Cover image for A song for Mary : an Irish-American memory
A song for Mary : an Irish-American memory
Smith, Dennis, 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Warner Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
369 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3569.M523 Z47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
PS3569.M523 Z47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3569.M523 Z47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3569.M523 Z47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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Growing up on the streets of New York City in the 1940s and 1950s, the author of this autobiography was poor, Irish-Catholic and fatherless. According to his mother, who fought to keep her children on the right tracks, his father had a disability which required him to stay in hospital and have no visitors. By his early teens, he had become an angry rebel and was involved in crime. Just as he was about to spin out of control, he discovered the truth behind his father's absence, and consequently began a process of personal healing and spiritual renewal.

Author Notes

Dennis Smith spent 18 years with the New York City Fire Department. Smith lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Smith knows memoirs: his Report from Engine Co. 82 (1972, 1991) has sold more than two million copies. So readers will expect good things from his reflections on his pre-firefighting years on the tough streets of New York. The memoir is a paean to Smith's mother, Mary, who raised sons Billy and Dennis on welfare and occasional housecleaning and ironing jobs and, later, on a job with the telephone company because the boys' father had been hospitalized. (The boys couldn't visit him, and the reason for his dad's hospitalization was a central mystery of young Dennis' life.) The Smiths lived in inexpensive apartments on the East Side of midtown Manhattan, went to Catholic schools, and got into trouble with neighborhood kids whose families were almost as poor as they. Smith brings to life that distant, immigrant community, describing family, school, church, and streets as they were perceived by the child he was, from age seven to his arrival at Engine Co. 82 in 1965. Involving and vivid. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

In an author's note, Smith, best known for Report from Engine Co. 82, states that this isn't a novel‘although it reads like one. Smith grew up poor on Manhattan's East Side in the postwar years, in the Kips Bay neighborhood, where Italians were "guineas" and blacks "coloreds" and Sister Maureen's word was law. As the book opens, he is seven, living in a tenement with his mother, Mary, and his brother. They are on welfare. His mother moonlights as a charwoman while his father lies in a hospital, his legs useless after a mysterious accident. Smith is a gentle, religious boy who can be as obstinate as a terrier. Resentment and heartbreak surface when he learns that his father, whom he has never seen, isn't in the hospital after all but in a mental institution, and that this terrible secret‘like that of being on welfare‘must remain in the family. As he grows older, Smith starts smoking and drinking, drops out of high school, moves along to pot and then to heroin. A brush with the law lands him in the Air Force. After he leaves the service, he works as a cowboy in the West, but he is still drifting. He returns east, where his mother, toiling at the phone company, leads by example and he follows, into the FDNY, for which he puts out fires in a South Bronx teeming with poor people on welfare. Smith has come full circle and the irony is not lost on him. In this life-affirming reminiscence, the author thanks, through beautiful words, his mother for all her sacrifice, God for giving him a second chance and "a city that paid the rent and put an egg on the table for us when we needed it." BOMC alternate; Reader's Digest Condensed Book; Time Warner audio. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

And now for an Irish American memoir, from the author of the best-selling Report from Engine Company 82. Smith grew up poor and fatherless in 1940s and 1950s New York, and only after a rebellious adolescence did he learn the truth of his father's absence. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.