|Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America|
Many times throughout the year I ask my mom and dad about our family history. I have found out that much of my mom’s family comes from Nova Scotia, Canada and much of my Dad’s comes from Ireland. One day when I was about eight years old I was curious and wanted more information. I asked my dad about my great-grandparents. I wanted to know a lot of things such as when did they come over, why did they come over, and where did they live when they came over?
My Dad sat me down on the living room couch and answered all of my questions in a long story. The story goes like this. Way back in nineteen-twenty in Donegal, Ireland, two people named James and Cecelia McGonagle decided it was time to move out of Ireland and go to the United States of America. These two people were my great-grandparents and they wanted to find a better life for themselves and for their three children. Cecilia and James brainstormed for days about how they would move to this new country with the little money that they had. After many conversations they came to the decision that James would go alone to America, specifically Boston, to find a job. He would then buy a house with the money he earned and then send for Celia and their children to come over to Boston. While James was in Boston Cecelia would remain in Ireland and take care of the children and prepare for their trip to a better life. They predicted that the time between James going over to Boston and Cecelia coming over would take close to three years!
My dad and I talked about how difficult it would be to leave any family member knowing you wouldn’t see them for at least three years. Imagine leaving your wife and three young children for that long? I respect and honor what they decided upon, for my family would not be living in this country today if it weren’t for them.
Soon after my great grandparents made this important decision, James bought a boat ticket that would take him across the ocean to Boston. Once James arrived in Boston he found a job at a billboard company. James worked long hours in extreme weather so that he could buy a home for his family. After three years of hard work James finally had enough money to buy a house. It was now nineteen hundred twenty three. He bought a house that was big enough to house his family comfortably, but by no means luxuriously. James finally sent for his family to come Boston. Cecilia packed up the few things they owned, got on a boat with her three young children, and sailed off to America. We have a picture of Cecelia sitting with her three children in front of their Irish cottage the day she left. It shows a small neat woman with a serious face surrounded by three young children. It is not a cheerful photo of someone sailing off to a new life. It is almost sad.
The family settled in Jamaica Plain. Life was good. They grew fruits and vegetables in their back yard, and even had a chicken coop. Life was very different than in the quiet village in Ireland. Everyone loved it here. Everything was going just as they had dreamed it would, but little did they know the hardest part of this journey was yet to come. Sometime in the year nineteen hundred thirty, the McGonagle family got bad news. Cecilia’s husband James, by then the father of nine children, had fallen of a billboard while working and had died.
My grandfather was the ninth and youngest child. I talked to my grandfather about how painful something like this was. He said he was only three years old when this happened and has no memories of his father because of this accident. When I heard about this for the first time, I could not believe it. I couldn’t believe how painful it must have been for the whole family. This accident makes me think of how tough it must have been for them to come over to this country. Not only did they have to face moving to a new country, but also the death of their father completely changed their lives. The country was in a depression and they had lost their means of support.
After James died Cecilia knew she had to support the family on her own. She took on many jobs to earn money and continued to grow vegetables in her backyard to feed the children. With a small settlement from the company she was able to purchase a six family house in Jamaica Plain. She became a landlady. My grandfather still talks about how she would care for the apartments, cleaning and painting them herself. She worked very hard to keep her family together through a very tough time.
My grandfather told me one story that really made me think. He said that he always got up early because there weren’t enough pairs of shoes for all of the kids. If you didn’t get up early, you might be out of luck! They were very poor, but they felt no different than anyone else in their neighborhood.
After my dad told me this story, I realized how hard it was to come over to this country. I never thought it would be that tough, but I was wrong. My great-grandparents came to this country to give future generations like me the benefits this country has to offer. We are thankful for their decision and will never, ever forget what they did for this family.
The green grass underneath
the back porch is not just grass, it is a lot more than that. It is a
living space for spiders and my neighbor’s cat. It is a space where leaves
pile up in the fall and light streams through the deck and makes a pattern
of golden lines that fall across the dark, shadowy places. It is a quiet
spot in my own back yard, a small patch of peace in a world bubbling over
Annie Dillard said “the thought of the first lucky passerby who would
receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe”
when she would plant pennies on the sidewalk and watch people pick them
up. The focus wasn’t the penny, it was the many things that came with it,
like the reactions of the people, or what hand they picked it up with. The
green grass is just like the penny. You could walk by it a million times,
but if you bother to bend down you are rewarded. The grass is not just
grass, it is a welcome mat into a still and silent world that can be
Once I started to look, I became an observer of a quiet and colorful
world. I found a spider that was orange and yellow in color resting
lightly on his web. It had to be one of the biggest spiders I have ever
seen, but sadly, it was dead, a victim of the days growing shorter and
cooler. As I looked around I could see spiders of all shapes and colors
tucked all over the place. They were hanging under the steps and along the
bottom of the deck. They are very good at hiding. Many people, including
me, jump if we turn around and see a giant spider hanging near. There are
people, who do not have arachnophobia, who like to study these small
creatures, and they are amazing when you really look at them.
A back yard is such a private place. People would never just walk
into a back yard if they didn’t know the person who lived there. But the
world of animals and insects don’t have to live by the rules. Shadow, the
next-door neighbor’s cat, was relaxing beneath the porch when I came to
observe one day. Shadow is a big, shaggy, black and white mound of fur who always hides in our yard, especially under the porch. When we had
a sandbox, he always used to sit in it as if it were the largest litter box
in the universe, until we got a cover. Now he sits under our porch.
About twice a day you will see him in the yard, uninvited and unconcerned.
Although Shadow may look like a fierce, mean cat, he is actually a gentle
one compared to many other cats I have come across. As soon as you come
near him or knock on a window he jumps up and bolts back to his own yard.
Although he may sometimes be agitated, especially when you interrupt him
as he lounges under the porch or elsewhere in the yard, he is generally a
nice friendly cat who loves our quiet yard.
A leaf collection service came a few days before
Thanksgiving to spruce things up. When I came home from school expecting a
leaf and web-cluttered space under the porch, I found it spotless with no
signs of even one leaf. The green grass looked as if it had been “combed”
since it had been raked, and to my surprise, many of the stones that had
sat atop the grass beneath the porch were gone too. The landscaping crew
had come and cleared up the area perfectly. But what of all the creepy
things that lived on and under the leaves, stones and brush? I ran over
the carpet of grass and peeked under the porch. No leaves, no rocks, nothing in
sight. How very American, to clean up after Mother Nature. The cleaning
changed the color of our yard, the yellow and orange leaves were gone and
the brown dirt of the ground was exposed. The yard seemed less alive and
very still. A few days later some late falling leaves blew off of the
trees and snuck back under the porch, but these were soon gone when my dad
touched up the yard a few days later.
The air, the earth, the sunlight, the animals, the insects lying
quietly beneath our porch blend so peacefully into the little fenced-in
space that we call home. I sometimes went for weeks without noticing
anything about the yard. Now, when I am inside my house, I see images on
television of young people in rags, living in poverty and war in
Afghanistan. I look out the window at the grassy spot beneath the porch
and realize how very lucky I am to be an American boy with a quiet yard to
lay in undisturbed, like Shadow, just thinking about things.
Many countries, like Afghanistan, are barren with only sand and dust
to be seen. All of the living things have been swept away by crews of men
with guns and bombs, instead of rakes and shovels. The colors of the trees,
green grass, flowers, and peace cover our country like a blanket. There is
so much beauty, peace and freedom here that we take for granted. My
observations have made me more aware, and I guess that is “my gift from
“Water is Taught by Thirst”, a poem by Emily Dickinson, concentrates on the things in life we take for granted. In the poem she talks about our water, peace, and land. She put these ‘big things” into a “little” poem and describes each by saying it is taught by a consequence. Two examples are “land --- by the oceans passed” and “peace --by its battles told.” After you read this short yet interesting poem a few times the message seems clear, “you don’t learn to appreciate something until you lose it.” We often take things that we need for granted, and Emily Dickinson points this out to us in a very simple way.
A “sport” is an outdoor recreation, a game that involves a winner. It is
a physical activity that could involve cooperation or competition among
other players. Football, baseball, and soccer are games that fit this
description. However, these sports focus on cooperation among a group of
teammates and not man-to-man competition. Golf is a more individualized
sport, although small teams can be formed for some matches.