Upon The River’s Shore
In February of 1926, my Grandpa Bernard booked a passage in steerage aboard a cattle boat called the Magpie.
My father, age four at the time, always said that his da had left Grandma and the children behind in Scotland to go visit his parents back in Ireland. He was only to be gone a week, Dad said, but then he ended up being gone, well…forever.
Today, I looked a bit too closely, perhaps, at my grandparents’ marriage certificate. I’m trying to make a timeline of family members, places, times, and events, trying to superimpose it upon the events of a troubled and troubling bout of Irish history, trying to find some answers that make more sense than the ones I’ve been given.
I looked too closely and noticed for the first time that my grandfather’s parents were both dead by the time he and Grandma got married. He couldn’t have been going home to Ireland to see his parents, and he himself hadn’t lived there for more than twenty years by the time he decided to take the journey back.
There’s a mystery here somewhere, that much I know. My father always told us that his da, who drowned after falling from the boat in the River Clyde, was never found. Until four years ago, when a Scottish cousin I met online provided articles from the Glasgow Herald to prove otherwise, I accepted Dad’s story.
But my grandfather’s body did eventually wash up on the shore, several months after he went missing, and several miles closer to home along the river bank than he’d been the dark morning he died.
I couldn’t help thinking about these things as I shuffled through birth and death and marriage certificates today. I couldn’t help wondering at the mysteries we the living must unravel during our short stay upon this earth.
I put pen to paper then, to jot down the information from my Grandpa’s death certificate on my sketchy timeline. I automatically wrote the year 2006, instead of 1926, and laughed at my silly mistake. Until I looked more closely and realized I’d written today’s month and day, too: April 11.
But he died in February, I said to myself. Why did I write today’s date instead?
I looked at the death certificate once more and saw two dates: the morning of his disappearance into the water and the day the River Clyde finally gave him up—April 11, 1926.
On this very day, eighty years ago, Grandma Mary, surrounded by fatherless children, opened her door and someone—who, I wonder? someone she knew and loved, I hope—told her the end of the story of his life.
Tonight, I’m thinking of her, and of my father—gone himself these twenty-two years—and my aunts and uncles, all dead now, too. As much as I wish I could, I can’t write them a better ending, but I’m starting to believe there’s a middle to this story that’s never been told.
And I believe I’m the one to tell it.
Posted by Katy on 04/11/06 at 08:24 PMFallible Comments...
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