Because Mrs. Lewis, the music teacher, had her arm in a sling, several weeks passed before she could once more attempt to play the piano at Oakdale Valley Middle School. It was only then that it was discovered that the ‘unfortunate sheep incident’ during the Christmas pageant had irrevocably damaged the piano beyond repair.
Mrs. Lewis wrote multiple letters to charitable institutions, lamenting the loss of the piano, and imploring that they assist in orchestrating a fund-raising initiative to replace it. Oakdale Valley Middle School was unable to fund a replacement.
The local chapter of the Christian Women’s Charitable Society rose to the occasion, responding to Mrs. Lewis’ letter with an invitation for her to attend a planning meeting to help strategize their efforts.
The result of eighteen women having passed a resolution to raise the necessary funds for the purchase, was an all-out onslaught on the unsuspecting citizens of Oakdale Valley. No citizen escaped their soliciting of unused objects for their upcoming auction and spaghetti dinner.
Even the students mowed lawns, delivered papers and sold lemonade from their lemonade stands, and proudly raised $23.88 to contribute. Mrs. Lewis was chosen to approach Mr. Van Buren, the wealthiest man in the county, for his contribution. She decided to take Suzy with her for moral support.
Mrs. Lewis and Suzy arrived at Mr. Van Buren’s door one Saturday morning, and were warmly greeted by the smiling Mr. Van Buren. He had heard of the persistent, and sometimes invasive, tactics of the town’s women and correctly surmised the purpose of Mrs. Lewis and Suzy’s visit.
His warm welcome bolstered Mrs. Lewis’ expectations that although many citizens had been less than generous in doing their share, Mr. Van Buren might at least be expected to give generously. Mrs. Lewis swallowed hard and began her well rehearsed speech:
“Mr. Van Buren, we have come…”
“Stop!” yelled Mr. Van Buren, his arms waving in the air. “I know why you’ve come, and ladies do I have a treasure for your auction! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it covered all your expenses!”
As Mr. Van Buren left the room to arrange for his treasure to be displayed, Suzy and Mrs. Lewis looked hopefully at each other, each allowing their imagination to run wild. To their utter amazement and shock, Mr. Van Buren returned, dragging an unwilling, mangy looking donkey into the middle of the parlor. He was shedding his winter coat in a most inelegant manner, and as though to protest being put on display, he brayed loudly with an ear splitting sound that could awaken the dead.
“Now, now Ephraim,” soothed Mr. Van Buren. “Show the ladies your good breeding. You are a pedigreed donkey, with an ancestral line of distinction. It was your famous ancestor that carried Mary to Bethlehem. Have some good manners now…”
With those words, Ephraim produced a surprise of his own, right in the middle of the parlor rug. The horror registered on Mrs. Lewis’ face, grew even more conspicuous. Suzy on the other hand, having gotten over her initial surprise, started giggling at Ephraim’s misconduct and disdain for propriety.
“Mr. Van Buren…” began Mrs. Lewis indignantly. But he stopped her mid-sentence.
“No, no, don’t thank me. Parting with such a valuable, pedigreed animal is
heart-rending to say the least, but I’m prepared to make the sacrifice for the sake of the children.”
With that, he put the end of Ephraim’s rope into Mrs. Lewis’ hand, turned around, and left the room with a well-satisfied grin on his face. Shaking with rage, Mrs. Lewis grabbed Suzy with one hand, Ephraim with the other, and militantly marched them out to the car. “I shan’t have that ill-behaved animal in my car. Oh, the insult…such monstrous disrespect to a just cause and to the ladies of the community.”
These words echoed widely across the county as the story of Ephraim was told from person to person. Suzy had walked Ephraim back to school where he was tied to a stake, happily chewing on the spring grass and awaiting his day at the auction.
The town became divided as the ladies of the charitable society became more outraged at Van Buren’s insult, while others thought it a clever joke. Suzy had to tell the story of Ephraim’s ill-mannered conduct over and over. Many came to stare at Ephraim, the celebrity donkey, over the school fence. Unconcerned, he stoically ignored them and continued his feast on tender sprouts of spring grass.
The auction drew a larger crowd than anticipated, many coming to see where the vendetta over Ephraim the pedigreed donkey would end. When Van Buren and a group of his cronies showed up, Mrs. Lewis exclaimed loudly and indignantly, “Well, I never! Such audacity!” But Mr. Van Buren ignored the murmuring crowd and walked over to where Ephraim was patiently waiting. He tied a big blue ribbon around his flea-bitten tale. He then walked over to the auctioneer and handed him six pages of Ephraim’s pedigree, leading all the way back to Ephraim the First, of Galilee. A short argument ensued, but Van Buren insisted that Ephraim’s complete pedigree be read when he was auctioned off.
And so it was, that as the auctioneer, flushed and out of breath, finished reading Ephraim’s’ pedigree that Suzy raised her hand. “I’ll pay $4.68,” she said, clutching her piggy bank. Suzy had come to regard herself as Ephraim’s protector and she was not about to abandon him now. The crowd murmured their approval, but it was not to be. “$100 for that fine pedigreed animal,” cam Van Buren’s voice. “$150!” came another. Van Buren’s cronies had intermingled with the crowd, and as secretly instructed by him, were bidding against him until the final bid of $2,000 was made by Van Buren. Proudly Van Buren went to claim his prize, parading Ephraim and his blue ribbon in front of the flabbergasted crowd on his way to his truck. But when they caught their breath, the ladies crowded around him, kissing his cheeks until it looked as though he had a rare disease.
“Thank you, Mr. Van Buren, dear!” called Mrs. Lewis as she waved goodbye with her handkerchief, just before Mr. Van Buren escaped in his truck. Ephraim ignored her, as he spotted a bucket of oats in the corner of the back of the pickup truck.