By E.N.J. Carter
My mother never talked about Ireland. My uncle, who she crossed the Atlantic with as a teenager, said she had a tough time of it.
Who wants to be suddenly told that you have to leave your country and your friends? To have the feeling that it was too dangerous for a large family to stay together, the threat of famine always in the air? You had to leave if your mother told you to.
There would be an ‘American Wake.’ All your friends and family would come to your farmhouse to say goodbye, knowing they would never see you again. In the morning, your father would take you to the Queenstown Train that was full of con men who tried to talk you out of any spare money you had. You would stay one night in Queenstown, attend your last mass in Ireland, and be rowed out by tender to the steamship.
I never thought of myself as the son of an immigrant, a person who was never a citizen. My mother had to go to the post office once a year to renew her Green Card. And, she was very stoic about it.
I did hate the clover sent over by her mother. It floated in a jar— full of water, roots, and all. I understood the gesture, that her mother was trying to keep her daughter in touch with the Old Country. But I saw the jar of clover as ugly as our life on welfare.
Each year, a new batch of clover would come, and my mother would take out the old clover and add the new clover to its jar already full of water. For as long as I can remember, that jar of clover with its roots floating around—so ugly to look at—was always on the kitchen sink counter staring back at me. Was it trying to say, “I’m sorry, daughter, for sending you away but I had no choice?”
That miserable jar of clover and roots was the only thing my mother had to hold onto, her only reminder of the home she once knew. I never had any feeling for the grandmother I never saw, and somehow the jar of clover cemented the deal for me.
Later, when I visited Ireland, my aunt, who was seven years old when my mother left Ireland, admitted she couldn’t remember her sister that well. But on later visits, she finally revealed that after my grandfather came back from seeing my mother off in Queenstown, he said to his wife, “Are you happy now? Now that Betty is gone?” I would later find out that my mother was his favorite.
My mother would never become an American citizen. Perhaps she was holding onto her Irish roots, like the roots in that ugly jar.