A slow, dimwitted man named Peter, from the farm down in the hollow, got it across his mind one day that he was going to mate a yak with a mule.
“What ya doin’?” his pa asked, when he saw his son pulling the two tethered animals into a stall together.
“I’m gonna get this here mule pregnant,” Peter said.
“Pregnant?” his pa said. “Ya idiot, a mule’s sterile. There ain’t no way that’s gonna happen.”
“But I’s got to get it,” Peter said.
“Do you now?” his pa replied … scratching the dandruff out of his head as he walked away, closing the barn door behind him. Through the cracked wood though, Peter could hear his pa’s words as he crossed the yard … “Fool … dang fool.” Peter swallowed the lump those words had put in his throat, but he refused to be doubtful over what he wished to do. There might have been a hint of uncertainty stirred in him, but he still wanted to believe he could get that mule pregnant.
Having finished feeding the animals, Peter walked into town, to the library. “Do you have a book on animal hus-husban-tree?” he asked the short woman with glasses behind the counter.
“Why would you want that, Peter?” the librarian asked. “You can’t read.”
“I was hoping once I got it, you could read it for me,” he said. “I’ve got to learn me something. My pa says it is, but I’m not sure.”
“What is it your pa says?”
“He says mules can’t have babies.”
Peter frowned. “Do you have that book?” he asked again as if he’d not heard her.
“There’s no need. I told you,” she said.
But Peter was persistent. “That book, please.”
The librarian examined him over the frames of her spectacles. “One … just one moment,” she said somewhat bothered, but realizing he wasn’t going to leave unless she retrieved the book, went into a backroom and returned with a children’s story of Old MacDonald. She flapped open a few pages. “See here, it clearly states mules cannot have offspring, and offspring are babies.”
Peter looked down at the thick cardboard pages. He saw what looked like a cartoon drawing of a donkey. “Is that a mule?” he asked.
“But it looks like a donkey.”
“It may,” she said. “Not all illustrators are very good. See it says here d… well it says it’s a mule and they can’t have babies.” She closed the book. “Happy?”
“Because it’s gotta.”
“Got to what?”
“Have a baby.”
The woman stared at him, confounded on what to say. “Will … will you please leave, Peter? I’ve work to do.”
Peter let go the swinging door, and stepped down the steps, out front of the library … and headed home. Along the way he met Barley, a little seven year old pony-tailed girl with freckles, who usually hung out by the side of the road, pulling up grass.
“Why so down, Peter?” she asked, at the sight of his long face … and he told her.
“Well I heard my mum say peppermint is a good afro dee shack,” Barley responded, “but she don’t know I heard. Don’t tell her now, Peter, don’t.”
Peter’s eyes had opened wide at what she’d said, but he hadn’t a clue at what any of it meant, still it sounded good. “No … I wouldn’t do that, Barley.”
“Afro dee shack, that’s good love making,” Barley said. “My mum always has one before she kisses Daddy. I’d do that.”
“Yeah … hold on, Peter,” Barley said, as she dropped a handful of grass. “My mum’s got peppermint drops in a glass bowl in the parlor. I’ll get ya some.” She hurried inside and returned with a bulging brown paper bag. “I remembered these in the cabinet, when the others run out. You’ll probably need lots, so here.”
Peter took the bag. “You’re sure?”
“My mum likes to kiss my daddy a lot,” she said. “It’s the peppermint. That’s what she said, but she don’t know I know, so don’t tell her. Will you?”
“No, I won’t,” Peter said, and lifted the bag in a wave to her. “Bye … and thanks.”
For weeks Peter bedded the yak and mule together in the same stall, and for weeks Peter stuck a peppermint drop in the apples he gave to the mule, two times a day. There was a lot of snorting and hee-hawing coming from that stall at night, and Peter supposed that was right, and patted the brown paper bag for doing a good job.
During the day when Peter checked on the two animals, he could still hear his pa outside in the yard, now and then calling him a fool, but he was determined this would work. It had to … and then … it did. Suddenly a belly started to appear on the mule.
“Well I’ll be,” was all his pa could say when the beast dropped its litter … a golden baby to replace the golden leaves that had disappeared for winter.
Peter was exuberant. He was nearly there. He cracked his piggy bank, collected the change, and hightailed his way against the cold into town till he reached the grocer’s.
“I’ll have ten of those chocolate bars,” he said to the grocer, who bagged the candy, and took a handful of coins as payment for them.
“Merry Christmas,” the grocer said.
“And to you too, Mr. Baptiste,” Peter said, taking no time to get his gloves back on as he exited the shop, “Merry Christmas!”
“What ya doin’ with that?” his pa asked when he saw him with all the candy. “You’ll rot your teeth out ya will.”
“It’s for the baby,” Peter pointed towards the barn.
“Ya can’t go givin’ an animal candy like that,” his pa said. “It’d poison it. She’s too young yet anyway. She’ll only take her mother’s milk.”
Peter dropped his head in a mope and turned towards the barn.
“Don’t ya give it to her,” his pa warned.
“I won’t,” Peter said, and trudged on to the barn … and the stall.
The baby was so cute … and like his pa had said was only wanting the milk from its mom when he got there.
“Dang it all,” Peter said, and dropped the bag of chocolate bars just outside the stall. “I don’t want to poison you. I was so close, but I guess I’ll have to think of something else,” he said, and left there for the house.
“Ya made sure to lock the barn tight?” his pa said, when he entered. “It’s gonna be a cold Christmas eve night.”
“I did,” Peter said, as he slowly made his way up the stairs.
“Where you goin’?” his pa asked. “How ‘bout supper?”
“To bed, not hungry.”
“Before you know it, it’ll be Christmas … aye?”
Peter didn’t answer, but only disappeared into the shadows of his room.
The next morning the cock crowed in the holiday, just at the pinch of sunlight. Looking out the window at the coming day and the departing night, Peter saw a bright star shining over the barn as if trying to tell him something before it left … and then it was gone. The barn door was open.
“Oh no!” Peter tugged his boots on over his long-johns and quickly stretched himself into his bathrobe as he leapt every other step down the stairs and burst through the mudroom door to the yard. He flung the barn door open, which had now been trying to close, and hurried inside, but it seemed his worry had been for naught. The yak, and the mule, and their baby seemed fine and quite content. Then Peter noticed in the corner of the stall a ripped brown paper bag, and torn and chewed candy wrappers. He looked at the stall fence and saw a space big enough for it to have been pulled through and then looked at the three beasts. Of the three, it was only the baby that had smeared melted and then dried chocolate about its snout.
“No.” Peter tremored over the poison … worried that he’d killed the innocent creature he’d tried so hard to come by … but … but really … she seemed healthy. Startled by his entrance the youngling had jumped to its feet … but by now was doing what it liked best … drinking its mother’s milk. Peter laughed and sighed, and laughed again, but wondered what had that illustrious sighting meant, hovering over, and gazing down upon this barn. Finally, barren with no answer, he’d come to the conclusion that it was nothing … when he turned around and saw it lying in the hay. Peter erupted with glee and anxiously grasped the nearest shovel.
Peter marched proudly into the house with the shovel protruding before him. His pa was at the kitchen table and was turning around at the sound of the opened door.
“Merry Christmas, Pe… What the hell’s that?” his pa asked at the sight of it.
“This?” Peter answered. “… A Yule log.”
“A yule log?” his pa said. “That’s crap.” His pa pulled himself up out of the chair and walked closer to where Peter stood with the brown clump on the shovel, and gave it a sniff. “How’s that? It smells like peppermint.”
“I know,” Peter said. “Nice, right?”
His pa’s left eye caved in while his right eyebrow lifted, trying to decipher the fool his son was … but it was Christmas. His own dad had always had a yule log to burn for the family, and he suddenly without question realized how he had missed it … how his stupid, but beautiful son had reminded him of this … and then he recalled all his son had gone through to do this for him … and then how he himself had behaved, and was ashamed. “I … I do like peppermint … eh … what the heck, throw it on the fire.”
Peter’s grin was full of featured wrinkles and creviced with rosy dimples. “I done good, Pa?”
“Good?” his pa said. “Ya done real good, son … and I’m … I’m sorry for givin’ ya a hard time.”
“It’s all right, Pa,” Peter said. “… Merry Christmas.”
A twinkle lit in the old man’s eye. “Huh … now I know how a yule is in our barn,” he said.
“How, Pa?” Peter asked.
“By the grace of God in my time, Peter,” he said, “by His grace.” and with that the old man gave his son the warmest of hugs. “Merry Christmas, Peter, my dear boy, Merry Christmas … oh and … um … if ya don’t mind … you’ll let me make the hot cocoa … won’t you? All right?”
“All right, Pa, all right.”
And the two of them smiled and chortled like they hadn’t in many a year.
– And may you always recognize the yules in your life.