Mothers: “No, Jesus, You Can’t Use the Donkey Tonight,” by Arletta Dawdy

I’ve known Arletta Dawdy for a long time now since we’re both members of Women Writing the West. She lived (and still does) in Santa Rosa when I lived in Lake County, California. Not an insurmountable drive over the mountains which we both made, gladly. When I pressed Arletta to send me her bio (that girl!) this is what she said:

Bio, schmio…Born in the last century in New Jersey. Father killed in WWII, off to Florida and CA after that. Schools include Hollywood Professional, Occidental College and UC Berkeley. Forty year career as a social worker. Married once and widowed. Two children. Love of words and verbiage but hate crossword puzzles. Write historical fiction set in the Old West with strong female protagonists; also historical story poems and short stories with occasion narrative non-fiction pieces. The nut in the nutshell by any other name.

Oh, yes. And she’s the author of THE HUACHUCA TRILOGY.

To introduce her piece Arletta reminds us of the climate of the 1970s–a latter day 1960s.

This piece was written in the 1970’s when bell bottoms, rainbows and polyester raged, a miserable war was underway in Vietnam and Californians were known for drugs, peacock feathers and hot tubs. It was also a time of searches for meaning, a higher power and connection.

My family and I were involved with a community church; this little sermon was one of three prepared by churchwomen to celebrate Mother’s Day.


“No, Jesus, You Can’t Use the Donkey Tonight”
Arletta Dawdy
circa May 1975

We know little of the events of Jesus’ youth, his growing up years. And, so, we know little of Mary’s middle mothering years. We see her at the Birth and at the Cross, but what of the time in between? I like to think that she doubted herself at times, got tired and even felt overwhelmed on occasion. I know she raised her voice and lost patience. I can even picture her determination to not repeat her mother’s mistakes…and, so, she made her own.

IMAGINE: Mary scrounging around the house and yard in the dark to find a cast-off container for her Son’s collection of frogs…and four days later she has to remind him again and again to go catch bugs before Frankie and Johnnie die.

IMAGINE: Her Son learned to tell time by age 6. Jesus tracks the position of the sun in the sky or checks the village sundial and proudly reports the time of day. Then, by age 9, he has been gone for hours and plaintively claims: “I didn’t know what time it was!” I know how Mary felt.

We know that by 12, Jesus was an honor student, confounding the temple elders with his questions and his wisdom. Can you imagine mothering the likes of that? I’m here to tell you it’s exasperating and exhilarating. And why don’t I know the answers to those questions? After a while, Mary had to doubt her own abilities in the face of all that intelligence and curiosity.

IMAGINE: Mary is the original working mother. She came in from the communal fields, tired and cranky, only to find that Jesus had gotten into the bread and cheese intended for the evening meal. I hope she learned to let go of some of her responsibilities. Since Joseph and Jesus did much of their carpentry at home, I suspect they got the fire and stewpot going and didn’t worry about it being “women’s work.” I hope that Mary didn’t feel too much guilt.

IMAGINE: Mary saying, “No, Jesus, you can’t use the donkey tonight.” I suspect she had to give reasons and why-fors and why-nots. Mary was a strong woman and I know she stuck to her guns and finally said, “Because I said so!”

God blessed Mary in many and unknown ways. I believe he blessed her most in permitting her to experience normal mothering of a most unusual Child. I think Joseph may have kissed her toes at the Birth, shared in the day to day happenings and prodded her at times to relax and enjoy. If Joseph did those things, I really know how Mary felt.

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