Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America
Contents

Origins

Nature

Runaway Caddy

Literature

Sport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 with war.
 

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 easily overlooked.
 

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 the universe."
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Runaway Caddy

     On December 13, 2001 at 1:30 p.m., it was drizzling out. Ed McGonagle's Audi was parallel parked on a one-way street, outside of his office in Norwood. At 1:31 p.m. a 1989 Cadillac Deville came out of Fleet bank and moved toward an intersection. All of a sudden the driver of the Cadillac swerved to the right and accelerated, lurching wildly into the street. The car scraped the side of an Antique store, hit with three parked cars, demolished a stop sign, and collided with the front end of a Mitsubishi Gallant. It moved recklessly through the intersection, and slammed into the right front panel of Ed's Audi, and finally hobbled to a stop after hitting six more cars! The driver had damaged 13 objects including cars, signs, and buildings. But amazingly no people were hit! He had driven down a sidewalk at 1:31p.m. and had not injured even one person!
     When the police arrived, they ran to the totaled Cadillac to see if the man was all right. They opened the door, took him out, and made sure he was all right. Once the man was calmed down they asked him a few questions. When they asked him what happened, he said: 'I saw something, so I swerved and hit the brake, but slammed on the gas instead.' When asked why he didn't take his foot off the gas after he hit the building and the first 6 cars, he said: ' I don't know.'
     The police were surprised to find that the driver was a gentleman in his early 50's. He was not confused and was mentally stable. No drugs or alcohol were involved and the police came to the conclusion that the man simply froze after he slammed into the first three cars. Like the Energizer Bunny, he just kept going, and going and going.
     The accident sight looked like a war zone. There was glass scattered all over the street. Mirrors and bumper covers were scattered everywhere and ambulances were straddled across the street. The rescue teams expected to take in injured pedestrians and motorists, but were surprised to find none.  
     After everything was said and done there was over $100,000 in damage all inflicted in less than 2 minutes. Every car the man hit with his Cadillac was either a 1999 or 2000 model, and included a Lexus, a Lincoln from Florida and a two-door Mercedes CLK. Three cars were unable to be saved, the Cadillac, a Saturn and the Mitsubishi Gallant.
     The accident took place on the 13th at 1:30, bringing to mind the hard luck associated with the number 13. Although it was a freak accident, and brought a lot of bad luck to a number of motorists it was a pure luck that nobody was hurt or killed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     “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.


     Dickinson states that “water is taught by thirst” but what does she mean by it? It is an object with no life or ability to teach, but yet it can teach. Thirst is a craving that teaches us to be aware of our need for water. When we get extremely thirsty after a long day of sunbathing on the warm beach we need water. Until we get an ice-cold glass of water we will not be able to relax. The lack of water can result in a feeling of being tired, agitated and uncomfortable. Once we pour that ice-cold water into a glass we then realize the value of water. We move from a feeling of craving to being energized and refreshed. We can now continue on with the day without thinking about becoming dehydrated. This is how we are taught by water, through thirst.


     Dickinson seems to be teaching us that we must become more aware of everyday situations. To compare her lessons with today’s lifestyle, we use lots of electricity everyday. We use it to do research on our computers, we use it to cook and bake in our kitchens and even to play videogames. When that bolt of lightening strikes that telephone pole down the street and we lose power to everything that requires electricity, we suddenly become helpless and are swept back into the 1700s, required to use candles for light and to read books for entertainment. Once again we learn the value of something once we lose it, in this case electricity. The value of electricity is taught by a power outage that takes it away from us and makes us aware of our dependency on it. Not only can Emily Dickinson’s teaching be applied to nature and world affairs, but to everyday problems, high-tech or low-tech..


     Another line in the poem, “Birds, by the snow” particularly struck me because it was true. Winters are dead and dreary without the sound of nature and the singing of the birds. We go outside daily during the warm months and may never once look up or listen to birds in the trees and sky. We pass by them as if they are invisible, unaware of the role they play in our everyday life. Once the winter months arrive the birds fly down south and leave us behind. The air and surroundings are filled with silence with only the creeks of trees moving in the cold wind to listen to. Once the birds leave we learn how much they cheer us up with their beautiful voices and colorful grace moving through the skies.


     Too many times people don’t appreciate the beautiful things around them and don’t learn how good they have it until these things are gone. This poem has woken me up and has made me see the world differently. A flower is no longer just a flower to me, it is a thing of beauty that nature has made. When they die in the cold months the ground turns bare and neutral. You have to wait all the way until spring to enjoy them again. Emily Dickinson seems to be trying to get our attention to appreciate things and not take them for granted. No matter if is water, food, shelter, or a bed it is healthy to pause occasionally and appreciate the many gifts that surround us. The events of September 11th make this poem even more meaningful, for it truly was “a battle told.”
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  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.
     Created in Scotland around 1411, Golf is an outdoor recreational game that is played on what is called a green. The green is carefully cut grass, at different heights, leading up to the hole. Golf involves physical activity, as you have to swing a club with precision to hit a small white golf ball as close to the hole as possible. Each hole has a par, or number of swings that the player is allowed to get the ball into the hole. At the end of the game the scores of each hole are added up and in an unusual twist, the lowest score wins. Competition wise, Golf is played either in teams or man vs. man.
     Golf is based upon gentlemen’s rules such as “No one should move, talk, or stand close to or directly behind the ball or the hole when a player is addressing the ball or making a stroke.” (http://www.ruleshistory.com)  Over the years Americans have adopted and adapted Golf, once played and mastered by the Scottish. Golf in the United States didn’t catch on until after  World War II. As more and more Americans became fascinated with the sport they began to change the rules of the game. Some rules were bent as many fancy golf courses, designed by Americans were built in every state. American golfers wanted a challenge and built their golf courses longer, more twisted, and grassier than any others. Americans were known as the golf champs of the world for some time after World War II.
     Today, there are many great American golfers, one of which is Tiger Woods. Eldrick (Tiger) Woods had started golfing early in his childhood and has loved the game ever since he first started to play it. Golf is more than a game to Tiger, it is something that gives him discipline that he carries with him throughout his life on a day-to-day basis. When asked how he felt about the game of golf the twenty-six year old golfer said:
     "I think golf is a microcosm of life. You learn so many different things. I've learned discipline, integrity, sportsmanship... I've learned all these different disciplines through the game of golf, and have applied them to my life. I've used them on a daily basis throughout my life."(Tiger Woods Official Website)
     Golf means something different to Mark Nelson, a writer for Washington Golf Monthly. To Mark Golf is like business because it requires a player to set goals and achieve them with little or no mistakes He said:
     “Golf and business have been inextricably linked for more than a century. Like business, golf tests an individual's ability to set goals and achieve them with as few expenditures (strokes) as possible.”(Nelson)
     To my father, Ed McGonagle, an amateur golfer  “golf is a fun, enjoyable game and is a great way to spend time with friends and meet people.”(McGonagle) To Ed golf is not something that is related to business or something that you develop discipline from, it is something you simply do to relax and have fun with friends.
Golf represents different things to every player. From a recreational and social event to a high stakes competition with million dollar purses, Golf has infiltrated American society at many levels.
     Golf, like tennis, was originally a favorite of middle class and wealthy upper class people. Golf clubs have sprung up across the country with membership fees that range from several hundred to hundreds of thousands simply to join. The Newport Beach Country Club in California is running a “special promotion” this month. Their initiation fee has been reduced to $36,000.00! (http://www.newportbeachcc.com/golfmembership.htm)
     The game of golf is more quiet and serious than other sports and seems to appeal to mature Americans. Golf has become so popular among the mature Americans with good incomes that retirement home developments have sprung up on golf courses across America. Ballymeade Estates and Country Club is a golf course residential community in North Falmouth, Massachusetts. (http://www.ballymeade.com)   For only $700,000, you too can have a house built overlooking the Ballymeade golf course.
     Golf has also been a windfall to the travel industry. Travel agents can arrange a golfing vacation anywhere in the world. A quick search on the Internet presents hundreds of tours to choose from. Myrtle Beach is a popular spot that attracts thousands of golfers each year,  (http://www.seasidegolf.com) but the options seem endless.
     Americans have a higher income than many other citizens of the world. We like to have fun, and we have money to spend.  Golf has become as American as baseball. It is a recreational sport that can be played at a local public course as well as a private, gated complex. It can be a social event, an excuse for a vacation, or a way to make a deal with a businessman. Golf is a flexible sport that has found roots in greens across America.