Biographical Non-Fiction posted December 21, 2019 Chapters: 1 -2- 3... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
literally meaning old father

A chapter in the book Celtic Roots


by JLR

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.

A son, of a traditional Irish family, who never quite felt he was welcomed in the family. A struggling, abusive Irish farmer, a worn-out wife and mother and a move of half the children to America.
Partition; the severance, disjoining, disconnection, taking apart
creating a way of life for her to have a brand-new start.
Bundling, huddling, on the road, we did start
To cross the ocean to put those two, miles apart.   JLR
1957 was a bitterly bad year, lambs died weakening the flock, potatoes failed, and the farm was mainly failing. Da was seldom sober, and when he did come home, his labor was at best shoddy and far too little to bring things up to a subsistence level of production. Mam and Da went at each other aggressively and fought physically with little regard for the eyes of us children.  The final fight happened on an unusually cold and wet March day when Da, drunker than I had ever seen him, hit Mam so hard, her skull cracked, and blood covered her face. I grabbed a log from the hearth and swung, again and again, hitting Da with all my might. Divorce didn't exist in Ireland in 1957. Husband and wife were required to live separately and apart for a time covering four out of five consecutive years.

So it was that Mam's father sent us funds for her to take Milly Belle, LaRae Leanne, and Ira John and me to sail across the ocean to America.

Mam's Da was the first to immigrate to America.  John Frank Ball was a carpenter by trade and had a small landholding where he raised a few cows for dairy.  I would come to love and learn what it took to become a man from my Seanathair, who, as the time came to pass, became my surrogate father.

John Frank served in World War I as a medical corpsman.  He never talked about the war other than to say, "man's inhumanity to man" is more significant than all the sins of the world combined when you find yourself on a battlefield. Because I was so interested in my grandfather’s service, over the years, I read many repulsive accounts of what it was like in the trenches. Mass casualties; poison gas and the earth being ripped and torn with massive bombardments with searing hot shards of shrapnel cascading into the trenches, creating living Hell for the soldiers. 

However, I did come to learn that he joined because his father had died. My grandfather sent his army pay to his mother and young sister, Bertie, to help them get by during the harsh times.

So, the 16th Irish Division of the British Expeditionary Force moved into the battle on December 18, 1915. The 16th Irish Division landed in the northern French port of Le Havre and spent three years on the western front. The Catholics from the South served Great Britain under an oath of allegiance by swearing by Almighty God that they will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth, His Heirs, and Successors "so, help me, God." It was with great hope that my grandfather, by serving, his Ireland would remain steadfast in its independence.

To this day, I do know that the Ireland that grandfather left was not at all the Ireland to which he returned.  During his term of service, a tumultuous set of events cascaded Ireland into the Irish war of independence with the onset of the Easter Rising fought from 1916-1919.
While in the trenches, the Irish soldiers read German placards "Irishmen; Uproar in Ireland; English guns are firing at your wives and children back home."

Virtually all the Irishmen who fought in the first world war were officially forgotten by many citizens in post-independence Ireland.  There was a changing political climate at the end of World War I.  A free and separate Ireland and, of course, Home Rule was not ever going to happen.
Sinn Fein, a militant sect of Irishmen cried-out to create and national Ireland. They became established rather quickly.  While grandfather served, there were 200,000 Irishman in a British Uniform, all the while at home, other Irishmen were killing men wearing a British Uniform.  This was the homeland, the country in name only Ireland that he returned from the war.
It was no longer an Ireland for a southern Catholic who had served in the British army. Collective national amnesia had fallen over the country. The Southern Irish soldiers belonged neither to the unionist tradition of the north or the republican legacy of the south.
Grandfather married and had two daughters; my Mam, Iva Mae, and my aunt, Millie Bertha.  In the fall of 1920, giving birth to Millie Bertha, grandfather's wife, Mauve, passed.  

As he continued to do what carpentry work would come and work the dairy while rearing his daughters with the help of his sister Bertie, he found many in the community explicitly hostile toward him and others who had served in the war.  So, like many World War I veterans, grandfather decided to live outside of Ireland, and in 1936 he moved to America.

He landed in a small railroad town, Spokane, Washington. Like many Irishmen, with a sturdy back and historically dependable work ethic, he went to work for the Northern Pacific Railway Company, which was a transcontinental railroad that crossed Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.  He found employment as a Railroad Bull, a security guard commonly known by the hobo as "the yard dick." His job, working the yards, at the Hillyard roundhouse and surrounding enclosures, protecting railroad property, was where I would first learn about life in America. 

It was a blustery day on March 22, just four days before my seventh year, following a 15-day transatlantic and nearly transcontinental trip when we arrived in Spokane. Us four children were worn to the bones from the journey, a
nd Mam, who seemed blank in spirit, departed from the train platform and upon seeing her father, fell into his arms and began sobbing.  The first thing I thought as I looked at this tall, rather slim man, was the stark contrast between him and his daughter, who was short in height and had a somewhat stout stature.  I also saw that he had what I thought were enormous hands. Grandfather didn't reach out to any of us children and his first words, as he looked right into my eyes, "Boy, gather what suitcases you can and follow me."   My first thought was that he didn't have an inkling what to do around children.

Traveling from the train depot to his home, we saw more cars and people than we had ever seen in our collective lives.  People rushed everywhere along our route, wrapped in long coats and wearing mufflers to set off the chill in the air. We heard that we were going to the north side to Hillyard, where grandfather said he lived with his second wife, Beulah. Not one of us, other than this information, spoke on the rest of the drive.

When we arrived at his home, I was astonished in awestruck! The house was huge, two floors high with a massive front porch. I thought this man must be the wealthiest person I would ever know. Upon parking the car, my grandfather said, "Leave the bags in the car and "be quiet going up the steps to the second floor."  We followed him in and up to a grand staircase to a door that sat just to the right of the stairs where he entered and said, "Beulah, they are here." 

Space was compact; we entered a small kitchen with a two-person table, which was ahead of an archway that opened into a setting area with a bedroom to the right of the sitting room.  There was no bathroom in the space, as I soon learned, they shared a community bathroom out the door and down the hall, also used by the other tenant Jimmy Johnston who had a similar space to the left of the staircase. Grandfather told us we needed to be quiet as church mice; he went on to say, "The landlady widow Green lives downstairs and doesn't tolerate excessive noise."  It was then that I understood this was not his house, and it was not where we were going to live today or any day, at any time.

Beulah was a small woman, thin as a rail, dark, almost shoe black hair, and had what I thought was a bit of humorous growth of hairs jutting out on her chin.  She seemed kind enough, asking if we needed something to eat or drink and spent most of the time we were there telling Mam that they had rented a place for her and us kids. The first time I had heard the word I learned meant children.  She went on to say, "We have made arrangements for you to meet with the Parish Priest at St. Patrick's.  The church is going to get you set up with your assistance."

So, at the age of seven, new to life in the city, living in a new country, learning American slang ( a new language), my life lessons went into overdrive! I was going to get an immediate immersion as an immigrant. We were exposed to a new set of rules, a unique collection of cultural oddities with my seven siblings torn into two families, four of us now living in the United States of America.
I learned that we were going to be in a government program called ADC, aid to dependent children.

This is the second installment of my autobiography. I thank everyone who has been kind enough to provide honest and critical feedback and suggestions. I look forward to your next thoughts, thank you!
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