Years ago I heard this tale about a woman who complained when her husband brought his aging mother to live with them as she was too old to be on her own. The wife tried to make the best of it, but it had to be said that one more person made the already-small house seem terribly small.
There was barely enough room inside for the wife and husband; they had moved into the little house on the edge of a forest after their four children were grown up and gone. There was a tiny kitchen, one bathroom, a bedroom and a sitting room with a fireplace. Their gardens were at least twice the size of the entire house, and they also owned a small enclosure for their milk cow, a pig, a sheep, some chickens, a pair of ducks, and three fat barn cats who slept in the loft.
The wife felt bad about complaining to her husband, so she decided to talk things over with her priest. She put on her best clothes, picked some produce from the garden and made the half-mile walk to her priest’s home. He thanked her for the vegetables, and gave her a cup of tea.
“Now how can I help you?” asked the priest, smiling at her. The wife told him about her husband bringing her mother-in-law into the house to live with them, and how crowded the house was now. The priest nodded and smiled and told her what a good man she had who would take such tender care of his mother in her old age. The wife agreed, but said that it made things awfully crowded with her there.
The priest pursed his lips, took a sip of tea, and looked up at the ceiling. Finally, he smiled and said that he had a solution to her problem.
“My child, you must bring your cow into the house,” he said.
“What?! How in the world am I going to fit our cow into the house along with us?” the wife cried. “That’s crazy! How in the world will that help us?”
But the priest just smiled at her, and told her to come back in a week to tell him how things were going.
The wife trusted her priest–he had married her to her husband, and blessed all of their four children. So, shaking her head in wonder, she walked home, told her husband what the priest said, and moved the cow into the house.
Strangely, her mother-in-law didn’t blink an eye, and, that night under the brown-eyed gaze of their cow, they ate supper together.
The next week the wife saw the priest again, and he asked how things were.
“More crowded than ever!” said the wife. “Honestly, no one can even move, it’s so crowded.” She expected the priest to tell her to put the cow back in the barn, but instead he said, “Now bring the pig into the house.”
“The PIG?!” the wife cried. “How in the world will the pig fit in the house with the cow already in there?”
But again, the priest just smiled and said he would see her in a week.
This went on each week; the sheep came into the house, then the chickens, followed by the ducks. (The three cats of course preferred to sleep in the hay in the loft.)
By this time, the wife was ready to pull her hair out. She went to the priest, told him she didn’t have any more livestock to stuff into the house. To her great surprise, he said, “Good. Now put the cow back in the barn.”
Mystified, she walked back home and walked the cow back in the barn. A week later, the priest told her to bring the pig back into the barn; the next week, the sheep, then the chickens, and then the ducks.
The wife went to see the priest after all the animals were back in the barn. He gave her a cup of tea and asked, “So–how are things in your house?”
The wife said, “Wonderful! My mother-in-law helped me clean the house and we are now cooking together. ”
“And the house? Is it big enough for the three of you?” asked the priest.
The wife smiled at him and said, “You know–it’s just right. We have plenty of room!”
The priest just smiled.