Murray, KY – The winter holiday season is a special time for all, often evoking reverence and good-will. Commentator and professional storyteller Robert Valentine shares a new perspective on a classic Christmas story about a carpenter in urgent need of a donkey. This is the first in a three part series, titled "For Unto You "
"Well, not that one; that's a certain thing!"
The merchant was very upset, and the liveryman worried. The merchant often bought animals from him, and his trade was important. Now, he wanted a cargo animal, and there were only two donkeys left. One was obviously unacceptable; small and immovable, it lurked on the other side of the enclosure it would not move. Ever.
The other, of course, had the look of a badly used carpet. His coat was patchy and he hung his head a good deal. His muscles were firm with long years of work and his spirit was good, but he was not a beauty. And the smell that came off of him was brutal.
"He seems quite healthy, sir," he said, referring to the tiny beast at the far end of the corral. "It's just that he doesn't respond very well. I'm sure a good beating would move him along like ."
"I have no time to train your animals," the merchant barked. "I have a long trip and must begin today." Everyone, it seemed to the liveryman, was starting a long trip to somewhere and had depleted his stock. At last, the merchant reached for his purse.
"I'll have the threadbare swayback, but not at your price. He smells like a carrion heap!" He thrust two coins half the asking price in the liveryman's hands. "Have a boy wash him down; perfume him if you can, and bring him to my shop immediately." He swirled away in a literal cloud of dust, and the work of rehabilitating the odious, odoriferous animal began.
A boy had just led the beast away when a tall man ambled down the street. Potential business usually stirred his soul, but the liveryman knew no joy this time. It was the end of day, the light dying, and he had no stock to sell but the chickens he intended to eat tomorrow.
"I hope your day was good," said the lanky man, his rough, gnarled hand raised in greeting.
"There have been worse, and will be again," he said, and busied himself with his ropes.
"I have need of an animal, and have little money," said the man whom the liveryman recognized vaguely as a local craftsman. "I have to go on a trip ."
"Yes, I know, and you must leave soon. I've heard it all these last eight days. Well, I have nothing for you. Only one tiny donkey remains, and he is mad. Stands all day and all night at the back of the corral and won't move. Couldn't carry more than a child or a sack of grain, anyway. Come back tomorrow."
The craftsman moved around the to the back of the house with the liveryman trailing, protesting the unsuitability of the beast. But when they arrived at the rough fence, the donkey was standing near the gate. His vacant stare was replaced by a keen attention in bright eyes, and he looked at the craftsman with something like affection.
"He seems fine to me," said the man, as the donkey nuzzled his arm, and, with a gesture, led the beast out the gate and gently tied a rope around his neck. "I'll pay in gold, if you like."
Dumbly, the liveryman took the coin and mumbled, "But he's small."
"He'll do. He has only to carry my wife, and she is a small woman, even though great with child. I have to go home: the taxes, you know."
"Where is your home?" asked the stunned animal trader.
"Not far," said the carpenter. "Two or three days' journey, I think, with this beast. Would you say that's right? To Bethlehem?"
The liveryman agreed. As the donkey fairly pranced away at the man's side he thought, "Mad beast, mad man. If that creature gets him to Bethlehem, it'll be a miracle."
Robert Valentine is a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at Murray State University. He is also a professional storyteller. His stories and essays can be read in Murray Life Magazine.