My college friend Bob’s stories about his Uncle Jim might have given the impression that the man totally lacked any sense at all. Bob told us that, despite lapses from time to time, Jim was an intelligent, widely-read man who was a prize-winning farmer. His livestock and crops on his land in western New Jersey consistently won awards, and other farmers in the area sought his advice. It was just occasionally he had one of his ideas.
Bob went to the farm during winter break one year to find Uncle Jim in the middle of one of his brainstorms.
“Bob,” he said, “Are you still dating that young women who was here some last summer”
Bob had a series of rather attractive girlfriends although he looked like he was dressed by a committee and had few social skills beyond telling outlandish stories.
“No,” said Bob. “I’m between girlfriends right now. Why?”
“Hmm,” said Uncle Jim. “I had been looking for a way to thank people in the area for their kindnesses to us over the years and wanted to have a living Nativity. I just need someone to play Mary.”
“I am NOT playing Mary,” shouted Aunt Dot from the kitchen. She was normally a quiet woman, except when she believed strongly in something. Playing Mary in a Christmas pageant was not something on her bucket list, apparently.
“You’re too old,” Jim shouted back, although he probably meant it as a statement of fact rather than an insult.
“So are you!” came the reply from the kitchen.
This minor setback threw Jim off for about a day. Bob was splitting wood in the yard the next morning when Jim came up to him. “Bob,” he told him, “I have the answer to our casting problem. We’re going to stage a Noah’s Ark pageant.”
“Noah’s Ark?” Bob returned.
“Yep, got everything I need right here—animals, people, a barn we can make look like an ark. Kids will love it. Older people will, too.”
At that moment Dot shouted from inside the house: “I am NOT playing Noah’s wife!”
Jim sighed and went back into the barn. Over the next few days the elements of the pageant came together. Jim was to be Noah and Bob one of his sons. The idea was that they would give visitors a tour of the ark. They only had one horse, and Jim wanted to put a mirror in its stall to make it look like two horses, but Dot refused to let him take one out of the house. She did agree to sell tickets, and all the money they collected would go to charity. They put up signs at the farmers’ co-op and other places they frequented in town.
Bob and Jim fixed up some old boards to look like a prow of a ship on the end of the barn and built a ramp for people to walk up. Jim insisted on putting a sign over the door which read “Noah’s Ark,” although Bob told him Noah probably did not name his boat.
The first night of the pageant they were ready. They had their horse, cows, pigs, chickens, goats and a couple of ducks. Jim was disappointed that his daughter Emily, who had moved to the city when she finished college, no longer was there with the doves she raised when she lived at home. They had rigged lights along the length of the stalls so everyone could see the animals.
Jim and Bob dressed in their costumes they had made from feed sacks. Jim had a beard left over from the time he portrayed Abraham Lincoln in a Fourth of July pageant. They took their stations inside the ark and waited for their visitors.
One feature of the tour that Jim had come up with was to fill four or five 55-gallon drums with water and send it coursing down the length of the stable. Bob pointed out that the flood was outside the ark, not inside, but Jim said he liked the effect. Who was to say that there wasn’t some water inside the ark?
Their first guests of the evening happened to be a Brownie troop of about twenty little girls. Bob and Jim could hear Dot talking to them. The troop walked in, herded by their leaders.
“Welcome to Noah’s Ark!” exclaimed Jim. “I’m only dressed as Noah—I’m still Jim.” Jim was nothing if not honest. “This is my son Shem, who is actually my nephew Bob.” That was Bob’s cue to go around and pull the lever that would tip the barrels of water.
The troop of Brownies was about halfway down the line of stalls when the barrels fell over with resounding crashes and about 2500 gallons of water came rushing along the floor. It wasn’t enough to wash even the smallest girl away, but it frightened them. And they did what frightened children do: they screamed. The animals, startled by the high unearthly noise, slammed against their stalls. With strength born of panic, they broke out and stampeded down the ramp. Fortunately, the girls were far enough removed from the larger animals not to be harmed by them. They were still shrieking as their leaders removed them.
Bob and Jim straggled out of the barn. “Flood must be over,” Dot observed. “Guess it’s time for Noah to round up his animals.”
Bob and Jim gathered up what animals they could that evening, and the rest came back when it was feeding time. Jim’s only comment was that they wouldn’t have to clean the barn floor that week. Bob was glad.