Frank McCourt


Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt died on Sunday. A former public school teacher, he came late to a writing career publishing one of my favorite memoirs, Angela’s Ashes, at the ripe old age of 66. Born in Brooklyn in 1930, his family returned to his parents’ native Ireland when he was four years old and his memoir chronicles his years growing up in poverty with a mostly absent alcoholic father in the slums of Limerick. He famously wrote: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.

My mother had a similar childhood, but here in the states and with poor French Catholic parents, not Irish. Still, fourteen children, very little money, and an alcoholic father bring about like miseries whatever your demographics. It’s funny, but I catch myself sometimes feeling angry at my mother since she passed. For dying and leaving me. For loving my brother more. For her “You can’t take it with you!” attitude toward money which has cost me financially over the years and left my father vulnerable at the age of 80 with a large monthly mortgage payment. And yes, for not understanding me, that universal childhood lament that few of us escape – miserable childhood or not.

I know it’s childish to think these thoughts at my age, especially given that my childhood was a fantasyland compared to my mom’s and Mr. McCourt’s. But I also know that a part of us is always our mother’s child, no matter how old we grow in years. And whether we write an angst filled memoir and name it for her, or gaze into the eyes of our newborn granddaughter and miss her more than we ever thought possible, we know in our hearts that we’d forgive our mothers a thousand times over for the woes of our early years for just one more chance to tell them how much we love them.

11 thoughts on “Frank McCourt

  1. When you said that he died at the ripe old age of 66, I was taken aback. For you see, I’m 66 and feel YOUNG. ha ha … Then I read that he was born in 1930 (which would put him about 78 or 79)—so that would make sense.

    A great literary loss!!!!

    • No, I meant he started his writing career at the ripe old age of 66 Betsy! Perhaps I need to reword it anyway because as we all know…66 is the new 55 Betsy:)

  2. Your closing about mother’s makes me think I need to call mine as soon as I’m done typing!

  3. An interesting post ~ I read Angela’s Ashes, and the follow up book and was incredibly moved by Frank’s writing. I found that after I’d read his books I couldn’t stop thinking about some of his terrible experiences ~ so imagine how it would be if I’d actually lived through them?

    I was sad to hear he had died. Somehow one hopes that if you survive such an upbringing there will be a better future ~ and a long life to enjoy it. Not so for Frank.

    Re your own mother ~ I can so relate to your dichotomy (some anger versus missing them) and reading your post today has prompted me to telephone my mother. We have a troubled relationship (which I’ve tried to come to terms with over the years) and we don’t see each other too frequently ~ but today I will phone her (as she is not getting any younger, and her health is poor) ~ while I still can.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. that last line hit me. i’m calling mom. thanks. my husband always says that about losing his mother, that he would love to just see her again. loss is more of presence than presence sometimes….

    Love McCourt’s story… irish catholic funerals in my family … that was a generation closer to the “bone” of things.

  5. Angela’s Ashes was one of the best books our book club has ever read. I think it is a must read for every teenager in America who thinks he/she has it bad because they don’t have the new iphone or Nike shoes. If you haven’t read it yet,
    I recommend it.

  6. I am the youngest of three daughters and also had a stormy relationship with my mother. She died unexpectedly when I was 19 years old and she was 51. I am older now than she had the chance to be but I still have some resentment for some things.

    In her defense, I have grown up enough to understand what she was going through and what a different world it was back then. Women were encouraged to be strong and empowered. Health issues didn’t take into account things like diet, exercise, sleep or depression. It was all handled by a little pill back in her day. Maybe I should resent the doctors instead of her.

    The one saving grace is that even with all the friction I always knew how much she loved me. I hope she knew how much I also love her.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to the Author and to your mother.

    Angela’s Ashes is one of my favorite books. There were times that I would have to put it down because I could not bear to read further only to pick it up again because I had to keep reading. From the ashes rose a great author and a story to treasure.

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