Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America



















Every night, when all of the other children in the neighborhood had fallen asleep, Nora Murray sat under the windowsill waiting for her father to return home. Around midnight his singing would usually fill the lane and Nora and her mother Hannah felt a deep relief. Every few weeks, however, Patrick Murray would not return home for a period of days.

It was during these times that Nora and Hannah tossed and turned in bed worried about what had happened to him. Everyone knew that Patrick was more than a baker, and that he did many “things” for the IRA, but these “things” were never discussed. Nora and Hannah were never notified where, when, or what he had done, so these sleepless nights remained quite usual for the family. All of the people in the neighborhood that the Murray family lived in, that is all but Hannah and Nora, respected the work that Patrick did for the Cork City Branch of the IRA.

 He was considered a true patriot, a true Irishman, but his reputation came with a price. His was involved in several dangerous terrorist activities that could have left him dead or in jail. Finally, it was in the spring of 1951, that the true degree of danger was realized, and that the Murray family would be forever changed as a result of these activities. Nora Murray, my grandmother, has told our family the story of her father time and time again. Unlike most other family stories this one is interesting in that it actually changed the whole dynamic of family.

She always begins the story with, “It was the longest two weeks of my life, but I had to remain strong for my mother.” It was during these two, in the spring of 1951, that her father remained away from home for the longest period of time to date. Nora and Hannah received no word from Patrick for two weeks. This was the first time they were in true fear that he might have been caught. Hannah read in the paper that a terrorist act had been committed to the Protestant newspaper and two policemen were killed. Two police officers showed up at the Murray house to question whether or not Patrick had made contact with them. Hannah knew that Patrick must have made some sort of mistake, for he was no murderer, but she also knew that this time the family would be seriously affected.

After two weeks, a strange looking man showed up at the Murray house and told Hannah and Nora to pack as quickly as possible. He took tem to a small farmhouse about fifty miles outside of Cork City and explained to them what had happened. Patrick and another IRA member had set fire to a local protestant newspaper late one night, unaware that two British police officers were acting as the security inside the building. Both of the men were killed and now Patrick and his partner were being charged with murder, breaking and entering, and destruction of property.

For these charges he would spend the rest of his life in jail. He told them that Patrick needed to get out of the country and that the family would travel to the United States in order to escape the punishment. Hannah and Nora were taken to Dublin were they finally saw there father again. Patrick told them that it was an accident and that no one was supposed to be inside the building. The family would be leaving the next day on a boat bound for Boston, Massachusetts. When they arrived the family took a train to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where they stayed with Hannah’s sister, Molly, until they could get settled. Eventually Patrick bought his own house and did what any true Irishman would do, opened up a bar. He raised his family in Fitchburg, and the bar remained in our family until 1981. When Nora got married to Paul Dewey, my grandfather, he took over and ran the Shamrock Tavern. In fact, my family still uses the glasses from the bar.

My grandmother’s childhood was one lived in constant fear. When the family moved to America they were able to erase the past, begin anew, and become honest hard-working people. This is the greatest aspect of America, to be able to become a new person, and start out with a clean slate. Peoples throughout the world come to America in search of a better life and a more hopeful future. Luckily, for my family’s sake the Murray’s left in time.










An American Place

     Thousands of people have passed it by without a second glance.  It was as if it didn;t exist, as though the lush green landscape was just my mirage.  There is a place, nestled between the buckling concrete of the West Roxbury Parkway that few have noticed and even fewer have interacted with.  In this place I have looked past the scarcity of vibrant trees and exotic vegetation; I have looked past the abundance of trash, and I have found a piece of land that nobody knows exists.  Sure, dogs may be walked through this island of concrete waters, and people may cross over it, but no one has ever stopped to realize what is really there.  Crossing a bare common;without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.  When I began my observations of this place I expected only to find raw useless data, but instead I received the greatest gift imaginable.  Emerson said, The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult between man and the vegetable. I realized that this was not just a piece of public property, but instead it is a piece of me.
     I was once naïve enough to think that man had control over nature.  I thought that our actions helped dictate the death or preservation of our surroundings.  Most Americans feel the same way.  Deforestation and littering are looked down upon because we think we are destroying our environment.  What we fail to realize is that all the things that make up this world are bound together.  The human soul as well as the rock is part of a bigger picture, a universal spirit.  We are all equal in this Oversoul. Everything plays a part, and although some may appear to be more productive or more important than others in the end we have all contributed in our own way.
     As we interpret the struggle between man and nature it is very easy to find ways in which we affect each other.  Unfortunately, people only consider how each can be physically detrimental or physically beneficial to the other.  Before examining my place I would have also responded in such a manner.  However, I have realized that our wealth and our physical well being are only subordinate to our spiritual and mental happiness.  Emerson believed that, The one thing in the world of value is the active soul.  When we analyze the world around us we see that our emotions and our spirit are far more powerful than any un-recycled soda-can. Over time, trash and the activities of people may kill a few plants, but how does that even compare to what our minds can do?  A person who only focuses on the good can find beauty and splendor during a violent storm.  A person in a cheerful mood might find a barren tree a work of art.  Also, a rainbow may be enough to make a depressed person smile.  Nature and man are vital counterparts of each other.  We feed off of each other.  Man grooms parts of nature, and nature grooms the human spirit.  In order to live life to the fullest we must truly respect and understand each other.

     We can all begin the process of spiritual enlightenment by finding our own island of concrete waters.  And eventually, we may be able to see entire countries as a single case of naturebeauty.  We must live day by day, looking forward to what may happen in the next second rather than what might happen in the next week or month.  Give me one world at a time, said Henry David Thoreau.  If we could all just live one world at a time, we could all fulfill our parts in the Oversoul            











“Liquor Lottery”

James Scanlon had been born into a very proper, and very strict family.  He was taught to always project an image of success, and to do so was trained to retain a perfect reputation.  High school was a tough period for James because all of his friends partied all night, drank heavily, and even smoked.  Every time he went out with them he felt like an outcast, because if he were caught partaking in any of these activities his parents would kill him.  Although he developed incredible will power and respected his parents wishes, certain societal pressures and his desire to fit in, led James to make the most difficult choice in his life.

Since James lived in Boston he was a huge Patriots fan.  When he heard they would be going to the Super Bowl he was ecstatic.  His best friend, Brian, was going to throw a big party the night before the game, and although James knew there would be drinking, he had to celebrate.

James arrived at Brian’s house at around seven o’clock on Saturday night.  He felt as though he didn’t belong because he was the only one not drinking.  He didn’t talk to anyone and felt like he couldn’t relate.  After a few hours James was finally convinced that he wouldn’t get caught.  He opened up his first beer with no knowledge of the decision that would be presented to him later on that night.

At ten o’clock James jumped up and screamed, “I won, I won, I can’t believe it!”  “What is going on?” asked Brian.  James had won the Budweiser Super Bowl Contest.  Ten cans of beer with “WINNER” written on them had been randomly placed throughout the country.  The prize was two tickets to the Super Bowl.  But almost as soon as he realized what he had won, he also realized that he would have to explain it to his parents.  He knew they would be upset about the drinking, but thought the tickets would make them forget.  After all, James’ father was as big a fan as James was.  

James left the party and ran home as fast as he could.  He ran into the house and screamed, “Dad, we’re going to the Super Bowl.”  His father was so excited that he didn’t even ask him where he got the beer can.  James went to bed that night with no worries, dreaming of getting an autograph or catching a field goal.  

The next morning James woke up and saw his father and younger brother pulling out of the driveway.  He asked his mother what was going on and she said, “Your father and brother are going to the Super Bowl, and because you were drinking, you can’t watch the game.”  














In Emily Dickinson's poem, "Because I could not stop for Death,"
Dickinson discussed the inevitability of death.  She also made the reader
realize that death is not a short and sudden event.  Although it sometimes
seems like a person has died unexpectedly, the day we were born was actually
the day we began to die.  This poem was particularly interesting because
Dickinson wrote it as though she was already dead.  Through her description
of death using metaphors, symbolism and euphemisms the reader gained insight
into Dickinson's fascination with the after-life.

      In "Because I could not stop for Death" Emily Dickinson wanted to
explain how inevitable death is.  None of us want to acknowledge that we will
not be here forever, and in order to prevent ourselves from thinking about
the end, we try to stay busy.  As a result we are not ready when Death comes
for us.  "The Dews drew quivering and chill-For only Gossamer, my Gown-My
Tippet-only Tulle."  She was not expecting Death to stop for her, and was
therefore unprepared for the long journey ahead of her.  Dickinson also
admitted that she tried to remain busy when she said, "Because I could not
stop for Death- He kindly stopped for me."  Basically, no matter how much we
try to avoid it, death is imminent and nothing can stop it.  The sooner we
accept this, the sooner we may realize that death is not a sad process.  "We
slowly drove-He knew no haste."  Death does not need to hover over us or jump
at the chance to take our lives.  We will all eventually die and cannot avoid
it.  Dickinson was sure to note His "Civility."  Death is therefore
polite-allowing us to live our lives because He knows that it is our fate to
meet him.

    Traditionally, Death has been portrayed as a dark and evil creature
covered in black, someone who instantly takes our breath from us.  Dickinson
used euphemisms to describe Death as something we should neither fear nor
dislike.  She did not recall a dreadful journey filled with sorrow and pain.
 Instead of imagining a black creature dragging your spirit away, Dickinson
pictured a carriage ride to the end of time.  "We paused before a House that
seemed a Swelling of the Ground."  Death was like an adventure, a new
journey, one in which we may leave our body in its new home in the ground,
but retain our soul.

    Dickinson believed that death is also a reintroduction to our lives.  "We
passed the School, where Children strove At Recess-in the Ring- We passed the
Fields of Gazing Grain- We passed the Setting Sun."  The school represented
her childhood-and recess her innocence.  Fields of grain symbolized her
maturity into adulthood.  We grow and mature much like crops.  Finally, the
sun set on her life.  We may be leaving people and things we love, but we
will never forget them.  "Since then-'tis Centuries-and yet Feels shorter
than the Day."  She assured us that new joys are also going to come.  This
journey is not one that we will regret.  In fact, it is more like life than
we think, passing us by quickly, as though it were coming to its own end.

    Dickinson had a gift.  She was able to turn a subject as grim as Death
into a symbolic adventure.  Reading, "Because I could not stop for Death"
helps us realize that as soon as we can cope with our fears we can embrace
new wonders.



















   Billiards originated in fifteenth century France as an indoor extension of the popular lawn game croquet.  At first, the game was only played by nobles and aristocrats.    Eventually, however, Captain Mingaud, a prisoner of war during the French Revolution, mastered the game, and went on a traveling exhibition throughout France.  As time progressed so did billiards, spreading to several other European nations and developing into several diverging forms, including snooker, carom billiards, and “pool.”  American craftsmen began to make tables in the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Private tables were still too expensive for the average man, but several public tables were opened up throughout the country (Hickok).  Over the centuries this “sport” has become an integral part of our nation’s culture, often helping to define what our country is truly about.
         For most nations a “sport” is any competitive activity that requires physical aptitude, with the primary purpose of generating fun and exercise.  Americans, however, are more obsessed with the competitive aspects.  Anything that can sustain rivalry and allow betting is what we consider a “sport.”  Therefore, billiards is the perfect American example.  The first tables were very expensive, and as a result billiards had very shady beginnings in the United States.  The first public pool halls were plagued with drinking, fighting, and hustling, an image romanticized in Paul Newman’s 1961 movie, “The Hustler (Hickok).”  Rick Williams, the general manager of a billiards school described it best when he said, “…they thought that if anybody had a cue in their hands and was drinking, they were going to end up breaking it over somebody’s head (“Changing Faces” 55).”  
         However, over the past few decades billiards has emerged as a very popular and very respectable game.  It has spread to the general public, and now even female players are quite common.  According to the Billiards and Bowling Institute of America, over forty million people played at least once in 1995.  The Billiards Congress of America has established several amateur and professional leagues (Hickok).  Now it is played competitively across the nation, from national tournaments to friendly games.  “Some of the most exciting moments are when you are already down twenty bucks, and you have to sink the next shot,” said Tim Roddy, an amateur player, about competitions with his friends.  “I don’t know what I like more about the game, the time and practice it requires, or the thrill of beating you friends five games in a row.”  
        Billiards has now become “Americanized,” and has been transformed into much more than a sport.  Billiards is an extraordinary game in that you can become far more than just a player.  “You’re an artist and an athlete,” says Jeannette Lee, a professional player known as the Black Widow, “Every time you break the balls you have a completely different picture (Cook 16.”  Lee, like most other players have completely changed their mindset about the game.  It is no longer just sticks, balls, and pockets.  When you play you can become an artist with a forever changing canvas, a mathematician analyzing the angles, or a physicist measuring speed and force.  America is a unique place in that our culture tends to take the best aspects of all other cultures and make them better.
         Billiards has become a nationally recognized and publicized sport.  Each year the number of “frequent” players increases and pool revenues increase as well.  The growth of this sport parallels the way this country was founded.  Billiards was a small outcast with little hope for survival.  But with the ultimate desire to become the best, it prevailed.  It has become far more than a sport, “Pool is my game, but it’s also my mission,” said professional player LoreeJon Jones (“My Passion” 72).  Americans have and will always want to be the best at everything.  Our nation is very young compared to most, but over the short amount of time in which we have been here, we have developed political, economic, and social institutions that set us apart from every other nation.  We are constantly striving to make all aspects of our society better, and this was especially reflected through billiards.  Once a “ruff-neck” game that few acknowledged and even few fewer played, it is now one of the most popular sports in the country.  
         When billiards was introduced to the United States it was by no means a popular sport.  Over the decades we have crafted our own rules and regulations, but more importantly developed an entirely new viewpoint towards the sport.  It has become more than a sport, and certainly much more than a “game.”  We have “Americanized” it into something very special.  It is know an open playing field in which our mental stamina is equally important as our physical endurance, and where our imaginations can run rampant.