It was autumn and we were living on four acres with 3 babies, a dozen chickens, 2 goats, and a dog. My friends had advanced degrees and enjoyed ladies lunches at farm to table restaurants, and I was doing laundry, changing diapers and eating frozen turkey for Thanksgiving.
We had a fresh, free-range turkey living in the barn, but when our eyes met moments before I was supposed to swing the axe, I decided our meal could be from someone else’s farm to our table.
That year for Christmas, and for reasons known only to her, my mother-in-law gave us a donkey named Willy as a “present”. He was supposedly a gentle star of living nativities. In reality he was a TOTAL jackass- he bit and kicked enough that I reconsidered that axe…I won’t admit for whom.
My Thanksgiving turkey was eventually officially pardoned and named John Bradley after a fellow used car salesman at ABC Motorcars, where I worked to pay the rising animal care bills.
By February, John Bradley really wasn’t well. Maybe it was survivor’s guilt, or perhaps an existential crisis. His entire existence was intended to end on a platter, surrounded by delicious side dishes! We just assumed he was going to die and then, inexplicably, he laid an egg.
Feeling much better, that spring John Bradley and Willy would idly wander the pasture together and eventually became inseparable friends. John Bradley would roost on Willy’s back at night and on rainy days he would sit on the now chivalrous jackass’ back to keep out of the puddles.
They became such a common sight that no one thought it was strange to see a turkey riding on a donkey’s back and we started telling people how clever turkeys actually can be. They aren't stupid and they don’t drown in the rain, but sometimes they lay eggs for the hell of it. They make lovely pets.
On any summer day John Bradley and Willy would be together in the pasture listening to the birds, enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company.
One day years later, I went in the barn to find John Bradley stuck in a hay bin, his wing severely broken.
The next morning when I saw Willy out in the pasture alone, I knew that we’d lost our John Bradley. I cried when I found him, and again when I buried him in the backyard by the apple tree.
Now I fondly remember John Bradley whenever I encounter turkeys or jackasses. I remind myself that they too may be remarkable, lovely even, if only given the opportunity, and the company of very good friends.