Out of Ireland: Unsaid


                                           In the voice of my father, Eugene Cusack, 1910-2009


I


There wasn’t much said between father and son

in those days. I never knew much about him.

He was a farmer, a good provider.

Worked hard. Strong.

Very religious.

I don’t think he could read or write.

He died of a cancer

a few years after I came out here.

He was a big quiet man who only spoke

when he had something to say. You’d work

side by side in the fields for hours and wouldn’t

say a word till it was time to go back home for lunch.


Most things were just understood.

In some houses, people talked,

not in ours. If you wanted

to talk, you went out.

That’s what you had friends for—talking

and smoking cheap cigarettes down back of the pub.



II


Mammy was the exact opposite. A great talker


she was. The town schoolteacher

until she married my father. The farmwork

was fierce so she pitched in with the milking

and tending the chickens while he drove the cattle

to slaughter. Or went to the bog to collect the peat.


Yeah, Mammy was a great talker all right!

And a powerful cook. And what a baker!

Made the school clothes for all of us kids—nine in all—

and her own too. Bernie likes to talk about

what a looker she was—tall and handsome,

her back so straight—walking to town in her

fancy dresses. She was grand all right.

Took care of the house and all of us kids—

helping with the homework, cooking and sewing and

still had time to work alongside my father tending the farm.


And when the work was done and supper eaten,

she gathered us for the Rosary—all 15 decades,

followed by a litany. Every family did.

And there’d be no complaining—

we were all happy to honor our Blessed Mother.

And we did it on our knees. All 15 decades—

Mammy and my father as well. Every night

after supper all of us together on our knees.



III


My father didn’t believe in war—killing of any kind.


So when The Troubles started and all the lads were

going off to fight, my father wouldn’t let my brothers go.

It was against God’s Natural Law—killing was—

and no son of his would do such a thing—not with

his blessing. Mike, the oldest, joined the police instead.

But when the local lads came home from the war,

my father hid them in our hen house and

in the crawlspace above the attic.

He was a good man.

But then the freedom fighters came round

to collect a pound from each family to support the cause,

and he wouldn’t give ‘even a farthing’ he said.

It was a sin against God Almighty—supporting the killing.


They said we were traitors—

the people in the town. I recall walking to school

through the town center—and painted on the fence

of the old courthouse in huge red letters was—

The Cusacks are Fraternizers with the Queen.

It was terrible.

But there’d be no talking to my father—

I found a way to school through the back pasture.

But there was no relief there either.

Months passed

and the ridiculing finally stopped.

We never knew who painted over the fence,

but Thanks Be to God someone did.



IV


I never wanted to be a farmer.


I worked beside my father and brothers

all my young life, but when I was eighteen

and finished with school, I wanted to go

to Dublin to study auto mechanics. I loved cars

and you could make a good living working on them,

but there was no money.

So I stayed on the farm till my sister Peg

could bring me out. She had a good steady job

as a nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital and had brought out

Aunt May and Rose a few years before.


The day I left my father went with me

on the train to Cavan Town. We smoked

a cigarette together. I never smoked in front

of him before—we all smoked in those days

but never in front of our parents—

it was a matter of respect.

That day we sat across from each other and

he took a new pack of Players out of his pocket

and offered me one.

They were pretty fancy cigarettes—expensive—

You could get them in two sizes—10s and 20s.

This was the 20s.


We kids never smoked them—

our fathers neither—they cost so much.

He lit my cigarette and his own

and we sat there saying nothing for quite some time.

“We could buy that small field that abuts our pasture,” he said,

But I said nothing.

He understood

I wanted to go.

I don’t know where he thought

he’d find the money for more land.

When we got off the train and said goodbye,

he handed me the pack of Players.


That was the last time I saw him.



V


When I got here, I stayed at Peg and Bill’s.


I shaped up at the docks every morning

and found enough day work to pay my carfare

and give a little to Peg for me food. But

then the stock market crashed and the Depression started—

just a few months after I arrived—and there was no work

for anyone. I was lucky I had a roof over me head.

A lot of greenhorns didn’t.

I met Mike O’Donnell at that time and we went

over to the shipyards in Bayonne to find work.

That was one place there was plenty

of work—ships were needed for the war.


On Saturday nights, we went to the dance halls

on 53rd Street where all the greenhorns met their

girlfriends. Mike met a nice girl who worked

for a rich family, the Hobarts—he was the Vice President—

all the way out in Montauk. She was a housekeeper

or maybe a cook and had a friend who wanted

to meet me, so I went out there with Mike

one weekend. She was very nice.

We kept company for several years. Seven or eight.


But she didn’t want to get married.

So I broke it off.

I wanted to settle down and have a family. It was time.

Not long after, I met Mom at one of the dances.

She was a hair dresser. A fine looking woman in her

fancy clothes. We wanted the same things—

a home and a family—

so we got married after a few months courting.

We were crazy for each other.

There were other men around who liked Mom too,

but she only had eyes for me.



VI


Peg and Bill stood up for us and lent us the money


for a bedroom set. We got a three room apartment

down on Simpson Street and got free rent for

working as supers. I took care of most of

the jobs evenings and weekends and Mom helped

out during the day when I was at the shipyard.

(She quit her hairdressing job when we got married.)

Catherine was born the year after.

We moved around a lot back then. Three times in one year.

Whenever you heard about a cheaper apartment, you took it.

We moved into the same one two different times.


It was hard on Mom

but she didn’t complain. Two years after

Catherine was born, Sonny came, with you

only 11 months behind. She had a miscarriage

after that and two years later Jerry was born.

She was told she couldn’t have any more children.

She had several surgeries—a ruptured appendix,

gall bladder . . . But that didn’t stop her;

she had the house and you kids to take care of.


By that time we were living in Edgewater.

We moved there when you were almost a year.

The houses were bungalows you could fix up

and live in year round. We did a lot with our house.

Raised it, built a cellar, added a few feet to

the living room . . . Well, you know,

it’s a good sturdy house.

It’ll be Catherine’s

when I’m gone—you and Jerry have your

own places and who knows about Sonny—

so it would be natural for Catherine to have it.



VII


I miss Mom these past years.

But you get used to it . . .

the quiet.

And there’s plenty to do—I’m always busy.

Sometimes I’ll even hear myself talk

like she was still here in the room with me.

Mom was a great talker.

She always had something to say.

I miss that. The talking.

It’s funny—Jerry and I never talk

the way you and I or me and Catherine do,

you know, the conversations about things

you’ve been thinking of. Jerry and I

can drive two hours out to see Aunt Rose

and never say a word.

Not a word.

That’s just the way it is.

And it doesn’t bother us. We’re comfortable.

Jerry’s a Cusack, for sure.


Anyway, I started to say that Mom could do anything.

She liked a nice house, so she painted; she wallpapered;

she planted flowers everywhere

and still had a good hot supper waiting

when I came home at 5 o’clock.

I mind the times I watched her—cleaning, cooking

and sewing and not even noticing how hard she worked.

And that’s not all.

She was a powerful cook.

All my life I suffered from the heartburn

but when I started eating her cooking, it stopped.

Haven’t had a heartburn in 70 years.

Only now that I’m doing it all myself

do I know how hard it was for her.

I can clean and bake the bread and I’m tired.

Taking care of a house is a full time job.

And she did it with four kids, making all the clothes

and baking the peach upside-down cake I like

and still moving furniture around.


I’m sorry I didn’t have more time

to tell her how great I thought she was.

You took things for granted in those days.

You didn’t say much.

Copyright © 1999-2017 Juked