I like to check on the “This Day in History” websites, and on this day in 1954, Ellis Island closed its doors. This got me thinking about immigrants, and then my favorite Irishman, Frank McCourt. (He was, technically, born in New York, but spent much of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland.)
I had the privilege of seeing Mr. McCourt last spring at the Meyerhoff as part of the Baltimore Speaker Series put on by Stevenson University. Since I’m an alumni of Stevenson U. (formerly known as Villa Julie College) I got to attend the event for free. It was a real treat to see the man–in person–who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Angela’s Ashes.
My Irish-Catholic grandmother, Mary, gave me Angela’s Ashes many years ago. My love of reading comes, in large part, from Nanny. From the time that I was a wee one, she would hand me novels to read at every visit–often over my head and entirely inappropriate for someone my age–and then call me to discuss them. When she gave me Angela’s Ashes, you could tell she was really handing me something special because she was almost speachless.
I’ve read the novel several times, at different places in my life, and my reaction to it has changed. In earlier years I might have described the book as “funny.” But now, as a mother, the humor is overshadowed by the portrayal of the extreme poverty and loss the family endures. Frank McCourt’s depiction of the death of his siblings took me on an emotional rollercoaster–literally leaving me crying and laughing on the same page.
I’ve gone on to read the sequel to Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, but I have yet to read Teacher Man. If you prefer films, Angela’s Ashes was good, but you lose the voice of Frank that makes the book so entertaining. I also enjoyed Angela and the Baby Jesus–a children’s Christmas book about his mother’s pity, as a child, for the baby Jesus left out in the cold at the church.
One of the saddest things Mr. McCourt said in his lecture was that he thought his mother would be upset by the publication of Angela’s Ashes because she was very private. I think that his portrayal of her determination, fortitude, and just plain grit, was the best compliment he could have given her.