‘They go there to die!’

On  Asylums, Orphanages & Maternity Homes

There’s a handful of references in Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt, 1997) to the orphanage. Despite the utter impoverishment of her family, ‘Mam’ will do anything to keep her children out of the orphanage. The reader tries to understand this — is it the shame, the fear of the place. While she doesn’t work, faced with no choice, she begins to lower her standards further and further until one day her son, Frankie, sees her begging for food at the back door of the rival church along with all the other mothers. Bad enough she has to grovel for odds and ends at the St. Vincent de Paul, there comes a time when she’s forced to sleep with an old reprobate who has taken her and her children in. During his journey, Frankie has been in the hospital – first with typhoid, then with scabby eyes, so he’s come to see that at least institutions have white sheets and food. So then, does Mam not put her kids in the orphanage, just to save face?  Yes, they’ll be split up, but they’ll be cared for.

My ex-wife was constantly trying to ‘save face’, by pretending with her own family. As an adoptee, I haven’t had the same familial restraints that is one price of knowing where and who you come from. That ‘loving’ family will say the right things, act the part of caring siblings, parents and relatives, but they will also become the harshest critics should one of their clan fall out of line.


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