The Anatomically-Correct Manger Scene

Every June, we drove to Florida to visit my grandparents. My father was a school principle and had the whole summer off. We left Michigan in June and returned in August.

The year was 1964 and the interstate highway system still wasn’t complete. We had to drive through many small towns and our trip south took three long days. Plus, it was hot and most cars, including ours, didn’t have air conditioning in the 1960s. We stopped for our first night in Lexington, Kentucky and checked into a motel. It was still light out so my father took us to Horse Park, a State Park comprised of fenced rolling hills, several barns, stables, race tracks, polo fields and horses. Lots of horses. We walked the grounds in the early evening as the sun was setting. It was very peaceful and there were fireflies everywhere.

My father and I approached a horse standing at the edge of a fence. He didn’t move. My father picked me up so I could pet him. His coat was warm and smooth. Using the back of his knuckles, my father petted the horses’s snout; the area between his nostrils and upper lip. I did the same. It was very soft.

My father put me back down just as this horse started to urinate. And, I was at eye level. I started laughing. When you’re eight years old, anything that has to do with pee or poop is funny. I was simply amazed at the size of this animal’s penis—it was the size of my arm. My arm! I stored this information away for future reference.

Fast forward six months.

It is Advent at Trinity Lutheran Church. An old sedate white-haired Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Frizzle, told the children in her class, including me, to draw the manger scene. What a great assignment. I was geeked.

My drawing was a perfect depiction of the holy night. All the elements were accurately illustrated. The Star of David beamed over the baby Jesus who laid in a manger of straw. Mary and Joseph watched over their newborn son along with the wise men and shepherds. I included the wise mens’ camels, the shepherds’ sheep, a cow and the donkey that Mary and Joseph had rode on into Bethlehem. It was perfect. I reviewed my work of art. As I looked at the donkey, it occurred to me that a horse and a donkey looked very similar.

And that’s where it all went wrong.

I knew what was missing on my drawing—it wasn’t accurate. Not yet anyway. I was thinking about the horse at Horse Park—the one with the two-foot penis. So I drew a penis on the donkey—a big penis. And I drew a nut sack too. Then I made it even bigger; just like I remembered. I admired my work. It was perfect. Almost. I decided that every camel and sheep should have a penis too, so I added a big penis on every animal in the manger. My next memory is that of being lifted straight up and out of my chair by my collar.

“You are a filthy and disgusting little boy!” said Mrs. Frizzle

She dragged me out the door as my classmates jumped and shrieked like frightened monkeys. Apparently Mrs. Frizzle was a lot stronger than she appeared. She scolded me as I was dragged to the pastor’s office. Within 30 seconds I went from my desk in Sunday School to being roughly placed in a chair in front of Pastor Bannon. Mrs. Frizzle smacked my drawing on his desk.

“You deal with him,” she said.

“What have you done?” asked Pastor Bannon.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

He put on a pair of glasses and picked up my drawing. I sat still. I was in deep trouble—that much was apparent. I kept my head down and awaited my punishment, for what, I didn’t know. Silence. Then I heard him chuckle. I looked up. He was smiling. No, he was laughing—and he was laughing at my drawing.

“Eugene?” he said.

“Yes sir?” I replied.

“Could you you draw the tall Christmas tree in our church?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Good,” he said, “Draw our Christmas tree with all of the lights and decorations.”

“Yes sir,” I replied.

“Now go on back to Sunday School and tell Mrs. Frizzle I had a talk with you,” said Pastor Bannon.

“Yes sir,” I replied.

I had no idea what any of this was about at the time, but I knew it had something to do with my drawing, which he kept.

Forty-five years later as my sister and I were cleaning out my recently deceased mother’s house, we opened a shirt box with my name written on it. Inside were dozens of my childhood drawings—including the manger scene drawing—and for a moment, I was eight years old again.

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