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Topic: Labor (04/19/04)
TITLE: The Egg Man of Bethlehem
By Melanie Kerr
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“What?” came the disgruntled reply, “The Tour Bus is’nt due for another hour.”
“Yes, I know, but two tourists have just climbed off the local bus.”
“They will go to the church first, then on to the museum. I have enough time to finish my coffee and this game.” Joseph returned to the dice, rattling them around in his smooth hands.
“The church is closed, remember? I think they are doing something to the frescos.”
“The Museum is closed too.” Another voice joined in the conversation, “Your father will not like it if you miss out on an opportunity to make a sale.”
Josef threw down the dice, lifted up his coffee cup and drained the last few inches of liquid. The thick layer of ground coffee on the bottom of the cup swirled in an elaborate pattern. He abandoned the backgammon game leaving the board yawning open in the café table.
Joseph had been left in charge of the workshop. It was his father’s business and had been in the family for many generations. Perhaps his father was to be the final generation as Josef had inherited neither the talent nor the inclination to keep it going.
As he passed by the church, he could see the two tourists standing outside. They were squinting at the notice written on the door. Holy Week leading up to Easter was the wrong time to be renovating the frescos in the church.
The shop was in a quiet back street just off the main square in Bethlehem. The door was a faded blue with a rectangular hole cut out and covered with a piece of sacking. It served as a letter box. As he pushed back the door, Josef’s eyes fell toward the ground. There were one or two postcards, as there always were. He carefully picked them up. The back of the door was studded with drawing pins of different sizes all holding up postcards from different parts of the world. Some of them had been there so long they felt like relatives in his extended family. Colours had faded and the writing on the back had all but disappeared with the passing of time, but his father would not let him take them down. From time to time he would walk across the workshop, take down a card and read it. They were notes of thanks from grateful customers.
Shelves stood against each of the walls. Most were empty and dusty, but the ones by the window were full of brightly decorated eggs. In the centre of the room was a sturdy bench, cluttered with tools of various sizes. Wooden handles ended in carefully oiled chisels of varying thickness. Beside the bench was a steel bucket, small and rusty. Littering the bottom of it were a number of fragments of egg shells, coloured blue or red. Snatches of white could be seen on closer inspection.
A single egg rested in a groove on the table. It was a deep blue with just a brush of sunlight making it softly blush. Eggs, bought from the market, were boiled in water with coloured dye. Very carefully the colour was scraped away leaving pictures in clean crisp white. One little egg, turned this way and that, could have as many as twelve tiny intricate pictures scraped away. It was delicate work. Holy Week dictated the scenes on these eggs. Loaves and fishes, boats in storms, the Last Supper, Jesus crucified or an empty tomb, They were tiny, detailed masterpieces of art scratched on fragile canvases. Such unusual and unique gifts were just what the tourists were looking for.
Josef picked up the egg gently. He tried for his father’s sake to learn the trade, but his hands were too big and uncoordinated. He lacked the patience required to produce such treasures. Always he pressed just a little bit too hard and the shell broke. More fragments would join the others in the bucket.
His father would smile.
“Is it not a good thing, my son, “ he would murmur, “that the Good Lord, does not press as hard as you do as He engraves His divine character into our hearts. It is delicate work, is it not? And He makes no mistakes. He finely judges how much pressure is needed to scrape away what is not needed. There are no broken fragments to litter His throne room. And yet, tenderly, as He holds our lives in His hands, do we not display all of His glory?”