|Carve His Name with Pride
Giant black cliffs heaved themselves out of the white-topped waves crashing at their feet. Gulls circled and dived screaming to be heard above the din. On top, the barely surviving heather is bent back inland its stems blanched white by the prevailing wind and salt. Tuff tight grass and hardy wild flowers between rocky outcrops are all that survive against the Atlantic gales. Sea pinks cling perilously to the cliff face. A tall, weather beaten, young man braces himself against the wind, thrusts his hands deep in his trouser pockets, and stares far into the Atlantic ocean.
Not far, tucked behind the cliff is a small stone cottage, its thatched roof covered in lichen and badly in need of repair. A narrow lane, between broken dry stone walls leads from the track that serves as a road to an area of rough ground in front of the cottage. Turf is roughly stacked against a gable end. The half door is open and a few hens strut around clucking and pecking at the bare ground in hope of finding food.
Down a slope, in a gully, a rough structure houses the family’s lone milking cow. Potatoes and three rows of cabbages grow reluctantly in a dug area surrounded by thick fuchsia bushes for protection against the harsh elements.
Inside are two rooms one for sleeping the other for living. An open turf fire burns on the hearth. The rafters are charred black from the smoke and the turf smell is everywhere. Stone slabs cover the floor. Two worn wooden chairs sit either side of the fire, a dresser, table and stools complete the furniture. A big black pot and kettle hang from chains over the hot ashes. Some old clothes hang limp from a string across a corner. An oil lamp sits on the table and a Sacred Heart picture with the glass broken hangs lopsided near the door.
On Monday, eleven souls lived in the cottage; on Tuesday there were only ten. It was nearing dusk on Thursday when four young men dressed in the only clothes they possess emerged from the half door, hoisted a plain wooden box in the shape of a coffin onto their shoulders and started slowly down the lane. They were followed by a small group lead by an old woman her tears hidden by a black wool shawl. The Angelus bell tolled as they reached the tiny village church and were met by the local priest Father John. Their dead father Patrick Joseph would lie overnight in the Chapel to be buried with his departed brothers tomorrow.
David Michael was the third eldest and the third man carrying the coffin. The family called him wee Davy because he was six foot three inches and the tallest of the nine children. He was the one closest to their father and missed his passing most. He had known for some time all was not well, as he had been increasingly doing the work in the turf bog. The bouts of coughing had got worse and he could see blood in the spit that landed in the bog water. But the old man just kept going for that was the way of life when you have no choice. One warm day at the bog, he had pulled Davy to one side and told him in blunt terms to immigrate to America.
“You’ll never make anything of yourself in this god forsaken place’. You’re the one with the go – you’ve done well at the learning - let the others look after your mother and weans. The best you can do here is scrap an existence."
He then drew him close and pressed a small leather pouch in to his hand and whispered, “use this to buy your passage.”
Many times Davy had walked to the hill overlooking Donegal Bay and watched the long trail of people carrying all their worldly belongings in a small roll tucked under their arms. Quietly they made their way down to the whitewashed building that was the booking office of the White Star Shipping Company. There they handed over their two pounds of life savings in exchange for a one way ticket to America. Donegal Bay was too shallow to let the big Atlantic ships in so the passengers were rowed out across the sand bar in small boats. He had watched their faces as they climbed onboard. Some were crying looking back and waved to friends on the hillside and some, not many, seemed excited. He woke at night dreaming of being on those ships. What was it like? He had heard of the cramped conditions but he had also heard of the grand opportunities in America. He would work hard and make a good life for himself. Father John would give a letter of introduction, he was sure.
But now that his father was gone how he was going to tell his dear worked out mother? She’d want to know how he got the money for the passage. She’d cry and cling to him and beg him not to go. Many times, he had heard her praying with her rosary that God would call him to the Priesthood. The kids would cry. Maybe he’d tell them he’d send for them when he’d made his fortune. Maybe he would promise to send money but he knew his elder brothers would only drink it down in Dan Magrews Shebeen. How would he explain to his girlfriend Mary Rose he was leaving her behind? These were the thoughts running round and round in his brain as he carried his father’s coffin down the rocky lane. But with each slow step he took he became more and more determined.
When you carry a coffin you link arms across your partners shoulder so your ear is close to the side and maybe you think you hear things and perhaps you do. He was sure he heard his father whisper, “Davy, Davy go and make me proud”
He knew the next sailing was around the last week of April just three weeks away. He would be on it.
Years later, if his father was looking down from above he would indeed be proud for Davy became famous. And how do I know? He was my friend and it was my honour and privilege to carve his name on the simple wooden cross pushed into the earth to mark his grave. And what name did I carve, I hear you say? Davy Crocket RIP
© Copyright 2006 askpaddy (UN: askpaddy at Writing.Com).
All rights reserved.
askpaddy has granted Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.
|Log In To Leave Feedback|