It was August, 1939. I was with my family on Inishfree, the island home of my Irish grandparents…the magical place my mother brought us to for each summer school holiday…the place I loved best in my world. I loved the strand of white sand and black rocks. One rock, our ritual rock, where one of my brothers, on our first full day on the island, would climb to the top and yell, “I’m the King of the Castle,” then jump off and lie pretending to be dead. The cove where we “rowed” the rotting boat into Atlantic storms. I loved the people, who welcomed us into their homes and teased us unmercifully. The school, where we were allowed to come and listen to the lessons in Gaelic and the songs too.
We were at breakfast in my grandparents’ island kitchen, with its big hearth and crane for hanging pots, its dresser with the assortment of decorated cups and saucers, one cup standing on three gold legs that fitted into the three gold indents in the saucer, and the huge willow-patterned platters, and the plate edged with green ribbon, and the egg ups and the rest. And the big thick wall, nails carved into flowers, that divided my grandparents’ bedroom from the kitchen. And the red staircase that led up to the loft. And the chair my grandmother sat in, its variety of cushions, velvet and cotton and silk, spilling onto the floor when she sat in it.
So we sat at breakfast, and the postman walked into the kitchen, wished everyone a good morning, and handed my mother her mail. A letter from my father, usually bearing news of friends back home in Edinburgh. This letter was different. The closing paragraph my mother read aloud.
“So war is coming. And soon. I’ve booked you to leave for home in two days.”
We sat stunned. My grandmother hid her face in her apron. Mother tried to comfort her. My brothers and sister went outside and stood in a group talking in whispers.
I ran outside, then round the house to the tall sandbank that gave the house some protection from fierce winter storms. I threw myself on the grassy top, thumping a fist and saying over and over, “I won’t leave! I can’t leave! I won’t leave!”
My oldest brother, Colin, joined me lying stretched out, elbows on the grass, chin resting on his hands, gazing out to Rutland Island and Aranmore beyond.
“There won’t be a stupid war!” I said.
He stayed looking out at the sea. “There’s going to be a war,” he said, “I’ll join the Navy as soon as I’m of age. I think it’s going to be exciting.”
There was a war, of course. My grandmother died during it. I moved to the U.S. after it. It was twenty years before I saw the island again. As soon as the boat touched the pier, I was out and running, running towards my grandparents’ house, feeling the soft grass under my feet as I ran, thirteen again and coming to the island for my school holiday.
~ Anne McGravie, Chicago, Illinois (born in Edinburgh, Scotland)