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.