Wallace Purling was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. He was bigand clumsy, slow in movement and mind, but well liked by the others in his class. He was always a helpful boy, willing and smiling, and the natural protector of the younger children.
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but Miss Lumbard assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
And so the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly aextravaganza of crooks and creche, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices. No one onstage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling
The time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.
"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
"We seek lodging."
"Seek it elsewhere." Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled."
"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
"There is no room in this inn for you." Wally looked stern.
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."
Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
"No! Begone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.
"No!" Wally repeated automatically, "Begone!"
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder, and the two of them started to move away. The innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others. "Don't go, Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face brightened with a big smile. "You can have my room."
Some people thought the pageant had been ruined. Yet many, many others considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.
(condensed from Guideposts Magazine)