Antique Childhood

The Ceramic Donkey

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.

34 thoughts on “The Ceramic Donkey

  1. This is going to sound corny, but you know what? You DO have the donkey! Close your eyes and you will see it. It’s in your heart. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us.

  2. What a great story … not that it would replace the real one but there are about 100 ceramic donkeys and carts for sale on eBay right now. Who would have thunk it!

  3. I wish you did get the donkey and cart, but more than that, I wish that people we love wouldn’t get frail, wouldn’t die. My grandma asked me the same question this past weekend, actually.

  4. Wow – that made me teary-eyed. The donkey, like your godmother, was a comforting constant in your life. Maybe one day you can describe it to your son, he can draw it for you, and you can frame it. That would tie two extremely important people in your life together in a special way.

  5. For me it was my great-grandmother’s water ladel and water basin. The men would come in from the fields and drink from it. After she died I was never asked if I’d like anything and it was pitched. Sigh.

  6. When my mom passed away 2 years ago…….I took some things from her home…very few…the most precious….the fork from a carving set. She used it to fry chicken and steak for over 40 years. My sister wanted it but spoke too late…it’s mine!!!!

  7. Based on recent experiences with my dad’s death and my mom’s move into a nursing home , I have discovered that when they ask you what you would like to have (of their possessions) they really do mean it. My mom has been so excited when her grandchildren have said they wanted one of Granddaddy’s hats or her dining room furniture. It makes her feel that they have a part of her with them.
    You can’t redo the conversation and say “I want the donkey”, but for all of you out there who are placed in that position and asked the question “what would you like to have?”….speak up and tell them. It will ease their mind and give them joy, not only to be able to give the item to you , but to know that part of them will live on with you through that item.
    I can’t tell you what to do, but I would find a donkey similar to hers and display it in a special spot, and tell Sean that this donkey reminds you of a very special relationship you had with your godmother …tell him of the love and fun the two of you shared…and the donkey will symbolize for him what the other donkey symbolized for you.

  8. I’ve been a faithful reader of your blog for a few months now. I’ve even gone back, every chance I get, to read previous posts. Some make me laugh out loud, some make me sad, but this post has compelled me to de-lurk and just thank you for sharing your God-given talent of painting pictures of every day life, with words.

  9. You’ll always have the donkey … in your heart and your mind … and your memories. And you’ll always have Godmother Rose in all those places too!


  10. My family is notoriously non-sentimental, and seems to relish the idea of stopping you from getting things to which you are emotionally attached, out of some Puritan ethic they apply to MAKE you get over your attachment. But when my grandmother died, I packed up a few absolutely insane things to which I was sentimentally attached, and have them sealed away in boxes in my basement. The ones that I think back on now, though, that I wish I had? Of all things, my grandmother’s ashtrays. One was a small cast-iron skillet; the other was a big ceramic SALEM ashtray. But as others have pointed out, very often I just take a little walk through her house in my mind, and more often than may be normal, I dream that I go back to her house and it’s a treasure-trove of all of those things that I loved but won’t ever see in physical form again. It’s not quite the same thing, but it’ll do in a pinch.

    In the meantime, the urge to go search Ebay for you for every ceramic donkey they have to find out if they’re the right one is overwhelming.

  11. Riv, your comment about mentally walking through her house has reminded me of the other many things in her house that I loved: pink square coffee cups with black square plates, doilys on the arms of the red sofa, green leather chair with brass nailhead trim, hand-emroidered embellished handtowels, a tin of buttons, a box of costume jewelry that I played with…. sigh.

  12. It’s easy to say “you should have asked for the dang donkey,” but in that situation, I don’t think I could have done it either. I like to think the person who has it now can tell there’s something special about it or is making it special.

  13. hey antiquemommy. i’ve been reading your blog for awhile and thought i’d create one of my own, so i’m new to all this and i don’t know how you can add links and people you read. can you help me?

    thanks, you’re blog is great!


  14. Excellent post. Sometimes the littlest things mean so much, when wonderful memories are attached to them.

  15. You know, the way you describe that little donkey, I feel I’ve seen it…or something like it…before. It’s funny how the little things mean more to us. They are the visual talismans of childhood. I hope that little donkey finds its way to you…some way…somehow.

  16. A couple of weeks ago, I had a Mother & Daughter luncheon at my home. My dad is ill, so my mother couldn’t travel to be there. My aunt–my mother’s sister–was there though. I had not realized how much older she’s grown. I still have this picture of her with short, black hair wearing golden, curly toed house slippers. So when I saw her at the age of 72 next to my daughter, I realized how much she looked like my Granny–her mother.

    Well, it took my breath away. Later, when everyone was out of the kitchen, I said, “Aunt Norma, you look soooooo much like Granny. It shocked me.” And we both began to cry, ’cause we loved Granny so much. Just then a friend walked into the kitchen and said, “WHAT is WRONG?” I said, “We were talking about my Granny–her mother–and we ALWAYS cry when we talk about Granny.” My friend said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. When did she die?”

    To which I replied, “Twenty-two years ago.”

    Then we all laughed. . .and I said to my aunt and my friend, “I hope we are worthy of being loved that much even 11 years after we’re gone.”

    Those memories are so tender. . .so deeply woven into our fabric that there is no way to remove them–nor do we want to.

  17. oh boy…tugging at another heart string. Thanks for the memory jump start. While I read this I thought of all the people have touched my life and I don’t feel so lonely anymore.

  18. It totally didn’t end the way I thought it was going to. I thought you would get the donkey for sure! Man, now I’ll never look at those little guys the same way again!!

  19. Hard to see to type for the teary eyes. My Mom (83) often says to me – some day this will be yours about something she treasures. I’m with you – I just want her. This was so very beautifully written. I loved it.

  20. Beautiful telling of this story. And yes, you should go to ebay every once in a while to see if that very donkey and cart is for sale. It might be some day! There are four very different little ceramic donkey/cart planters for sale over there just now!

  21. Hi there,
    I think this is my third attempt at leaving this message, but here goes again! I am a glutton for punishment, apparently! Just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed reading your blog. Initially, I thought your ceramic donkey story was the best thing I’ve ever read as it reminded me of my Ninnie’s ceramic frog that I stole from her bathroom when her belongings were being divided after her passing. (Sidenote: I didn’t think anyone else would really miss it. Ahem.)Anyway. That is, until I read your Aunt Fanny and Millie Conway story. Wow! My husband thought I was sobbing, but it was actually tears of laughter. I love your writing!
    Kelly Daily
    Marshall, Texas

  22. That is so sad! I know how you feel. My mother had a donkey that sounds just like that. She bought it sometime before year 1950 and kept it on the coffe table wherever she lived. I have to say – I thought it was very ugly – but for years I would replace the fake flowers for her to try and make it look nicer. When my kids were little (many years ago) she taught them “not to touch the donkey”. It became a family joke for years.

    She always told me she wanted me to have the donkey when she passed. Of course – I didn’t think too much of it while she was alive because it was so ugly and never dreamed I would want to display such a thing in my home for everyone to see.

    She passed away 9 years ago and now that donkey has become my most cherished thing. I keep it in the middle of my dining table. To me it is no longer ugly. It is the most beautiful piece I have ever seen, and I think of her every time I look at it.

    I am so sad for you that you don’t have your Godmother’s donkey. Isn’t there a way you can research where it may have gone?

  23. Please further describe the donkey and cart…I was compelled to buy one two weeks ago at an estate sale…I’ve never had in any interest in them but felt I had to buy it…I pray it’s like the one of you search for. I’ve seen nothing like it online!

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