Northwords Now Issue 39

The FREE literary magazine of the North

The Lamp

by Ricky Monaghan Brown

You see, Little One, we’ve come a long way from when you were an unspoken promise, deep inside of me. When I dream, I still dream of the fine, white sands of childhood beaches. But I dream in English now.

You know, English isn’t my first language. I was a star pupil at school, though, and picked it up no bother – Chan eil dragh sam bith ann!

I had to do well in class, really. Your grandfather was a truant officer. Among other things – he held down three jobs! He had to. I was the youngest of ten. Life was hard for everyone, then. People were leaving the island. By choice, mostly. But then Christina left and things changed. The icy wind whipping across the beaches became a flagellation to the family.

‘But William told me he loved me!’ my beautiful big sister had wailed in my arms.

But penance did Christina no good. Mortification of the flesh wasn’t sufficient, the evidence of the baby enough for condemnation. The elders had seen, by her acts, that my sister remained enslaved to her sinful nature. There was no place for her among hard-working crofters and fishermen and truant officers. So she left, taking my hope for the future with her. She burned that hope in a lamp three thousand miles away and sang to me across the oceans every night and the lamp burned every night and I worked hard every day to get that immigration visa and fifty dollars to stuff in my sock.

When the quotas were reduced, I thought that what was left of my hope had finally been extinguished. But I was saved by the Great Depression! Imagine, Little One! Suddenly, foreign streets were no longer paved with gold. But I didn’t need golden streets. I just wanted a new life. Even the cramped dormitories of steerage class were a promise to the youngest of ten. Working as a maid was a glimpse into a different future.

Christina got me that job. There were lots of us over here, and we all looked out for each other. Sins from the old days were forgotten, expunged.

‘I’ll speak to Dorothy,’ Christina had said. ‘She might not be able to get you into the kitchen, but she’ll find you a space. People are finding it hard. Going home.’

So I worked hard, and when I had a few spare pennies I went to the dance hall. Your father was the same as me. The son of an immigrant and a hard worker, he started his first business when he was still in school. In me he saw – yes, deep round eyes and a knowing smile – but someone who’d work hard at work, at life, with a faith in its rewards.

So here you are, Little One. Keep my story and tell it to your children and light a lamp for them. Light a lamp for the people you meet, the people you touch.

Do that for me, won’t you?