Home > What the Wind Knows

What the Wind Knows
Author: Amy Harmon


November 1976

“Grandfather, tell me about your mother.”

He was silent as he smoothed my hair, and for a long moment, I thought he hadn’t heard me.

“She was beautiful. Her hair was dark, her eyes green, just like yours are.”

“Do you miss her?” Tears leaked out the sides of my eyes and made his shoulder wet beneath my cheek. I missed my mother desperately.

“Not anymore,” my grandfather soothed.

“Why?” I was suddenly angry with him. How could he betray her that way? It was his duty to miss her.

“Because she is still with me.”

This made me cry harder.

“Hush now, Annie. Be still. Be still. If you are crying, you won’t be able to hear.”

“Hear what?” I gulped, slightly distracted from my anguish.

“The wind. It’s singing.”

I perked up, lifting my head slightly, listening for what my grandfather could hear. “I don’t hear a song,” I contended.

“Listen closer. Maybe it’s singing for you.” It howled and hurried, pressing against my bedroom window.

“I hear the wind,” I confessed, allowing the sound to lull me. “But it isn’t singing a very pretty song. It sounds more like it’s shouting.”

“Maybe the wind is trying to get your attention. Maybe it has something very important to say,” he murmured.

“It doesn’t want me to be sad?” I proposed.

“Yes. Exactly. When I was little, about your age, I was very sad too, and someone told me everything would be okay because the wind already knew.”

“Already knew what?” I asked, confused.

He sang a line from a song I’d never heard in a voice both warm and rolling. “The wind and waves remember him still.” He stopped singing abruptly, as if he didn’t know what came next.

“Remember who still?” I pressed.

“Everyone who has ever lived. The wind and the water already know,” he said softly.

“Know what?”

“Everything. The wind you hear is the same wind that has always blown. The rain that falls is the same rain. Over and over, round and round, like a giant circle. The wind and the waves have been present since time began. The rocks and stars too. But the rocks don’t speak, and the stars are too far away to tell us what they know.”

“They can’t see us.”

“No. Probably not. But the wind and water know all the earth’s secrets. They’ve seen and heard all that has ever been said or done. And if you listen, they will tell you all the stories and sing every song. The stories of everyone who has ever lived. Millions and millions of lives. Millions and millions of stories.”

“Do they know my story?” I asked, stunned.

“Yes,” he whispered on a sigh and smiled down into my upturned face.

“And yours too?”

“Oh yes. Our stories belong together, Annie lass. Your story is a special one. It might take your whole life to tell it. Both of our lives.”



“Ah, do not mourn,” he said,

“That we are tired, for other loves await us;

Hate on and love through unrepining hours.

Before us lies eternity; our souls

Are love, and a continual farewell.”

—W. B. Yeats

June 2001

They say that Ireland is built on her stories. Fairies and folklore inhabited Ireland much longer than the English or even Patrick and the priests. My grandfather, Eoin Gallagher (pronounced galla–HER not galla–GUR), valued the story above all else, and he taught me to do the same, for it is in the legends and tales that we keep our ancestors, our culture, and our history alive. We turn memories into stories, and if we don’t, we lose them. If the stories are gone, then the people are gone too.

Even as a child, I found myself entranced by the past, wishing I knew the stories of the people who had come before me. Maybe it was due to an early acquaintance with death and loss, but I knew someday I would be gone too, and no one would remember that I had ever lived. The world would forget. It would go on, shaking itself free of those who had been, sloughing off the old for the new. The tragedy of it all was more than I could bear, the tragedy of lives beginning and ending with no one remembering.

Eoin was born in County Leitrim in 1915, nine months before the famed Easter Rising that changed Ireland forever. His parents—my great-grandparents—died in that rebellion, and Eoin was orphaned without knowing either of them. We were alike in that way, my grandfather and I—both orphaned young—his loss cycling into mine, my loss becoming his. I was only six years old when I lost my parents. I was a little girl with a tied tongue and an overly active imagination, and Eoin stepped in, rescued me, and raised me.

When I struggled to get the words out, my grandfather would hand me a pen and paper. “If you can’t say them, write them. They last longer that way. Write all your words, Annie. Write them and give them somewhere to go.”

And so I have.

But this story is like no other tale I have ever told, no story I have ever written. It is the history of my family, woven into the fabric of my past, etched in my DNA, and seared into my memory. It all began—if there is a beginning—when my grandfather was dying.

“There is a locked drawer in my desk,” my grandfather said.

“Yes, I know,” I teased, as if the locked drawer had been something I’d been trying to break into. I’d actually had no idea. I hadn’t lived in Eoin’s Brooklyn brownstone for a long time and hadn’t called him “Grandfather” for even longer. He was just “Eoin” now, and his locked drawers were of no concern to me.

“Don’t sass, lass,” Eoin chided, repeating a line I’d heard a thousand times in my life. “The key is on my fob. The smallest one. Will you get it?”

I did as he asked, following his instructions and pulling the contents from the drawer. A large manila envelope sat atop a box filled with letters, hundreds of them, neatly ordered and bundled. I paused over the letters for a moment, noting that none of them appeared to have ever been opened. A small date was written in the corner of each one, and that was all.

“Bring the manila envelope to me,” Eoin instructed, not raising his head from the pillow. He’d grown so weak in the last month, he rarely left his bed. I set the box of letters aside, picked up the envelope, and returned to him.

I opened the clasp on the envelope and carefully upended it. A handful of loose pictures and a small leather-bound book slid out onto the bed. A brass button, the top rounded and dull with time, rolled out of it last, and I picked it up, fingering the innocuous item.

“What’s this, Eoin?”

“That button belonged to Seán Mac Diarmada,” he rasped, a glint in his eye.

“The Seán Mac Diarmada?”

“The one and only.”

“How did you get it?”

“It was given to me. Turn it over. His initials are scratched into it—see?”

I held the button to the light, turning it this way and that. Sure enough, a tiny S followed by a McD marred the surface.

“The button was from his coat,” Eoin began, but I knew the story. I’d been steeped in research for months, trying to get a feel for Irish history for a novel I was working on.

“He carved his initials into his coat buttons and a few coins and gave them to his girlfriend, Min Ryan, the night before he was executed by a firing squad for his involvement in the Rising,” I said, awed by the tiny piece of history I held in my hand.

“That’s right,” Eoin said, a small smile flitting over his lips. “He was from County Leitrim, where I was born and raised. He traveled the country, setting up branches of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was the reason my parents became involved.”

“Unbelievable,” I breathed. “You should have the button authenticated, and put it somewhere safe, Eoin. This has got to be worth a small fortune.”

“It’s yours now, Annie lass. You can decide what happens to it. Just promise me that you won’t give it to someone who won’t understand its significance.”

My eyes met his, and my excitement over the button fizzled and fell. He looked so tired. He looked so old. And I wasn’t ready for him to rest—not yet.

“But . . . I don’t know if I understand it, Eoin,” I whispered.

“Understand what?”

“Its significance.” I wanted to keep him talking, to keep him awake, and I rushed to fill the void his weariness left in me. “I’ve been reading about Ireland—biographies and documentaries and collections and diaries. I’ve been doing research for six months. I have so much information in my head, and I don’t know what to do with it. The history after the 1916 Easter Rising is just a garbled mess of opinions and blame. There’s no consensus.”

Eoin laughed, but the sound was brittle and mirthless. “That, my love, is Ireland.”

“It is?” That was so sad. So disheartening.

“So many opinions and so few solutions. And all the opinion in the world doesn’t change the past.” Eoin sighed.

“I don’t know what story I’m going to tell. I’ll arrive at one opinion only to be swayed by another. I feel hopeless.”

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