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The Ballad of Caysie O'Connell
The Ballad of Caysie O'Connell
By Hallie Stotler
The train clattered and chugged rhythmically. Caysie stared out the window, the motion of the train swaying her back and forth. The quiet landscape raced by as the train sped along. "How many more miles?" she thought. "Who knows?" answered the echo in her head. She felt as though she had been sitting in that train for days. Caysie was headed to Ireland of all places. Since her mother had been locked away for insurance fraud, Caysie had been sent, no, ordered, to live with her relatives in Ireland, whom she barely knew. The social worker at the Dublin airport had shoved her on the train without so much as a word, nothing to give Caysie any comfort.
She was evidently destined to stay with her uncle and his family on a farm. "A farm?" Caysie thought, "What the hell am I going to do on a farm, with people I barely know." She missed her friends back in NYC. But, NY had some genius law that said that wards of the state had to go live with their nearest relatives. What a joke; they weren't "near" at all. Aside from a few pictures, she had no idea what these "relatives" were like. They were Irish, obviously, probably ate lots of potatoes, and drank lots of beer. With the exception of her name, there was nothing Irish about Caysie O'Connell. She had lived in New York City all her life in a small apartment with her mom. Her dad had died long before she was old enough to remember him. Now her mom, who had always done her darnd'est to keep them above the poverty line, had finally gone too far. She was paying for it, in prison, leaving Caysie totally alone. Since then, she had been thrust from social worker to social worker to social worker, ironically none of them seeming to be very interested in her plight.
One had dropped her off at JFK, another picked her up from the Dublin airport and hustled her onto a train. And now she was chugging along to some god forsaken farming town where she was to live her days for the next five years. She sighed. Well if anything, she thought, the countryside was indeed very beautiful. The rolling hills and green valley's flitted past her eyes like a picture book whose pages are blowing in the wind. "Next stop Rossport!" Shouted the conductor. "That’s me," thought Caysie, "The beginning of the end." The train pulled into the station and Caysie swung her bag over her shoulder.
The train conductor opened the door, and she stepped out into her new life. The air was clean and fresh, very different from NYC. Caysie took a minute to absorb her surroundings. Everywhere she looked, there was green. Green mountains, green grass, green trees. No skyscrapers. "Is that you, Caysie O'Connell?" Caysie was jolted awake by a thick Irish accent. "Yea that’s me." "Well, pleasure to meet you, I’m your Uncle Michael, call me Mike. Your mum is mi' sister." He held out a large, rough, callused hand. Tentatively, Caysie reached out and shook it. "Alright there young lady, we better be gettin' on home, it's 'bout gettin dark." He started over to a large rusty old pickup truck, and Caysie followed him. The road was gravel and rough, Caysie jostled in her seat. For a while they rode in silence. Raindrops pelted the car, pitter-patter pitter-patter. Then Mike spoke, "I think you'll like it here, Caysie. Granted, it's no New York, but it's nice enough. I'm a small farmer, and we get by, eh?" Caysie was silent. She clutched her bag as she stared out the window. The Irish accent was abrasive to her. Unfamiliar, alien. She didn't like it. "Well the other kids are lookin' fohward ta' seein' ya. I'm sure you'll all get along grand." Silence. The raindrops steadily fell, blurring the lush landscape. Pitter-patter pitter-patter. Eventually the truck pulled up into a small, muddy, driveway and stopped.
Caysie looked up. She observed a small farmhouse, like nothing she had ever seen in New York City. It was white and old-fashioned looking, like one of those houses you see in old movies, thought Caysie. "Well we best be gettin' inside now youngen, the others are waitin' for you," said Mike with a kind smile. Caysie sullenly looked at Mike, looked at the house again, and clicked open the rusty door of the car. She swung herself out and trudged towards the door, with Mike following after. They reached the door and Mike pushed it open. "Hey everyone, we're home!" he called. As if on cue, 2 young children and an older boy ran up, along with a woman taking up the rear. "My darlings! Hello, John! Oh and hello, Margaret dear. Children, this is Caysie, she's from New York!" Caysie gave a slight smile in greeting. "Caysie this is my wife, Margaret." "Hello" said Caysie. "Welcome child! You must be starvin', would you like some hot soup?" "Sure, thanks, that would be great," said Caysie quietly. She followed Margaret into the small kitchen and the other children followed.
The oldest was a boy, maybe about Caysie's age, fifteen. The middle child was a girl, probably eleven or twelve. And the youngest was a small boy, no more than four years old. Caysie and the other children took a seat at the table. "Hi, I'm John" said the oldest, with an outstretched hand. "Hi" said Caysie, and shook his hand. "That's Nellie and Little William," he said. The other two children looked up at her shyly. Margaret distributed piping hot bowls of soup to each child, and Caysie ate it hungrily. "You're really from New York City?!" piped up Nellie. "What's it like? Did you live in one of those buildings that's as tall as the sky?" "Nellie, Nellie," chuckled Mike, "Not so many questions, love, Caysie's had a long journey." Pretty soon it was evening, and the sky darkened, "Children, you best be gettin' off to bed now! Caysie, you'll be sharin' a room with young Nellie." said Margaret. "Yess!!" responded Nellie enthusiastically. "But remember now, Nellie, no more questions tonight." scolded Mike. "Aww ok Dad." Little William and Nellie padded off to bed. Margaret and Mike followed after. Now only John and she remained.
“So your mum’s in jail huh?” said John. “Yeah,” said Caysie. Where’s ye' dad?” "My dad’s dead” “Oh” said John. “Your lucky to have both your parents still with you” said Caysie. “Actually,” replied John, “Mi' dad’s dead too. In fact, both mi' parents are dead. “Wait, so Mike and Margaret aren’t your parents?" Caysie was confused. “No, no, when I was a lad of 10 I was orphaned. They sent me to an institution for orphaned boys, but the people there were cruel to me and I ran away. Margaret and Mike found me wanderin’ on the road near Dublin and took me in as a farm hand.” explained John. “Wow, that’s really nice of them,” said Caysie. “Yeah,” said John. An awkward silence descended. Caysie felt a bit better. At last there was someone else who understood loss, who knew what it was like to have your life shattered to pieces. “Well,” John said, breaking the silence, “best we get off to bed, work starts bright and early tomorrow morning.” “Alright, g’night then.” said Caysie. “’Night” said John.
Caysie went into her room and crawled into bed. And, for the first time in months, she slept in a bed she could call her own.
“Hey Sleepyhead Wake up! It’s time to get goin'!” Caysie was jolted awake, and was immediately greeted by Mike’s smiling face. “Whaat? What’s going on?” She asked groggily. “John and I are off to feed the animals, thought you might like to come too!” Just then Margaret walked by the door, “Oh Mike,” she said scolding, “Do let the poor girl sleep.” “No, that’s alright,” said Caysie, “I’m already awake, I’ll come.” Mike dashed down stairs while Caysie got dressed. Within minutes she was downstairs and found John and Mike already waiting for her. “Geez, you guys,” she said, rubbing her eyes, “It’s barely even light outside yet.” John gave her a smile., “Pretty different from New York, Eh?” “Come on now the cows are getting restless,” said Mike impatiently.
They trudged towards the barn, the ground was muddy and wet. Caysie's sneakers became covered in muck. "Ugh" she said in disgust.
They reached the barn, and Caysie could hear loud moos coming from inside. Mike nonchalantly unbolted the door. The smell was overwhelming, but John and Mike didn't seem to notice. "Phew!" Caysie said, clasping her hand on her mouth and nose. John saw her and laughed, "Oh come off it 'can't be that bad. You'll get used to it." Caysie grinned sheepishly. They entered the barn, where Caysie saw a passel of cows. There had to be at least ten spread out in the stalls of the small barn before them. John and Mike got right down to business, immediately pulling up stools and milking the cows rapidly and mechanically into the pails. Caysie watched with great interest, until John said, "Would you like to have a try, Caysie?" "Umm... ok" said Caysie, very tentatively. "Well then what are we waiting for? Come right down and sit on this here stool." He gestured to the small wooden stool. Caysie gingerly sat down and found herself face to face with a large set of udders. "Now," John said, "Just squeeze down." Caysie looked at the udders. She didn't want to touch them. She looked back at John's expectant face, and it gave her courage. She grabbed onto the udders and began milking. 'Hey,' she thought, 'This isn't so hard.' After a minute or two of milking, she stopped. John was beaming, "Good job!" he said. Caysie felt very pleased with herself.
After harvesting the eggs from the chicken coop, Mike, John, and Caysie went back inside, leaving their mud caked shoes at the door. Margaret took some of the eggs and soon the delicious smell of breakfast wafted from the kitchen. As they took a seat at the table, Little William and Nellie came in as well. "Good mornin' father" they chimed. "Good morning, my little ones!" cooed Mike. Margaret placed a steaming plate of eggs, sausages, bacon rashers, and delicious black pudding. "Here ya' go, love, get a good chubbing up" Caysie shot a shy smile back and took her first bite of a full Irish breakfast.
Days passed. Everyday it was the same routine. After breakfast, each individual would go off to their assigned tasks, and Caysie was left alone. But Caysie enjoyed her "quiet time" as she liked to call it. On this day, she went upstairs and sat on her bed. Silence. Peace. Tranquility. There was no sound except for the twitter of birds outside. This was so different from her previous life, she wondered if she could ever get used to it. How long was it till her mom got out of jail? Too long. Five years, the judge had said and "BANG!" went the gavel. The sound of it still rang in Caysie's ears. Five years. She missed her mom. No use counting the days, it would just make them go by more slowly. Caysie sat there on her bed, lost in thought. This could be a new start. She had the chance to redo her life. 'It's as if I'm being born again, and I don't even want to be. Incredible.' she thought. As she sat, lost in thought, minutes turned into hours, and the day progressed by. A gentle knock on the door roused her from her musing. "You all right in there?" called John softly. "Ah yes, come in." said Caysie. The door creaked open, and John sat next to her on the bed. "Ye miss your mum?" he said. "Yeah" whispered Caysie. "I miss mi' parents too." They sat in silence for a minute. "Mike and Margaret are really great people ya' know," he said. "You'll be really happy here, eventually, I guarantee it." "Thanks" said Caysie, softly. John put his arm around her. "Come on now, Caysie, it's nearly supper time. Let's go downstairs." "Alright" sighed Caysie. They got up and slowly walked downstairs. The smell of Margaret's homemade supper was already drifting up to Caysie's nostrils. 'Mmmm," she thought, her pondering straying from her mother to the delicious food she was about to have. It smelled amazing, and of course, it was amazing.
After dinner, Mike ordered everything cleared out of the kitchen, table and all, leaving only the chairs. "There is music to be made!" he boomed with a grin. John ran upstairs and came back with a shining fiddle, while Nellie grabbed some spoons and Little William banged on the table in anticipation, his eyes sparkling. Mike grabbed his guitar, and Margaret took a seat beside him. Once all the commotion was settled, Mike grinned down at his little ones. "Alright now Nellie! What shall we play?" "Finnegan's Wake, father!" chirped Nellie. "You heard her, John!" boomed Mike, his big red, jovial face bursting with joy. "Let's play it!" As the song began, Caysie stared in wonder. "What fun they were having!" she thought. With wonderful, dashing John on fiddle, Mike on guitar, and Margaret and the rest singing and percussing away, Caysie suddenly felt a wave of joy come over her. Their frivolity was contagious. Caysie had been infected and now nothing could stop the great smile that was spreading across her face.
This was a place she could really become a part of. Finally, she was surrounded by people who deeply cared for her, who loved her, who were proud to call her one of their own. And maybe, just maybe, Caysie thought, this was the place she could spend the rest of her days in happiness. As the chorus came around again, Caysie joined in and John beamed at her. "Wasn't it the truth I told ya', lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake!" And for the first time in a long time, Caysie felt truly blissful and carefree, filled with joy and ecstasy.