Thursday, July 25, 2013

Places I Will Never Go

We Irish? Well, we dig. The sand and mud we shovel into buckets; the boulders we carry one by one and the trees we toss in piles while a path we carve from this pitifully thin, stony river. Roots and stumps from the grandest stock of trees I have ever seen take all day to clear. From morn till the fall of night, we grub for half dollar per a day’s work. Now, most of the older boys get more pay, I hear, and that is fine with me. The more the money, more is the trouble, Brian often says. They get their pay, you see, but this ditch drinks them with their whiskey… It plays them their gaming and it loves them their women, to be sure. It only binds me to dig. The camp near Wellington is full of the sins, and I hope to never go there and find how the devils play, to be sure. So I dig as if I could dig a bit more, and that is what I do. My wages go to Brian, so my strain is safe for keeping.
Long before the waters of the river come to fill, this ditch and the black woods swim the blood and the wretched cough of the Fever. We might all be dead long before we stretch this out 10 miles, I say, but Brian tells me to sew it up if I don't want to temp the Fates. Every day I pray to not come down with blights of the lung and the delirium in the head. For my friend Brian, I pray he never spats such things like he did in Dublin before we boarded to Liverpool. I hope never to go down at all, but those poor souls who did were praying day by day as I do, I know. Every week we bury many a brother - brute or saint; though from the east more of us keep coming to take to the newly opened task. Here, a shovel never goes cold for long.
I heard a man pass on last night; t'was in the middle of his pleas to the Lord. Brian heard it, too, tho he won't say. The praying man's spirit rose while his lips were still moving.
My sister, Katie, in her Waterford teach was considerate to their presence, the spirits. When she had the chill, she’d light a candle and down the cellar she'd lead them, blow the flame and run up the stairs to lock them in their bewilderment. I saw nothing of them then and I don't see them now; and I hope never to see them at’all! The ditch swallows our souls, Brian once said. An Diabhail scornach, he said; the Devil’s throat. And, yes I must agree.
If our brothers' spirits are freely walking about, then where abouts this foreign land might they wander? This place is a wealth in tree and glade, but Indiana is far from their Irish dells. If I shared Katie' gift, then I might think to lead the spirits to the rippling at the river’s broadest girth: it's the river Blackwater near Lismore, in every way; though it's lonelier than a widow’s chamber, this river. I will never go by the banks to be so alone, spirit or no.
When we arrived, Brian and me, the boulders we oft carried together. But, I nearly crushed my foot a month ago, and I won't let the Overseers see the pain, to be sure. They are not bad lot of fellows, says Brian, though to our faces they rarely take a hard look, and a good distance they keep between us. So in all hours of the day I dig while our boulders Brian carries and our crates I dump when we fill 'em and a good day’s work we do together. To Brian, what they think of us don’t matter a cuss.
He is a good friend, Brian. There isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for him. We share the tent, and kind he is to keep us safe from the drunken devils. We are the youngest here, but- oh- a strong man Brian is! Men who are fool enough to cast a smirk his way always get their promised knuckles, they truly do. Every man Brian has pinned to the earth had it coming, and any man he'll wrestle, you know, who make such a smirk towards me.
I hope to never work alone, especially here in America. The pay is good what we receive, and that is appreciated to no end, though no land is promised in our contracts and no certain time for stay. In two years time, no doubt this canal will fill with water, and many boats and heavy cargo will slide along the banks and bring the traveler and their riches to the town of Indianapolis…. I hope never to see the place unless a Catholic parish is there to greet me. Brian knows I won't go many places if there be no place to worship.
If there be no parish here, then a farm I would tend rather than live in a town alone. Forty and eighty acres of farmland goes to the men up north on the Wabash and Erie. But the Wabash, I will never go; I tell Brian, land or no -- if what we hear is right that the Wabash is thrice the size and the Fever thrice the wicked then dear Lord; back east we should be a heading. To Boston, I say, we should visit, or return to the mill in ‘Delphia where we left three months ago. A return to Ireland, we might do; back to Mrs. Hannity’s Grocer, or share the room with Katie and her husband Edwin.
Or go, I suppose, wherever Brian might.

Mrs. Byers also loaned this picture which shows the Broad Ripple dam as it looked in 1911, when the photo was taken. The dam, which can still be seen north of the Broad Ripple pumping station, was constructed in 1836 or 1837 as a part of the Internal Improvement Act. Also a part of the Internal Improvement Act was the construction of the Indianapolis link to the Central Canal. The project never saw its completion, however, because the Indiana State Treasury went bankrupt.
Note: I learned that the former Broad Ripple Steakhouse was once a Brothel in the 1850s serving the canal workers. That fact inspired me to research the canal further. To my Irish brothers who worked it and to the many who died, I send my respect and admiration.


  1. I love walking into a place and feeling a story write itself. The workers that dug the canal in Broadrippple! What stories they must have been able to tell.
    I was unintentionally eavesdropping on a conversation in a coffeeshop the other day. Boy, talk about a story writing itself! Love those moments. I'm not really sure I understood the context of the conversation, and it doesn't really matter. The story was writing itself in my head.