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, Uncle 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 fall break one year to find Uncle Jim in the middle of one of his brainstorms.
“Bob,” he said, “Are you still dating that young woman 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 Noah’s Ark pageant for Halloween.
“Noah’s Ark pageant?” Bob asked.
“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!” She knew from a literature course that Noah’s wife in medieval pageants was a notorious scold. Which Dot was not.
Uncle Jim sighed and went back into the barn. Over the next few days the elements of the pageant came together. Uncle 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 Uncle 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 Uncle 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. Uncle 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. Uncle 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 rigged lights along the length of the stalls so everyone could see the animals.
Uncle 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 Uncle 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 Uncle 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 Uncle Jim could hear Dot talking to them. The troop walked in, herded by their leaders.
“Welcome to Noah’s Ark!” exclaimed Uncle Jim. “I’m only dressed as Noah—I’m still Uncle Jim.” Uncle 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 Uncle 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 Uncle Jim gathered up what animals they could that evening, and the rest came back when it was feeding time. Uncle Jim’s only comment was that they wouldn’t have to clean the barn floor that week. Bob was glad.