We wear short pants till we're thirteen or fourteen and our long stockings always have holes to be darned. If she has no wool for the darning and the stockings are dark we can blacken our ankles with shoe polish for the respectability that's in it. It's a terrible thing to walk the world with skin showing through the holes of our stockings. When we wear them week after week the holes grow so big we have to pull the stocking forward under the toes so that the hole in the back is hidden in the shoe. On rainy days the stockings are soggy and we have to hang them before the fire at night and hope they'll dry by morning. Then they're hard with dirt cake and we're afraid to pull them on our feet for fear they'll fall on the floor in bits before our eyes. (pp. 271-272)
Frank McCourt recounts the years of his childhood in his memorable book Angela's Ashes. At the age of four, McCourt's parents move their family from New York back to their homeland of Ireland. His father Malachy can not hold a job and drinks away the little money that is given to him. His mother Angela does her best to keep the family together, finding food, clothes and shelter by whatever respectable means are necessary. The family lives in squalor conditions and often goes without food or coal due to the lack of income. The descriptions are heart wrenching but McCourt has a sharp wit that had me laughing at several of his recollections. However, he is often hard on himself especially in his lack of ability to do much for his situation.
I talk to St. Francis and tell him about Margaret, Oliver, Eugene, my father singing Roddy McCorley and bringing home no money, my father sending no money from England, Theresa and the green sofa, my terrible sins on Carrigogunnell, why couldn't they hang Hermann Goering for what he did to the little children with shoes scattered around concentration camps, the Christian Brother who closed the door in my face, the time they wouldn't let me be an altar boy, my small brother Michael walking up the lane with the broken shoe clacking, my bad eyes, the tears in Mam's eyes when I slapped her.
Father Gregory says, Would you like to sit and be silent, perhaps pray a few minutes?
His brown robe is rough against my cheek and there's the smell of soap. He looks at St. Francis and the tabernacle and nods and I suppose he's talking to God. Then he tells me kneel, gives me absolution, tells me say three Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, three Glory Bes. He tells me God forgives me and I must forgive myself, that God loves me and I must love myself for only when you love God in yourself can you love all God's creatures. (p.343)
McCourt tries different courses of action to improve the conditions of his life, sometimes with success and sometimes with failure. But eventually he achieves his goal of earning enough money to both help his family and to return to America at the age of nineteen to start a new life.
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. (p.11)
Angela's Ashes is a great memoir of a miserable childhood that will have its reader thinking, appreciating, understanding, and laughing. I very much enjoyed this book.