Gift of the Magi
By Jim Scanlon

She was always mysterious, never talked much and no one knew where she came from, but, for as long as I can remember, she was called "The Indian Lady". She looked like a derelict but she did not drink. She lived from handouts and garbage cans, a street person.

In 1965 I saw her warming herself in the corner of a propeller repair workshop: she was staying in an abandoned house on the property as a sort of unpaid watch woman.

That year, maybe 1978, the day before Christmas Eve, I went with my brother in law to park his truck in an open garage where the propeller repair shop had been. The old house had mostly fallen into the tidal river, the Kill Van Kull which separates Staten Island from New Jersey.

We parked the truck and my brother in law took out a shopping bag of baby food packed by my sister, and went into the open shed next to the garage. The ground was covered with papers and trash, but did not smell. From out of the pile of ragged blankets and clothing a toothless old head popped up and asked me if I thought it might snow.

Richie said, " For years the cops have been trying to get her to take a heated place from the welfare---but she won't go! She likes it here! This is her spot! She's a tough old lady!"

On Christmas Eve it snowed and iced and the temperature dropped to four degrees below zero and the wind blew hard enough to crack its teeth. I heard the howl of the wind from my warm bed on Christmas morning and I thought of the old woman and of being alone and cut off and what "independence" really meant.

I also thought of how strange it is that our flush , comfortable society celebrates the birth of a child in an open, unheated stable