The world can be a dark, cold place for kids whose parents’ neglect and abuse them. Max was eight years old when he was first taken away from his parents by Child Protective Services. I’m using the word “parents” here loosely and it’s a misnomer of praise to the two derelict souls who brought Max into the world. His mother was a heroin addict and his father was a violent gang banger who was in and out of prison.
The world can be a dark, cold place for kids whose parents’ neglect and abuse them. Max was eight years old when he was first taken away from his parents by Child Protective Services. I’m using the word “parents” here loosely and it’s a misnomer of praise to the two derelict souls who brought Max into the world. His mother was a heroin addict and his father was a violent gang banger who was in and out of prison. Many times while Max was growing up he would be left alone in the family’s rat- infested studio slum apartment, sometimes for days at a time.
One Thanksgiving Day, Max awoke to another empty house. His mother was junked up, high, nodding off in the neighborhood crack house several blocks away. Max had been alone now for several days and there was only a can of beer left in the refrigerator, two heels of moldy bread in a plastic bag and a handful of potatoes growing leaves in the pantry. Max was hungry and cold as the gas and electric had been shut off weeks ago, due to the unpaid bills scattered over the kitchen table.
After several years of incarceration, Max’s father returned from prison. Drunk with anger, his dad began beating Max as soon as he walked through the apartment door. Then, after downing a quart of Black Velvet, his father chased Max out the front door and began shooting at him with a small caliber pistol. Max jumped, dodged and ran around the front fenced in area like a rabbit in a shooting gallery. Miraculously, Max was able to evade the bullets long enough for the police to arrive and put his father back into custody. That Thanksgiving Max landed in the Greater Detroit Child Protection Program that sponsored him to spend Christmas at camp Christos in Montana.
Max’s hair blew back over his face as the crisp December wind rolled over him in waves. It was snowing and the pure white flakes seemed to hang motionless in the air. The only sounds that could be heard were the horse’s forceful snorts and the jingle bells that were tied around their hoofs. The sleigh glided effortlessly through the newly piled drifts of snow as the Clydesdales galloped back towards the safety and warmth of the barn where there was always plenty of oats and hay to devour.
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the small village of St. Mary everyone was busy decorating their storefronts. The baker, butcher and mercantile all had beautiful, festive murals of the Nativity skillfully painted on their windows. A lamplighter was busy lighting the cast iron lamps that lined both sides of the street. Max had never seen such things and thought that he had actually died and was now in heaven.
Camp Christos was beautiful this time of year with all the trees around the circular drive decorated and now covered in pure white snow. As the sleigh pulled up to a stop, the horses poked their heads out of the stalls welcoming Max to their wonderful ranch. The donkeys too, in their thick winter coats were walking out towards the sleigh to greet their new visitor. As Max walked into the lodge, there was a large blazing fire roaring in the living room. Its light warmed and illuminated the fourteen foot tall Christmas tree that stood as a reminder that something special was about to happen.
As soon as Max was settled in, the ranch manager Curly, a rough looking cowboy from Texas, asked Max if he’d like to help him feed the horses. As Curly threw leafs of oats and hay, Max leaned back against the cedar railed fence to watch as the horses pulled them apart and pounded their feathery hoofs on frozen metal water troughs. This was not the chaotic land of survival that Max had grown up in; he had never known such peace and quiet.
Just as Curly threw the last leaf to the horses, Roxy one of the donkeys, leaned her head over the fence and began muzzling the side of Max’s head. Max was startled at first but Curly reassured him that she was only showing him that she loved him and her appreciation for the food. At that moment, something snapped inside of Max and he felt an unusual warm sensation in his heart as his faced blushed and eyes filled with tears.
That beautiful day God used a plain old donkey to show a neglected, abused child from Detroit what love was really like. While Max never experienced love from other human beings, God used a regular old donkey to show Max what Christmas was really all about.