When I was young, I was crazy about donkeys; I had seen one when I was very young on a trip to Tucson, flinching as it bit me, one of my favorite books was Brighty of the Grand Canyon, and my two favorite stuffed animals were donkeys. Whenever we traveled, I would select a trinket or knickknack with a donkey on it whenever I could; my collection included a donkey holding toothpicks, one made from granite, another carved out of wood, and a plastic one covered in suede like material.
One summer during my annual trip to my grandmother’s home she was reading the newspaper and saw an article regarding burros and mules that were rounded up by the BLM and being adopted out. She showed me the two-page spread, probably not realizing the level of enthusiasm I had for the four-legged creatures.
I eagerly cut out the piece and saved it; then I penned a heart-felt plea to my parents begging them to adopt one of the donkeys for me. My letter went on to explain how I would take care of my new pet; watering it, feeding it, and walking it. I was only ten-years old; I clearly had no idea what it would entail to take care of a donkey.
When I arrived home shortly before school started, I was surprised to learn my parents had approved my request for the pet; they would be travelling to Arizona to pick up the donkey as well as two others for our veterinarian.
Cinnamon was the smallest of the three; she was scared and wild when she came out of the horse trailer, her big brown eyes nervous as she walked around our New Mexico yard.
She settled into her new life quickly; spending her nights in a cozy stall next to my mom’s quarter horse, he was probably four times her size, and her days were often spent in a field next to our house along with the horse. However, she was allowed to walk around our yard and she soon became friendly with the menagerie of dogs that were part of our family.
As Cinnamon became more domesticated, she started to take on more goat-like qualities; she often dug through the trash, scattering it all over the yard, and if the dogs did not eat their kibble fast enough, she was finishing their dinner. Often, when we left the kitchen door open for fresh air, she would walk right into the kitchen and just stand there or start nosing around the counters, looking for food; and, if you have ever tried to move a donkey, it is next to impossible, they are incredibly stubborn.
I was in the fourth grade and my school was not far from the house, I would sometimes cut through the field to get to school. During recess, I could see Cinnamon in the yard, but mostly I could hear her braying.
One day, there was a huge commotion in the school yard while I was in class; I kept working, not really concerned with what was going on. Then came the knock at the door and I heard my name called out, “You’re going to have to come out here, your donkey is on the playground.” That was only the first of many times Cinnamon had come to school and found her way to my classroom; I would have to be excused so I could lead her home.
Once, I was watching television after school, and I had just kicked Cinnamon out of the kitchen when I heard horns beeping in front of the house; when I looked out the front window I saw the root of the problem, it was her, standing firmly in the middle of the street.
I loved her with all my heart; I would feed her every morning, clean her stall, and haul water. Along with her came the duties of taking care of my mom’s horse; my sister would sometimes help with the horse because she rode him every few months, but mostly the horse was a giant pet, like Cinnamon.
A few months after Cinnamon came to live with us, I got a tiny saddle and my parents started pressuring me to “break” her. I was more than a little terrified to ride her; she did not like the saddle and she preferred to go for walks.
I would put the saddle on her and she would rub against the side of the house, trying to rub it off; when I tried to get on, she would buck wildly. Our relationship became angst-ridden and frustrating. Where it had been one of friendship and love, I now hated being with her; and I suspect she hated seeing me coming at her, saddle in hand.
My mother started to make threats, “If you don’t start riding her, we’re sending her to the glue factory.” I would beg and cry, pleading with her not to let my beloved Cinnamon be turned into glue. It would work for a week or two, and then the threats would start again.
One day there was a horribly violent fight at our house, nothing particularly unusual; just another Saturday night. I went outside to get away, and I was talking to Cinnamon. One of the officers came over and started to talk to me, “You know why they have that cross over them in their hair, don’t you?” he asked me, pointing to the markings on Cinnamon’s shoulders. When I shook my head no, feet scraping the dirt, he went on to tell me a beautiful story about the baby Jesus and Mary. It was nice, I realized he was just trying to distract me from the chaos, but I never forgot his kindness to me and Cinnamon.
I came home from school one day the following week and Cinnamon was gone; her saddle was gone, there was no trace she had ever existed. I burst into tears as I asked my mother what happened, “I told you if you didn’t take care of her that she would be taken to the glue factory and turned into glue.” She walked away and left me sitting there, crying.
Every time I used glue afterwards, I was sick to my stomach, thinking of my beloved Cinnamon.
A few years later, I was still angry with my parents; my mother laughed it off saying, “Oh, god, did you really believe that? We gave her away to somebody. You weren’t taking care of her, you wouldn’t ride her.”
True, I did not ride her; however, I did everything else for her, and, if we wanted to discuss not riding an animal or taking care of them, my mother rarely rode her horse, and my sister and I took care of him. Still, nobody ever threatened to send him to the glue factory.
Years later, I was walking in Virginia City, Nevada, and saw a man walking his donkey, she looked just like Cinnamon. I gave him a dollar, his donation request for taking pictures, but instead just gave her a carrot, we talked about Cinnamon, “Oh, no, hon, they don’t like to be ridden. But they’ll pack your stuff for miles,” he grinned his toothless smile at me, “And they are more loyal than any dog.”
I guess Cinnamon was more loyal to me than I was to her.