If you’re wondering what to be thankful for this week, try thinking about the fact that we live in an age when people can move to a new country and still maintain close contact with their homeland.

If you’re wondering what to be thankful for this week, try thinking about the fact that we live in an age when people can move to a new country and still maintain close contact with their homeland.


I recently came upon a letter written almost 100 years ago to one Mary Ann Maloney by her second cousin Mary Ellen back in Ireland.


Mary Ann’s folks came here in the 1850s while Mary Ellen’s stayed behind.


It is clear from what she says that no word had passed between them for years and there is pathos in that. Pathos because so much happened in Mary Ellen’s life since last the two were in contact. Pathos because so much has happened in Mary Ann’s life too that her cousin does not know.


I know because I lived with Mary Ann for the last ten years of her life.


She was by then a tiny ancient thing who sat all day in her rocking chair, reading the paper and making tart remarks.


“For every old sock there’s an old shoe!” she would cluck on perusing the lists of weddings and engagements. 


She was born here in the States just 14 months after the assassination of President Lincoln, to set things in history, and her cousin was her contemporary. 


And now to the latter’s note, which begins with an all too-human glimpse:


“After getting your welcome letter I was doing a bit of cleaning and it went astray and was gone for almost three years.”


But now comes the sad part:


“I hope you are keeping strong and also your sister and brother.”


How could she know that Mary Ann’s sister died in her sleep at only 42, leaving behind five children who never got over the loss?


How could she know that Mary Ann’s brother fell in love with a woman not his wife, had a secret child by her and soon after saw his whole life explode like a landmine beneath him?


Then she gives her own news:


“Thomas and myself are keeping fine, however my other three brothers died, Patrick at 19, Lawrence at 27 and Richard at 22, and also my only sister Kathleen at 16 years.”


How hard to hear such news so late and all together like this!


But “Now, dear cousin I think I have told you all,“ she calmly ends. “I would certainly love to see you all but I suppose that will never happen so Thomas and myself join in wishing you and all our cousins a very happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.” 


And she signs it “With love, your effectionate cousin Mary Ellen.”


 I read these lines and feel once more how lucky we are compared to people only a scant ten decades ago.


We cross the ocean and call when we land - or we Skype or go on Facebook to chat and send as many pictures as we like.


They turned away from the port in a long echoing silence – and those were just the ones  who came here by choice, and not the hundreds of thousands brought here against their will, whose names and histories were all too often lost entirely.


Think of that as you sit stalled in your holiday traffic, in your car or plane or bus seat, warm and comfy and sipping at a fresh hot drink.


Write Terry at terrymarotta@verizon.net or c/o Ravenscroft Press, P.O. Box 270, Winchester, MA 01890. See pictures both of Mary Ann and Mary Ellen’s letter on Terry’s blog “Exit Only” by searching the phrases “Terry Marotta” and “Long Time Passing.”