When I was a little girl, my Godparents lived across the street from me. I spent more time at their house than I did my own. They were the grandparents that I never had.
For more than 40 years, on the coffee table in her living room, my Godmother Rose had an inexpensive ceramic donkey that pulled a cart that held an average houseplant of one variety or another. It was one of her few “look but don’t touch” things. I always loved that brightly colored ceramic donkey because it was hers and because it was always wherever she was. When I close my eyes I can still see the cobalt blues and the bright yellows and oranges and the shy smile of the donkey as though it were right in front of me.
The last time I visited my Godmother in the nursing home, we sat on her sofa side by side, hand in hand, with the ceramic donkey on the coffee table in front of us — exactly where it should be, where it had always been. Sometimes we talked about people we knew from long ago and sometimes we just sat and stared at the donkey and listened to the clock ticking. She would nod off for twenty minutes at a time and then wake up delighted to find me sitting on the sofa with her in Florida and not in far away Texas.
We sat there all afternoon. The shadows of the tropical sun grew long and fell across her window. The room grew gray and dim. She asked me what of her things I would like to have. I felt my Adams apple swell in my throat and the deafening sound of the ticking clock in my ears. I didn’t want her to ask me that question. I looked around the tiny room that she lived in, at the few things she was able to bring with her from her house, her house that had always been a haven for me from the world and from big brothers and mean girls. I managed to force enough air into my throat to whisper, “I don’t want your stuff. I want you.”
I stayed with her until just before dark. I wanted to make the drive back to Orlando where I was staying before the sun set on the day. I hugged her. I looked into her brown eyes. I promised that I would come back to see her again soon. “Okay Cupcake,” she said and she squeezed my hand. As I stood to leave she looked so small, as though the sofa could swallow her up. I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead one last time. I walked to the door and when I turned back to blow her a kiss, she had nodded off again. When she awoke, I would be gone. I never saw her again.
Shortly after she died, her attorney contacted me to inform me that I would be receiving a small inheritance from her estate. That news brought me no joy. I didn’t want an inheritance. I wanted the ceramic donkey because it was always wherever she was.
It’s many years later now but I still think about that donkey. And I think about how somewhere in Florida in some thrift shop or on someone else’s coffee table sits a brightly colored ceramic donkey pulling a cart that holds not just an average houseplant, but a big chunk of my life.