On Sunday, July 19, 2009, author Frank McCourt passed away at the age of 78. His memoir Angela’s Ashes was the first memoir I ever read. I fell in love with him as a writer as I read Angela’s Ashes. Then I fell in love with him as a person as I read ‘Tis and Teacher Man. In memory of him I would like to quote a few of my favorite passages from Angela’s Ashes.
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: 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 alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred years.
Above all – we were wet.”
“Easter is better than Christmas because Dad takes us to the Redemptorist church where all the priests wear white and sing. They’re happy because Our Lord is in heaven. I ask Dad if the baby in the crib is dead and he says, No, He was thirty-three when He died and there He is, hanging on the cross. I don’t understand how He grew up so fast that He’s hanging there with a hat made of thorns and blood everywhere, dripping from His head, His hands, His feet, and big hole near His belly.
Dad says I’ll understand when I grow up. He tells me that all the time now and I want to be big like him so that I can understand everything. It must be lovely to wake up in the morning and understand everything . I wish I could be like all the big people in the church, standing and kneeling and praying and understanding everything.”
“The master says it’s a glorious thing to die for the Faith and Dad says it’s a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live. My brothers are dead and my sister is dead and I wonder if they died for Ireland or the Faith. Dad says they were too young to die for anything. Mam says it was disease and starvation and him never having a job. Dad says, Och, Angela, puts on his cap and goes for a long walk….I’d love to be big and important and parade around with the red Confirmation catechism but I don’t think I’ll live that long the way I’m expected to die for this or that. I want to ask why there are so many big people who haven’t died for Ireland or the Faith but I know if you ask a question like that you get you the thump on the head or you’re told go out and play.”
“Then he placed on my tongue the wafer, the body and blood of Jesus. At last, at last.
It’s on my tongue. I draw it back.
I had God glued to the roof of my mouth. I could hear the master’s voice, Don’t let that host touch your teeth for if you bite God in two you’ll roast in hell for eternity.
I tried to get God down with my tongue but the priest hissed at me, Stop that clucking and get back to your seat.
God was good. He melted and I swallowed Him and now, at last, I was a member of the True Church, an official sinner.”
“I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland.
I feel sad over the bad thing but I can’t back away from him because the one in the morning is my real father and if I were in America I could say, I love you, Dad, the way they do in the films, but you can’t say that in Limerick for fear you might be laughed at. You’re allowed to say you love God and babies and horses that win but anything else is a softness in the head.”