I Was Living in the Most Densely Populated City in the World, yet I felt so Alone

Mary O’Dea (pictured above) describes to her granddaughter her experience immigrating from Ireland to New York City at the age of 17, and how a touch of fate led her to her husband (right).

It was nearly six decades ago and I still know the exact date off the top of my head. On January 31st, 1958, I left my family, friends, home, and everything I’ve ever known behind as I stepped onto the plane with nothing but the shirt on my back. I grew up in County Clare, Ireland, working on my parents’ farm alongside my seven siblings. At the age of 17, just a few months before becoming a legal adult, I was faced with two options: move to America and make a life of my own, or stay in Ireland and be nothing more than a farmer’s wife. Needless to say, I caught a plane ride to the Big Apple.

A lot of people ask me, “Were you scared?” To be honest, I wasn’t. I saw this as a chance to go on the biggest adventure of my life, so I immediately took my aunt up on her offer to live with her in the Bronx. I never met her before, but to immigrate to the United States I needed a sponsor to stay with; she was my golden ticket.

That is, until she died.

Cancer took my aunt’s life mere months after I moved in with her. I was only 18 years and homeless, until I managed to get a job as a temporary nanny. I was living in the most densely populated city in the world, yet I felt so alone.

I felt alone until I met a man that went by Joe. One day, I was trying to convince some friends I had met to go to a concert with me, but to no avail. Out of nowhere, this guy approaches me and offers to take me. I warily accepted, and considering the fact we got married two years later, I like to tell people the rest is history. It turns out he had nowhere to go either, and that was oddly comforting; we had each other if nothing else. I don’t know if you believe in fate, but I do. Why? Your grandfather and I found out later that we had lived within ten minutes of each other in Ireland and grew up in the same parish, but we didn’t meet until after we both separately immigrated here and he approached me on a busy New York City street. We were two people trying to find out the place that was best for us. We found it, although I wouldn’t say it was New York, but where the other person was.


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Kerianne Vianden

A freshman at Montclair State University studying journalism.