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: Typhoid Mary’s Proposal :

an excerpt by Kathleen Ford


She didn’t get famous right away. In fact, the health inspectors came to see me long before we started reading about her in the newspapers. The newspaper drawings made her look like a society lady, with her hair all swept up into a giant pastry puff, but I knew in real life, her hair was pulled back on her scalp so she looked like a seal climbing out of water. In one drawing, she wore a lace collar on a neck no bigger than a swan’s. In real life her neck was as big as a donkey’s, and when she dropped her chin to roll out a pie crust or cradle a bowl, she had no neck at all. Still, the biggest difference between the newspaper sketches and the flesh and blood Mary wasn’t her hair or her neck – but her face. The newspaper Mary had an upturned mouth that seemed to remember the smell of summer roses. The real Mary Mallon kept her mouth closed tighter than a clam shell, and looked as if she’d just swallowed vinegar. Still, even if the drawings didn’t resemble Mary, I studied the papers as if they were the gospel. I wasn’t the only one. Everybody at the Pattersons’ wanted to learn about Mary’s life on North Brother Island. After all, Typhoid Mary was famous, and here I was, someone who had cooked in the same kitchen with her and slept in the same room.



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