Reading “Down the Crooked Road”

| July 8, 2016 | 0 Comments

No, this is not a Trump Campaign documentary on the Clinton Campaign.  It is Mary Black’s autobiography.  I spent most of the flight reading the book while listening to the Black Family Singers on my iPhone. Mainlining.

The book is surprisingly good for a non-writer.  It was clearly dictated, which gives it some real authenticity.

The poverty of Mary’s childhood in Dublin was striking. She’s two years younger than me, so grew up on the 50’s and 60’s. Her family lived in a house packed with people and no indoor plumbing. While they were a loving family, she doesn’t sugarcoat many of the stresses and strains they faced.

Nor does she avoid describing some pretty shocking disputes among her siblings, including one incident when she threw a knife at her brother causing a gash above his eye. She broke another siblings arm, accidentally, while rehearsing some gymnastic moves. She’s also very candid about the difficult path followed by her sister, Frances, who had a substance abuse problem, but overcame it to found a very successful program to treat addiction called RISE (Recovery In a Secure Environment).

She clearly adored her parents and attributes her love of music to them both. Her “Mammy” was the true daily force in the household and rose the children with a strong, but loving hand. Her father seems a bit more remote, as fathers were in those days. But he was clearly a good provider. He was deeply formed by his upbringing on Rathlin Island, which is portrayed as an idyllic place to which the family would escape every summer.

More than an autobiography, it is a family biography. I feel like I’ve gotten to know all her siblings, which may come in handy if I meet any of them on Rathlin.

The one I expect to meet, Michael, is an interesting guy. He’s a few years older than I am. He moved to San Francisco for college where he still lives. Previously, he had dropped out of high school to work at the Guinness factory, which was equivalent to hitting the lottery in their neighborhood. Sadly, he found the work tedious. So, without a high school degree, he got accepted into a local college and earned a degree. But he kept going and wound up getting his Ph.d in Education at Berkley. During his studies, he did some music gigs on the side and the rest is history. His brother, Martin, also lives in the Bay Area and they often perform as the Black Brothers.


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