The first snow fell late that year. November was mellow, the sun turning the long grass pinky gold in the morning, the cedars holding their green, and the earth sending up a faint mist through the frost. Edward rolled in his field, next to the house, and brayed for his summer friends, who’d shared his pasture. Alone now, he huddled in his small, straw-lined barn on cold nights.
I’d inherited Edward from my uncle and aunt when they sold their farm. He became my daughter’s pet, but Megan left for theatre college. She came home sometimes on the weekend, but most of the time, Edward had only me. I felt sorry for him—he needed company.
One morning, the phone rang. I answered, “Nina Harris speaking.”
A voice said, “Hello. I believe you own a donkey. Right?”
“I do.” I carried the phone to the window to check that Edward was safely in his field. He’d once escaped in the past and he was bored and ripe for mischief. I kept a close eye on him these days. .
“I’m Ron Greene, working with some young people here for a few weeks.”
“Yes, don’t you run a drama group?”
“That’s me. I wonder if I could use your donkey in a Christmas play?”
Visions of Edward bringing the production to a halt, kicking one of the actors off the stage, or escaping flew through my mind. “Well, he’d probably love it. He likes having a job. But maybe you’d better meet …”
Ron’s voice bounced back at me. “Oh yes! I’d love to.”
What am I doing? I thought. But a meeting arranged, I told Edward about his possible future. A casting call! What excitement! I rubbed his woolly head. Happy, he took a run around the field before returning to huff gently in my ear.
Ron arrived that afternoon. Bundled against the cold, his face was rosy, his eyes bright. In the field, Ron approached Edward, holding out some pieces of apple. Natural friends! I was pleased when Ron offered to collect Edward and bring him home himself from rehearsals.
The following week, Edward donned his harness and accompanied Ron to the bright lights of a theatrical life. I heard he behaved impeccably and soon became a favourite. Ron wanted Edward, Mary and Joseph to make their way to Bethlehem through the streets of the town, gathering an audience on the way to the church. On Christmas Eve, Meg and I went to see the show.
Glittering snow showers floated in the light of the street lamps, powdering those who’d come out for the play and the carol service. Mary rode Edward. Proud to carry her, he danced through the snow, behind Joseph. When people called out, he turned his head to nod at them, his big ears waggling, his dark eyes seeking admirers. Stuffed sheep had been borrowed from an upscale sheepskin store and two oxen painted on a back drop hung over the inner doors to the church making a stage of the porch. The only live animal, Edward was a star.
The children presented the Christmas story gracefully. Edward was the perfect extra. His head turned to each character who spoke, but otherwise he kept still. Mary and Joseph met the inn-keeper. Shepherds pushed through the audience to the church porch. Three shimmering Kings, carrying brightly painted caskets, arrived. The choir sang ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, encouraging people to join in. When we went to collect Edward afterwards, Ron said he would miss him and that everyone had loved having him as a member of the cast.
Missing the attention he’d enjoyed as an actor, in the next month, Edward fled his paddock several times. A danger on the road, both to himself and unwary drivers, two of his capers resulted in police visits, late at night. Drastic measures would soon be in order. But finally, I did find his escape route. In the far corner of his field there was a slight hollow, where in summer he liked to roll in the dusty grass. Now lying flat, front legs stretched forward and back ones dragging behind, he wiggled his body patiently on the crusted snow until he slid out under the fence into a shallow ditch. Then, he kicked up his heels and trotted off down the road.
Around the beginning of February, Meg was due to visit so I called to tell her we needed to strengthen the fence; to bring the wire down to the ground and bury it as deep as the weather would allow.
“That sounds quite a project,” she replied. “Lucky I’m bringing a friend home. He can help out.”
When she arrived, I was surprised to find it was Ron Greene she had in tow. As though to acknowledge his part in bringing them together, they visited Edward in his barn first, but then they were eager to talk.
“Remember I told you, the Lantern Theatre wanted young actors for ‘Spring Awakening’ and I got a part? I met up with Ron again, working on the same production. And…and… See, Mom? We think life will be much easier, if we share an apartment.”
I was shocked, but— heroically I thought—I kept quiet. We worked hard to make Edward’s field secure. And, I must say, though they argued all the time, they laughed as often as they disagreed and worked well together.
By May, I’d grown accustomed to their relationship. Working in the theatre didn’t provide an extravagant life-style, but both Meg and Ron seemed to be happy.
Unfortunately, I still had major problems with Edward. Our winter repairs had been successful, but I knew Edward was looking for a way out. What if I couldn’t keep him at home? Would he end up at the knacker’s, turned into dog food? Then I heard the horses we’d boarded in the past were not returning this summer. He was going to be as lonely as ever. In despair, I seriously thought of advertising a donkey for sale.
But one night, Ron rang. “Hey Nina, does Edward like sheep?”
“Actually, yes. He guarded some on my uncle’s farm.”
“My cousin’s got a problem with coyotes and is looking for a donkey to protect her flock. Would Edward like the job?”
Shortly afterwards, Edward returned to farm life. We visited at Christmas, wondering if he hankered after his glamorous, if fleeting, stage career, but he seemed happy with his real-life sheep. The next year we couldn’t go. We were preparing for a different event. On Christmas Eve, Ron called to say I’d become a grandmother. Meg was fine and, of course, they were calling the baby—Edward.
All photo credits to Anne Sidnell and permission of Primrose Donkey Sanctuary Roseneath, Ontario