Lee Pitts: Celebrating the pre-Christmas season by celebrating the donkey
The time period leading up to Christmas is my favorite time of year, but as for the big day itself, Santa Claus seems to have lost our address. There are fewer packages under the tree with each passing year and my wife has taken to wrapping boxes and placing them under the tree so there is something to unwrap Christmas morning. “Oh boy, look what I got, a big box from Amazon with nothing in it!”
The “Santa Season” seems to get earlier every year with department store Santas and my wife’s Christmas decorations now arriving in September. And that’s all right by me. My favorite decoration is a traditional nativity scene, probably because it’s a barn scene and there are lots of animals, like the donkey that Mary rode into town on. Even though I have never owned one, I love donkeys, probably because my Aunt Charto, who wasn’t really my aunt but helped raise me, had a big collection of porcelain donkeys that I couldn’t keep my young hands off of. I broke more donkey ears and legs than any muleskinner who ever lived!
Donkeys pop up regularly in our art, religion and literature, including the wise Benjamin, the smart and loyal donkey in Animal Farm. Donkeys are Biblical characters too, appearing frequently in the good book, whereas cats aren’t mentioned once. As it should be.
I think I’ve raised nearly every kind of domestic livestock there is, but never a donkey and this is one of my bigger disappointments in my life. I’m really intrigued by donkeys and feel a real kinship to them, probably because I’ve been called another name for a donkey all my life. And my singing has been compared favorably to the braying of a donkey ever since my stint as an alto in the Methodist Church Youth Choir.
The first time I ever got to spend any quality time with a donkey was in college when one was used to help halter break the show calves. We tied a haltered show calf to the donkey and after two days it was so tired and sore of being jerked around by that donkey, the calf was halter broke.
That donkey also had a calming influence on the calves, but maybe it was just because they were thirsty and hungry because that donkey gave them just enough rope to get within two inches of food and water and no closer.
That donkey had an evil soul.
In discussing donkeys, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that donkeys can also be very dangerous and should carry a warning label. Did you know that worldwide the forty million donkeys on earth kill more people every year than plane crashes? They can be deadly with both their back and front feet and you should never walk directly behind one unless you want to meet your maker.
Miners used to find out how intelligent donkeys were when they’d go to their mine and leave their donkeys hobbled or tied on a long leash back at camp. Upon their return they’d find all their food was gone and their donkey had gas and a lifelong craving for beans and bacon.
Some friends of mine learned this lesson the hard way on a hunting trip when they packed into the High Sierras with a donkey who carried their food, sleeping bags and tent. After a long day of hunting they arrived back at camp only to find someone had stolen their big bag of flour. It didn’t take much investigation to find the thief because their donkey was bloated, lying on his back, stiff as a board with his four legs straight up in the air. The donkey’s face looked like some Hollywood dope fiend who fell face-first into a big bowl of cocaine. The flour filled the donkey’s nostrils and was caked to his dead lips.
My hunting friend speculated, “You see Lee, after that darned donkey ate the whole bag of flour he must have been very thirsty. I figure he took on a big slug of water and then blew up like a balloon because it was self-rising flour.” Which brings us back full circle to our Biblical theme, for as my friend eulogized the dead donkey he said, “He too hath risen.” ❖