Monday, July 20, 2009
Goodbye Teacher Man
I did not know what to write this morning for my blog, and was just going to let it be until I was inspired. No sense in writing about the routine of my day..unless it had an interesting story, a lesson, or a laugh. I don't want to bore. I am not boring.
But this morning when I saw that Frank McCourt had died, I felt a keen sadness at the loss of a great writer and man, and knew I would pay tribute to him.
I have been in therapy for the past 20 years. I am not ashamed to admit it, and some of my friends even say it is taboo to post that in a public forum. But we are not in the 50's anymore, and I bet if every person went to therapy, the world would be a better place.
Yet in spite of all of my therapy, there was one book that changed my life with insight into some of the dysfunctions of my Irish family, and that was Angela's Ashes, a story about poverty, abuse, and Catholicism.
My father's family wore their Irish/Scottish heritage proudly. My grandfather's Irish relatives came to Philadelphia with money and servants in the 1800's. I don't know much about the financial status of my grandmother's relatives aside that they came over from Scotland via Nova Scotia, but when my grandparents married, they had a lovely brownstone in Queens (my aunts live there now) where they lived along with my grandmother's two sisters, who never married and lived there until their death. My grandparents had four children, survived the depression, and overall did well for themselves; my father went to Fordham to enter the Jesuit fold, and my aunts finished high school and had some college education. No one lived in abject poverty like the McCourt family.
But then my father got polio and never returned to the Seminary. My other aunts are, for the sake of not spilling their personal lives, different. My father was angry, abusive, and is the main cause of my life long work in therapy.
McCourt's books gave me a glimpse into what I believe was at the core of my family - an Irish Catholic up bringing, complete with the guilt and abuse that comes with it. Even though we weren't poor, my father was very frugal, and that frugality spilled into my own childhood and later, into my adult years. Food was metered into bird-like doses, hands, fists, and belts were freely used as discipline, and affection was an elusive emotion.
I think that the culture of the Irish was buried deeply in the being of my family, and McCourt's story gave me a glimpse into why things played out the way they did. Some of my family secrets I may never know, nor am I sure that I need to know them, but I suspect there are some nasty ones locked away in that closet with the cross on it.
After reading Angela's Ashes, I read Tis, and then Teacher Man. Through the power of the tale, I came to understand the foundation of my family, but also showed me that with perseverance, hard work, and strength, it is possible to rise above the burdens of the past that we carry with us.
Thank you Mr. Teacher man, for giving me a glimpse.
Patti O Reader
One of my mixed media pieces..that fits the tribute well I think.