Miracle on Massachusetts Avenue
by Maureen Power
They call me Patsy, but my real name is Patricia. They even put that stupid
nickname on my birthday cake today. At least they got the candles right - six red
ones. Mammie promised me they'd be red. I love her so much cuz she always tells
the truth. Even when no one believes her but me.
Like all the times she waves to those people that float by her chair in the parlor.
Daddy tells me to ignore her when I ask him who they are, because it's all in her
imagination. He says her head is confused because of how old she is, but I know
he's wrong because I can see them too. There's kids and grown-ups and one time
I even seen a dog. They kind of glow, like they're lit up from their insides. Mammie
says it's because the light of heaven touches them. Maybe that's why they're
always smiling at us.
Mammie's strapped into the Morris chair with one of Daddy's old belts so she
won't fall out, and they push it over to the table. She's real little so she don't weigh
much. She looks pretty with all the tinsel on her chair. It's leftover tinsel from the
Christmas tree. The tree was so tiny, it couldn't even take a whole box. So my big
sister Eleanor decided to use the rest to decorate Mammie!
That's another thing that stinks about my birthday. It's the day before Christmas,
so I only get one birthday present. Ma says I'm lucky to get anything at all, but
Daddy always comes through with something - even if it's just a couple of comic
books like last year.
Everybody sings "Happy Birthday To You" while I climb up on Mammie's lap so I
can reach the candles better. I blow them all out in one big breath. I guess that
means I get my wish, but I ain't telling what it is because then it won't come true.
When I look up, everyone's smiling and clapping except for Ma. She used to be
real nice to me when she first came, even giving me the extra blanket when it got
too cold. But now she's just an old sourpuss. My real mother is with the angels
because she died bringing me into this world.
Now for my present! It's wrapped up in the funny papers, Dagwood and Blondie
right on top, all colorful and everything. It's pretty heavy and I'm hoping Daddy
got his overtime money from the MTA just this once. He always says his overtime
will do this or that but we never seem to have enough. The paper's easy to tear so
in no time I can see the shoe box with my new roller skates inside. I can't wait to
put them on and zoom up and down William Street and maybe even up the avenue,
where I'm not supposed to go by myself.
Ma says, "Don't forget the key." She's the practical one. That's what Mammie
calls her. I don't know what that means except she yells an awful lot and always
gets things done and has a good job at the Riverside Press as some sort of book
reader. She pulls a big red piece of yarn out of the box with the shiniest silver key
I've ever seen, hanging from the bottom.
"What's that for?" I say, and she tells me it's to tighten the little silver tabs that go
over the soles of my shoes.
"Wear this around your neck so you don't lose it," says Ma. She puts it over myhead and knocks my paper party hat off. "You'd lose your head if it wasn't
attached to your neck," she says and whacks me one on the side of the head to
remind me not to lose it.
Mammie holds her arms out to me and I go over for a pat and a kiss on the head.
I can't wait to get out of here and try the skates out.
We all have cake (Eleanor takes two pieces) and I ask for ice cream.
"Things are too tight for such extravagance," I hear Ma say. That's all right. I can
do without. I always do.
"Can I go out now?" I say after licking my plate and getting scolded for having
"You have to clear the table first. Eleanor, you help your sister."
Eleanor squinches her face up because she wants to finish her second piece. I see
her wrap it in a napkin and sneak it into her pocket. I bet she pulls it out when we
go to bed. Hope she doesn't get crumbs in the sheets. We just got rid of the bed
bugs and they'd sure like a feast like birthday cake crumbs. Oh well, I'm not gonna
worry about that. All I can think about now is flying down the sidewalk in my new
Finally! Dishes are put in the sink and I'm pulling on my red coat and hat. Mammie
helps me get my mittens on. They're attached by yarn that goes up my sleeves so I
won't lose them - but I don't think I'll need them cuz of the thaw. Daddy says he
ain't seen such a December thaw in all his years, but Mammie has - probably
because she has so many more years on her.
I run out the door, escaping from Ma who's trying to get all the buttons done. She
warns me not to scuff up my shoes and I'll be sure to get a smack if I do. They're
the only ones I got for school.
Then for some reason, I turn around and look back into the house. It looks all
glowing like a hundred birthday candles are lit up and I see Mammie's little face,
her white hair kinda puffy all around her head and the tinsel shiny like real icicles.
She smiles big and says, "The Banshee will be coming soon. Don't fear, little one."
I hear the words, but her lips ain't moving - like she's whispering to me and
nobody else can hear. It kind of gives me the goose bumps, what with all the tales
she likes to tell about the Death Coach and the three knocks and scariest of all - the
Where she comes from, Ireland, there seem to be a lot of them around. I didn't
think they were here in Cambridge, but maybe they followed her across the high
seas to Massachusetts when she came over in the big ship with Aunt Bid. I sure
ain't seen them and I sure don't want to see them. Mammie says they come on a
great wind to take you to heaven and you can hear them crying just before they
come. I guess it's because they're so sad that you died.
So I put it out of my head and run down the front steps, sitting on the bottom one
so I can strap my skates to my shoes. I turn the key as tight as it will go because
I'm going to be going as fast as the wind.
I skate in little baby steps at first, being careful not to run into the little piles of
snow that people have shoveled to the side. After only two times up and down
William Street I start to go a little smoother and a big smile breaks out on my face
cuz I'm free. I could probably escape from any Banshee or bad guy or rotten,
barking dog now. Just let 'em try. I make believe King, the black dog at the end of
the street, is chasing me, and I feel like I'm flying on the sidewalk.
Lindy from number 18 comes out just as I'm going by and starts making fun of me.
"Who said you could skate? Look at ya, you're goin' over," he says as he tries to
trip me. I get a little mad at him but he's my best boy friend - not 'boyfriend' -
and we always tease each other.
"Come in and show Mother. We've got some supper left, if you like."
"Gee, thanks," I say. Our supper was water crackers and milk with sugar on top so
we could afford the cake.
Mrs. O'Mara is an awful good cook and I jump at the chance for a second supper.
After I take my skates off, I walk into their big kitchen and sniff the air. Mrs.
O'Mara is all over me, telling me how pretty I look and what beautiful skates I have.
She sits me down next to Lindy who's already gulping down his shepherd's pie
and I dig in, too. Then we get some grapenut pudding for desert and my stomach is
in heaven. This has got to be the best birthday ever.
Lindy wipes his mouth on his sleeve and tells me to hurry up and finish so we can
play with the Ouija Board again. We did it all last week, nearly every day and it was
right spooky, but I loved it. I eat as fast as I can and say thank you to Mrs. O'Mara
and we head into the parlor. There's a huge tree that looks like it's going to go
through the ceiling and it's covered with all kinds of colored lights. It looks as
good as the one in the window of Grover Cronin's up the Avenue but not as good
as the giant tree in Harvard Square. Daddy took us to see it the night they turned it
on and it was like heaven on earth.
We pull the board out from under the couch and put it on the floor between us.
"You better not move it this time or I'll crown you," says Lindy. I just give him a
look and he shuts up. The last time we used it, it finally moved, but I know it
wasn't me doin' it.
We put our fingers on the little heart shaped thing and I freeze. There's a sound
outside like the wind picking up. Then the wind starts to sing. Lindy's eyes get big
and he takes his fingers off the mover.
"Do you hear that?" he says.
We both don't move a muscle and we listen as it gets closer. It sounds like it's
coming down the street right for us. It gets louder and higher, almost screechy and
I think it must be a cyclone like in that new movie, The Wizard of Oz. We turn our
heads to look out the parlor windows and I see a beautiful lady, all flimsy and
floating by. Her hair and her dress look like smoke.
She looks right into my eyes but I ain't scared. Then she bows her head to me like
I'm some queen or something. I bow my head back.
I look at Lindy to say something, but he has his eyes closed so tight they look like
they'll never open up again.
Pretty soon the sound gets smaller and smaller and turns into what King sounds like
when he wants something real bad. Me and Lindy let our breath out and we put our
fingers back on the mover. It starts up right away and slides real quick to the word
"What a wind," Mrs. O'Mara says, as she brings in a tray with a plate of
gingersnaps and two glasses of milk.
"Looks like this thaw is officially over. There's a front coming in and we'll be
going back to the cold weather by tomorrow. You kids would like more snow,
"Yes, Ma'am," I say as she leans down with the tray. Lindy already has two
cookies in his mouth before she puts it on the floor next to us. She puts on the
radio and we listen to The Lone Ranger. I imagine myself being him, yelling out
"Hi-Yo Silver, away!" and riding a horse and shooting the bad guys. I could do it,
too, I bet. Just because I'm a girl, don't make no difference.
After the show, I say, "I gotta get going," and Lindy gets our coats. He goes out
with me and helps me put my skates on, then walks beside me, and then starts to
run when I get my sea legs. Those are the legs you need to keep your balance.
Mammie said she used them on the boat from Ireland.
He pulls my coat and I laugh and stick my tongue out at him. He laughs back, but
not in a big way like he usually does.
"If you go any faster, they'll think you're a comet with that red coat on." Then he
grabs my hands and spins me around so I can go back down the street to my
"Happy birthday, Patty. I've got to go in. It's getting late. See ya." He waves to me
and I say, "See ya" back. He's a good egg. That's what Daddy called guys he
I'm skating pretty good now, and getting near my house when Danny O'Brien's big
black car goes by and stops in front. It's the one he uses for his job and I wonder
why he's not driving his green Buick. A couple of men I don't know get out and
bring something up the stairs into the house. It's getting a little dark so it's hard to
see what it is.
I finally get to my house and sit on the steps to take my skates off, but before I can
turn my skate key, the door opens and the men come out carrying a big brown
basket with laundry in it.
"Look out, little girl," one of them says
"What's in the basket, Mister?"
I look in and it's all white sheets. They put it down on the sidewalk on top of some
sort of black rug and one of them opens the two doors on the back of the car. I
wonder why they're being so careful with a bunch of old sheets. As they pick it
back up, part of a sheet falls away and there's Mammie's little white head peeking
out. She looks like she's asleep and so cozy, like an angel lying in the clouds. But I
know she ain't asleep and I know who the lady in the wind was. She was the
Banshee come to take Mammie home.
I feel like the world is going to end. My heart is breaking and a tear starts to roll
down my face. My eyes sting and my throat is so sore it feels like I swallowed a big
rock. I see Ma and Daddy in the doorway and he's crying, too, holding up one of
Mammie's handkerchiefs. His face looks red and sort of smashed in, like
someone's beat him up. Ma don't look sad. She looks like she always does. Then
she yells over to me.
"Patsy, you get in here."
I turn and take off real fast away from there. I skate as hard as I can. I don't even
know where I'm going. King comes flying out from an alley and tries to nip me but
I'm going so fast, he can't catch me.
It's getting darker now and I almost trip when I go off the sidewalk, onto the street,
then up to the next sidewalk. I'm crying hard, but I'm going like the wind and it's
drying my tears before they can drip down my face.
I see a lot of glowing lights up ahead and now I know I'm almost up the avenue
near Harvard Square. I just want to see the big Christmas tree they put up last
week. I know it will make me feel better. Daddy took us to see it the night it got lit
up and I ain't seen nothing so pretty in all my life.
Everything looks jumbled up because of my tears and I squint to try and see better.
The lights of all the stores are so bright that the people who pass by me seem like
Then the wind gets stronger and a big chill goes down my back because I hear it
again - the song of the Banshee. I stop and turn around to see her behind me all
smoky and beautiful coming nearer and nearer. She's smiling at me like she did
before, but this time I'm so scared, I start to cross Massachusetts Avenue. The
cars are whizzing by and I get turned around and around. I cry harder than I've
Someone yells at me to get out of the road and cars start honking their horns.
There's so much noise. I put my hands over my ears and shut my eyes, but I can
still hear the Banshee getting closer.
"Mammie, where are you?" I scream her name over and over, but I can hardly hear
my own voice because of the Banshee's wail being so close.
Then I hear Mammie's voice inside my head.
"This way, little one," she says. I open my eyes and Mammie is standing on the
sidewalk with her arms out to me and I know if I can skate fast enough, I can
escape the Banshee. I go so fast my feet feel like they ain't even on the ground and
I make a beeline to Mammie.
When I get to the sidewalk, she's gone and standing there is Officer Kelly.
He picks me up in his big arms. "Patricia Davis, what on earth are you doing out on
the night before Christmas? Do you realize you almost got killed out there? You
should be home in bed waiting for Santa Claus, not causing a near five car pile-up
with you in the middle of it." He pushes the hair out of my face and wipes my tears
with his mittens.
"My Mammie went to heaven with the Banshee, and the Banshee tried to get me
too, but Mammie saved . . ."
"Darlin', Darlin', it's alright. I'm going to take you home, now and don't you
worry about a thing. Tomorrow's Christmas and all the troubles in the world will be
washed away. There, now."
I bury my face against his blue wool coat and he blows his whistle to stop the
traffic. He carried me the whole three blocks to my house, then walks me up the
stairs and rings the doorbell. Ma answers. She just looks at me with that nothing
face of hers for a minute while Officer Kelly tells her what happened.
Ma tells him thank you and closes the front door, saying, "Patsy, you get upstairs
and don't expect Santa Claus to be coming tonight."
"Where's Daddy?" I say.
"He's making arrangements at the funeral home, so he won't be here to save you
this time. Now scat!"
I run up the stairs and put my nightgown on and jump into bed next to my sister.
Most of the time, it's so cold up here, sometimes I sneak my coat upstairs and use
it for a blanket, but tonight, I feel nice and warm and cozy. Mammie ain't gone after
all, and as long as I got my skates, no bad guy or rotten barking dog will ever catch
me. I can skate faster than even the Banshee's wind.