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GENERATIONS of Love
By PATRICIA SMITH JANSSEN
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Patricia Smith Janssen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe sunlight was streaming across Matilda Dunniff's face. There was a smile and slowly she uncoiled and stretched. Matilda felt happy and at peace with the world. She reached over and gently nudged her husband, Jeremiah.
He opened his eyes and said to Matilda,
"Someone is in a good mood."
No sooner the words were out than it all came rushing back to her. They were broke, had no hope of making money and an eviction notice was sitting on the dresser. Jeremiah turned to Matilda,
"Sunshine, why the sudden long face?"
"I just remembered our nightmare. What are we going to do?" Matilda replied.
"Haven't I've always taken care of you and the children why wouldn't I now?" said Jeremiah.
Matilda questioned Jeremiah, "How?"
About a year ago, the linen business died in Northern Ireland. Jeremiah had always been a flax farmer. The flax he grew was spun into linen. The flax blight made the market so depressed, Jeremiah was forced to give up growing flax.
Matilda tried to help the family by selling eggs, milk, and vegetables to the locals. Life was getting so terrible they were forced to slaughter the cow and chickens so they could put food on the table.
Throughout day Matilda went about doing her housework. She could not shake the fear in the pit of her stomach; Matilda knew something was about to happen.
During dinner that night Jeremiah made an announcement,
"I've done some inquiring in town and I think our solution is to go to America."
Immediately the children were excited with thousand questions. Matilda was speechless. She never dreamed she would leave her beloved Ireland.
"Jeremiah," she said, "There has got to be another way. How will we afford such a move?"
"I have some money saved and it's enough to pay our passage to America. There are no jobs here and if we stay we will starve. I know a man in America, Jim McCann, who is willing to help us until we get on our feet. I know this is difficult, but it is important we decide quickly."
Matilda was still not convinced. One thing that bothered her was what she had heard of the "coffin" ships. She honestly did not know if they could survive such a journey. With Jeremiah's insistence, eventually Matilda agreed. That night when they went to bed they held each other praying they made the right decision. Matilda thought as she drifted off to sleep,
"Jeremiah will provide."
Jeremiah was confident he could take care of his family.
The following week Jeremiah and Matilda made preparations. Matilda heard food was scarce on the ship so, she dried some meat and prepared a few vegetables. It was heart wrenching saying good-bye to family and friends, knowing they would probably never see them again.
It took them a better part of a day to get to Dublin. One of the local farmers gave them a ride in his horse and wagon. The five children and two adults rode in the back. The children were excited; this was a real adventure for them. They were delighted for the adventure.
"Jeremiah are you sure we'll be all right?" Matilda asked.
Jeremiah reassured her once again.
Once they reached Dublin they made their way to the docks where Jeremiah arranged for their passage to Liverpool, England and from there to America. They were taken by ferry to Liverpool.
In Liverpool, Jeremiah found a boarding house for the night. Matilda thought room was disgraceful. It was just that, an empty, dirty room. It was so small they had to try and sleep sitting up.
Thankfully the following day the family boarded the ship, The Wanderlust, destined for America.
The ship appeared small for the number of people boarding. This worried Matilda. Once on the ship, Matilda's worse fears came to light, how was she going to keep her five children healthy? Because they were the first to board, and Matilda spread their mats around the ladder leading to the deck. She thought it was the best place to breath in sea air.
The trip was long, days ran into weeks. Each child got sick, but thankfully they did not get the fever. Matilda was exhausted. The mats were so close one could barely turn over. There were so many unclean bodies, the smell was overwhelming. Food was putrid. Matilda would dole out small pieces of dried meat and scant amounts of vegetables. Clean water was worse, one pint a day. Jeremiah's emotions went from guilt for putting his family through such an ordeal, to excitement of what laid ahead. He could see New York City in his mind.
"Matilda you will be amazed at the tall buildings that make up New York City, along with millions of people."
In Jeremiah's mind, he could see the city even though he had never been there. As each day passed he became more and more excited for what lay ahead.
Chapter TwoFor what seemed like forever, the ship arrived just off Castle Gardens, an island outside of New York City. An officer came aboard the ship separating the sick, infirmed, and insane and sending them to a hospital on Ward Island. Jeremiah and Matilda were lucky, although their family was weak from weeks at sea; they were candidates to go on to Castle Gardens. A barge brought them from the ship to Castle Gardens. Once there, they were led into a large room lined with wooden benches. Matilda hugged Jeremiah. She was so happy to be off the ship breathing fresh air and drinking fresh water. The registering clerk questioned Jeremiah. He asked their names, the Dunniff's, and all their surnames, Jeremiah, Matilda, John, Padric, Will, Elizabeth, and Martha. They also had to prove where they were from and where in the USA they were going. To Jeremiah's delight, Jim McCann was there to greet them and take them to his home, in a New York City tenement. Mr. McCann showed them where they would live. It was a tenement flat.
There were four rooms with only the first room and the back room had windows. Not only was the flat unventilated but also it was filthy. Matilda and Jeremiah, with their five children, managed to live in a windowless, unventilated room. Matilda encouraged John, Padric, and Will to try to find work immediately. Matilda and Jeremiah's main goal was to get a place to live.
Matilda was in awe of the huge city. To her, it was just as Jeremiah described. She would have loved to walk around the city, but pressures kept her at home. Matilda's days were filled taking care of her family.
Two of the boys got jobs relatively quickly as domestic servants. For Jeremiah the job search was a lot more difficult. Jeremiah heard of a company on Fulton ant Nassau St. where cotton was processed. This was opposite to what Jeremiah experienced while searching for work. On many occasions he would walk up to apply and a sign usually blocked the entrance,
"Irish need not apply."
With three of them working the Dunniff's were able to move to a place of their own. With only so much money they were forced to move into a tenement house, but this one seemed better than the one they shared with Jim McCann. The first thing Matilda noticed was the dirt throughout the flat. Matilda and her daughters literally scrubbed the walls, ceilings and floors. Sanitation conditions were primitive. Their tenement had a privy that was shared by other tenement occupiers; therefore Matilda and the family used chamber pots.
Delusion was setting in for Jeremiah. He realized streets were not paved in gold. The family was only slightly better off than they had been in Ireland. He constantly complained to Matilda about little things.
"Matilda my meal is cold."
"Matilda my clothes are not clean yet."
Matilda mostly ignored Jeremiah, but could not help feeling hurt. In many ways she felt like she did on the ship. It was hard to hold them all together.
Matilda's day began about four am and ended in exhaustion around nine pm. The more apparent it became that life was not going get much better, the nastier Jeremiah became. Much to Matilda's dismay, Jeremiah started to drink. At first it was a drink at the end of the day to relax. Now though, Jeremiah drank to get drunk and wallow in his memories of Ireland. On a good night he would play his fiddle and sing Irish songs, some in English and some in Gallic.
Food was still limited. For an atypical day they had coffee and bread for breakfast, potato sandwiches for lunch then for dinner some meat, cabbage, and potatoes. Occasionally, John and Padric managed to sneak leftovers home from the households where they worked. Matilda thanked God for what they had, especially hearing other women in the tenement complaining how much they were suffering.
On a rare night Matilda and Jeremiah would cuddle. Matilda always tried to reassure Jeremiah and said,
"You wait and see it things can only get better."
Jeremiah still had physical needs and Matilda did her wifely duty. They had been married twenty years and some of the passion was gone. But Matilda got a sense of security when they made love. She got a glimpse of her old husband.
After a couple of months, Matilda realized she was pregnant. Matilda had been pregnant a total often ten times as a result they had had three boys and two girls who survived. The pregnancy should not have concerned her because Jeremiah and Matilda always felt one more mouth was manageable. The fact that she was forty-five concerned her, but Matilda always had faith in God. Matilda told Jeremiah, she and was floored by his reaction.
"How am I going to provide for another child?" he shouted.
With all their other babies he had been happy and proud. Unlike Jeremiah, he was angry and turned to drink even more. A simple question nagged him. What would happen if Matilda got sick or worse died? Jeremiah always wanted to give his family a good life and now he had failed. That night when they went to bed he said to Matilda,
"I'm sorry Matilda I can't be happy about this baby. It scares me."
Matilda touched his arm and said,
"Jeremiah we will be fine."
On a cold windy night in December of 1879, a little baby was born into the life of impoverishment in the tenements of New York City. She was tiny, 5 pounds, and had a strong cry. Matilda was exhausted. She had been in labor 48 hours. Had it not been for the wonderful midwife it was doubtful either mother or baby would have survived.
Jeremiah had spent the 48 hours fortifying himself with a bottle of whisky. Although relieved Matilda and baby were ok it did nothing to ease his anguish. After a while, he peeked in to find Matilda asleep with the baby besides her. Jeremiah tiptoed in and stared at his wife. It had been a long time since he had seen her like this. Gently he brushed her hair from her forehead.
Quietly he said, "I love you Matilda."
As he was about to leave he noticed the baby staring at him. He answered her stare with a stare and left.
Rose turned out to be a serious baby and caused little trouble. Matilda tried to nurse often to strengthen Rose. After four months of nursing Matilda's milk dried up. The lack of meat and enough food were the causes of Matilda's milk to dry up. In Ireland they always had plenty to eat. Her other children were fat happy babies. Matilda worried about Rose.
As tiny as Rose was, she sat up and walked early like she was in a hurry to get somewhere. Jeremiah was either working or drunk. He literally ignored Rose. Rose's brothers and sisters were too busy working or doing housework to pay attention to Rose.
Matilda took in wash to give them a little more money. Elizabeth, Rose's oldest sister helped Matilda with the washing and ironing. Day after day, clothes would be hung on lines in the house. On good days they hung them outside.
The sibling nearest Rose's age was Martha. Martha was four, and barely more than a baby herself. Martha was in charge of Rose. Matilda always kept an eye on her beautiful baby. Rose's had beautiful auburn, curly hair, her eyes were hazel and her skin pale almost porcelain, with a blush on her cheeks. However it concerned Matilda that Rose was slight and so intense. As much as Jeremiah ignored Rose, she was drawn to him. Often when Jeremiah sat in his chair, Rose would crawl over to him and sit on the floor next to her father. When Jeremiah realized Rose was there Jeremiah would bellow,
"Matilda, take this baby away".
Matilda could not abide by the change in Jeremiah. He had been so good with the other children. If he would only look at Rose he would see some of himself in her or maybe he had. It seemed the more he drowned in his whisky the more distant he became. Nothing Matilda tried to do seem to help. He was determined to escape reality and thus escape his family.
Finally, one day Matilda confronted Jeremiah.
"Jeremiah something has to change. You're nothing like you were in Ireland. For the sake of the family and your health please do something to return to your old self."
Jeremiah seemed better for a couple of days, within a week he returned to the bottle.
By Rose's first birthday, she was walking. She was an adorable baby who openly displayed affection toward her family.
Martha continued to look after Rose. They were lucky to have a park nearby and when Matilda was free, she would take Martha and Rose to play. They played while their mother worked, usually mending her families' clothes. Martha and Rose made up games only the two could understand.
When Martha was younger, she did not mind taking Rose with her. As Martha got older and had more her own friends, she resented Rose as a "tag along." Rose became aware of Martha's feelings as she turned six.
"Mama, I don't want to go with Martha anymore," Rose said.
Therefore, Rose stayed home most of the time. She would play with her doll. Even at six Rose had an active imagination.
At ten Rose started to help Matilda with the laundry. Her older sisters had gotten married and her mother needed help.
Jeremiah was no longer working, he was sick. His skin was shallow, his eyes had a yellow tinged and his abdomen distended. Often, he was barely lucid and acted as if he was back in Ireland. Jeremiah was so out of it, he was completely unaware Rose was helping to take care of him. Matilda was aware of the physical and mental changes with Jeremiah. Deep down she knew he was dying.
At night as he slept in his chair she would say,
"My handsome husband, I love you."
Sometimes Matilda would say,
"You're a good man and we're going to get by."
As her father was dying, Rose found a new love, the theater. Her sister Elizabeth married a man who was the manager of a local theater. Elizabeth would sometimes take Rose to see a play. For a few hours, Rose's troubled home disappeared and she lost herself within the play. When alone Rose would act out parts of the play and secretly imagine herself as an actress.
Rose went to a Catholic school, which permitted less fortunate children to attend. Although Rose was Catholic, religion was rarely discussed in the home. Through her schooling, Rose found out many things were sins. Often, she would ask Matilda,
"Why don't we go to Church?"
Matilda wanted to tell her in the northern part of Ireland, where they were from, there was great hostility between the Catholics and Protestants. But, Matilda merely said,
"If you're good, pray to God and are kind to people God will love you."
Unsatisfied, Rose began attending Church on Sundays. As much as possible Rose tried to do as the nuns taught. She was developing a devotion to the Catholic faith, which she relied on all of her life.
In school, Rose did just enough to get by. If she failed a test, the sisters would tell her she would probably end up as a domestic. Little did they know, Rose was planning on becoming an actress. Rose knew not to cross the nuns. The nuns were known to use rulers in a way that did not appeal to Rose.
Rose managed to get through the sixth grade unscathed. Aside from school and helping her mother, Rose would play with her friends in the neighborhood. Sometimes they would watch the boys play stickball. However what Rose loved the most, was when they pretended to act out plays. Rose always played the lead, knowing she was good.
Throughout this time in her life, Rose had some scary things happening at home. Her father was sick and getting worse day by day. Matilda finally called the doctor. Upon examining Jeremiah, the doctor just shook his head. So often the doctor had witnessed Irish men in the terminal stages of alcoholism. He told Matilda,
"His liver is enlarged and probably not working."
He cautioned Matilda Jeremiah could have seizures and there was nothing that could be done. The doctor's advice was notifying the priest.
Excerpted from GENERATIONS of Love by PATRICIA SMITH JANSSEN Copyright © 2011 by Patricia Smith Janssen. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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