Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Wanted: The Strength of a Mule

 

I had a premonition this performance would not end well. It wasn’t because this was an impossibly big-and-spectacular Easter production that my relatively small-and-homespun church had been rehearsing for months. And it wasn’t because there were two smoke machines in the tomb that kept malfunctioning and the feathers on the angel wings refused to remain glued. No. It was because there was a live animal in the cast – and as the director, it would fall to me to … well … direct it.

Now everyone knows that one of the time-honored maxims of theatre is to never ever share a stage with a baby or an animal. Especially the latter. Animals are unpredictable, pose public hygiene challenges, and are perpetual scene-stealers. But the music director would not listen to any of my arguments and announced that this year Jesus would ride into Jerusalem during the Triumphal Entry song on a donkey. The pastor also thought it was a wonderful idea and read me the Scriptural account in Mark 11 of the “donkey colt that had never been ridden.”

“Don’t you think this will really bring the Bible to life?” he insisted. It’s hard to argue with your pastor when he’s quoting the Word of God. I sighed and relented. The donkey was in.

Two nights before our opening performance on Palm Sunday the designated steed arrived. Uh oh. He was no more than a burro – those small, gentle, wooly creatures that carry preschoolers around in circles at birthday parties. This would never do for the Triumphal Entry. What’s more, Steve Gabriel was playing our Jesus that year and Steve was a really big guy – well over six feet tall and possessing a massive barrel chest. He just looked at the little burro and shook his head. “You’re gonna need somethin’ a whole lot bigger ‘n’ stronger if you expect me to be in the saddle.”

As luck would have it, one of the deacons knew of such a creature. His name was Buster and he belonged to a sweet older woman in our church named Flo. Carl the deacon assured us all that Buster was equal to the task – strong enough to carry Steve Gabriel “and maybe even a disciple or two” he chuckled. Flo lived on a farm outside of town (metropolitan Kansas City) and promised to drive Buster in the next night for dress rehearsal. He never made it. Buster’s trailer broke down on Route 24. That should have been my first warning, but I assured everyone Buster was undoubtedly a trouper and didn’t need any rehearsal.

Opening night arrived with its usual flurry of anxious activity. It was ten minutes before the beginning of the production and I was standing at the rear of the auditorium when I got word that Buster had finally arrived. “Buster’s cutting it a bit close, isn’t he?” I asked my stage manager. “Well,” she said, “we had a little trouble getting him through the back door.” That should have been my second warning.

Five minutes later the house dimmed and with shouts of “Hosanna!” the sanctuary was flooded with waving palm branches. I anxiously scanned the stage, waiting for Jesus’ arrival. Then, from stage left, Buster made his entrance.

My mouth fell open. Buster was no burro, but he also was no donkey. Buster was a mule. And not just any mule … a Missouri mule. The only thing this beast had in common with the Scriptural description was that he had never been ridden.

Jesus was doing his best to remain astride the massive creature, but Buster was not prepared for his encounter with our twelve-member dance team. Every time Buster turned his head he was smacked with a palm; every time he tried backing up he was whacked on the backside with a spiky branch. His legs stiffened, his nostrils flared, and his ears went straight back. Jesus was attempting to dismount when a cymbal crashed in the orchestra. And with that, Buster had had enough.

Responding to instinct, Buster turned on his huge heels and bolted off stage left, heading straight for his trailer and Route 24. Jesus, who had never fully executed his dismount, had no choice but to go with him – hanging onto the coarse mane for dear life and shouting some words that were not exactly…Scriptural. The rest of the cast, also responding to instinct, exited as rehearsed, stage right. “Hosanna!” they shouted, to no one in particular. “Hosanna!” Lights out.

I starred in utter horror from the rear of the auditorium. All I remember thinking was “Well, this is the shortest Easter production ever performed. Everyone has entered Jerusalem and Jesus has just galloped back to Nazareth. We’re done. Everyone can go home.” The stage manager ran up to me, completely frazzled. “What do we do?!?” she gasped. Of course, there was nothing to do but go on to Scene 2 and the money-changers at the temple. Looking a bit stunned and disheveled, Jesus made it on stage in time to overturn the tables; he later said his harrowing ride had helped with the emotion needed for the scene. And Buster was packed into his trailer and driven back to his pasture. He retired from performing that night. He would never appear on stage again. The following evening, Jesus walked into Jerusalem.

And me? I renewed my vow then and there to never ever direct a production that involved a baby or live animals again. (Well, until Christmas comes around with that manger and a stable…)

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  1. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hi.Larious.

    As you well know, Ms. Fine, I think you should write a book of these stories, collected from across the country. Titled – “My God, Man, You Stabbed Me”* and Other Church Musical Disasters.”

    • Actual words spoken by a stunned “Jesus” on the cross after an inattentive “Roman soldier” picked up the wrong spear.
    • #1
    • March 24, 2018, at 7:18 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  2. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Fantastic! My wife and I had tears from laughter.

    • #2
    • March 24, 2018, at 7:24 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. MarciN Member

    What a wonderful story. 

    I agree with Songwriter. Please collect these stories. I’m picturing a small book that is passed along with love from one music director to the next.

    Thank you for telling that story. 

    • #3
    • March 24, 2018, at 7:36 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    I would think that at least Flo would have discussed that this might be an inadvisable direction to go. One would assume she might know enough about animals and mules to know this was a very bad idea. But, it was very entertainingly told, and thank you for sharing it.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under March’s theme of Feats of Strength. Maybe it should be repeated again next month, the theme of which will be The Course of Wisdom. If you have a story to share about strength, we still have a few openings on the calendar. Or you can sign up to share your tales of wisdom gained.

    • #4
    • March 24, 2018, at 8:28 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Oh, Lord. Funny.

    • #5
    • March 24, 2018, at 8:30 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. Kay of MT Member

    Hadn’t you ever heard that mules are notorious for being stubborn? Good lord, how funny.

    • #6
    • March 24, 2018, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I would think that at least Flo would have discussed that this might be an inadvisable direction to go. One would assume she might know enough about animals and mules to know this was a very bad idea. But, it was very entertainingly told, and thank you for sharing it.

    Yes, one would think Flo would have known – and I believe she did; I put the blame on Carl the deacon who apparently told her Buster would just be “part of the scene.” Btw, Flo did loan the church other critters from her farm for future productions – but we dressed her up in a Biblical robe (with glasses – which she refused to remove) and she always accompanied the animals on stage and kept them calm. We had all learned our lesson.


     

    • #7
    • March 24, 2018, at 9:17 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  8. MarciN Member

    One of my fellow Brownie leaders was a Sunday school teacher at our small local Congregational church. Diane was the go-to person for arts and crafts for the kids. She was very talented. 

    One year she and her Sunday school kids made a paper mache cave for the church altar for Easter. It was magnificent. Then the kids crafted a big rock to put in front of it. At sunrise on Easter morning, the kids gathered at church to roll the rock away. 

    An awe-inspiring moment for the little church and its congregation. 

    • #8
    • March 24, 2018, at 10:01 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Seawriter Contributor

    Oh. My.

    Talk about an ass on the stage.

    • #9
    • March 24, 2018, at 11:11 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. The Reticulator Member

    I. M. Fine: Now everyone knows that one of the time-honored maxims of theatre is to never ever share a stage with a baby or an animal. Especially the latter. Animals are unpredictable, pose public hygiene challenges, and are perpetual scene-stealers.

    True.

    I’ve sometimes used the above photo as an avatar. Judy and I (you get to guess which is which) were sharing the stage, er street, with Michael Landon in Creighton, Nebraska on its 75th anniversary in 1959. Landon (Little Joe on Bonanza) was the Grand Marshall of the parade.

    Dad took this photo as I got into place with our Cub Scout pack, before the parade started and before things started to go wrong. I don’t have as good a story as you do, but we pre-enacted some of the scenes you describe. We didn’t get far down Main Street before Judy stepped on a manhole cover, which spooked her. The packs on her back then slipped down to the side, and the tools banging against her legs agitated her even more. I hung on until she finally stopped, far down a side street. We never did get back into the parade, and I never got to see Michael Landon.

    • #10
    • March 24, 2018, at 11:40 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  11. The Reticulator Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I hung on until she finally stopped, far down a side street. We never did get back into the parade, and I never got to see Michael Landon.

    I seem to remember that at first she just took off and passed several other parts of the parade, and then turned down a side street.

    • #11
    • March 24, 2018, at 11:44 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    True.

    Looks like you were fighting out of your weight class.

    • #12
    • March 24, 2018, at 11:44 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I. M. Fine: Now everyone knows that one of the time-honored maxims of theatre is to never ever share a stage with a baby or an animal. Especially the latter. Animals are unpredictable, pose public hygiene challenges, and are perpetual scene-stealers.

    True.

    I’ve sometimes used the above photo as an avatar. Judy and I (you get to guess which is which) were sharing the stage, er street, with Michael Landon in Creighton, Nebraska on its 75th anniversary in 1959. Landon (Little Joe on Bonanza) was the Grand Marshall of the parade.

    Dad took this photo as I got into place with our Cub Scout pack, before the parade started and before things started to go wrong. I don’t have as good a story as you do, but we pre-enacted some of the scenes you describe. We didn’t get far down Main Street before Judy stepped on a manhole cover, which spooked her. The packs on her back then slipped down to the side, and the tools banging against her legs agitated her even more. I hung on until she finally stopped, far down a side street. We never did get back into the parade, and I never got to see Michael Landon.

    Wonderful. I’m thinking of getting a couple of donkeys (probably not American Mammoths) to put in with the sheep, for a couple of reasons. One is that dogs/coyotes are less likely to intrude; the other is that, at certain times of the year, I have some rather noisy neighbors, and our urban technique of putting the speakers by the window, turning the volume up, and blasting out Schubert Lieder at about 3AM doesn’t work so well when the nearest neighbor is 1/4 mile away. Donkeys at the bottom of the field, however . . .

    Being me, I started my search with the rescue organizations, and was charmed to find “Save Your Ass” Rescue in New England. Probably too far away for me to travel, but I appreciate the sentiment on a number of levels.

    • #13
    • March 24, 2018, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  14. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Oh. My.

    Talk about an ass on the stage.

    Made me smile! (And think about Bottom in Midsummer.)

    • #14
    • March 24, 2018, at 1:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. The Reticulator Member

    She (View Comment):

    Wonderful. I’m thinking of getting a couple of donkeys (probably not American Mammoths) to put in with the sheep, for a couple of reasons. One is that dogs/coyotes are less likely to intrude; the other is that, at certain times of the year, I have some rather noisy neighbors, and our urban technique of putting the speakers by the window, turning the volume up, and blasting out Schubert Lieder at about 3AM doesn’t work so well when the nearest neighbor is 1/4 mile away. Donkeys at the bottom of the field, however . . .

    Being me, I started my search with the rescue organizations, and was charmed to find “Save Your Ass” Rescue in New England. Probably too far away for me to travel, but I appreciate the sentiment on a number of levels.

    Burros can bray, too (as well as betray). The church where my father was three miles north of Creighton, and had 40 acres of mostly pasture back from the days when the pastor would keep a milk cow and maybe some other livestock. A close look at the photo here will show that the pasture fence comes quite close to the back of the church. There was at least one church service during which Judy decided to bray away on the other side of the fence, close to the church. Some people may have been amused, and some were not.

    This scene was close to one corner of the 40. At the other corner a neighboring farmer was working on the fence one day, not knowing that we had acquired a burro. Judy came up behind where he wasn’t looking. He told us he jumped pretty high when she started braying at him.

    It was a great place to grow up. Besides the church you can see our house, and the old Lutheran school no longer used except for Saturday confirmation classes and summer Vacation Bible School, various outhouses from the days before the church got indoor plumbing, a garage, and a cob shed (for corn cobs, used to supplement the heat from the coal furnace). Down the hill towards the creek (every kid should have a creek to play in) is a small barn with hayloft, and a poultry shed where we sometimes kept a few chickens or some Muscovy ducks. The public school, an old, two-room building, was a quarter of a mile away, out of sight behind the church.

    Judy was too stubborn to ever let me lead her across the creek, but she would cross it herself when she felt like it.

    The betrayal came one day when I was out in the pasture, nearer the church, between Judy and the fence. We both walked along toward the house as she nonchalantly closed the distance between me and the fence. When I realized what she was doing I quick ducked under the bottom strand of barbed wire while I still could. I was quite disappointed that she would try to kill me.

    • #15
    • March 24, 2018, at 1:13 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  16. The Reticulator Member

    Duplicate comment deleted

    • #16
    • March 24, 2018, at 1:15 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    mule•skinner (also mule skinnern. A muleteer, or one who drives mules.

    The term skinner might be derived from the informal skin, or outsmart. In order to outsmart a mule, one must be smarter than the mule.

    This is a higher bar than might be readily apparent.

    Mules are smarter than horses, but then there are tree stumps are smarter than some horses.

    • #17
    • March 24, 2018, at 6:37 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  18. Front Seat Cat Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Oh. My.

    Talk about an ass on the stage.

    That was priceless and so was @seawriter‘s comment! Happy Palm Sunday (to Buster too)!

    • #18
    • March 25, 2018, at 6:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Oh. My.

    Talk about an ass on the stage.

    That was priceless and so was @seawriter‘s comment! Happy Palm Sunday (to Buster too)!

    Happy Palm Sunday to you (and everyone) too, FSC! Btw, I am happy to report that Buster is still alive (and kickin’!) and is enjoying his retirement in central Missouri.

    • #19
    • March 25, 2018, at 10:06 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Oh my gosh!! I nearly had to pick myself up off the floor!! This had me roaring:

    Jesus was doing his best to remain astride the massive creature, but Buster was not prepared for his encounter with our twelve-member dance team. Every time Buster turned his head he was smacked with a palm; every time he tried backing up he was whacked on the backside with a spiky branch. His legs stiffened, his nostrils flared, and his ears went straight back. Jesus was attempting to dismount when a cymbal crashed in the orchestra. And with that, Buster had had enough.

    Poor thing. [snicker]

    • #20
    • March 25, 2018, at 1:02 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. Mole-eye Member

    Hysterical! Thanks for telling us the story!

    • #21
    • March 25, 2018, at 11:04 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. Front Seat Cat Member

    @I.Am.Fine – I think you can win this Mark Twain House and Museum Humor Contest with this story!!

    https://marktwainhouse.org/royal-nonesuch

    Go for it – and any of our other Ricochet humorists! 

    • #22
    • March 29, 2018, at 9:10 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    @I.Am.Fine – I think you can win this Mark Twain House and Museum Humor Contest with this story!!

    https://marktwainhouse.org/royal-nonesuch

    Go for it – and any of our other Ricochet humorists!

    Oh my. Thank you so much @frontseatcat. Gracious words – especially from such a fine writer. I’ve never considered myself much of a humorous author – more of a person to whom humorous things happen. I actually give full credit for this little frolic to Buster; this all falls under the you-can’t-make-this-up genre of literature.

    And thank you for the link. If I get my courage up and enter and anything happens – you will be the first to know!

    • #23
    • March 30, 2018, at 5:36 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. Kay of MT Member

    I. M. Fine (View Comment):
    And thank you for the link. If I get my courage up and enter and anything happens – you will be the first to know!

    We, all of Ricochetti wants to know!

    • #24
    • March 30, 2018, at 6:13 AM PDT
    • 2 likes

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