When she was nine or ten, she had a pet goat.
This story is for her.
For her birthday, Maggie asked her parents for a goat. She had wanted a goat because Cheryl Ladd kept a goat on her Hollywood estate. Star magazine said so. It sounded glamorous and eccentric. Always supportive, Maggie’s parents made the effort. They searched the Yellow Pages. But there was nothing listed under GOATS. They tried calling a few farms. But none of the farms in the area farmed goats. They went downtown to the pet store. But the kid at the pet store said goats didn’t make good pets. Also, they didn’t have any.
Over dinner, her father suggested the idea of a stuffed goat. This idea horrified Maggie and she ran into her room and cried. While her father finished Maggie’s macaroni and cheese, he got an idea. He called his friend Joe.
“Hey Joe,” he said with the last remnants of dinner still in his mouth. “Remember that nativity you did last year?”
Joe did remember. He was fond of telling the story. Last December Joe got a call from his brother Maury out in Sigourney. Maury was frantic.
“I need you to be a shepherd!” he gushed. “I just fired my shepherd!”
Joe had no idea what his brother was talking about.
“For The Nativity! I’m doing a real life nativity!!”
It seems the role of shepherd had proven too demanding for Maury’s paperboy. So Joe drove down to Sigourney. He brought his brown bathrobe and some rope. When he pulled into the driveway, Maury went ballistic.
“PARK BEHIND THE HOUSE! BEHIND THE HOUSE!!! THERE WERE NO CARS IN BETHLEHEM!!” It was going to be a long day.
Maury played Joseph, who clearly had rented a robe for the occasion of fatherhood. Kind of like a tux. His wife Bonnie played Mary, and their four-year-old daughter Kylie played Jesus. In his brown bathrobe, Joe found himself in charge of an actual living goat.
“Make sure he doesn’t steal the show,” Maury directed.
“What’s his name?” Joe asked.
“He doesn’t have a name. I just got him yesterday.”
“Where did you get him?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” Maury barked, and gestured hysterically at some neighbors who had parked in the driveway. A handful of locals had gathered to witness Sigourney’s first live nativity scene. Maury had posted flyers at Casey’s. The show was free. It was also quite cold.
Joe shivered in his bathrobe, and held a potato sack of carrots to keep the goat at bay. Maury, seemingly impervious to the elements, read all of the lines boldly and loudly over the freezing winds. Everyone else shimmied and shivered in the scorching, burning cold.
During “Away In The Manger”, Joe checked in with the goat. It was going through the carrots like they were candy. Suddenly Kylie, who as Jesus had no lines, panicked with stage fright and ran screaming into the house. Bonnie followed to console her daughter. Maury adlibbed a line about there being “too much frankincense” in the manger. It would have gotten a laugh if it weren’t so cold.
The goat had devoured the entire sack of carrots but was still hungry, and began eating the bag. Joe and the goat had a tug of war with the bag. Joe won, but goats are sore losers, and this goat charged at Joe. Maury, ever the thespian, stayed in character.
“Perhaps the ox detects myrrh.”
This time he got a laugh. Especially since Joe was knocked down by the goat. Maury smiled for the first time that day, until a station wagon full of late comers pulled into the driveway. He finally broke character.
“HEY!! NO CARS!! NO CARS!!”
The goat charged at the station wagon, but got distracted by Maury’s rented gown. This time the goat yanked at it, and thoroughly ripped its cheap design. Maury let out a string of obscenities that began with “Goddammit”. It would be the last living nativity hosted by Maury in Sigourney.
Joe gladly gave Maury’s phone number to Maggie’s dad.
It's Christmas Eve.
Lauren, my mom and I drove to Iowa.
We visited my dad's side of the family.
My Uncle Jose was in good spirits.
He played Cuban records on the turntable.
We ate Cuban food.
I made terrible mojitos.
We exchanged presents.
The stories qualified as gifts.
My family seemed to enjoy them.
We played board games.
We argued and laughed.
Christmas wasn't the asshole I thought it would be this year.
So I guess that makes me the asshole.