Frank McCourt, On Voice and Storytelling

00:14 [Frank McCourt] I was writing the first 19 pages of the book about my mother and father meeting in New York and having me, and then I made a note on the left page about my earliest memory, which was being on the playground on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn on a seesaw. 

00:30 I wrote, “I’m on a seesaw on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn.”  I wrote it in the present – I wrote this note in the present tense, unlike the first 19 pages, which are written in the past tense.  I wrote “I’m on the playground.  I’m with my brother Malachy, he’s 2, I’m 3.”  So that’s the present tense, voice of the child.  I didn’t know what I was doing at that moment.  The next day, I continue writing in that voice and in the present tense, and I was home free, so to speak.  I had

01:00 the voice.  This is what I wanted.  This is what I was looking for subconsciously, and it just came.  God or somebody sent me the voice, and that’s what I felt comfortable with, that voice.

01:15 All you could get in the St. Vincent de Paul docket was a pig’s head, and my mother wanted something else besides a pig’s head for Christmas.  [passage reading] But the butcher takes the pig’s head off a shelf, and when Malachy says, “Ooh!  Look at the dead dog,”

01:30 the butcher and Mam burst out laughing.  He wraps the head in newspaper, hands it to Mam, and says, “Happy Christmas.”  Then he wraps up some sausages and tells her, “Take these sausages for your breakfast on Christmas day.”  Mam says, “Oh, I can’t afford sausage.”  And he says, “Am I asking you for money?  Am I?  Take these sausages.  They might help make up for the lack of a goose or a ham.”  “You don’t have to do that,” says Mam.  “I know that, missus.  If I had to, I wouldn’t.”  Mam says she has

02:00 a pain in her back, that I’ll have to carry the pig’s head.  I hold it against my chest, but it’s damp, and when the newspaper begins to fall away, everyone can see the head.  Mam says, “I’m ashamed of my life that the whole world will know we’re having pig’s head for Christmas.”  Boys from Leamy’s School see me, and they point and laugh.  “Oh God, look at Frankie McCourt and his pig’s snout.  Is that what the Yanks have for Christmas dinner, Frankie?”  One calls to another, “Hey Christy,

02:30 do you know how to eat a pig’s head?”  “No, I don’t, Paddy.”  “Grab it by the ears and chew the face off of him.”  And Christy says, “Hey Paddy, do you know the only part of the pig the McCourt’s don’t eat?”  “No, I don’t, Christy.” “The only part they don’t eat is the oink!”  After a few streets, the newspaper is gone altogether and everyone can see the pig’s head.  His nose is flat against my chest and pointing up at my chin, and I feel sorry for him because he’s dead and the world is laughing

03:00 at him.  My sister and two brothers are dead too, but if anyone laughed at them I’d hit them with a rock.  I wish dad would come and help us because Mam has to stop every few steps and lean against the wall.  She’s holding her back and telling us she’ll never be able to make it up Barrack Hill.  Even if Dad came, he wouldn’t be much use because he never carries anything.  Parcels, bags, packages.  If you carry such things, you lose your dignity.  That’s what he says.  He carried the twins when they were

03:30 tired, and he carried the Pope’s picture, but that’s not the same thing as carrying ordinary things like pig’s head.  He tells Malachy and me that when you grow up, you have to wear a collar and tie and never let people see you carry things.