ANOTHER TIME

Mary Mallon
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    In 1884, fifteen-year-old Mary Mallon immigrated to the United States from Ireland. She grew to become a large, feisty woman known for a wicked temper and an extraordinary talent for cooking. Despite being uneducated, Mary was able to build a successful career as a cook for well-to-do families in New York City.  She was good at her job and remained steadily employed, always considered to be an essential employee. She often traveled with the families when they took trips or vacations. In the late 1800s, America was not the “drive-thru” nation we have now, and a darn good cook was essential luggage.

    In 1906 the family Mary worked for on Long Island became ill with Typhoid.  Mary moved on to a new job with a new family for employment, but soon the same thing happened. Then a third time, and then again.  After a few more moves, the authorities began investigating the homes of the wealthy and unlucky families. After a while, they discovered the one thing they had in common: A large, feisty, celebrated cook by the name of Mary.

    Mary must have been thinking of herself as the luckiest woman in New York, as she repeatedly evaded the illness that was ravaging those around her. It was 1907 when the Board of Health located her. In short order, Ms. Mallon was quarantined at the Riverside Hospital on North Borther Island. 

    In all fairness to Mary, this was a time when science was beginning to study and understand the transference of disease. Many new concepts of diseases sounded outrageous to the public, and most people didn’t relate to some of the discoveries coming forward.  Common knowledge of the day indicated that someone who did not have a disease could certainly not spread it.  In Mary’s mind, these outbreaks were pure coincidence. Remember, hand washing and other sanitation practices weren’t commonly practiced. The sanitizing wipe would not be invented for over eighty years. 

    In 1910 the health commissioner agreed with new scientific information suggesting that Mary could indeed be a typhoid carrier who was spreading the disease as she prepared food. He determined that her three-year imprisonment in the asylum was an unfair treatment to someone who was not an actual criminal.

    As a step toward rehabilitation, the commissioner found Mary a job in a laundry, and she was released back into the wild.  He was sure that she was a reasonable soul and had learned the nature of her condition. The commissioner was sure she would do the right thing and never work in food preparation again.

As it turned out, the laundry job barely produced enough income to sustain her, and her job satisfaction resided in her talent in the kitchen. Mary went to work in food preparation not long after her release but somehow forgot to tell the board of health about it. She may have accidentally started changing her name and moving around from kitchen to kitchen for a while.  In 1915, Mary was discovered to be cooking at the Sloane Hospital for Women in Manhattan.  The authorities were puzzled that she would continue to cook for others, knowing the danger she posed.  Mary could not (would not) understand how she could have Typhoid. She had neither been sick nor shown any symptoms herself.  She was quick to anger at the implication that she caused the outbreaks of such a deadly disease, and when Mary was mad -everyone paid heed.

    In hindsight, we now know that Mary Mallon was the first known asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid.  It seems like an easy concept now, but at the time, it was not so.  Because scientific research in the early 1900s was not nearly as advanced as it is today. Learning of Mary’s strong personality, we believe that Mary wasn’t bad, just badly mistaken.

    Historically, she most certainly was not the Grim Reaper cutting thru the population, killing thousands with her evil Typhoid finger.  But since she was so unlikable, the press labeled her “Typhoid Mary,” encouraging public outrage to blame her for much more than her fair share.  The truth goes more like this: Mary Mallon was just one of 50 known asymptomatic carriers of Typhoid.  The fact that the Board of Health’s manhunt to find her caught the attention of the press and the label Typhoid Mary caught on.  It did not help that when she was arrested, Mary went ballistic, kicking and screaming as they took her away. Even then, a lurid news story gathered attention and flooded through the public. Since she worked for the upper classes added to her notoriety.  The actual numbers were that she infected 30-50 people, but only three died.   During that same year, there were more than 3,000 other cases of Typhoid in New York and over 600 deaths.  

    Typhoid Mary Mallon was imprisoned at North Borther Island a second time. This is where she lived out the final 23 years of her life.  As a celebrity she still had journalist visit her, but they were reminded not to accept even a glass of water from her.  In 1938 she died of complications from a stroke that she had several years earlier. Mary Mallon was 69 years old, the autopsy indicated that her gall bladder was still shedding typhoid bacilli.

The moral of the story? Wash your hands and stay in school (even if it is virtual) , and wear your mask no matter what.

La Llorona – Wailing Lady

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1502 – present  

There are many stories of La Llorona (the wailing lady).  The first mention was in 1502 when the goddess Cihuacoatl went out into the streets dressed in white, and crying and keening about the death of the Maya.  There is a belief that this was the first warning of the coming of the Conquistadors.  A meaner Central American specter without the good intentions of the Irish Banshee.

In the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize, there was a beautiful young woman.  She has long, straight black hair, and so alluring that she attracted the attention of many men.  On the downside, she is selfish and vowed she would only marry a wealthy, handsome man.  The legend goes that she did meet that man, and she played him by ignoring him and refusing his gifts.  Well, Darling, she is just a “Rules” kinda girl, and she won her man. Oblivious to the fact, he also had some negative tendencies.  It seemed to be a good marriage, and she became pregnant with their child. 

Here is the twist one legend says he left her for another woman.  The second story says that he rejects her, maybe for getting fat, and only then his mother made her life miserable and drove La Llorona to the forest.  She felt there were minimal options, either a support group at the women’s center and some community college classes, or the route less traveled. Misses La Llorona picked the second option and drowns her newborn child in the river. Then she killed herself in anger, pain, and humiliation.  

As a result, she was cursed to eternally search for her lost baby. From then on, she sits by the river, keening for compassion.  La Llorona haunts areas where children play and swim. As time passed, she became even more bitter and is known to lure children to the forest, never to return.  She specializes in the capture boys, but on a rare occasion, a few sassy girls have disappeared. 

A village usually knows when La Llorona is around by her loud wailing. Often, she is spotted in the trees on moonlit nights.  If she appears to you, she will stop crying and becomes sweet and gentle.  She opens her arms and welcomes men or troublesome boys to her caress. Only then are they trapped and taken to their demise.  Struggling doesn’t help; often, the victim will strangle in her long black hair. 

La Llorona is known to take the form of a mother, auntie, or whatever it takes to lure a man to his death.  She is also known to transform into a snake that wraps around the victim for the kill.  The few children have escaped but are often mute for the rest of their lives. 

There are three ways to protect against La Llorona. The surest one is to be home when you promised. Second if possible, the victim should pray, and she will move away. The third is to shine a light; our girl doesn’t like direct lighting.  So, if you are a man stumbling- er- wandering through the forest, near a river late at night, sincerely try to find your way home. If you should meet a lovely lady waiting and crying, remember you have a slim chance of escape. It is best to run to a clearing and shine that flashlight; hopefully, she will not follow. If you choose her open arms, there is a price to be paid. It may be even more expensive than the toll for staggering home so late in the night. 

Image by Karen Smits from Pixabay

TIME OUT SPECIAL

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SHARING DURING THE FORCED TIME OUT. MILDRED UNCHAINED, THE UNEXPECTED SERIESFiction-Crime-Humor first book in an Unexpected Series, Mildred Unchained. Mildred Petrie retired from a long career as a meter maid. Her husband died and his secrets changed everything. There is no stopping Mildred. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZTVV98/ref=

A NOISE IN MY KITCHEN

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Short story just published by RAC Magazine.

It started two weeks ago; I bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking at the used bookstore for $3.  In my innocence, I flipped through the pages and scanned a couple recipes.  The book was beyond my palate, so I closed the cover and removed it to my collection. I am the kind of person who buys wine by the box, and seldom uses it for gravy. I pick and spit delicate truffles, with no regard for rarity or price; a mushroom is a mushroom. That evening I settled into my chair for television and an Aunt Jemima breakfast sandwich with a slice of reheated Red Baron pizza, microwaved for an impromptu feast.

Later in the night as I slept, there was a high-pitched trill emanating from the kitchen.  I convinced myself it was a passing train although I don’t live near any tracks. I roll with a shiver and search for dreams.  Hours later the pots began to rattle and tattle, the pans shifted and clanked.  I had a sudden urge to braise beef bones into a clear broth and to eat fishes and snails gathered from the seas far from home. I arose, and wrapped in false bravado I searched.  Finding nothing, I went back to bed for a fretful toss and turn until dawn, blaming the dynamic dinner whose crusts and wrappers still occupied my trash.

Each night since, I search for slumber with a pounding heart and ears probing a tentative silence. Once I find sleep, there is a noise in my kitchen, followed with an enticing aroma I can’t identify. After a fortnight of fear and anticipation, I gave up my search, accepting I can never catch the hazy alchemist who prowls my kitchen. 

At daybreak, the constant clanking stops and I nap.  When I finally struggle forth, I discover a sink full of dishes and a large metal spoon resting near the stove evidence of the nocturnal intrusions.  Julia Child haunts my kitchen. She quietly judges me during the day and prowls at night.  I accept responsibility for buying the book and dismissing her lessons.  Out of desperation, I remove it from the shelves and return it to the kitchen counter where it belongs.  I open to a page, dust off my ramekins and encounter herbed baked eggs with thyme infused baguettes.

Today I feast, tonight we rest.

The Shore of the Salish Sea

Salish Sea
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His tears flavor the salty sea as he stands silently on the shore, watching the clouds gather on the horizon.  A growing storm blocks out the sun, and he feels the electricity in the air.  A solitary man gazes out over the sea; his sobs blend with the distant thunder. 

John has worked since he was fifteen, driven by a need for recognition and approval.  He built a life on money and labor, defining his existence one success after another. Confidently, he believed there was plenty of time to meet a good woman and have 2.5 smart children.   He delayed his plans to see Paris and Egypt for one of the coming tomorrows, unaware that this day would be here so soon.  At this moment, shame rushes over him as he acknowledges he didn’t call his mother on her birthday.  Sure, his secretary sent a gift, but he was too busy to sign the card or take the minutes to talk to her. That is all she ever wanted.

Hope is gone, and John acknowledges that he is the real villain of his own life.  His whole existence has been putting success and money in front of the truly important things, waiting for enough time or more money.  The agony of regret is more intense than the pain that brought John to the salty shore of a billion tears.  The drive that made him famous so young was the same ambition that brought him here to this moment.  The tears dry with the recognition that it is too late, as he watches the small wooden boat approach in the distance.  Now he understands a donation to charity is an empty gesture when done for the press release. All that is left is a news announcement for a funeral, attended by people who never really knew him or cared.  A business will never miss him, and money doesn’t cry.  John feels a deep ache for a sincere emotion from someone who carries a ghost of resemblance.   Too late, everything is too late. He steps aboard the boat and pays the toll with the single coin found in his hand. His almost silent voice swears if he ever has a chance to return, time won’t be wasted on tomorrows.