Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

April 13, 2012

Third extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home'. 13th April, 1912.

Today's extract from The Girl Who Came Home shares more of Maggie's reflections of life on board the ship and the thoughts of Catherine Kenny in New York, who is looking forward to the arrival of her sister, Katie; one of the group of 14 travelling from County Mayo.

Private Journal of Maggie Murphy

April 13th 1912. Day 3 at sea.

….the general recreation room is for steerage passengers to use for reading or playing cards or a bit of dancing. It’s a big room with a piano for us to play whenever we like. Some French fella plays most of the time, he’s very good. He likes to play some of the ragtime music I’ve heard a little. I think John O’Dea back home would have mighty craic with that piano, it would put the small yoke he plays in D’Arcy’s pub to shame! The man with the Uilleann pipes plays a fair bit too. He’s very good and gets a good old sing song going among us Irish – there’s plenty of us, I’d say we take up at least half of the steerage if not more.

…today Peggy and me played with some of the young ones. One woman has seven children with her and is travelling all alone, God love her. I think she might be Italian or something, none of us can understand a word she says, but she’s nice and her kids are nice. I played with the baby a lot. He likes to drop things and watch you pick them up again. Maura Brennan was talking with a family from a place called Wiltshire in England. The mam and da are taking their five little ones to join relatives in Philadelphia. The youngest is just two year old and the eldest is turned sixteen. She’s a nice girl, Elsie is her name. She told me about her home and it sounds a bit like ours with the fields and the lake.

….Ellen Joyce has found another woman who is to be married when they arrive in America so they are all talk about wedding gowns and veils and admire each other’s rings all the time. There are four other newly-wed couples in our section of the ship who are headed out on honeymoon and Maura has been talking with another woman who’ll be having a baby soon. It’s quite a social gathering altogether! Peggy and Katie have taken to fanciful talk again about what they’ll do when they are in America and what the fancy homes they will live in will look like.

…it’s nice to walk on the deck in the sunshine and breathe in the fresh, sea air, although it is chilly up so high and with the ship going along at such a rate of knots there’s a fierce breeze all the time. Pat fancies himself as a bit of a crew member giving us daily reports of speed and iceberg warnings. These are posted every day outside the dining room and we let him tell us the latest news. He enjoys it!

New York, 13th April, 1912

Before she finished up for the day, and sensing that her employer was in more jovial mood than usual, Catherine Kenny decided to ask Mrs Walker-Brown’s opinion about a suitable birthday gift for her sister, Katie. ‘I’m thinking it would be nice to buy her something small from Macy’s,’ she explained. ‘This being her first time in New York, and it being the largest department store in the world. But I was wondering, since you have such impeccable taste yourself, what you might suggest as a nice gift for her.’

Clearly flattered, Emily Walker-Brown suggested gloves. ‘No lady should be without a decent pair and Macy’s has a wonderful selection of the finest styles. You are aware, of course, that Isidor and Ida Straus are travelling on Titanic also.’ Catherine looked blankly at her, having no idea who Isidor and Ida Straus were. ‘The owner of Macy’s department store, and his wife!’ Emily Walker-Brown continued, condescendingly. ‘So, I think, considering that your sister will have celebrated her birthday aboard the very same ship which the owner of the store is sailing on himself, a gift from Macy’s would be entirely appropriate. Entirely appropriate indeed. Yes, I should settle on gloves.’

Catherine resisted the temptation to inform her employer that she was sure Katie couldn’t care less whether the owner of Macy’s was sailing on Titanic or not, and thanked her for her advice before requesting permission to leave for the day. It was given.

Despite her exhaustion, Catherine set out in the direction of 151 West, 34th Street. A short while later, she emerged from the store, delighted with her purchase of a pair of white, cotton gloves, elegantly presented in the traditional Macy’s packaging; a white box with a red star in the centre.


R.M.S Titanic

Katie Kenny looked at her dinner plate, admiring the White Star Line emblem in the centre of the plain, white plate; a red, swallowtail flag with a white star in the centre. The same, by now familiar, detailing appeared on her coffee mug and soup bowl. It was little things like this which continually surprised and delighted her; the logo of the ship’s owners stamped onto every knife, fork and spoon, the woven blankets on their beds – red with white detailing and the distinctive White Star Line star and lettering in the centre. It was a level of attention to the absolute last detail which she had not encountered before, and had certainly not expected on a steerage ticket.

She thought of her family back in Ireland, her Mam and Da and her brother William, and wondered how it must have felt to watch them all leave a few mornings ago – such a sight they must have been clattering out of Ballysheen. She thought of her sister Catherine, waiting for her in New York and wondered how she would look after all these years of city living. She had heard that it can turn your face pale, what with sitting indoors a lot of the time and the fumes from the motor cars making you cough. Katie’s stomach flipped slightly at the thought of seeing her sister in just a matter of days.


The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel is available to download on the Amazon Kindle Store, priced 99p. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free Kindle reading apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and other devices from the Kindle Store. Read previous extracts here and here.


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