Our book club just read the book ‘Tis by Frank McCourt. A segment of the book stood out because as I was reading about this father and two young sons tilling a rock-filled ground to make a garden. I was picking rocks out of my flower bed and transferring them to our vegetable garden. I was rototilling the earth with a powered rototiller as they used a spade and a fork for theirs. I imagined two little boys 9 and somewhere between 5 and 8, working all day with their Dad to rid the land of rocks and make it fleshy enough to plant.
I won’t give away the end of the story. But reading it gave me a respect for and my heart went out to mother and sons when it came time to reap. I’m thankful that my kids get to garden with me for fun. When they’re tired of it they run off to play. I’m thankful that I garden as a hobby, for organic foods to supplement our diet for a while and to show our kids where our food comes from and to give them the experience of planting it and watching it grow. But that we don’t have to plant food to survive.
Seeing the movie “Angela’s Ashes” and reading ‘Tis, the story of Frank McCourts struggles with poverty in Ireland and then in America makes me want to pick up that little boy that he was and take him to safety and provision. I know there are those around me who struggle in poverty and I hope that I will “read their story” before I allow fear to make me shun them. I hope that Frank’s story has transformed me so that my eyes will be open to see the needs of others when I encounter them. And offer hope when others would rob them, ignore or mistreat them.
P.S. If you’d like to read this book I’d be happy to gift you my copy.
An excerpt from the book ‘Tis by Frank McCourt.
“When the war started and food was rationed in Ireland the government offered poor families plots of land in fields outside Limerick. Each family could have a sixteenth of an acre, clear it and grow whatever vegetables they liked.
My father applied for a plot out the road in Rosbrien and the government lent him a spade and a fork for the work. He took my brother Malachy and me to help him. When my brother Michael saw the spade he cried and wanted to go too but he was only four and he would have been in the way. My father told him, Whisht, that when we came back from Rosbrien we’d bring him berries.
I asked my father if I could carry the spade and I was soon sorry because Rosbrien was miles outside Limerick. Malachy had started out carrying the fork but my father took it away from him because of the way he was swinging it and nearly knocking people’s eyes out. Malachy cried till my father said he’d let him carry the spade all the way home. My brother soon forgot the fork when he saw a dog who was willing to chase a stick for miles till he frothed white stuff with the weariness and lay down on the road looking up with the stick between his paws and we had to leave him.
When my father saw the plot he shook his head. Rocks, he said, rocks and stones. And all we did that day was to make a pile by the low wall along the road. My father used the spade to keep digging up rocks and even though I was only nine I noticed two men in the next plots talking and looking at him and laughing in a quiet way. I asked my father why and he gave a small laugh himself and said, The Limerickman gets the dark earth and the man from the North gets the rocky plot.
We worked till the darkness came and we were so weak with hunger we couldn’t pick up another rock. We didn’t mind one bit if he carried the fork and spade and wished he could carry us, too. He said we were big boys, good workers, our mother would be proud of us, there would be tea and fried bread…
…After that we went to the plot every day but Sunday and cleared it of rocks and stones till we reached the earth and helped my father with the planting of potatoes, carrots and cabbage. There were times we left him and roamed the road, hunting for berries and eating so many it gave us the runs.
My father said in no time we’d be diggin up out crop but he wouldn’t be here to do it. There was no work in Limerick and the English were looking for people to work in their war factories. It was hard for him to think of working for the English after what they did to us but the money was tempting and as long as the Americans had entered the war it was surely a just cause.
He went off to England with hundreds of men and women. Most sent money home but he spent his in the pubs of Coventry and forgot he had a family. My mother had to borrow from her own mother and ask for credit from Kathleen O’Connell’s grocery shop. She had to beg for food from the St. Vincent de Paul Society or wherever she could get it. She said it would be a great relief to us and we’d be saved when the time came to dig up our spuds, our carrots, our lovely heads of cabbage. Oh, we’d have a right feed then and if God was good He might send us a nice piece of ham and that wasn’t asking too much when you lived in Limerick, the ham capital of all Ireland.
The day came and she put the new baby; Alphie, in the pram. She borrowed a coal sack from Mr. Hannon next door. We’ll fill it, she said. I carried the fork and Malachy the spade so that he wouldn’t be knocking people’s eyes out with the prongs. My mother said, Don’t be swinging those tools or I’ll give ye a good clitter on the gob. A smack in the mouth.
When we arrived at Rosbrien there were other women digging in the plots. If there was a man in the field he was old and not able for the work in England. My mother said hello across the low wall to this woman and that woman and when they didn’t answer back she said, They must be all gone deaf with the bending over.
She left Alphie in the pram outside the plot wall and told Michael mind the baby and don’t be hunting for berries. Malachy and I jumped over the wall but she had to sit on it, swing her legs over and get down on the other side. She sat a minute and said, There’s nothing in the world like a new potato with salt and butter. I’d give me two eyes for it.
We lifted the spade and fork and went to the plot but for all we got there we might as well have stayed at home. The earth was still fresh from being dug and turned over and white worms crawled in the holes where the potatoes and carrots and heads of cabbage used to be. My mother said to me, Is this the right plot? ‘Tis.
She walked the length of it and back. The other women were busy dbending over and picking things out of the ground. I could see she wanted to say something to them but I could see also she knew it was no use. I went to pick up the spade and fork and she barked at me, Leave them. They’re no use to us now with everything gone. I wanted to say something but her face was so white I was afraid she’d hit me and I backed away, over the wall.
She came over the wall herself, sitting, swinging her legs, sitting again till Michael said, Mam, can I go hunting berries? You can, she said. You might as well.”