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WELFARE BRAT by Mary Childers

WELFARE BRAT

A Memoir

By Mary Childers

Pub Date: May 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-58234-586-4
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Clear-eyed coming-of-age story traces the author’s girlhood in the Bronx of the 1950s and ’60s, and her iron determination to claw her way out of the system.

Childers was born into a large Irish Catholic family: one mother, several absent fathers and numerous half sisters. The pope’s position on birth control meant that Childers’s mother, Sandy, would never abort a child, and her drinking, loneliness and poor impulse control kept the Childers clan ever increasing. The author reports on the many small moments that added up to her unhappy childhood. There were the nights of searching for her mother in the bar and the days she had to fight to attend school rather than baby-sit the younger children. And there was the growing instability of the world outside. Crammed into a small apartment in one of the few neighborhoods they could afford, the Childers girls (and later one boy) had a front-row seat for watching the crumbling of the Bronx. In her dry, clear voice, the author reports on the growing crime, the flight of white neighbors and the racial tensions that played out in school and on the streets. It’s clear that this sense of distance came at a cost to Childers: The day she left for college, her mother told her she might as well never come back. These tangled family relations, the tensions of wondering how the latest financial crisis can be solved, Sandy’s raffish but undeniable appeal, the author’s slow but inevitable escape from her family’s undertow, the difficulty of seeing her less determined siblings going under—it all makes for raw, magnetic reading. The close, however, a brief commentary on social class, is a jarring and unnecessary addendum to an eloquent work.

Childers’s very specific portrait of a time and place makes for a valuable piece of social history, as well as a potent personal tale.