Tuesday, March 29, 2011
She Was My Mama
Out of seven siblings, I was the youngest and became the primary caregiver for my mother until she passed away at the age of 73 from colon cancer. Although it's been several years since she has passed, the writing of this article has triggered traumatic memories for me which have been buried deep within my heart, though the intensity of the pain connected with those memories has long since subsided.
Mama, was unique in her own ways but quite difficult to deal with, and it was with such difficulty that I attended to my mother's needs. Mama by nature was not an affectionate being as most mothers are with their children. She was not a happy person. I don't think she knew how to love. Thinking back to my childhood, I would like to reflect a little on this, and in doing so maybe I can now understand why she was the way she was.
My parents got married during the Great Depression. Papa was 20 years older than mama. Poverty reigned in their home during the depression and continued to command our home as we grew up, even though the economy improved. We lived in a two bedroom apartment in East Harlem, New York, quite a small living space for 9 people, my parents and us seven kids. Inside the bathroom mama was constantly bent over the bathtub, washing clothes. Mama had a fiery temper, most of the time she was cranky, complaining and yelling at us. She ruled our home with an iron fist. However, because of papa's advanced diabetic condition, he was more ill than most people and had to stop working. Mama knew she had to look for work, so she became a night-time cleaning woman.
Things began to get worse at home; mama was always in a foul mood, taking it out on all of us. She was cold and distant. It didn't look like she was capable of loving anyone. As much as I try to think back, I can't remember her ever giving me a hug or a kiss as a child or even later on when I was an adult. Mama's only favorite child was my brother Daniel, the youngest of the boys. Mama adored him. I felt like she didn't love me, and if she did, she certainly did not know how to show it. I grew up feeling rejected and resenting my brother and my mom as well. The stern look on her face would make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I felt like she was venting her anger on only me. How I remember her pulling my braids, sometimes followed by a stinging slap across the face, or how she scolded me in a cruel, hard way, bringing tears to my eyes. Looking back, sometimes I wonder if I was an unwanted pregnancy as I was the last one to be born. I never got around to asking mama why she was that way with me. Maybe, if her life would have been better, she would have been a much softer and sweeter person. She certainly had her fill of the life she was living as well as with bearing children, in a crowded apartment rearing seven kids and nothing to look forward to but more of the same...
I'm ashamed to say this but I must confess that I resented her as a child and later on as an adult. She was a human tornado who disrupted my life. Yet I became the one that she leaned on and clung to until she finally passed away.
Though I can't condone or ignore the damaging effects of such behavior throughout the years, I still feel a great pity for her. She was my mother, and for me to continue speaking badly of her now, well, my heart will not permit it.
Nonetheless, I was there every single day, from morning until the evening when she was in the hospital, bathing her, combing her hair and fussing over her like she was my child. I was there when she was wheeled into surgery. I was there when the doctor came out to tell me that there was no hope, the cancer had spread throughout her body. I was there outside her room listening to her screams of pain that could not be relieved because her vital signs were fearfully poor, it tore me apart. I was there when she lapsed into a coma holding her hand until I heard her last gasp for breath. How powerful, the endless moment filled with the sound of final silence in that cheerless room of bottles and machines that once made such a fuss. There she laid, finally at peace and gone forever, a strong presence in my life from childhood when she took care of me in her own way and into adulthood, when I took care of her as best as I could.
I guess, in a way, her life was tough, 7 kids in a tiny apartment having to work a full-time job, so she took care of me perhaps as best she could. In the end, I returned the favor. She lay there, gone from my life as a physical being for good, so still and breathless, as tears flowed from my eyes and fell upon her face while I kissed her over and over again. I wanted so much for her to wake up and look at me. This was impossible. Mama was gone; her battle with cancer was finally over. I'd never get to help her again, never hear her complain again, she was my mama, and I loved her. I was sandwiched between memories and the reality that she was gone, guilt and sadness, anger and pain. The Sandwich Generation gets caught between conflicts in more ways than one. You can't handle the responsibility towards the end and what it's done to your own life, and then you miss your parent when they're finally gone.
It didn't matter the difficulty or aggravation that I went through I just wanted my feisty mama back. I hesitated, refusing to leave, while her lifeless body grew cold and stiff. The uncontrollable sobs, a sense of emptiness filled my heart as I sat there alone in the room next to her once vital, now lifeless body. Would it seem hypocritical if I said that "I truly loved my mom or am I saying this out of guilt?" No, I truly loved my mama. I felt guilty because our relationship wasn't perfect and we both made mistakes, but who doesn't. I may not be around forever, but while I am, I'll always remember my mama, and she'll live on in my memories and all the things that I achieve.
As a diabetic, I sometimes wonder about my own future. Will I live long enough to become an unbearable burden to my sons? Does anyone know what the future holds in store for them? So in a way, I am considering what role I will play in the next Sandwich Generation. As time moves on, one thing doesn't change, we love our parents, and we love our children, and we can't turn away from them when they need us most no matter how painful that might seem.
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Relieved that you were able to get a flight for that evening, you begin to pack. You inform your employer that you had a serious family emergency and need to leave immediately. You ask him if you could use your vacation time for this. His approval comes as a big relief.
Between the cost of airline tickets and other additional expenses added to the credit card, a hefty bill is tallied, adding more debt to your finances. Plus you lose your vacation time, time that was intended to be used at a later date. Whatever the results, the reality of the situation at hand is adding weight to your already hectic schedule. By now you know what's in store for you; the cost of flying back and forth between New York and Florida will become exorbitant. On the other hand, you could move to where they live, but that would wreak havoc for all back home. Lastly as a dreaded alternative, you could have your parents move into your home. This way you would be able to keep an eye on them even though this arrangement will also wreak havoc for all concerned. You find yourself trapped by making the choice between: "what you would rather do" and "what is required for you to do." You have officially joined the privileged ranks of the "Sandwich Generation," sandwiched between responsibility for those that raised you and choices that define your own life.
Whether the aging parent becomes confined to a nursing home, a rehabilitation center or an assisted living facility, the demands on the Sandwich Generation still exist. These caregiver's nerves are strained to the utmost. They suffer from depression, anxiety and even some may develop heart problems from all the stress. As it is, the wife-mother-daughter generally is a multi-tasked person holding down multiple jobs and responsibilities all at once.
Now let's take a look at another example. Mrs. B. is a sixty year old stay-at-home grandmother who never had to work because her husband always made decent money. Both of her children have married and maintain successful careers. Her daughter, Sue, finally was able to have two children after several unsuccessful attempts. With so much spare time on her hands, Mrs. B. can do all the things she wants to. Travel, play Mahjong with friends every other week, go to Broadway shows and participate in community activities. Since Mrs. B is a stay-at-home wife, she comes to be the lucky candidate who assumes the babysitter role at a moment's notice for her daughter. How can she refuse to take care of her sweet, innocent darlings once in a while? Happy and doing well, she feels her life is blessed. However, add to this context an aging mom with advanced dementia, the situation changes and becomes overwhelming, piling on additional responsibilities. Now Mrs. B's daughter has just received a promotion and has to put in more hours at her job. Sue is so excited, since it will raise her salary $30,000 a year. She's hoping that mom can take care of the kids full-time.
"Don't get nervous, it's only temporary until I get the hang of it, then I will put them in daycare," she says. At age sixty, Mrs. B. is not looking forward to spending 40 + hours a week taking care of a baby and a two-year-old toddler. She also has the responsibility of an aging mom with dementia. Since her father passed away over three years ago, Mrs. B. has been noticing changes in her mother's personality. Apparently she has been suffering from clinical depression with mood swings, wherein she would become enraged, unresponsive or withdrawn. She also watched her mom slowly fade into the never-ending fog of memory loss, repeating herself over and over again. Mrs. B.'s mom would become increasingly bewildered and confused, even in familiar surroundings. Lately, her appetite has been poor, and to make matters worse, she has developed a foul odor. She has been neglecting her personal hygiene as she does not realize that she has to bathe and change her clothes. Since Mrs. B. is the oldest of three sisters and as she lives the closest to mom, and supposedly had more free time on her hands than the others, she has become the designated primary caregiver, against her wishes. So as a result, Mrs. B.'s mom moves in with her daughter. Both situations have disrupted Mrs. B.'s comfort zone. It also has interfered with the quiet life that she built with her husband since the kids got married and moved out of the house.
The full-time baby-sitting issue in regards to her grandchildren is becoming a serious problem for her, going on for several months now. She cannot understand why it's taking her daughter so long to put them in daycare. Mrs. B. is too tired. She is wound tighter than a rubber band. The baby is teething and crying constantly and the toddler still in diapers is hungry, tugging at her pants. Suddenly the door bell rings. It's her next door neighbor asking if she could pick up her mail for the next four days since she won't be home. Smiling, Mrs. B. agrees and closes the door. She starts to fume, feeling envious of her neighbor, who has the freedom to take off when she wants to while Mrs. B. is trapped at home with two grandchildren, constantly changing diapers and doing the laundry.
She says, "What does she think I am, her errand girl? With all that I am doing, she has the nerve to ask!" Not even the girls at Mahjong call her anymore. They have been avoiding her like the plague. She calls her daughter constantly, complaining about the kids and her mom. The daughter, avoiding the issue, puts her on voice mail. Mrs. B. screams at her mom. She calls her sisters and vents on them for not helping out. She vents to the mailman, the supermarket cashier, whoever might lend an ear. She can't wait to vent on her husband when he comes home. There is no way for him to avoid the sound of her shrilly voice, her expression revealing her anger. He is deeply concerned that she may be having a nervous breakdown. The peaceful life of Mr. and Mrs. B. is long gone.
Meanwhile, Mrs. B. can hear her aging mom fussing because she has a terrible case of the runs, soiling her underwear and nightgown, she needs to be washed and changed just like the grandchildren she routinely babysits. Mrs. B. has found herself in a situation that is not easily solvable. She starts to freak out. She is extremely tired and cranky. She needs sleep in a desperate way. The horrible consciousness and sandwiched existence cause tears to stream from her eyes. "I can't stand it anymore. I hate what I'm doing. I don't want to do this any longer. I want it to go away," she cries. "I am only one person, how can I separate myself into so many pieces and satisfy everyone at the same time? Doesn't anyone care about me? I have needs too." She sits there stressed out, her body wracking with heart wrenching sobs. Frightened by grandma's emotional state, the baby starts to cry and her whole face turns red while the toddler starts to cry as well. Finally, she screams at the top of her lungs and says, "WHY ME? I DIDN'T ASK FOR THIS!"
Do these examples sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Caring for aging parents is not an easy task. It saps your energy and robs you of your peace of mind. Very few people are emotionally ready to undertake this role. The comfort zone which you have created for yourself, including the freedom to come and go as you please, career fulfillment, and an active social life with your friends becomes completely disrupted. With care-giving, you feel captive to the needs of whoever you are caring for. Also, it puts you in the awkward position of parenting your own parents.
In the final part of this 3 part series, I'll address ways I have had to deal with being a member of the Sandwich Generation, and ways to help cope with the stress involved with being a caregiver.
To be continued: Part III (a)
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The harsh, cold winters are terrible for the elderly. Many attribute their painful physical conditions to that. There is also the risk of falling on the ice and in snow. The fact is, arthritis not only affects elderly people, but it can affect anyone at any age. However, since seniors believe that arthritis is handled better in warmer climates, many move away from their children to live in Florida where the heat is soothing. However, there are days when Florida's hot and humid weather can also cause pain. Another option that seniors have looked to is the desert climate of Arizona, which is quite advantageous for people with arthritis. Nonetheless, wherever they decide to go, the decision to leave will not diminish the fears or anxieties that their child may have in regards to their parent's well-being, especially when they are an only child. There is always the concern that something can happen that might uproot everyone's lives.
For example, you may have a situation like this:
The telephone rings. You answer. It's the emergency room at the hospital. It's the call you were dreading. The nurse speaks with a concerned voice, "Mrs. J., your mom was crossing the street on foot and was hit by a car. I want to let you know the nature of her injuries. She has internal bleeding; broken vertebrae in her back, a shattered pelvis and her arm and leg are broken as well. It's a wonder she survived. She is in a terrible amount of pain. Your father is very anxious and doesn't make sense when he talks. I think he is in shock. The doctor is examining him now. Can you please come soon? It is extremely urgent. Your mother is asking for you. The seriousness of her injuries requires immediate surgery. Your mother has agreed to it if it would stop the horrendous pain. Even with the surgery, the doctor is not sure if she will ever walk again. I am letting you know that she will have to stay here after her surgery until she is moved into a rehabilitation center."
You sit stunned by the complicating issues in this sudden, unanticipated mess, trying to figure out how best to break the news to your husband and children. How will they react when they find out you have to leave immediately? Who will take care of the kids when you're gone, perhaps a week or more? Taking mental notes, you wonder about the power of attorney and the living will that wasn't made at the time your parents moved, as they were both in full capacity and robust at the time so dad didn't think it was necessary. However, recently, dad has had some health issues with his heart which are causing you great concern. You are worried that dad might have a heart attack with all this stress. You say to yourself, 'I hope there is a will, because this can complicate matters. I don't even know if they both have life insurance and if so, how much? I'll have to take care of that later when I arrive in Florida, as one of my "Must Do's." You suddenly remembered what the nurse said, that your mom was going to be moved to a nursing home or a rehabilitation center after she leaves the hospital, if she leaves the hospital.
Now you are apprehensive, after considering the big "What If," what if they don't have long-term care insurance? My God, between the nursing-home residency, of which Medicare only covers a small portion, and the cost of long-term care, a mind-boggling figure of anywhere between $50,000 to a $100,000 a year may result.. Who is going to pay for that? "I can't think about that now," you say to yourself. "All of this is making me nervous." As you rush and make calls the wheels of your mind are still in motion pondering on the "What Ifs." You are starting to feel queasy and angry at the same time. You stop for a moment and say, "they'll have to sell their home and perhaps move into an assisted living facility which will be costly as well. Come to think of it, the worst could happen, they might just end up moving into my home. If mom can't walk, who will take care of her? Dad can't. Will I have to give up my job? Oh no, this can't be happening. WHY ME, I DIDN'T ASK FOR THIS! I don't mind dad living with us. He is such a sweetheart, but what about mom? It would be sheer hell. We never got along. To make matters worse, Jimmie dislikes my mom and the feeling is mutual. I am almost sure that my home will end up being a battle zone. I don't know what to do, why did she have only one child?" Your hands are shaking. "I hope my mother-in-law will watch the kids while I'm gone. What will Jimmy say? Now this will give him a good reason to leave.
To be continued: Part II (b)
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Sunday, March 27, 2011
This is part I of a 3 part article regarding the increasing lifespan of seniors. This section will also show how this affects the family and loved ones that help them as they age. It's remarkable how much progress has been made in the fields of science and medicine, particularly in the last century. Today most seniors have been helped in living a salubrious and more productive life which has resulted in longer average life spans. Following a varied diet rich in nutrients and a moderate exercise regime, seniors have been able to better control their blood pressure and reduce the bad cholesterol to safe levels, thus slowing down the aging process. The average life expectancy today is over 79 years of age.
Many seniors today are still independent, many continue to work past retirement, travel, are involved in sports activities and volunteer work which they find, personally satisfying. They like the fact that they are still in control of their lives. An extended life for them means more time to enjoy their children, participate in events involving their grandchildren, and perhaps even more time to observe another new generation, as well. It also allows them to appreciate more things in life such as attending the theater and concerts, day tripping, enjoying the company of both aging and younger friends, inclusive expanding their creativity in as many ways possible.
We live in a society preoccupied with youth. Let's face it; people go to extremes to look younger these days. Each person is entitled to its small vanities. Nevertheless, it's like being straddled between two worlds, the youthful one that everyone clings to desperately and the aging one that they face in reality, which everyone hates and fights. However, the longer seniors live, the more they will face new, more difficult challenges, some that are too complex to overcome, some that make it difficult to maintain their independence. Most of them eventually come to live with their children, a generation herein referred to as the "Sandwich Generation."
Since most seniors live on fixed incomes, the ever-increasing cost of living along with higher health premiums, pricey medicines and costlier co-pays means that they will not be able to defend themselves economically as they grow older. The elderly have to face, a "Longevity crisis", which can be best described in economic terms as "living past the amount of their pensions and assets." Plus, when one spouse dies, two incomes are reduced to one. As the older population continues to grow older, most of the frail elderly begin to suffer from serious physical and mental health issues. It's inevitable. It's not only the law of the aging process, but the harsh reality of the circle of life.
Vision and hearing become impaired, osteoporosis sets in, a once vigorous pace slows to a shuffle, aided with the help of a cane or walker, or perhaps even a wheelchair. Memory loss becomes a lifelong companion. With age, personal vanities cease to have precedence. According to the Alzheimer's Association statistics, "There are nearly 15 million Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers providing 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $202 billion. Caregivers, not only suffer emotionally but also physically. More than 60 percent of family caregivers report high levels of stress because of the prolonged duration of care giving and 33 percent report symptoms of depression."
As stated, the best way to describe those that are involved in the care of the elderly today is to call them the "Sandwich Generation."
What a strange name and to whom does this moniker refer to?
It refers to the baby boomer children, now between the ages of 50 to mid 60's, or even to younger adults in their 30's and 40's.
How would you describe the circumstances that these people are in?
TRAPPED! This is the only way to put it, positively stuck right smack in the middle, like a piece of overtaxed baloney caught between two slices of resource sapping bread. It's a tug of war between aging parents who depend on them for care after years of raising them, and the demanding needs of raising their own children.
Most of those that are caretakers are women who hold jobs, wives, mothers and sisters as well. Daughters are more likely than sons to accommodate their aging parents, statistically speaking.
Caring for elderly parents carries its share of responsibilities and also a wide scope of emotions.
For the exhausted caregiver, sleep can't come too soon. Not only do they have to contend with sleepless nights, there are other things such as absorbing mom or dad's expenses, the endless paperwork, unlimited telephone calls, arguments with providers, and the never-ending visits to the doctors, pharmacies and emergency rooms. As for having any aspirations or plans of their own, its best they forget about it while they care for their parents.
In part 2, we'll explore real life scenarios that too many members of the Sandwich Generation are faced with.
To be continued: Part II
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
This is part two of a two-part series examining the history of the Irish society as we approach Saint Patrick's Day. In part one, we examined the plight of the Irish in their home land as their farms were taken, as famine set in and as conditions in Ireland deteriorated, causing millions of Irish to immigrate to America, where they also faced difficult living conditions. In part two, we will examine the history of the Irish-American as they carved out their own place in American society.
Numerous Irish refugees came to the United States as indentured servants. Once in the United States, they had to look for work, leading them to endure hard physical labor for several years to pay off the debt to their lender (the loan shark) before they could be free of this obligation.
Following the War Between the States, there was a period in the United States known as "The Gilded Age", where substantial advancements in technology contributed to the rapid industrialization of America. As more and more cities and towns were established, the need for more laborers grew. Irish immigrants filled out the workforce for most of the backbreaking jobs.
Since the stagecoach was becoming obsolete, there was a greater need for faster and more comfortable transportation. The railway was critical to the growth of America, solving transportation problems for the people of the far west. Federal subsidies were generously granted to the builders, which helped bring this mammoth project to fruition. Contractors put out the word that they needed hired help at the promised fee of a $2.50 daily wage. This was even a better offer for the Irish immigrants, who were making only.50 cents a day working on the East Coast's Erie Canal. There was no job too hard for an Irishman to tackle. Strong, strapping Irish men responded to the call, working fast and furious, side by side with other ethnic groups. The Irish immigrants endured horrendous physical labors and living conditions in order to survive and be able to send money back home to their families.
During the years of 1850-1890, the American railway system expanded prodigiously. As a result of the 200,000 miles of railroad track that was laid down by 1890, industries were able to ship their goods to far away public markets at a faster pace, thus encouraging economic growth.
In 1854, there was a riot in New York City which resulted from a fight between the "Know-Nothings" and the Irish, during which some forty or fifty persons were wounded, some fatally. The few policemen who were on hand did their best to quell the violence but couldn't. The crowds, wild with excitement and out of control, ganged up on the policemen, beating them with clubs and stones. Shot after shot was fired into the air, even into the populace, this eventually brought the riot to an end.
Who were these "Know-Nothings"? They were native-born Americans who resented all immigrants and various ethnicities, especially the Irish who arrived in vast numbers during the 40's and 50's. This political party called the "Know-Nothings" was officially known as "The American Party". The party materialized from secret societies that were against immigrants coming to America, doing whatever they could do to get rid of them. This resulted in strong altercations between both groups throughout all the principal cities. When asked about the organization or who the leaders of this alleged political party were, they were instructed to say "I know nothing."
Unfortunately, most avenues for economic improvement were closed to these new Americans due to their lack of skills and knowledge. The prejudices that Protestant America formed towards the Catholic Irish only made matters worse. Everywhere the Irish went in response to the want ads anti-Irish sentiment loomed. Employers posted signs, "No Irish Need Apply". These signs eventually disappeared over the years as new ethnic groups immigrated to America and were targeted by this anti-immigrant sentiment. New prejudice substituted for the old prejudices. Nonetheless, through their persistence, the Irish refugees would find employment in the mills and factories that thrived along the waterways. "The 363 mile long Erie Canal was built from 1817 to 1825 at a cost of $7 million. The digging was largely done by Irish immigrants, attracted to the backbreaking labor by wages of $8 to $12 a month or.50 cents a day." The Irish immigrants who worked on the canal would normally stay, establishing their presence in that area.
Thousands of unqualified Irish immigrants and unlettered laborers settled in New York City, taking whatever job they could get. They worked as teamsters, day laborers, streetcar conductors, and shipyard mechanics. Others worked as dock-workers, iron-workers, factory-hands, and street cleaners. The women would seek employment in a domestic position as a housekeeper or cook.
As a result of the Irish immigration, which began during the thirties until after the Civil War, the Catholic Church grew rapidly. Although Irish Catholics did exist during the Colonial period, it wasn't until the 19th century that accomplishments by the Catholic Church became more pronounced. St. Joseph's Seminary, a Catholic institution, was established in Troy in 1864, the diocese of Rochester was organized in 1866, the diocese of Ogdensburg in 1872, and the diocese of Syracuse in 1886. The first bishop of the Albany diocese also became the first American cardinal in 1875. St. Bernard's Seminary was established in Rochester and St. Joseph's was established in Yonkers in 1896.
Irish-American men were highly commended for their outstanding unflinching courage in all of America's Wars. They were brave warriors during the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War, even in the Vietnam War. During the Civil War, the Irish Brigade comprised of four regiments, New York's 63rd, 69th and 88th and the 29th Regiment of Massachusetts, became one of the most famous fighting units in the Union Army. Many of these gallant soldiers were Irish immigrants from New York. Their participation in all of America's military conflicts has helped the Irish-American men gain the respect and admiration of the American people.
In their determination to excel, Irish-Americans no longer wishing to stay at the bottom of America's economic ladder as unskilled laborers strived toward self-improvement. This strength in character and the pursuit of a higher education has given place to a new role as leading and productive citizens, successful business people, political figures, doctors, nurses, actors and actresses, writers, historians, inventors, defenders of women's rights, musicians, opera singers, composers, teachers and much, much more. One of the most gratifying moments for the Irish-American community was to witness John Fitzgerald Kennedy as he became America's first Irish-Catholic president.
Well, my dear readers, I guess we've reached the end of this extraordinary history, wherein I have briefly summarized the plight of "Irish Americans: More Than A Saint Patrick's Day Parade." I hope it will prove grist for the mill of your inquisitive mind.
Oh, and Happy Saint Patrick's Day, celebrate the proud Irish-American culture and have a green beer on me!
Miriam B. Medina is an expert author at Platinum Level at Ezinearticles.com
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The gold rush in California began to draw immigrants from every part of the world. America was expanding it offered promise and opportunity and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Steamship companies, railroad companies, manufacturing firms and private enterprises turned to Europe for workers. Ruthless businessmen hired unscrupulous agents to work on commission. They were sent to Europe with an array of irresistible pamphlets, advertisements, drawings and pictures. These smooth operators promised wealth that would prove most often to be an illusion. They convinced the downtrodden that land was cheap, that jobs were plentiful and that some day they could return to their home country as wealthy land owners. If those lies didn't work, as a last resort, the smooth operator would play his final card.
"My employer is willing to loan you the money to pay for your passage and lodgings, and when you begin to work in America you can pay him back out of your wages."
When disease ruined their crops, the Irish had nothing else to keep them in Ireland, and America offered hope, promise, the American Dream. America beckoned.
For those that were destitute, and that was most of them, they had no choice but to borrow money from whomever was willing to pay for their transportation. The price of the passage would cost anywhere from $12.50 to $25.00 a head.
Without further delay, the Irish packed their meager belongings, their household goods and their families and set sea for the land of promise. The steamship agents had booked as many steerage passengers as they could possibly squeeze on deck or in the bottom of the ship, making conditions unbearable, in order to make the trip financially rewarding. The emigrants on deck were subjected to rainy cold weather conditions and the dampness of the sea. Water and food was limited. Starvation, dampness and dirty conditions provided a breeding ground for cholera and death. Diarrhea was prominent among the passengers. Those not strong enough to survive the trip succumbed to death, and their bodies were weighed down and dumped into the tempestuous sea. One ship alone registered more than 200 people who died from disease and famine caused by these horrible conditions during the long and perilous journey.
Between 1847 and 1860, more than 1,000,000 Irish immigrants passed through the port of New York. Those that arrived were fortunate to be alive, having survived the terrible conditions after struggling to accumulate the passage money, either by a relative who helped them or from the so-called "loan shark", also known as the smooth operator.
Many of the Irish that arrived on the shores of America were poor, having exhausted their savings on the journey; those few who had any money left soon fell prey to the waterfront sharper who were trained con men. The Irish, as well as most immigrants who came to New York City during the mid 1800's, ordinarily lived in the tenement district, amid crime, filth and disease. They were forced to live in damp smelly cellars or attics, up to 10 people, men, women and children alike, packed into crowded single rooms where "undisturbed filth for so many years would reign." These tenement buildings were dangerous fire-traps and breeding grounds for murderous rodents that would kill babies in their cribs. Some of the Irish who couldn't find employment to pay rent lived in dirty shanties that surrounded the dumping places. They would sift through the garbage trying to find scraps for food, whether it was decaying vegetables, bread or even bones. Nonetheless, they were here in America, and many would make the most of their opportunity. In part two of this series, we will examine the history of Irish Americans once they settled into America.
Miriam B. Medina is an Expert Author at Platinum Level at EzineArticles.com
See Part II next:
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By Miriam B. Medina
This is part one of a two-part series examining the history of both the Irish culture and Saint Patrick's Day. Saint Patrick's Day, named for Ireland's patron saint, will be celebrated on March 17th as it is each year. The Saint Patrick's Day parade has been observed since 1737 and was celebrated in New York City as early as 1762. The first commemorated event was held by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston in 1737, and since then, Saint Patrick's Day has been nationally observed as an ethnic celebration that has achieved primacy. The annual parade, one of the largest in America, travels along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and passes by the Saint Patrick's Cathedral. The wearing of the color green is part of the observance, as it is Ireland's national color. Let's not forget the traditional, delicious corn beef and cabbage, a dish synonymous with the Holiday, which is an American meal that is served on this special occasion. For the Irish-American community, Saint Patrick's Day is a joyous day spent with family, friends, beer (often green beer), whiskey, sentimental songs, and poetry. Once in a while, amongst revelers at the bars and pubs, rowdiness may lead to brawling. Images of the leprechaun and the shamrock are also included in American celebrations. Regardless of what goes on at festivities around the city, due to its immense success, the Saint Patrick's Day parade has served as an example that has encouraged the celebration of other European ethnic groups, as well.
-American communities have been present in the United States for several centuries; to this day their ethnic identity has been particularly meaningful to them. They still brim with tremendous pride and honor due to their Irish heritage despite their passionate love for America.
From my research of the Irish in America, I would like to give a historical review in this article by elaborating on the early immigrant history of Irish-Americans. We will explore their primary reason for immigrating to America, view their struggles and hardships in adapting to the American way of life, and see how they, as an ethnic group, became the focus of prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence. It is important to note that because the Irish immigrants were a positive minded people, they remained undaunted by poverty, illiteracy and severe hardships that faced them over the years. Irish-Americans have had the resilience to bounce back from all of this hardship, forging ahead to face greater and better horizons, gaining the respect and immense admiration of the American people.
Keeping Irish-Americans, struggles, resilience, pride and ultimate role in shaping America as we know it today in mind, we can start exploring the history of this important part of Americana. That history had originated in Ireland before it immigrated to the United States.
During the first part of the nineteenth century, there was a general tendency to divide family farms and plots into smaller partitions. This was of little use to the Irish farmers when it came to raising and supporting their families. They were subjected as well to the evils of landlordism often facing prejudice from wealthy Anglo-Saxon land owners they were relegated to living in slum like conditions. Since most of the Irish were not landowners; however, they had to lease the property from their English landlords in order to develop their crops. The lands were most often owned by absentee landlords, who attempted to charge the highest possible rents with the least amount of upkeep or service. The large number of middlemen who held land under the lords and acted as their agents made the situation even worse. Large numbers of Ireland's prime portions of land had been confiscated by English aristocracy, which they wanted to use for grazing. As a result, many Irish farmers were evicted from the land which they had been leasing for years. Those that remained had no desire to improve their farms, seeing that all their efforts would automatically revert to the landlord, who would be rewarded for collecting rent and then taking the labor of the Irish tenants. The commerce of Ireland was largely confined to agriculture, due to the natural resources and the environmental conditions of the island itself. In addition to farming, the small number of domestic weaving and spinning businesses that helped subsidize the means of several families all but ended with the explosion of industrialization that dominated the era. Frustrated and stripped of their land and homes, many Irish farmers suffered tremendous hardships. They were justifiably angry with the English for not being able to reap the rewards of their hard work in order to support their families.
The Irish people relied heavily on growing potatoes to both eat and to make money to support their families. As a result of the massive potato crop failure that lasted from 1845-1847, Ireland suffered from a devastating famine that caused nearly one and a half-million people to die.
To be continued: Part 1 (b)
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Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Table of Contents (4)
(I.) Jewish Knowledge (J.) Self-Improvement (K.) Historical Facts On England & United StatesTable of Contents (5)
(L.) Miscellaneous (M.) Timetables (N.) Ethnic Groups (O.) Legal Talk(P.) Entertainment: Backward Glances (Q.) Immigration
R.) Women__Bio Sketches, Feminine Fancies, Recipes, Kitchen Talk.(S.) Worship
(T.) A Little Taste of History, (U.) U.S. History-Transportation, (V) U.S. History-Panics, Economic Depressions, Business Matters
(W) El Rincón En Español (The Spanish Corner: ) . This section is dedicated to articles of historical facts, poetry, self-improvement, human interest stories etc. written in Spanish. Table of Contents (9) (X) So Mr. President, What Did You Do During Your Term in Office....? (The Series) Table of Contents (10a) In Italian (Y) Brusciano, Italy News/Events: Dr. Antonio Castaldo, Journalist
Table of Contents (13) I) "El Rincón Borinqueña"
Table of Contents (17)
Table of Contents (19) VII Published Articles Written by Miriam B. Medina Click on Icon to view articles on Ezine or on Table of Contents
IX Memories (Brooklyn, Manhattan and Personal)
Table of Contents (22)-John J. Burkard X Red Hook, Reflections on History
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