The pageant finally got started with everyone doing their carefully scripted part. Most of the time the cast was silent and still in prearranged poses while choirs and individual performers did their bits to the organ and piano accompaniments. When the lights were low enough in the vicinity of the door that the donkey would be entranced in at the final scene, I sneaked Flossie close to the entrance to test her willingness to go through and perform when the time came. She did everything I asked her to do, and she did it quietly and calmly. she never showed a minute of fretting or fear in the more than an hour the rest of the pageant required.
Then came her moment. As the Reverend’s beautiful baritone voice soloed “Oh Holy Night” the young man playing Joseph entered the sanctuary with Mary carrying the baby doll playing Jesus walking closely by the donkey’s other side. We were not going to risk a fall for the young lady doing the Mary part, although she had ridden the donkey comfortably in the hall a dozen times.The crowd made some soft aww and ahh sounds, signaling that this donkey thing was a big hit.
Suddenly Flossie stopped. She showed no sign of fear or alarm. She just would not budge. Sweet whispers and practiced signals did not even register acknowledgement . She would not move to the front, flank or even rear. The Reverend went through every verse twice while the actors got red faced and panicky. I went out to use my practiced charms, but Flossie remained calmly and firmly rooted to the spot, too far inside the sanctuary to not be very visible to everybody, too near the door from which she had come to be mistaken for taking a planned position. A long moment of embarrassed silence filled the room. Her intended route around the altar was obvious, but she was not going to move at all!
Suddenly she did move so quickly that she snatched the lead rope right out of his hands! She charged to the very center of the alter’s semicircle, stopped abruptly and swung her head towards the audience, studied it for a few seconds as though deciding how to respond to the gasps and mutterings with which the startled crowd greeted her unexpected behavior. She raised her head as though in defiance and brayed at a volume that was surely as loud a noise as she was capable of making. This new alarm seemed to be echoed by even louder human gsps and exclamations. Then she lowered her head and walked slowly to and through the door on the altar’s far side. She appeared altogether pleased with her own performance.
I cannot remember much about the immediate aftermath of the fiasco this donkey thing had turned out to be. If a person humiliates you, you are apt to get resentful. If your own behavior humiliates you, you are more apt to feel guilt. But how do you feel when an apparently sweet donkey makes you look like the village idiot? I was completely absorbed in my own mortification.
The other young folks who had been helping with Flossie were eager to leave, so we loaded the donkey into the truck and proceeded to Andalusia. All I could think about on the way there was How do I keep Flannery O’Conner from getting upset about what had happened. But my young associates assured me that she would not know. They had not told anybody where the donkey had come from and no one at the church was going to be telling her. They did not know either. It occurred to me that these guys did not really know who Flannery O’Conner was, and would not have cared if they had known. . To them she was just the lady at that farm who had lent us that donkey. Through the rear window of the truck I could see Flossie was riding easy, although I got out and remounted in the bed of the truck so that I would be seen taking care for her when and if Flannery O’Conner came out of the house before we could get the donkey dismounted. Sure enough she did. We got Flossie down easily and headed for her stall while Mrs. O’Conner stood in the light of her back porch.
“Well Kelley how did it go?” she asked in a pleasant voice that invited a pleasant answer. That is what she got. I stood just outside the porch lit area and summoned the answer I had decided to give her. “She was very nice all the way there and back. I guess you could say she …er… did all right.” i could hear the tenseness in my answer, but….. Flannery O’Conner suddenly straightened and began to grin.
” You come in the light and tell me that won’t you!” She released the laugh she had held back as soon as I took a step or two into the light. She was laughing so hard I was afraid she would fall, and she did sit down quickly on the porch steps.
“You should see your own face young friend !” she exclaimed between fits of laughter, glancing from time to time to look at my face again. She practically shouted the last thing I can remember from that evening.
“I told you she was a Catholic donkey!”