Lee Pitts: The best present ever | TSLN.com

Lee Pitts: The best present ever

Like the coming of winter he arrives every year about this time. Much the same as the shopping mall Santa, the Donkey Man is a seasonal ornament. And quite a colorful one too. The Donkey Man makes himself at home at the city limits and puts up a crudely lettered sign that reads simply "Donkey Rides." Whereas many of the bashful young kids are afraid to have their picture taken on the knee of the shopping mall Santa, they are a little more willing to have their picture taken on the back of one of the Donkey Man's burros.

This year instead of the usual four burros the Donkey Man brought with him 85 little donkeys, although 81 of them were plastic and ceramic miniature versions that came in all shapes and sizes. But I'll let the Donkey Man tell you about his newest menagerie.

"Those donkeys were left to me in a will," the Donkey Man explained to me, "a much cherished collection of a lady I met only last year. That lady loved donkeys and she spent her lifetime collecting them. Plastic, ceramic, wood and glass burros filled several shelves in her small room at the assisted care living facility. I really can't tell you why she loved donkeys so much other that to say that she was a deeply religious person. She thought it was significant that Mother Mary had ridden into Bethlehem on the back of a donkey and Jesus had been born in a manger in the presence of donkeys. Knowing her fondness for the creatures had made it much easier for her relatives to find a Christmas gift she'd like every year. And despite her advancing years she could remember who gave her every single donkey."

"I never knew about the lady who loved donkeys until last year when I was traveling through her town. Her grandson came up to me and told me about this woman and her fabulous collection. Then he offered to pay me five dollars if I would take one of my real live donkey over to where she lived as a surprise Christmas present from her grandson. I took the money, although I probably would have done it for free just to see her collection, being a lover of donkeys myself. So on a slow afternoon when all the kids were in school I walked one of my little donkeys over to the assisted care home. Her grandson was there to meet me as had been previously arranged."

"The grandson went into the building and came out about ten minutes later with a very old and fragile looking woman, obviously in the twilight of her life. The young man led his grandmother over to my four foot tall gray donkey and placed her hands on his huge ears and head. As if using braille she ran her hands all over that gentle donkey, and as donkeys do, it responded to her kindness and affection with a lick with its raspy tongue. The old lady cupped that burros muzzle in her hands and rubbed it against her own. And she began to cry."

"Taking that donkey to see that old lady was just about the best Christmas present I ever received," said the Donkey Man. "I think when I get near the end of my life it will not be the plastic, wood, and gold trinkets I have collected in my life that mean the most to me but the real life experiences, like the time I met the lady that loved donkeys."

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"As I turned to leave that day with my donkey the old lady's grandson asked his grandmother why she was crying.

"I've spent a lifetime collecting donkeys," she replied in a frail voice, "but this is the first time I've ever met a real one."

I am reminded of that story every time someone tells me about all their Facebook friends they've collected.