Skip to content

Dead fathers III, the living grandpa

Mr. McCourt, you’re lucky. You had that miserable childhood so you have something to write about. What are we gonna write about? All we do is get born, go to school, go on vacation, go to college, fall in love or something, graduate and go into some kind of profession, get married, have the two point three kids you’re always talking about, send the kids to school, get divorced like fifty percent of the population, get fat, get the first heart attack, retire, die.

Jonathan, that is the most miserable scenario of American life I’ve heard in a high school classroom. But you’ve supplied the ingredients of the great American novel. You’ve encapsulated the novels of Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

They said I must be joking.

This is the big difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. In literary fiction the content doesn’t matter as much as the vision. If you can portray everyday events in a unique way, like only you can express them, you’ve earned a place in writer’s heaven.

So go out, live life, unplug the antenna from the TV and do everything that Jonathan says and quite a lot more besides, as much as you can. And if you still want more things to experience, take over everbody else’s life.

Image of the "Rent Collection Courtyard" sculpture group exhibited at Schirn Museum, Frankfurt (2009)

So, sit with your grandmother. Let her tell her story. All the grandmothers and grandfathers have stories and if you let them die without taking down their stories you are criminal. Your punishment is banishment from the school cafeteria.

Yeah. Haw, haw.

Parents and grandparents are suspicious of this sudden interest in their lives. Why you asking me so many questions? My life is nobody’s business, and what I did I did.

What did you do?

Nobody’s business. Is it that teacher again? […]

Others come in with stories of how they ask their elders one question about the past and the dam bursts and the old people won’t stop talking, going on till bedtime and beyond, expressing heartache and tears, yearnings for the Old Country, declaring love for America. Family relationships are rearranged. Grandpa isn’t taken for granted by sixteen-year-old Milton anymore.

In World War II Grandpa had adventures you wouldn’t believe. Like he fell in love with the daughter of an SS officer and nearly got killed for it. […] All these years Grandpa sits in the corner and I never talked to him and he never talked to me. His english still isn’t good but that’s no excuse. Now I have him on my tape recorder and my parents, my parents for Christ’s sakes, are saying, Why bother?

Even us, writers, are like our Grandpas: we don’t believe our stories matter. Do they matter? McCourt’s story mattered, his books selling by the millions.

Write on. You’re next.

{ 3 comments }