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It was 1938, and I was 14 and on my grandfather's farm in county Kilkenny there was a donkey. Actually there were two horses and a donkey, but because my brothers and I were small boys we got to know the donkey much more than the horses. Actually I have an old photograph of me on the donkey. I didnt realize it but he was quite young when that photo was taken too so he really became an old friend to us three brothers as we grew up. 

His duties were really to take my aunt to and from the nearby town for groceries, or on Sundays, for going and returning from church with her own three children and with us boys. The vehicle he pulled on such occasions was called a trap. We had in fact two traps, one large to be pulled by one of the horses and the smaller, as I've said, to be pulled by the donkey. 

My most vivid memory of this relationship came at a stage when we boys were approx 14,11 and 4. For me, being the eldest, the relationship with Neddy as I had always called him, was long and affectionate. You might say that Neddy and I grew up together. As the years went by and my two brothers were born, while it changed the relationship a little it still worked. At first I would sit on Neddy and somebody would hand me my small brother. I would hang on to him and a parent walked beside. Then there came a time when a second small brother arrived and the same things, this time a little more complicated, took place. I would climb on first, then our middle brother and finally our small brother. Ad so the years went by. The problem was that we so enjoyed our rides with Neddy that it did not occur to us that we three were gradually growing up and Teddy was beginning to grow older. There came the day when Neddy decided that it was necessary to remind us of that. 

It was the summer when I we were fourteen, ten and four. No parent was around, but Neddy was. It took only a minute or two to get him from the small pasture he was in, another minute to place four-year old Percy on his back, then Terry and I jumped aboard, I the eldest on Neddy’s rear haunches. Our plan was that Neddy would amble along as he had done countless times over the years. 

Alas,  we did not realize that Teddy had a different plan. Looking back now I realize Neddy had decided that if we did not realize this was too much of a good thing, he would take it upon himself to do so. His amble became a little more lively. This was disconcerting to us who had nothing to hang on to but the hairs of his mane for Percy and the expanse of his haunches for me, neither very stabilizing. 

Meanwhile we noticed that Neddy was steering us all towards a large bed of nettles. By now Neddy was trotting and we three were yelling and slowly sliding off Neddy's back. Reaching the nettles, Neddy suddenly stopped and deposited us among them, by now thoroughly frightened and yelling and getting badly stung. 

Great was the commotion and great the alarm at our situation, particularly that of the future Archbishop of Ontario in a faraway and far in the future Canada, who at the moment was four years old and yelling his head off as he got repeatedly stung. Voices called loudly for Calumile, the new magic potion of those long ago years, to be hastily and liberally applied. I as the eldest, who as Mother repeatedly said should have known better, was chastised by one and all. 

Neddy stood by, calmly watching the entertainment. After all, he had made his point. The time for group rides was over. Maybe one, maybe two but certainly not three. He had moved on. Time everyone else did.