Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 25, 2003
Wise man from the South
My Texas friend Judy has been collecting nativities for more than 30 years. She started her collection with a ceramic one she painted in 1970, added another one two years later, then another one, until it now includes 2,073 - representing 25 countries.
They vary in size from depictions of the Holy Family on six-foot banners to creches so tiny they need to be viewed with a magnifying glass. Her husband Monroe began building a gallery for her collection in 1999 so the nativities could be enjoyed instead of packed away.
This led to Judy opening "Bethlehem in Denton County" (www.bethlehemindentonco.com) in the fall of 2000 to share her collection with others. I was one of the first visitors to Bethlehem and since then, Judy has had at least 650 visitors from 26 states, 45 towns in Texas and a couple from Puerto Rico.
Earlier this month, Dallas/Ft Worth's WFAA TV's Mike Castellucci - known as the Why Guy - did a piece on Judy's collection which precipitated the following incident that Judy wrote about:
A man named Mike [a different man from the WFAA Mike] had called me a couple of weeks ago asking about Bethlehem. It was difficult to understand him because he talked quite rapidly and had quite a problem with stuttering. I patiently allowed him to work his way through his questions, and answered several of them several times because of his repetition. I was not sure about his elevator - you know, going all the way to the top. He was coming alone - was not part of a group or anything. This is the first time I had felt concern about a visitor to Bethlehem.
He called again one day this week wanting to come out this morning - when I asked what time, his response was 8 or 8:30 a.m. I responded that 8:30 would be the earliest available time. He said OK and I gave him directions - again.
Yesterday he called again and Monroe gave him my number at work. When I heard his voice, I knew immediately who it was. He was wanting to schedule a time to come - didn't seem to register that we already had set a time. But because of my concept of the elevator situation, I didn't bring it up. So we agreed on 9 a.m. - and again I felt a sense of concern.
I went out to Bethlehem this morning about 8:15 to turn the heat on, thinking he just might come early - or even not at all. Monroe had agreed to come out and "hang around" if and when Mike came. About 8:20 I heard voices outside, and sure enough, Mike had arrived. Monroe was talking to a guy and headed toward Bethlehem. When I shook Mike's hand, it was cold.
His interest in the collection seemed scattered, more or less confirming my elevator theory. Yet he knew the drought was in '98 - I didn't remember the year - and he had other very specific dates in history and detailed knowledge of geographical locations.
He made no bones about being a minimum-wage worker - washing dishes in one of the cafeterias at UNT [University of North Texas] - but I got the impression that he might not be employed on a regular basis right now. He was clean and seemed comfortable with his lot in life, making no excuses or anything or pretending to be something he wasn't.
When he said how much he had enjoyed the visit to Bethlehem, he added that if he had a car he would bring others out to see it.
If he had a car! What?!?
I asked him how he got here and he said he had walked because he has no car. Monroe asked him if he would like a ride back to town, which he accepted, saying that would be nice. The man had no hat or cap, no gloves and would not accept any that were offered, saying "No thanks, I'm fine."
Monroe took him home to an apartment in "Cement City" - those apartments west of UNT's campus. Mike said he had started out at 5:15 this morning to get here on time. After Monroe had gone to take him home, I looked at the thermometer. It was 35 degrees and a north wind was blowing. Mike had walked 11-12 miles in freezing temperatures facing a north wind with no hat or gloves to come to see Bethlehem! And knowing it would be 11-12 miles back.
I understood then why I had felt a sense of concern about him and also that I had been WAY OFF in the reason WHY I should be concerned about him. He was sort of a "wise man from the South - one who had traveled from afar to come see the wonder of the Holy Baby."
Talk about feeling humbled before God, not to mention just a little bit ashamed for the concern I thought I felt. But isn't that just like God? Here I was so full of myself with the Why Guy from Channel 8 coming out here and then God just whacks his 2 X 4 right between my eyes by sending Mike out here to remind me what Jesus was all about in the first place. He showed ME what I thought I was trying to show others who visit Bethlehem.
Texas friend Judy Klein poses among her many nativities
in “Bethlehem in Denton County,” November 2000.