A Christmas Lesson

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Mary Macurdy stank. There was no doubt about it. The stench wafted around her like a cloud of noxious gas, the smell staying in your nostrils long after running away. It improved during the winter when her heavy and shapeless man’s overcoat surrounded her, straggly grey hair stuffed up underneath a knit cap and a scarf tied under her chin where, as kids, we imagined there was a huge wart with a hair growing out of it. During the summer, we stayed as far away from Mary Macurdy as possible. The smell was terrible and we would joke about it bringing tears to our eyes. We had not yet learned to walk in her worn-out shoes.

Mary Macurdy lived in our neighbourhood. The streets were not paved but somehow Mary Macurdy’s street was shabbier than the rest of the neighbourhood and Mary Macurdy’s house was the shabbiest of them all. Forgotten winters and encroaching summers had almost extinguished her wee cottage from sight. Vines grew over the door creating shifting shadows and deep pools of dark green ink.

mangerChristmas, 1965. A few days before the 25th, as was the norm at nighttime, my parents, John and Marie Dunn, gathered all twelve children together to pray the Rosary and recite our evening prayers. Clearing her throat to gain our attention, Mom announced that she had invited Mary Macurdy to share Christmas dinner with us that year.  We were aghast but said nothing to this announcement. We knew better. On Christmas Day, Mary Macurdy came and ate turkey and dressing and cranberry and apple pie with us. There was no doubt about it. Mary Macurdy stank.  But then, probably the shepherds did too. The birth of the Christ Child was in a manger and no doubt, the barn stank of animal dung and goat hide and matted fur, unwashed bodies and long overworn clothes.  Odd that Mary Macurdy’s first name was the same as the baby’s mother.

Catherine Cameron, December 2016