Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Virtual Trip to Ellis Island Inspires a Novel

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Virtual Trip to Ellis Island Inspires a Novel

Article excerpt

Pamela Redmond's latest novel, "The Possibility of You," was inspired by an Internet search.

"I was just going on the Ellis Island website one idle Sunday and typing in my grandmother's name, Bridget McNulty, and up popped the date that she arrived in the U.S., which was May 1, 1911, and other details, like the name of the ship and where it had sailed from, her height, her coloring," says Redmond, who grew up in Norwood and now lives in Montclair.

During the author's Bergen County childhood, her grandmother lived with the family and Redmond remembered her as "a sweet, lumpy old lady" who liked Lawrence Welk, marshmallow peanuts and Dugan's cakes.

But what about her earlier years?

"I think there was a generational thing where she didn't want to talk about her youth ... because she'd worked as a servant. ... She wanted to leave it behind," says Redmond, noting that the family did not even know that her actual first name was "Bridget" until she died in 1966 and they found her Irish birth certificate. Her grandmother went by Bea or Bertha, because "the Bridgets," Redmond discovered, was a derogatory term for Irish servants.

When she found the new details on the Ellis Island site, Redmond says, "I said, well, she was 23, the same age at that point that my daughter was. And my daughter had just moved to France, trying to make her way, scraping together jobs in a foreign country from outside the culture. And suddenly, the reality of my grandmother's life as a young woman seemed very vivid and very real to me."

Redmond decided that her grandmother's story could be the basis of a historical novel, perhaps on the order of "Upstairs, Downstairs," a favorite series. But what she ultimately wound up writing is a story that unfolds in three time periods -- 1916, 1976 and the present day -- telling parallel, eventually intersecting tales.

In 1916 there is Bridget, Redmond's favorite character -- an Irish immigrant who, at first meeting, is the live-in nanny for a little rich boy. …

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