Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nuala O'Faolain on Money

I recently started reading Are You Somebody? by Nuala O'Faolain, a fascinating memoir that was recently reissued after the author's death. It's quite an intense and candid book, and I'm really enjoying it. And of course, I couldn't help noting a few passages where the author talks about money.

On her first job after leaving high school at the age of 17:

I had a job...working as a clerk in the hire-purchase office of a furniture shop in Grafton Street. Hire-purchase was for the very poor, then. I saw... how bitter it was for them to be still paying out for things they'd got long ago. Money was dominating me, too. I was living at home but I was giving up half my wages to Mammy. From leaving school on, how to earn enough money to keep myself was my biggest single problem for years and years.

Somehow I don't think Americans today have that same sense of shame about having things now and paying for them later.

Later she talks about an interview she gave in which she described herself and other students at University College Dublin as "poor." A reviewer takes her to task, noting that her father was a well-known journalist and saying "nobody who went to UCD in those bleak years [the late 1950s] was poor. They were only playing at poverty." Nuala admits that this was, in a way, true, as she wasn't as desperate as many unemployed Irish people were at the time, when things were so bad emigration could be the only option. "But," she says, "I was hurt, all the same." Her father seems to have squandered what money he did have, and her mother seems to have drunk away the rest during her twice-daily sessions at the local pub. Nuala and her eight siblings were all neglected, living in a filthy house where they had only scraps of sheets to tuck under their chins as they slept under piles of old coats.
Children don't necessarily benefit from their parents' financial resources-- but sometimes it isn't about the money anyway. Nuala tells the story of another Dublin journalist her age who was truly poor:
His mother was a maid in a hotel. The children would wait in the alleyway at the back of the hotel at night until she found out what bedroom was empty and smuggled them in. I envied him. I envy him that his mother took such care of them.

It makes me think of my own niece and nephew, and hope that the things they'll remember about their childhood will be more about the love and attention they got from their family than all the toys they had...

5 comments:

Carrie said...

This makes me think of the new octuplet mom of course. How can she possibly give all the love and care a child needs to all 14? Maybe that mother should read this book! Ha.

Sounds like an interesting read, I will have to check it out.

guinness416 said...

Let me tell you, Irish people today don't have the "sense of shame about having things now and paying for them later" either.

Nice catches and a great book, one of my mother's favourites.

deirdre said...

I love this book and am happy someone else is reading it, there were at least 7 copies at the strand when I bought it.

Her life, while tragic with her family and personal struggles, shows a real inner strength that I sympathized with.

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Make My Poverty History said...

It's interesting how things have changed in only a few decades. Sometimes I almost feel ashamed for NOT having credit card debt!

Maybe things will go back to how they were as a result of the current economic conditions.