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In 1995, the author David Pelzer’s book, “A Child Called It,” was first published. In it, he claimed that his mother beat him, starved him, terrorized him, and banished him to the garage, where he slept on a cot. Gruesome beyond words, the book sold 1.6 million copies in five years.

I read it then and thought throughout, “No mother would do that.”

In 1996, Frank McCourt’s book, “Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir,” was first published. In it, he listed his impressions as a child growing up in poverty-stricken Limerick, Ireland, during the Depression and World War II.

His father, Malachy McCourt, was an alcoholic but a wonderful story-teller. When Frank was ten, his father abandoned the family to live in England. He never sent his wife and kids money.

Frank’s mother, Angela Shehan McCourt, was overwhelmed. She had given birth to six boys—Frank, Malachy, Jr., the twin boys, Oliver and Eugene, then Michael, and Alfie—plus a daughter, Margaret, who died when a few months old. The twins died when toddlers.

The four remaining boys struggled to find sufficient food when living in desperate conditions in Limerick, more a slum than a home. During the rainy season, water flooded the kitchen.

Frank calls his mother “Mam” and describes her as a woman incapable of knowing how hungry her boys felt every hour of every day. Instead of cooking meals, she preferred “to sit before the fire and chain-smoke her cigarettes while her children starved.”

On one occasion, Frank watched as his mother begged at the priest’s back door for scraps. Another time, Michael brought home a blind greyhound, and said, “The dog can have my supper tonight.” His brothers looked at him shocked and shouted, “What supper?”

A tragicomedy, “Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1997.

In 2005, Jeannette Walls’s book, “The Glass Castle: A Memoir,” appeared on bookshelves. In it, she describes her mother as a woman caught up in dreams of a fortune. Instead of cooking meals, she painted pictures, convinced that she would achieve fame as an artist.

When Jeannette and her siblings are grown up and doing well, she invites them to her home for Thanksgiving, plus their mother. Her brother looks at the turkey and dressing, and says, “You know, it’s really not that hard to put food on the table if that’s what you decide to do.”

By definition, a memoir is a narrative, written from the perspective of the author, about a part of their life. Some children remember events differently than do their siblings or parents.

David Pelzer’s brother Stephen said that David was placed into foster care, not because of their mother’s abuse, but because “David started a fire and was caught shoplifting.”

Frank and Malachi, Jr., joined forces and drafted a play that they entitled, “A Couple of Blaguards,” that appeared on a New York City stage. In it, they sing and recount their memories of their sordid life growing up in Limerick. It is funny, irreverent, “an unholy amount of charm.”

The two boys invite their mother to attend a performance. Part way through, she stands up in the audience and shouts at them, “It didn’t happen that way! It’s all a pack of lies.”

Malachy replies, “Well, you come up on the stage and tell us your side of the story.”

“I will not,” she says, “I wouldn’t be seen on the stage with the likes of ye.”

Frank McCourt wrote “Angela’s Ashes” and “A Couple of Blaguards” from “a child’s point of view. His impressions may not be accurate in some areas, but that is what he felt and thought.”

On Mother’s Day, we remember the truth that good mothers offer the best food to their kids. The Irish wit Oscar Wilde said, “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”

Frank McCourt died July 19, 2009, at 78, and Malachy, Jr., died March 11, 2024, at 92.