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Story ID:3302
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Local History
Writers Conference:My Favorite Holiday Story
Location:Butte MT. USA
Person:The Campbell Donks
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Away In A Manger
by Kathe Campbell

Our donkeys had been invited to play themselves in three live nativity scenes--all on the same weekend. I wasn't the least surprised and my husband, Ken, was tickled to pieces. With our family raised, it was as if he must hurry and live hard and fast before his oats and vinegar burned out. We did much in those days, riding or carting in parades, teaching kids to saddle and lope, or enlisting Smart Ass to carry Jesus on his last ride every Palm Sunday at our church.

"Wonderful!," I eagerly agreed. "But have you given thought to the logistics getting our crew to their appointed mangers on time? And I'll bet you forgot we're hosting the annual neighborhood Christmas party that same weekend." As usual, my darlin's mouth had overshot his brain with his eternal, but lovable donkey passions. Why couldn't Mary have ridden to Bethlehem on a horse, I irreverently mused?

And as my words flew over his head and my redheaded tempest rose an octave, Ken yammered on. "Easy as pie. We'll load up Smart Ass, Sam, Storm, and Sweet Pea as the understudy, and drop them off at the churches each evening. Our two students are really excited to help and will oversee children's rides at evening's end."

I felt like an old Scrooge. While Ken fervently pulled necessary strings, I peered out the window, reminiscing Christmases
past. Sunlit frosty crystals glittering like diamonds fell over snowy fields, and comical snowmen graced every gate along our road. One week always left us in a minus zero freeze, but we took it in stride with old sol rendering us sun worshippers through brief arctic blasts. As 28-year mountaineers yearly warming has blessed us, and lest a mother nature fluke, the minus 50's will never benumb our ranch again.

There's a lot to be said for living on a tranquil 7,000 foot forested mountain only 20 minutes from suburbia. We breathe in the scent of pine, fir, and cedar breezes, and listen to the sweet sounds of Rocky Mountain birds. Other than a pair of coyotes feigning their music together as though they numbered a half dozen, deafening quiet usually reigns. Now and then a moose or deer bring their young just yards from our deck and stay through the balmy days of summer.

It has been an ideal place to raise this herd of carefully bred mammoth donkeys. Not just any donkeys, for our mid-life lunacy has spawned champion performers, four debuting into The National Hall of Fame. With the crew semi-retired, friends and relatives hastily query, "What are you guys going to do with them now?" "Why, eat them, of course," Ken always retorts with a wink.

So, we loaded them up and dropped them off with their halters, treats, and handlers. They were groomed nearly as meticulously as were the parishioners who took great care with their own beards and makeup. Staged on the busy corner over a great expanse of yard beneath soft muted lights, youngsters took delight in welcoming me and my famed donkey, Smart Ass.

Costuming was just a tad fancier than the usual array of colorful scarves, men's bathrobes, and someone's old prom dress. Attire was lovingly and authentically crafted upon sewing machines, to be treasured and worn annually. A small light centered upon the boy Jesus in his bed of straw, and Mary's face shown radiant as she and Joseph received gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Traditional Christmas carols played softly and every half-hour the actors traded costumes and places while I plied my content donkey with treats.

While warming myself with the actors in the church vestibule, I noted the entire ensemble was braving freezing temperatures in bare feet and sandals. Giving their all seemed more important than ruining the scene in awkward and tacky snow boots. Suddenly, a young man hurried in, laughing so hard he could barely speak. "Come quick, Mrs. C., ya gotta get a load of what that Smart Ass of yours is up to."

Oh Lordy, I grimly speculated, I hope he hasn't upended that lovely crèche and everyone in it. My boy was hustling again, wagging his tongue up and down, shaking hooves with the wise men, begging for seconds, keeping the crowds in stitches. I opened the back of the big square tent, pulled on his tail and barked, "Knock it off, Donk, for a change you're not the star of this show!" Not long after, the sheep barreled over a bale of hay into the crowded sidewalk, while the shepherds tended their flock around the perimeter.

And so it was, year after year, a major part of our city's Christmas celebrations with cameras snapping and the TV stations and newspapers doing interviews. The other two churches fared well with only minor calamities and equally large crowds clamoring for photo ops. After the audiences returned home, our donkey crew was happy to stretch their legs. I couldn't help but think the Christ child was happy to know that a donkey that carried his mother, was carrying joyful children in honor of his birth.

God walked down the stairs of heaven with a baby in His arms.