My Childhood Buddy
When I was a child, the only real friends I had were my pets. I used to
tell stories to my cats and dogs, and I used to play cowboys and
indians with my donkey and dogs. The pets were my companions, my
confidantes, and my brothers and sisters.
Because my father’s profession required that he travel a great
deal, we never seemed to stay in one place for long enough to have
a house and garden, or for me to get to know other children. When
we finally settled in Portugal, my parents agreed that we would
move to a house with a garden. They promised that I would be able
to have pets, maybe even a pony. Well, I certainly had plenty of
pets, but the closest I ever came to having a pony was getting a
He was small and brown. He was so thin that you could see his ribs,
and there were scars on his back and on his face from the many
beatings he had received during his life. His back was so swayed
that his belly almost touched the ground and his sad brown eyes
looked mournfully out at the world from behind long lashes.
This sorry looking specimen then was the “sprightly, five year old”
donkey that my father was about to purchase for me from the seedy
looking man with the huge stick. To prove to us just how young and
sprightly this animal was, the man leaped on his back and whacked
the animal on the rump with the stick. The donkey groaned and
almost fell down as he tried to break into a shuffling run. The
man’s feet touched the ground.
We watched in disbelief and disgust as the man further belaboured
the small animal to get it to “run” back to us. (The Portuguese are
truly wonderful people, but their attitude toward animals left a
lot to be desired, certainly at this time.) I protested at this brutality and we convinced him to get off. When I approached the animal in order to pat it on
the nose, it flung its head back in fear, expecting a blow. Without
any knowledge of donkeys and with out any further opinion from
anyone, we bought the poor creature. I think we knew that this was
no five year old, but we couldn’t let that awful man take the
pathetic little creature away again.
Buying Manjorico (as I now called him, and which means Marjoram in
Portuguese) was the easy part. Now we had to get him to walk up the
wide, shallow stone steps from the road to our house, which was on
top of a steep slope. My mother led him, holding a carrot just
ahead of his nose, while my father and I pushed him from behind.
Manjorico evidently had never seen stairs and had most certainly
never been asked to ascend any. He complained every step of the
way, braying loudly and trying to get back to the bottom by sitting
on his rump and pushing against the steps with his forefeet.
Eventually, we were able to get him up to the terrace and around
the back to the shed we were going to use as a stable.
The first thing we wanted to do was to give the poor animal a
square meal. The previous owner had told us to use dried Fava
(Broad) beans, oats and hay. I prepared a bucket with half oats
and half Fava beans, and Manjorico tucked into it as though he
hadn’t eaten for a month. I gave him a nice big bucket of clean
water and groomed him. Then it was time for supper.
As soon as we had eaten and the dishes were done, I rushed back out
to the “stable” to visit my new friend. I was appalled to find him
lying on his side, with a swollen stomach, moaning horribly. I
rushed into the house crying hysterically. My parents came out and
having assessed the situation as serious, my dad immediately called
the vet. The vet examined the animal and shook his head gloomily.
He asked where we had bought the animal and what we had fed it. He
looked at its teeth and examined the ballooning stomach. Finally he
stood up and pronounced “Gros Vent”, meaning “big wind”. It turned
out that my donkey was not used to all this rich food, and the
combination of the oats and the fava beans, coupled with the water
had created a massive gas attack.
The vet prescribed warm bran mash with cooked vegetables added. We
made the first batch and he showed us how to administer it, using
a large syringe. I was to continue this treatment until the gas
subsided, and was to feed Fava beans only in very small quantities
in the future, and never, never followed by water! The animal was
in bad shape due to malnutrition and abuse, but if we were careful,
it would be fine. He took my father to one side and told him that
what ever he had paid for the animal, it had been too much, and
that there was no way it was five years old. “Five years in every
foot” was his final, laughing comment, as he drove away.
The vet was right. After a few hours of small amounts of warm mash,
Manjorico’s stomach subsided, and soon he was lapping up the mash
by himself. Finally he lurched to his feet and rewarded us with a
loud, wet bray. My donkey was going to be alright. I almost wept
After that first day, Manjorico and I had lots of adventures
He was a friend; he was my horse; my brother; he knew all
my secrets; and he knew all my fears. We rode around our large
garden and mapped every inch of it. We rounded up imaginary herds
of cows, and trailed indians and bandits. We single handedly foiled
bank robberies and brought aid to wagon trains in need. When
cowboys and indians were no longer any fun, Manjorico became a
He and my dog, Guarda, learned to walk through large
hoops, and climb onto boxes. Manjorico learned to carry several of
the quieter cats, as well as Guarda, on his back.
Manjorico did not like to be excluded from any family activity and
would bray loudly if left by himself. Where ever I went in the
garden I usually had a trail of pets with me, including the donkey.
My mother drew the line at allowing him into the house, but he used
to stand outside the open window and stick his head through and
stare at us. If we ignored him, he would start to bray. The effect
of a donkey braying in a room with ceramic tile floors is
incredibly loud and hollow. Once he began, there was absolutely
nothing that you could do to stop him.
Eventually, my legs grew so long that I was too big to ride my
little friend. I started getting interested in boys instead of
cowboys, and dresses and make up instead of pen©knives and jeans.
Manjorico was allowed to spend his days snoozing peacefully in the
sun. With his help, I had made the transition from lonely little
girl into awkward teenager.
As teen interests took over childhood interests, Manjorico spent more and more time by himself. I heard of another younger child who really wanted a companion and having met Majorico, wanted him. My parents and I felt that it would be in Majorico’s interests to have a young companion again, and so we entrusted him to her.
I am still sorry he wasn’t around to ease
my way through the teen years, because Manjorico was the best
friend a child ever had.