CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Blowin’ In: A Tale for Christmas, a story by Sue Mangan

As the sun dipped behind the rolling hills of McCracken’s fields, Petey and Paddy Corrigan walked slowly home. Night fell early in late November, but the twins were in no hurry as they discussed the events of the day at school and filled their lungs with the scent of Scots pine and overly ripe apples.

“Petey, I can’t imagine a world without the sweet scent of apples and cinnamon,” mused Paddy.

“Brother, no truer words were spoken. I can hardly wait to taste Mammy’s mince tarts at this year’s Christmas pageant. Sure, hasn’t she been perfectin’ her own rectitude since last October when she won a first for her Barmbrack at the Rock Strand Samhain Fête?”

Now, Petey was known throughout the village for the clarity of his singing voice. Wasn’t he God’s own angel in the form of a mischievous, freckled young lad? Paddy was his quick-witted, equally mischievous brother. The more scholarly of the two, Paddy never missed the chance to correct his twin.

“Petey, don’t ye mean recipe? It’s a good thing ye have the whole of the village fooled with yer singin’. Otherwise, they’d likely think ye had sponge cake for a brain.”

“Ah Paddy, tease all ye like, but doesn’t one of Mammy’s blackberry jam fairy cakes sound delicious right about now?”

The twin’s willow baskets were filled with apples fresh from Mister McCracken’s orchard. McCracken was renowned for his horticultural skills in grafting the first apple of its kind, the Winter Apple.

The apple orchard grew beside an enchanted wood filled with holly. A company of bees paid visit to the trees each spring. Mister McCracken may be the horticulturalist, but Missus McCracken, the village’s only beekeeper, was loved for her honey. Like a benevolent kitchen witch with a heart as big as her knickers, she crafted teas and tinctures featuring her own holly honey for the villagers of Rock Strand.

Whether the talents of the McCrackens were enchanted or not, the Winter Apple was surely the magic ingredient in Maeve Corrigan’s Christmas mincemeat. Missus Corrigan and the McCrackens agreed, as good neighbors do, to share their bounty. And so, with the seasons, Mister McCracken invited the Corrigan twins to pick blackberries in late summer and the ripest apples of all in early winter.

“Petey, d’ye suppose Missus will tuck a few boughs of holly into our knapsacks when we deliver jars of Mammy’s apple mincemeat to her door this year?”

“Paddy, I suppose so, but d’ye care more about the holly, or sayin’ a fond hello to the lovely twins Bridie and Rosie McCracken? Sure, don’t their blue eyes twinkle like the Christmas star?”

“Ach Petey, ye are as bad as that terrier fella Tramp in that Disney fil’m they showed at the pictures in town last year. Sure, don’t ye remember it? Lady and the Tramp, it was. “Aye, but your ears stick out a bit more than that furry fella Tramp’s,” laughed Paddy.

“And you, Paddy, have a better chance of stealin’ a kiss from Missus Honor’s new spaniel Bella than gettin’ a peck on the cheek from the delightful Rosie McCracken. “Sure, it’s a good thing ye care more for McCracken’s holly than Rosie,” teased Petey.

Petey knew in his heart of hearts that his dear brother Paddy enjoyed his time preparing for the annual spelling bee with his class partner Rosie McCracken, as much as he himself enjoyed the company of Bridie McCracken during choir practice. Much like the Corrigan twins, the McCracken twins were well known for their singing and academics. The villagers of Rock Strand all had a talent to share and were generous with their gifts, especially when Christmastide dawned.

Each year, Mrs. Honor Jack, St. Patrick School’s most beloved teacher, held a Christmas pageant. The children of St. Patrick’s were abuzz with excitement as they would be performing a play in one act based upon the story of St. Francis and the Christmas Donkey.

As usual, Petey was cast as a singing Angel Gabriel and Paddy as St. Francis. The lovely sisters McCracken were cast as the narrator and the singing donkey.

“Children, children, eyes on me! Bridie, let us begin with verse one of Away in a Manger.”

“A- hee, a-haw,” bellowed Bridie.

“Bridie, you are to sing the part of the donkey, not act like a donkey. Please try again,” gently scolded Mrs. Honor Jack.

With tears in her eyes Bridie began again, “A-hee, a-haw.”

“Missus Honor, with all respect, I think Bridie may have a bout of laringyropous,” explained a very earnest Petey. “I should know Missus. I do seem to get it every Christmas. This year’s my lucky year, but not so for Bridie. Maybe all’s she needs is some of her Mammy’s honey. That did the trick for me at last year’s pageant.”

Paddy rolled his eyes at Petey and muttered beneath his breath, “Laryngitis, you donkey.”

Laryngitis or laringyropous aside, it did appear as though Mrs. Honor Jack was going to need yet another Rock Strand Christmas miracle.

Late November quickly passed into December and Bridie’s voice had still not fully returned. Much like the donkey in the play, all poor Bridie could do was hee and haw.

One moonlit night after supper, Petey thought to ask his mother, “Mammy, d’ ye think Paddy and I could deliver one of your flaky mince tarts to Bridie McCracken. Sure, all the vitamins in that sweet will fill her throat with song.”

“Petey, you are a dear dote! Won’t that make Bridie feel grand? I’ll pack up a hamper filled with tarts. You and Paddy run along to the McCracken’s but be sure not to let our spaniel Blarney out the door. He has been noseying around the church, near Missus Honor’s gate, when he and Da go walkin’.

“I don’t want Blarney meetin’ up with Missus Honor’s new spaniel Bella. Poor Honor’s got enough worries with the pageant so near.”

Like two playful young goats, Petey and Paddy rushed to the door with the basket. Sure, didn’t they almost spill the tarts on the flagstone floor! With all the laughter, the twins didn’t realize that Blarney had slipped out, running high tail toward the church at the top of the town.

“Paddy, Blarney escaped! Grab the basket and wait at the gate, so Mammy doesn’t know that Blarney is gone. We’ll deliver the tarts after I collect that silly spaniel,” cried Petey.

Petey ran down the rocky road toward the town and stopped abruptly at the church. There beneath the moonlight, stood an alabaster donkey.

“Was that donkey there after pageant practice today?” whispered Petey to no one but himself.

Petey blanched as white as yon donkey. The twins had learned about the appearance of our Lady at Knock. Could this be yet another miracle? Could the vision of St. Francis’ Christmas Donkey be the next miracle of Rock Strand?

Frightened by the sight of the life-sized donkey, Blarney crept out of a cedar shrub and leaned against Petey’s leg.

Blue eyes wide, Petey listened to what could only be the donkey singing:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

“Sure, if our Lord hasn’t given us a sign! Francis’ singing Christmas Donkey is actually here in Rock Strand. Won’t Bridie be delighted to know that a miracle is on the wings of Christmastide!”

With a jig in his step, Petey and Blarney fled back to the road above town and did not see Father Colm walking out of the shed with a little old man wearing dusty coveralls, and a great smile beneath his silver mustache.

“Ahh Father, I am just about finished sculpting the ox and lamb to accompany the Holy Family for your nativity scene. Won’t the children be surprised when they arrive for their pageant?” laughed Arcangelo, a cousin of Father Colm’s sister-in-law and an opera singing sculptor who was almost as famous for his art as McCracken was for his apples.

“Saints above Ang, what is that thundering racket!” roared Father Colm.

Father Colm and Arcangelo laughed as they saw two sets of twins and a basket-toting spaniel come to a skidding stop in front of the alabaster donkey.

“Father, Father! Surely, you must have heard the donkey sing this holy night? Tis’ another Rock Strand miracle!” cried Petey.

“Children, children,” laughed Father Colm. “This is not a singing donkey. It is simply a donkey for the nativity. This is my dear friend and distant relation Mr. Arcangelo Corelli.

He sculpted the donkey and will surprise the congregation as the singer behind the donkey! As poor Bridie is without her proper singing voice, Mrs. Honor Jack and I thought it best that Bridie play the non-speaking, but most divine role of Mary.”

“Ah Petey,” Paddy teased, “You might be a singing angel, but you can sometimes act like such a donkey!”

With that, Bridie laughed a joyful hee-haw and kissed Petey on his pink freckled cheek.

“Francis had finished his story. It was evening now. Snow had begun to fall. He took the donkey’s head tenderly in his hands, and together they walked out of the woods.”  

(An excerpt from Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey by Robert Byrd)

Find this and all of Sue’s Blowin’ In Columns HERE!

Picture of Sue Mangan

Sue Mangan

*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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