We all have some loved ones who have emigrated abroad and perhaps can't make it back home this year for Christmas, I thought I would share the song and story of 'Sarah'.
Above is a telegram I received from My Aunt Sarah and Uncle Paddy & Mary Jo in advance of my show in Carnegie Hall New York 1968.
My aunt Sarah was born in Clonfert, in East Galway.
She was my mother’s sister and emigrated to America by ship in 1929.She initially lived with her Aunt Bridget, on 3rd Avenue, New York, until she could establish herself after paying back her passage.
I have the fondest memories of Aunt Sarah, both when she made return journeys home in the 1950’s, and on my visits to New York in the mid sixties. I last saw her in 1969 in the Bronx, where she lived until she retired too Santa Monica, where she died in 1987.
There was a tradition with Irish emigrants in America dating back to the famine days, which indeed, may well be carried on to the present day, of sending gifts of dollars back to their families at home. These gifts became known as ‘Yankee Letters.’
My Aunt Sarah carried on this practice well into the fifties. Although she never sent the ‘Yankee Letter’, she did send us a parcel every year, full of the most wonderful things you could imagine. This would create great excitement at home when they arrived, after days of looking out for the green post van.
The parcel was usually a great, big cardboard box, wrapped in brown paper, tied up with string, sealed with sealing wax, and covered with American stamps. When opened it would give off this wonderful aromatic smell, and when I asked my father once what this smell was, he replied, “It’s the smell of the Atlantic ocean.” It was, of course, the smell of the coffee, sugar and various spices, all hard to get in the Ireland of the fifties.
The parcel would be torn open on the table and out would pop this wonderful world of America. There were big multi- coloured Yank ties for my father and brother, which they would insist on wearing, much to my embarrassment.
There were packets of American cigarettes; Chesterfields, Lucky Strikes and Pall Mall’s. There were Hershey Bars, never before tasted in Ireland, and packets of chewing gum, and an assortment of clothes, but alas, never a pair of jeans.
There was always a pair of ‘nylons’ for my mum, which she would hide away in a drawer, only to be worn on special occasions.
I don’t think Sarah ever knew the joy she brought to us with her simple gifts of love, wrapped up in a big brown parcel, and smelling of the Atlantic Ocean.