VIOLA - Soon after I moved into my home in rural Viola, Wisconsin, a miniature donkey, I later named Diego, was given to me as a gift. He was so tiny that he was delivered in the back of a friend's beat-up Bronco truck.
Diego was a lonely, but lovable, donkey. He followed me around the yard, took walks up my road on a lead, and brayed outside my bedroom window when I tried to sleep. We were inseparable whenever I was at home.
Diego didn’t know it, but he had a friend ‘in the oven.’ Little Carlos was still in his mama's belly and would join us in a year.
One year, during Christmastime, Diego was invited to be the donkey in a live manger scene that took place every year in La Farge.
Early in the morning, I brushed Diego and put on his new red halter. Soon a big old truck driven by Mr. Thelen pulled into the driveway. Diego wasn’t too keen about walking the plank into the truck, but with a string of sweet soothing words and a carrot, up he went.
I got in too, and together we survived the seven-mile ride, only to be dropped off in town hours before anyone else had arrived, including any other animals. So, I took Diego for a walk through town.
At the time there was a bar on the north side of Main Street with a huge picture window in front. I looked in the window as we passed and saw a few people bellying up to the bar, perhaps to have an orange or tomato juice—it was awfully early in the day. As we walked on, a few cars slowed down to wave, but thankfully not to beep.
At the end of the downtown section, we turned and slowly walked back. This time, as we passed the bar, someone on a stool swiveled toward the street and looked out the window at the same time I looked in. His mouth took the shape of an animated Christmas caroler. I could see he was trying to rouse his buddies into looking. Diego and I stood still.
I’m sure they are still talking about the day they saw a donkey on a leash. On Main Street!
Soon the manger was ready and the other animals had arrived. A few sheep were contentedly munching the hay strewn on the floor. Mary and Joseph, in costume, were standing off to the side, in front of an empty cradle. It was still Christmas Eve, after all. A peaceful scene in a quiet town.
People walked by and children stopped and stared. Conversations were plenty as neighbors greeted each other and wished each other holiday cheer.
When the event was over, Diego was more eager to get in the truck. We were dropped off at our home and I promptly put Diego back in his pasture. He seemed content to rest, so I left him there and trudged up to the house.
The next day, I had a call from a friend saying she’d seen me in the manger. I hadn’t been in the manger, so I questioned her about it. She had thought I was the veiled woman dressed as Mary, standing next to Diego—and smoking a cigarette! It’s been years now, and I still have a good laugh about a smoking Mary.I can see Diego and his buddy Carlos from my office window, as I reminisce about that long-ago manger scene. They look mighty happy to be in their own stable this holiday season.