Have you done it? Have you had your DNA tested to see the percentages of your ancestry? If so, were there any surprises?
My biggest percentage was Italian on my mother’s side. Followed by Irish on my father’s side. Then there are the lesser percentages of surprising origins. And the curiosity around how did that get in there.
All of this to say that a few years ago, I wrote a short story for an assignment in a Creative Writing class. One can’t always know where their inspiration comes from or how it is going to express through words or art. Perhaps it is rooted in the DNA and that cellular memory. Perhaps I channeled one of my Irish ancestors. There is some historical significance. It is presented here in two parts. I hope you enjoy it.
©by Christine O’Brien
“Cursed we is,” Mum says, “to have so many survivin’ daughters…seven girls and one blessed boy. If not for young William, we’d have no one to leave the farm to.”
Mum’s voice scratches like grainy sand across a washboard.
My older sister, Kathleen, is getting married in a month. Mum has saved and put together a dowry for her and one for my second sister, Louise. The chances of a girl getting a match are next to zero unless she has a dowry. Kathleen says she loves James Flynn, but love isn’t what’s important.
“A girl has to have something to offer besides what’s under her petticoat,” Mum says often enough.
With a good dowry, she’s more likely to get a decent home. She should be strong of leg too, not sickly, like my youngest sister, Patticake. She’s got to be able to get out in the field and work beside her mate when times are tough, which times normally are.
Mum just started putting away for my dowry. I’m three years from being 18–the marrying age around here. Mum says she doesn’t see how she’s going to save enough to attract a mate for me.
“Chances are,” she says, “you’re going to have to go into the convent. Father Cullen says he’ll kindly take you and your younger sisters if I can save ten pounds for the lot of you. You’ll be provided for then and you can pray for all of us.”
“I don’t want to go to no convent! I don’t want my head shaved! I won’t wear those ugly black dresses and stupid veils!” I blubbered.
When I first stood up and said this to Mum, she slapped me hard.
“Be grateful you’re going to have a home and God’s own priests to look after you. You get to do good works.”
“It’s nothin’ but slavin’,” I said, my nose red and running, a fresh welt on my cheek.
“Who’d want a red-faced girl like you anyway?” Mum yelled.
Yelling is Mum’s forte. Forte is my new word this week. I’ve taught myself to read. Mum knows I read but it’s a secret from my pap.
“A girl readin’ can make a man feel small,” says Mum.
Mum sticks the bible under my nose and points to the tiny print,
“What’s it say?” she crows.
“And why be anxious about a garment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not nor spin, but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these,” I read.
“Ah,” she says, “the lilies. Ah well they do not have ten mouths to feed, now do they? Get back to your work,” she says slamming the book closed and dropping it heavily on the splintered wooden bible stand.
I gather my mending from the willow basket. I’m the third eldest girl with my share of chores. The five younger children leave me with a pile of well-worn skirts and knickers. My brother, Willy, is the worst on socks. Every day I stitch up the holes in a pair of his socks and every day, there’s two more socks to mend!
“Willy,” I say sounding a bit like Mum, “Willy, can’t you for once keep your shoes on and stay out of the brambles?”
Willy looks at me with a crooked grin and long-lashed blue eyes. He slowly shakes his towhead “no.”