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Excerpt: 'Singing My Him Song'
By Malachy McCourt
Malachy McCourt -- actor, gadfly, raconteur, and author of the bestselling memoir "A Monk Swimming" -- grew up amid death, squalor, poverty, and abuse in the lanes of Limerick, Ireland. When he came to America as a young man, he brought a gargantuan appetite for what life had to offer -- and an equal drive to forget what it had delivered to him thus far.
In "Singing My Him Song," McCourt tells us how he went from living the headlong and heedless life of a world-class drunk to becoming a sober, loving father and grandfather, still happily married after thirty-five years. We meet the woman who stood by his side all those years, watch as they build a family together, and listen to McCourt pursues a career of surprising successes and comic missteps.
On Sunday afternoons in 1963, the summer I worked in a Hamptons hostelry called the Watermill, myself and assorted staff would adjourn to the beach, armed with a largish cooler chock-full of ice, vodka, and orange juice. One of our number, Dan Cohalan, did a creditable Job with the guitar, and, as we knew a reasonable number of songs with choruses, we were able to gather quite a number of children around to join in, and their parents were delighted to have us in loco parentis so they could go off walking, swimming, or having affairs in the dunes.
What a joy it was to hear forty or fifty silvery six- and seven-year-old voices raised in bawdy song, and sung with as much conviction as if they knew what they were singing:
Oh, I've got a cousin Daniel,
I taught them the occasional limerick, as well.
Rosalina, a pretty young lass,
I can only assume that the parents never asked to hear the new repertoire the silvery-voiced little ones brought home from their sandy Sunday school.
Not a few adults joined us, too, as we were the jolliest gathering on that strand. Two very attractive young women, Louise Arnold and Lynn Epstein, plunked themselves down on the sand at Cohalan's invitation, and soon became regulars. They revealed that they had produced some Off Broadway shows, which sparked my interest. I was of a mind to get serious about the acting trade, due to my newfound penchant for suffering.
It depends on where you are in life, I suppose, but some people think that to be a great actor it's necessary to be entirely miserable, and if misery is the grandest qualification, then it was, Move over, Burton, Olivier, and Gielgud -- McCourt is on the way.
Sundays were not a joy unalloyed, as every child singing there might suddenly remind me of my own two, who seemed lost to me forever. That summer, my estranged wife, Linda, had informed me that she was going off to Mexico to divorce me. We'd been separated for two years by then, but occasional bouts of blind optimism had led me to believe that it would somehow all work out.
"What about the children?" I had asked her.
"What about them?" she asked. "We never did have anything resembling a marriage, so don't be a hypocrite and pretend we were a family." She spoke truth, but that didn't make me feel any better about it.
One Sunday, when it was too hot to sing, my morbid contemplations were knocked right out of my head, at least for a time. I was enthroned beneath my protective umbrella (this because I have skin which, when exposed to the sun, makes the common beet seem albino), when out of nowhere there hove into my purview the most astonishingly beautiful and graceful woman I'd ever seen in all my life and travels. She had rich brown hair and striking almond-shaped eyes. She wore a modest white bathing suit and, as she stepped along the water's edge on her long lithe legs, the water glinting with sunlight behind her, her slim body and swanlike neck seemed to sway in time to music. Upon her right hip there was perched like a koala bear a bright-faced, blond-haired child in the two-year old range.
It never occurred to me to think that the presence of a child might imply that there was a husband somewhere; in that moment I was so absolutely smitten that I couldn't conceive that any obstacles might stand between me and this vision.
I don't know how long it took me to realize I wasn't breathing, but a huge exhalation brought me back from near drowning on dry land. Turning to the nearest body on the beach, who happened to be Louise Arnold, I gasped the question, "Who in God's name is that vision walking toward us?"
"That's my friend, Dee, who's visiting me this weekend," sez she.
I was flabbergasted that a mere human being would know this celestial creature.
"I must meet her " said I, "and would you be kind enough to do the introductory honors." Louise was amenable, as she was quite the hand at matchmaking. "Dee!" she called out.
"Would you come here for a sec?"
"Dee" came striding over, a so somewhat bemused expression on her lovely face. Silenced by the presence of such beauty, I could only extend my own paw to shake her soft hand. The brain and the tongue had disconnected at once, and anything I thought of saying seemed stupid and banal. Finally, I managed to rasp out a "How do you do?" though my tongue felt inert.
Dee sat down and, as I'm not fond of nicknames or diminutives, I ascertained that Diana was her proper name. So Diana she was to me, although old friends and family still call her Dee. I mumbled something about it being a nice day. She agreed. A bit of silence, then I tried again, "A bit too hot, though " She agreed again. An agreeable woman, she was.
Shortly, Diana excused herself, and off down the beach she went, and I was left feeling like a complete ass. "By Christ, McCourt," I said to myself, "for all yer gift of the tongue, for all your much-vaunted charm and gallantry, you couldn't trot out the treasure trove of complimentary clichés you keep on hand in case of being caught without something to say?"
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