My life is ordinary. I haven’t been conferred with honorary degrees, found a cure for Parkinson’s disease, become rich and famous or written books on how to live in harmony with the interdependent web of nature.
Fifty years ago, I left Ireland, a beautiful little island the size of Maine. At that time it was the poorest country in Europe. I came alone to America, the country where I was offered the chance of a better life. I married and had children. I embraced opportunities to learn new skills so I could work and become the best that I could be.
Most things turned out well, but there were disappointments. When I look back over the half century I’ve lived in America, 47 of those years in Buffalo, I feel satisfied and content.
But a piece of me often yearns for Dublin. The smells of ripe fruit and the scent of flowers on Moore Street, the jostling crowds, the fumes from the double-decker buses, the aroma of fish and chips sprinkled with malt vinegar bouncing around in the wind.
I miss the sounds of trains and church bells in my little childhood town of Bagenalstown. I also miss the peaceful walks along the Barrow River, watching the barges snaking along, escorted by a flock of regal white swans.
I still long for the family and friends I loved and left scattered all over Ireland. I especially miss the cozy homes offering places to share the day’s happenings while enjoying tea and hot buttered scones. There are even times I miss the gloomy days and the rain.
Still, every Fourth of July, delicious tasting chickens, hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs are barbecued outdoors on the grill. The familiar smell of barbecue sauce blended in with suntan lotion creeps up your nostrils. It’s America’s big birthday bash and every family is invited to join in.
In the evening, when I hear the brass band play “The Star-Spangled Banner,” watch the stars and stripes dance in the wind, join rousing voices to sing “America the Beautiful” and gaze in wonder as fireworks explode in the night sky, my eyes mist over. I’m fully aware that I am lucky. I attained the American Dream.
A 96-year-old house with shimmering windows is mine. It doesn’t matter that some of the doors won’t open, and a few windows won’t close. My colorful flower garden is my gift to the neighborhood and people who pass by.
Buffalo is home to refugees and immigrants from many countries. They are sponsored by area churches and organizations. Most of the refugees have to learn English, find housing and job training. A local bank has funded training for the refugees and immigrants to set up their own businesses.
I’ve eaten delicious ethnic foods at their restaurants in a bazaar-style setting on the West Side of Buffalo. People from other countries also bring new ideas and different ways of doing things.
So after 50 years of living in America, I look back and ask myself: What contributions did I make to the country that welcomed me and started me out with a green card, and also gave me the honor of becoming an American citizen?
Buffalo’s greatest asset is its people. Buffalo now has my three adult children. They are healthy, strong, hardworking people, who have made Buffalo their permanent home. They have given me five beautiful grandchildren. We live close together and see each other often. Because of this family, my ordinary life has become extraordinary.