Magical Miniature Donkeys

Elise the Donkey

Elise the donkey. courtesy of Scott Simon hide caption

itoggle caption courtesy of Scott Simon

One of the pleasures of my travels around the country to visit our member stations is the chance to meet our listeners. Of course, the first few words of conversation usually concern our program — after all, we know we have that in common. But I really begin to learn about new things from what follows, and the discoveries are so often delightful.

My recent visit to Austin and our friends at KUT, however, set a new high mark for magical experiences.

Peter Sagal (of Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me) and I were asked to speak about our respective books and shows, and I do enjoy sharing the stage with him (as we have shared many a dinner). I had brought our daughters to Austin, to share in the fun. Peter and Beth Sagal had gotten family friends to stay with their children in Chicago, so that they could have fun together, which Peter says is the difference between having children for five years, as my wife and I have, and 10, as have he and Beth.

There was a nice couple who came up to me after our session and announced that they had a ranch about 10 miles out of town where they had 21 miniature donkeys. Would we like to bring our daughters to see them?

I had another session the next morning at the Texas Book Festival. It was our daughter Lina's 2nd birthday, and the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to her. But all the while I was signing books and shaking hands, I kept thinking about small donkeys running across the Texas plains. We got delicious empanadas from a truck, and I called the couple, Will and Rebecca Ponder, who are KUT members. An hour later, us city slicker varmints, and a nice Austin couple named Dave and Karen Smithson, had showed up at the Ponder spread. Isn't that how they say it in Texas?

Miniature donkeys, it turns out, are as delightful as puppies. They are affectionate and demonstrative. They nuzzled our daughters, and followed us around the grounds as our girls picked pecans. Will Ponder gave our daughters rides in his tractor. We wound up sitting on the Ponders' porch at sunset, watching the sky blaze with orange streaks over the mesquite trees, cracking open fresh pecans, sipping wine (well, not the children), and talking about family, friends, and the new era of history just opening for America. It was, in a word, magical. Then we went out to a local Tex-Mex diner in the Ponders home town of Manor (pronounced May-nor), where Lina received another round of "Happy Birthday," along with sombreros.

And by the way: the Ponders have named their youngest miniature donkey after our oldest daughter, Elise. They say that their Elise will be there for our Elise to see again on a return visit, and we always return to Austin.

However, now our daughters want to have a couple of miniature donkeys on our balcony. They have figured out that if we have promised them a puppy someday, like the Obama girls, and if miniature donkeys are so much like puppies, why not just get a miniature donkey?

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