In July of 1972, my mom landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and went to see her oldest brother, his wife, and their three daughters in the Bronx. It was her first time in America, and, while there is much more to share in the book and on this blog, to simplify: last month marked her 40th anniversary here.
Most everybody knows the feelings that accompany leaving or being left behind. For all who have moved from one country to another, often without knowing if or when they might again see loved ones back home, those feelings are especially heightened. No matter how well-grounded the reasons for departure may be or how much time passes, memories of people and places don’t slip away and the experiences with distance and loss remain. For my mom, settling in the United States is inseparable from leaving Ireland and losing her mother.
This year, to help make the month of July a little less bittersweet, my sister Tara and I planned a surprise party to celebrate our mom and to honor hers. Our aunt and uncle hosted the gathering in their beautiful backyard in Princeton, Massachusetts, and we couldn’t have asked for more glorious weather to welcome family and friends who came from elsewhere in Massachusetts and as far away as Long Island, Pearl River, and New York City.
(Ed. note: Embedding the code for slideshows has been breaking with WordPress, so I’ve included the links above; any advice welcome.)
As you’ll see in the second photo, we thought a celebratory banner would make a nice addition to the day. After a few searches online (and confirming the company’s legitimacy with the Better Business Bureau), I found BannerBuzz and designed our 12-foot vinyl greeting. Allowing a bit more than a week for delivery, I had no worries until I checked the tracking code only to discover that UPS’s “shipment progress” column read like a warning: “This shipment is warehoused until it is released by Clearing Agency.” Instead of coming from the company’s Greer, South Carolina headquarters, our order was on hold in Ahmedabad, India.
Two days later, I saw the good news that the banner had made its way from Gujarat to Mumbai. From there, I followed its route online as it left India for Cologne, Germany, then Louisville, Kentucky, and eventually Windsor Locks, Connecticut before arriving on-time in Central Massachusetts.
Despite the “Happy 40th Anniversary in America, Nuala!” proclamation that had traveled the world to find its place draped over the rock wall at the bottom of the driveway, it wasn’t until my mom walked into the house and saw her sister-in-law Peg who had been there in the Bronx when she first arrived in America four decades earlier that she really began to recognize the reason for the gathering.
Later in the day, in the company of nearly 30 people who knew my mom from so many parts of her life (both past and present), for the first time I read aloud sections of my book. The responses were all I could have imagined: others shared their memories of looking up to older siblings, of hearing their family stories, of leaving their homes. The conversations continued late into the evening.
At the end of the weekend, my sister headed back into Boston and I returned to New York. A few days after we left, my dad e-mailed to let us know just how happy our mom was and that he had hung the banner across the top of the bookshelf in our home office where it would be a reminder for the remainder of the year.