Monday, May 07, 2007

Frank McCourt, Teacher Man

Coming to the end of McCourt's Teacher Man, a running narrative of three decades teaching English in the New York City public schools, I came across these three paragraphs that brought me close to tears. McCourt has to be one of the best story-tellers working today. I can't say enough about him.

The kids are opening up in their writing and classroom discussions and I'm getting a written tour of American family life from East Side town homes to Chinatown tenements. It's a pageant of the settled and the new and everywhere there are dragons and demons.

Phyllis wrote an account of how her family gathered the night Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, how they shuttled between the living room television and the bedroom where her father lay dying. Back and forth. Concerned with the father, not wanting to miss the moon landing. Phyllis said she was with her father when her mother called to come and see Armstrong set foot on the moon. She ran to the living room, everyone cheering and hugging till she felt this urgency, the old urgency, and ran to the bedroom to find her father dead. She didn't scream, she didn't cry, and her problem was how to return to the happy people in the living room to tell them Dad was gone.

She cried now, standing in front of the classroom. She could have stepped back to her seat in the front row and I hoped she would because I didn't know what to do. I went to her. I put my left arm around her. But that wasn't enough. I pulled her to me, embraced her with both arms, let her sob into my shoulder. Faces around the room were wet with tears till someone called, Right on, Phyllis, and one or two clapped and the whole class clapped and cheered and Phyllis turned to smile at them with her wet face and when I led her to her seat she turned and touched my cheek and I thought, This isn't earthshaking, this touch on the cheek, but I'll never forget it. Phyllis, her dead father, Armstrong on the moon.

If that doesn't make you want to read Frank McCourt nothing will. I was lucky enough to find a new copy at Goodwill for a dollar. Having already read Angela's Ashes and heard McCourt in a couple of interviews I was primed. That may have been the best dollar I spent last year.

1 comment: said...

My grandmother has been "going to find Angela's Ashes" for me for a while...she's got it in the house somewhere. I just sent her Jimmy Carter's book, so maybe that will get it done. I've read one of his brother's (Malachy) books called 'A Monk Swimming', which was great...quite the bastard that father of theirs!

Sounds like you were moved by this one. Might be one I have to consume also. thanks for the transcription!