Major Green, of Memorial Gunter and Peel Funeral Home, left, and John Stewart of J&S Construction wrap a fence around the front of the live animal nativity scene in front of the funeral home on Second Avenue North. Sheep will join the scene after they are finished. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
December 13, 2017 11:03:07 AM
Every year when the calendar hits December, Memorial Funeral Home gets calls about whether it will stage its Nativity scene. Every year, the answer is the same.
This year, for the 50th time, the funeral home located on Second Avenue in Columbus will feature the Nativity scene, calming the fears of a surprising number of passersby who noted a disturbing omission this year.
The fiberglass Joseph, Mary and Jesus, along with three wise men and an angel have been on the premises for more than a week.
While it may seem almost sacrilegious, the stars of the show have not yet arrived.
"Where are the sheep? That's what people want to know," Memorial staff member Floyd McIntyre said. "We've gotten a little behind this year, but the sheep will be here in a couple of days, just as soon as we finish putting up the enclosure."
Workers were busy Tuesday erecting the wood and tar paper stable and the three-foot tall chain-link fence that will keep visitors out and the two live sheep in.
"Their names are Luke and Jordan," said Gail Ford, who has provided the sheep for the Nativity scene for longer than she can remember. Ford operates a small sheep and goat farm in Macon.
Both Luke and Jordan are 2-year-olds orphaned soon after birth.
"Luke's mother was 14 years old when he was born and his mom, Beverly, died a day after he was born," Ford said. "Luke was a bottle baby. He stayed inside, wore diapers in the house and now he's just a big old pet."
Jordan has a similar story. He was a triplet whose mom was killed by a dog. Ford's neighbor gave him to her a few days after he was born.
Luke is a Tulis breed, with an impressive coat of wool -- "He looks like a big old cotton ball," Ford said -- while Jordan is a White Dopler, a breed whose coat resembles that of a horse's.
"They're both pets, which makes them perfect for the Nativity scene," Ford said. "They love being petted and fed."
As the only living members of the Nativity scene, the lambs are always an attraction.
"It's pretty amazing how popular it has been for all these years," McIntyre said. "Every year, we start getting calls asking if we're going to have it again. People really seem to enjoy it. It's become a tradition."
The presence of live animals hasn't come without some unscripted drama, of course. McIntyre recalled a year when one sheep had a special affinity for the Baby Jesus, carrying him around in his mouth. That breach of protocol was solved by replacing the Baby Jesus with a cast baby that cannot be separated from the manger.
Then there was the infamous great escape, which happened about 25 years ago, McIntyre remembered.
"That year, I had sent them two sheep and a goat," Ford said. "Well, I think somebody let them out. One of the sheep and the goat got out."
McIntyre said the animals fled east on Second Avenue, turned south to Main, then crossed over to College Street before pausing to graze in the back yard of a home behind Church's Fried Chicken.
"The staff was chasing them all over downtown like a bunch of crazy people," McIntyre said.
The three-foot-high chain link fence helps ensure Luke and Jordan don't make a break for it, McIntyre said.
Ford said she never imagined the sheep would become such an attraction.
"They don't do much," she said. "They're sheep. But from what I've heard the kids just love them. So I'm really happy that Luke and Jordan will be a part of this. I think they'll love it, too."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
1. Air Force Base receives best-ever inspection rating in 2017 COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Courage and class: New Hope teacher uses her breast cancer fight to impart life lessons COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Former Starkville Parks head arrested for embezzling $21K STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
4. Bullet from Walmart shooting passed through bystander's jacket STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY