Monday, April 09, 2007

An "Almost Great" Idea

Hello again, thank you so much for your patience. I'm going to try getting back into the tale telling by starting off slow with this little story that I was reminded of by a group of friends who were discussing palm fronds and the Palm Sunday traditions of their younger days. As you may recall, R's mother had persuaded R to purchase an older donkey that had been part of a "Kiddie Donkey Ride" and was rather tired and "long in the tooth". This little fellow now lived the life of a retired elder gentleman as a permanently retired boarder at the farm. Having been around children almost all of his life, he was particularly gentle with the little visitors who would be brought to the farm to see the animals. It was when a new young preacher from one of the local congregations visited with his very young daughter that this tale starts. During the farm tour, with yours truly pressed into guide duty (as was usually the case), the little girl fell head over heels for the donkey. It was a match made in heaven, as the donkey was quite enamored of our young visitor bearing sugar cubes and carrots to add to the budding relationship.
It was spring, and snow was melting and new snow falling mostly in short flurries of two to five inch amounts. The newly-minted clergyman was apparently mulling over his future sermons for the Easter season while he watched his daughter interacting with her carrot-loving new best friend, as he soon began asking tons of questions concerning the little donkey. After getting his wondering answered to his satisfaction, he asked me to watch the little girl while he went to speak to my uncle in the dairy barn. I agreed, since it seemed a good way to try to induce R's brother F to start doing my chores for me, as he often did if I was otherwise occupied. When a considerable amount of time had elapsed, the young man returned carrying a saddle blanket. As he neared the place I stood, he asked if I'd mind giving his daughter a short ride on her new friend. Always eager to put off or even avoid chores altogether, I readily agreed to his request.
After several excursions around the pasture, with me leading the donkey with a short rope fashioned into a make-shift bridle and the little lady giggling the entire time, I was ready to accept that I must be responsible and attend to my assigned duties at the barn. This was mostly due to the fact that the girls high-pitched laughter was causing a ringing in my ears that was less enjoyable than doing the horse stall cleaning. The minister, however, was now thoroughly immersed in deep thought and barely spoke as he headed, with the little girl in tow, back to where R was milking the herd . Little did I suspect that I was part of the discussion than ensued.
When the pair had departed and R had finished the milk gathering, R came to talk to me in the horse barn and disclosed the padre's great plan. My uncle had, for several years, provided the local churches throughout the area with palm fronds for Palm Sunday services and Easter lilies for Easter Sunday decorations. He had a friend in Alabama with whom he'd attended school who supplied the fronds and lilies which arrived by "express rail shipment" at the depot in the little city where F had his farm store. F would pick up the goods from the station, cart them to the store, and do all that was required to prepare the fronds and flowers for delivery to whichever churches had ordered them. It seems that the preacher's visit had a two-fold purpose, one being to place his order for fronds and lilies with my aunt, who kept track of such matters.
That coming Sunday, being Palm Sunday, was to see the start of a new tradition at the young minister's place of worship, maybe. It seems he was trying to get more church members attending services on a regular basis, the numbers having fallen during the final years of the former preacher's tenure due to his sermons having grown as tired as the old gentleman himself. While attendance was gradually growing, the young man had tried to find a way to "jump-start" the efforts with special sermon and small "play" to commemorate Palm Sunday. You've likely guessed that this grand scheme directly involved both myself and the donkey. Uncle R had thought it a good idea to help the man out by offering, free of charge, the services of the two of us to participate in the "play" the following Sunday. I was to play the part of a devotee of Jesus, who would be played by a very young male parishioner and would "arrive" at the altar by way of donkey, down the center aisle of the church, and remain there for the duration of the sermon. Right away I was very un-impressed at the prospect of standing in a sweltering, crowded, steam heated church, dressed in a funny robe, next to a smelly donkey for what would undoubtedly prove to be the minister's longest ever sermon. It seemed, however, I was to be given no say in the matter that R considered a "done deal". I spent the remainder of the week dreading Sunday.
As Palm Sunday saw the sun rise, I was to be found in the donkey's stall grooming him as much as possible. He'd already been scrubbed down thoroughly the previous evening in preparation for his theatrical debut. But even after all that hard work, he still smelled pretty much the way he always did, like a donkey from a barn. I also fed him and watered him more than normal, thinking he'd be away from the pastures and barn where he usually spent the day constantly nibbling. To my way of thinking, this would contribute greatly to his cooperating during the services. I soon had him loaded into the smaller horse trailer with a feed-bag on to keep him calm and, with F at the helm, he and I were off for the church in the old farm truck, towing our future play participant.
Things seemed to be going well as the morning unfolded. The donkey was his usual docile self and appeared to think the church was just another barn, but this one for humans rather than four-legged farm critters. The plan was simple, I was given a funky robe, a Shepperd's hooked staff, sandals, and a head covering similar to those worn by desert nomads. The donkey was adorned with a saddle blanket and a tiara of flowers of varying colors. The young "Jesus" was dressed in a white robe and I hoisted him onto the donkey in a side-saddle style and waited for our cue, which came all too soon for me, as I figured an early entrance meant more time standing at the front of the hot church. The ushers opened the double doors at the back of the church and we strode out and down a center aisle paved with palm fronds and framed by a full to overflowing congregation, which added even more to the heat inside.
As soon as we arrived at the altar, the minister signaled for the organist to play the first hymn listed on the program. When the music stopped, he launched into his talk for the day, relating the story of Jesus' arrival on the donkey and the crowds of adoring followers welcoming him. The sermon finally reached the latter stages and the minister once again signalled for a hymn to begin prior to his closing remarks. It was during this hymn that things started to go awry, but I was unaware of the laughter and commotion until the loud organ music stopped and I heard a familiar sound.
The donkey, having eaten well and sated his thirst earlier, was doing what farm animals tend to do when the need arises, even if they happen to be standing in front of a crowded church on a red carpet edged by a beautiful hardwood floor. Alerted to the plopping sound, I looked around to the rear of the little beast to confirm what I feared was the source of the noise and the reason for the laughter coming from the folks seated in the pews in their best Sunday attire. Yep! Directly behind the little beastie was a fresh pile of some of the best fertilizer available anywhere. Oh well, I thought, that's not as bad as I'd imagined, it all having been deposited on the hardwood next to the still clean red carpet. Just as I was emitting grand sigh of relief, I heard another familiar sound, somewhat muffled by the red floor covering. You probably guessed it, he was now relieving himself of a huge amount of yellowish liquid in a heavy stream all over the nice carpet. The laughter increased to a dull roar at this, and I was trying my best to be invisible as I stood helplessly by while the donkey answered nature's call.
The young preacher cut short his sermon and with a quick "amen" and motioned to the ushers to open all the doors leading outside from the rear of the congregation. I quietly attempted to escape by leading the donkey toward the doors as well, but was intercepted by the shocked padre, who was asking how to clean up the mess, just as I spotted F headed my way with the church janitor's wheelbarrow, a shovel, and a pile of rags. The rest is history. The tale of the little "accident" quickly made the rounds of the small town and even resulted in the new nickname for the reverend, whose name was Delmont. Until he moved on to a new church several years later, he was always referred to as "The Good Reverend Donkey-Delmont", much to the delight of all the church's younger members. Until next we meet, take care.