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.
Me and the mister were sitting out on the deck last night listening to summer come to a close in our northern state. The sound of the crickets, tree frogs, and buzzing cicada’s got so loud at one point we looked at each other and laughed out loud. I remembered laying in my childhood bed with my head on the windowsill listening to the same sounds, knowing that September had arrived bringing cooler nights for sleeping and a new school year. That’s me on the right with my brother David, my sister Amy, and our happy little baby sister Carrie.
I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer. My bank of wild grass is majestic and full of music. It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips. ~Violette Leduc
Take a peek at other Wordless Wednesday entrants here:)
Time to lighten things up around here and what better way to do that than with another joy filled laughing baby video. Come September I may be posting a baby video of my very own as my son and his wife are expecting their first child. We are thrilled, grateful, and just plain happy about the prospect of becoming grandparents. The baby is due the week before my 49th birthday and I’m thinking that this is one birthday gift Mr. bookbabie will never be able to top!
When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. ~James Barrie
When I downloaded Paul McCartney’s song Let it Be the other day from iTunes, I also found the version in the video above from the movie, Across the Universe. Sung by veteran stage actor Carol Woods and 15 year old Timothy Mitchum, the song is set against a scene depicting a family losing their son in Vietnam and the Detroit riots of 1967. I grew up in Detroit, only six miles from the epicenter of the riots. As a seven year old child at the time, I thought that the riots happened “downtown”, far away from my own quiet, tree lined street. And in many respects I suppose it was far away. As a white family, our experience of life in Detroit and in our country during the 60s was very different than that of African-Americans living only a handful of miles away.
When I look at Detroit today, I’m saddened to see that racial, social, and economic separation and isolation continues to have devastating effects on neighborhoods, on schools, and most importantly on children. And as I watch the nightly news and listen to the never ending debate over the political and military issues of the Iraq War, I can’t help but wonder if there ever really will “be an answer” or if mankind is destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. But you know, when I listen to beautiful music like the song Let it Be, when I see exquisite art and watch inspiring movies and plays, when I look up at the night sky and see the glory of a lunar eclipse, or when I look down and into the eyes of a newborn baby it gives me hope, and isn’t that what keeps us all putting one foot in front of the other most days?
One of my favorite quotes is by the poet Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Isn’t that lovely? Have a peaceful and hope filled weekend dear readers:)
This past Christmas my seven year old niece danced out on to our deck while it was lightly snowing (she rarely runs or walks anywhere, she twirls and flits about like a little pixie). Suddenly, she came back into the kitchen shouting, “Look, look, I caught a snowflake and they really do look like snowflakes!” Balancing on the tip of her index finger was a single white snowflake that was so big you could see its intricate shape with the naked eye. The adults laughed gently and went right back to their conversations, but Laurel continued to stare with awe at the snowflake as it melted and disappeared. Of all the gifts she opened that day, none elicited the same amount of excitement and joy as seeing the divine design of a snowflake with her own eyes for the very first time.
My sister Carrie took that photo of a snowflake on our mailbox at Thanksgiving with the macro setting on my Canon G9, it seems to be a year for giant snowflakes here in Michigan. If you’d like to make your own virtual snowflake, click here and start snipping!
Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake… Francis Bacon, Sr.