude was already in gear contemplating what to take and what to leave behind.
"We can't take very much so you all must decide what is important to you and what you will need in our new country. I will leave it up to you. You can, of course, take along a few family photographs but restrict them to one of each person." His face changed as he looked carefully at Mary and said, "Mary my little one, you will have to leave your cat McCarthy here in Ireland.
Don't cry Mary. We will look for a good home for him. Maybe your cousin Jeannie would like to have him? You could ask her tomorrow, if you will."