Trouble at the Inn
For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one annual production of the nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old timers who were in the audience that night, never tire of recalling exactly what happened. Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in the town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in the class, all of whom were smaller than he.
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas Pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lombard, assigned him a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s yearly extravaganza. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wing and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lombard had to make sure he didn’t wander on the stage before his cue.
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly, guiding Mary to the door of the Inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door. Wally, the innkeeper, was there waiting.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brisk gesture. “We seek lodging,” replied Joseph. “Seek it elsewhere,” answered Wally looking properly stern and speaking vigorously. “The Inn is filled.”
“But sir,” said Joseph, “we have asked everywhere in vain. We have travelled far and are very, very weary.” “There is no room in this Inn for you,” responded Wally looking straight ahead. “Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”
Now for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment. “No! Be gone!” the prompter whispered from the wings. “No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Be gone!”
Joseph sadly placed his arms around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The innkeeper did not return inside the Inn. He just stood there in the doorway watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow was creased with concern, and his eyes filled unmistakably with tears. Then suddenly this Christmas Pageant became different for all others. “Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room,” he said.
Some of the town-folk thought the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others, many others, who considered it the best Pageant they have ever seen.”