A Song for Mary: An Irish-American Memory [NOOK Book]

Overview

A moving memoir of growing up Irish Catholic&poor in New York City. Told in the first person, this lyrical remembrance is a powerful odyssey of one young man coming of age in a confusing&sometimes hostile world.
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A Song for Mary: An Irish-American Memory

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Overview

A moving memoir of growing up Irish Catholic&poor in New York City. Told in the first person, this lyrical remembrance is a powerful odyssey of one young man coming of age in a confusing&sometimes hostile world.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Terry Golway
The story of Mary Smith's determination to overcome tragedy and despair is inspiring...daring and wonderful stuff.
New York Observer
Alan Ryan
A vivid account, bright and immediate and rich with heartbreakingly honest detail of growing up Irish, Catholic, and poor....No one has ever written about their mother better than Smith does...she stands like a pillar in the wind.
Washington Post Book World
Darina Molloy
...Smith's ode to his hard-working mother...[and her] immense role in keeping her family together.
Irish America Magazine
Dennis Carroll
J.A Song for Mary is hauntingly familiar and courageously personal....Written and played as sorrowful but beautiful music.
The New York Times Book Review
Sullivan
C.J.A poignant and honest work.
The New York Daily News
Leslie Baldacci
He has writtena memoir as rich as his family was poor.
The Chicago Sun-Times
Library Journal
And now for an Irish-American memoir, from the author of the best-selling Report from Engine Company 82. Smith grew up poor and fatherless in 1940s and 1950s New York, and only after a rebellious adolescence did he learn the truth of his father's absence.
Leslie Baldacci
He has writtena memoir as rich as his family was poor.
The Chicago Sun-Times
C.J. Sullivan
A poignant and honest work.
The New York Daily News
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Atmospheric...a touching tribute.
The New York Times
Dennis J. Carroll
A Song for Mary is hauntingly familiar and courageously personal....Written and played as sorrowful but beautiful music.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A richly detailed, lovingly told memoir of the author's tempestuous 1950s boyhood in an Irish-Italian neighborhood of New York City. Smith (Firefighters:Their Lives in Their Own Words), his older brother, Billy, and his disciplinarian mother, Mary, lived in a squalid, roach-infested tenement building on New York's Lower East Side. The family was on welfare; their absent father resided in an asylum upstate, creating a "big empty hole" at the center of their impoverished existence. While brother Billy was an exemplary child, Dennis had a nose for trouble, consistently being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would hang around with the neighborhood hoodlums, joyriding in stolen cars, fighting in drunken brawls, buying drugs uptown, quitting school at 15. He was hell-bent on self-destruction. Through it all, his mother fought a seemingly futile battle to save her son from a future of despair. She stayed up waiting for his return from an all-night bender, demanding an explanation. "Like a cop from the 17th Precinct," she was the conscience that wouldn't let him surrender to the lure of the streets. She wasn't alone in caring for Smith: brother Billy passed out advice and the occasional beating; a respected Boys' Club counselor named Archie demanded that Dennis stop wasting his life. Catholic school helped, bequeathing him a guilt-ridden conscience that hamstrung his adolescent sex life. By the time he was facing imprisonment for assault, Smith understood his mother's message....The final few pages are a paean to the American values of hard work and caring for others.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446930352
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/12/1999
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,174,308
  • File size: 734 KB

Meet the Author

Dennis Smith
Dennis Smith

DENNIS SMITH is a retired New York City firefighter. He stayed in the Fire Department an additional 19 years after the success of his first book, Report from Engine Co. 82. He is the author of 11 books including three other bestsellers about firefighting. Smith founded Firehouse Magazine and has become an outstanding spokesman for firefighters nationwide.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


I am seven years old and I know the difference between right and wrong. It's been my job for more than a month to take the erasers out to the school yard at ten minutes to three each day and clap them against the brick wall so they'll be nice and clean for Sister Maureen in the morning. But today, when we were standing for our afternoon prayers, Peter Shalleski knuckled me in the back of the head. We were in the middle of the Hail Holy Queen. It's too bad that Sister Maureen didn't see that. She only saw that I took Shalleski's ear right after O Clement O Loving O Sweet Virgin Mary and twisted it so that it nearly came off. I should have bopped him right there in front of everyone, in the middle of the Hail Holy Queen, but I know he is tougher than anyone in the class, and I know as sure as Charlie McCarthy has a wooden head that Shalleski is going to get even with me later for the twisted ear.

I don't care.

My head is hurting from where he knuckled me, but I know it is going to hurt even more as Sister is about to give me a whack with the pointer across the back of my pants. I wish I had corduroy pants instead of these thin gabardines. Here I am standing on the bare wood-slat floor, eyes closed, biting my teeth together as hard as they will go, my hands flat against the chalky blackboard, leaning over for all the class to see, as the thin pointer comes swishing down and goes shwitt across my shiny pants.

The sting goes through my body as I knew it would. I want to scream out, but I can't. None of the boys ever screams out, even if Sister gives three whacks, which is the most she gives. It is like it hasbeen all thought out and in some rule book tucked in a corner somewhere in the sacristy of the church. The girls never get it, and even if they did it wouldn't hurt so much, because there is so much material in their blue uniform dresses.

I can feel the sting now as it is running up and down my body and all the way across my face, and I feel my face becoming red as I turn to the class and try to straighten up.

"Sit in the back of the class until three o'clock," Sister said.

"But what about the erasers?"

"Never mind the erasers. There'll be no more erasers for you."

It is the first job I ever had, the first time I am doing something the others do not do, something different. She gave me the job because my marks led the class on the vocabulary tests, and to lose it now because Sister didn't see Shalleski slide a knuckle across the back of my head makes me want to cry.

But I know you can't cry in front of a whole class of boys and girls. It would be like screaming out when Sister whacked you with the pointer. They would start to call you Phil the Faucet, or blubber baby, or some stupid thing, and take out their snotty handkerchiefs every time you passed them in the hallway. And so I just raise my voice a little bit.

"Shalleski hit me first, Sister, and I don't see why I should get punished because of what Shalleski did."

"Don't raise your voice to me, young man," Sister scolded.

Mommy is always saying this, too, calling me "young man" in a voice that means being a young man is not so good, and that it gets you in trouble. Maybe Mommy and Sister are related, long-lost cousins or something.

Sister waits for a few seconds before she answers me.

"If Shalleski jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?"

"So?"

"So next time don't hit back. Turn the other cheek. Think about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, and pray for anyone who you think is mean."

I am not so sure about this turn-the-other-cheek thing, because I know Shalleski, and, just as I am praying for him, you know what Shalleski will do? Shalleski will clout the other cheek, too.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

I am seven years old and I know the difference between right and wrong. It's been my job for more than a month to take the erasers out to the school yard at ten minutes to three each day and clap them against the brick wall so they'll be nice and clean for Sister Maureen in the morning. But today, when we were standing for our afternoon prayers, Peter Shalleski knuckled me in the back of the head. We were in the middle of the Hail Holy Queen. It's too bad that Sister Maureen didn't see that. She only saw that I took Shalleski's ear right after O Clement O Loving O Sweet Virgin Mary and twisted it so that it nearly came off. I should have bopped him right there in front of everyone, in the middle of the Hail Holy Queen, but I know he is tougher than anyone in the class, and I know as sure as Charlie McCarthy has a wooden head that Shalleski is going to get even with me later for the twisted ear.

I don't care.

My head is hurting from where he knuckled me, but I know it is going to hurt even more as Sister is about to give me a whack with the pointer across the back of my pants. I wish I had corduroy pants instead of these thin gabardines. Here I am standing on the bare wood-slat floor, eyes closed, biting my teeth together as hard as they will go, my hands flat against the chalky blackboard, leaning over for all the class to see, as the thin pointer comes swishing down and goes shwitt across my shiny pants.

The sting goes through my body as I knew it would. I want to scream out, but I can't. None of the boys ever screams out, even if Sister gives three whacks, which is the most she gives. It is like it has been all thought out and in some rule book tucked in a corner somewhere in the sacristy of the church. The girls never get it, and even if they did it wouldn't hurt so much, because there is so much material in their blue uniform dresses.

I can feel the sting now as it is running up and down my body and all the way across my face, and I feel my face becoming red as I turn to the class and try to straighten up.

"Sit in the back of the class until three o'clock," Sister said.

"But what about the erasers?"

"Never mind the erasers. There'll be no more erasers for you."

It is the first job I ever had, the first time I am doing something the others do not do, something different. She gave me the job because my marks led the class on the vocabulary tests, and to lose it now because Sister didn't see Shalleski slide a knuckle across the back of my head makes me want to cry.

But I know you can't cry in front of a whole class of boys and girls. It would be like screaming out when Sister whacked you with the pointer. They would start to call you Phil the Faucet, or blubber baby, or some stupid thing, and take out their snotty handkerchiefs every time you passed them in the hallway. And so I just raise my voice a little bit.

"Shalleski hit me first, Sister, and I don't see why I should get punished because of what Shalleski did."

"Don't raise your voice to me, young man," Sister scolded.

Mommy is always saying this, too, calling me "young man" in a voice that means being a young man is not so good, and that it gets you in trouble. Maybe Mommy and Sister are related, long-lost cousins or something.

Sister waits for a few seconds before she answers me.

"If Shalleski jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?"

"So?"

"So next time don't hit back. Turn the other cheek. Think about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, and pray for anyone who you think is mean."

I am not so sure about this turn-the-other-cheek thing, because I know Shalleski, and, just as I am praying for him, you know what Shalleski will do? Shalleski will clout the other cheek, too.

Excerpted by permission of Warner Books, Inc. Copyright © 1998 by Dennis Smith.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Touching story, sad at times but it turns out well!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2001

    Playing Craps on 56th Street

    A picture of growing up in a gritty and rough neighborhood in NYC. Yet underneath there is to be found a spring of hopefulness.The color is local in time and space but the truths to be discovered are universal. On these pages are some of the players, drawn accurately with a few lines by the author, from among the hundreds of the neighborhood. We only follow the author to his adult vocation but keep in mind that there were many, some the most promising, who fell through the cracks of drugs and crime. Dick Tracy, the popular comic strip of the time, we knew, was real, because it reflected the characters we saw on the street. The author gets preachy in the last 4-5 pages. This is unnecessary when the author has done his job, and Dennis Smith has done it well. If you could get 1/2 the emotional impact I've gotten from this reading, then I'd recommend the book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

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    Posted January 23, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 3 Customer Reviews

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