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The Donkey and the O'Neill Kids

Late summer of 1960, all four of us O'Neill children were out in our backyard, waiting for our mother to come home.  Cathy was downtown in Point Pleasant Beach shopping with her friend Emma.  She told us when she left she had a wonderful surprise for us.  Shane was in the house playing his jazz records and blowing a flute very loud, making a lot of noise like he always did.  He was also making a huge mess, but that was Shane just being himself.  Maura was hiding under an old willow tree, peacefully reading a book and eating an apple.  Ted was sitting in a pile of dirt, playing with his matchbox cars.  He was very dirty, covered in mud from head to toe, but that's the way he liked to be.


Sheila in backyard, 1959

I was out in the backyard with my little sister Kathleen on the swing set.  While I was swinging up high on the old rusty swing, looking at the clouds moving slowly past, I wondered how many things I could see in the clouds.  That day I saw all kinds of cats, even a whole heard of wild angry tigers.  My Grandma Aggie once told me we could see something in almost every cloud in the sky if we just look hard enough.


Kathleen was on a see-saw with her stuffed animals, giving them kisses.  She was sitting with her little Easter chick in her lap, and her teddy bear was way up in the air on the other seat of the see-saw.


“Chicky is way too fat,” Kathleen said.  “He must have eaten all the candy in the world.  He won’t let teddy bear go down and us go up.”


“Not only did he eat all the candy in the world,” I said,he ate the entire world and everything in it, including us.”


Kathleen laughed, “No he didn't.”


“Yes he did,” I said.  “We live inside Chicky's stomach.  Did you know when it's raining out that means that Chicky is drinking a glass of water?”


Kathleen believed it.  That made me very happy, because Maura never believed me.

A little while later, a yellow Volkswagen pulled up in fount of our house.  “Gakie's home,” yelled Kathleen, as she jumped off the see-saw and started running.  Ted, Maura and I followed behind her.


My mother opened the passenger door and got out of the car.


“Did you buy me a toy?” Ted asked.


“Not a toy,” my mother said, “but I’ve got a big surprise for the family.”


We were all jumping with excitement.  Kathleen was hopping back and forth, singing.  Kathleen never did stand still for long.  As she jumped, Kathleen kept saying, “What you got?  What's in the car?”


My mother opened the back door of the Volkswagen and out stepped a donkey!


The little donkey was about as big as a large dog.  He had big, fluffy ears and a little tail, with long hair on the end of it.  His fur was a light, chestnut brown, with dark gray ears and a dark gray tail.  I thought this little donkey was the cutest thing I ever saw.


“Oh, he's so cute,” I said.


Kathleen yelled, “A horsey, look Gakie got a horsey.”


“No!” Ted said.  “He's not a horse.  He’s a baby pony.”


“I think he's a baby donkey.” I said.


“You're all wrong,” Gakie said.  “He’s a little burro, like a donkey, but smaller.”


Yes, he was really a burro, but everyone always called him a donkey.


“Where did you get him?” I asked.


“I got him from the Sears catalog,” my mother said.


“The same Sears catalog where Shane got the horrible bees?” Maura asked.


“Yes, the same store as the bees!” Cathy said.

Cathy named the donkey Boaz.  She told us that when he got a little bigger, Kathleen could ride on him, but Maura and I and even Ted were already too big and heavy to ride on him.


Lucky Kathleen, I thought.



But even Kathleen never got on him.  He wouldn't let her.  Once she got on, he'd sit down and dump her off.  But we had great times playing with Boaz, feeding him sugar cubes, taking him out for walks, and showing him off to all the kids in town.

Boaz was not the only pet we had at the time.  We also had six cats, ducks, and we still had some of Shane's bees.


Sheila and Toby, 1961  

Toby, our dog, was not the average run-of-the-mill dog.  All he did was chase cars.  Toby would get right next to the back wheel of a moving car, bark, and run along with the car for about 100 yards.  He got hit a few times, but he was never badly injured.  Toby also chased moving bicycles, barking at the kids' feet as they peddled.  He’d sometimes bite kids he didn't like.  I think it was because they kicked him.  What a crazy dog!


Last of all, we had the meanest rooster in the state of New Jersey.  Chanticleer!

About a year earlier, Ted and his friend Allen were downtown at the pet shop looking at the fluffy little baby chicks they had in the window.  Ted asked the pet shop owner how much a baby chick cost.


“They are six for a dollar,the man said, “and you have to buy at least six.”


It was a new law in New Jersey that a pet store couldn't sell less than six baby chicks or baby ducks at a time because they could easily die when sold alone.  Ted and Allen got all the money they had together and it added up to eighty-seven cents.


“Can we buy five chicks for eighty-seven cents?” Ted asked the shop owner.


“I will give you boys six chicks for eighty-seven cents,” the man said, “but you must promise to take good care of them.”


Ted and Allen said they would, and bought six fluffy baby chicks.

When Ted and Allen arrived home with the little chicks, Allen took three chicks home with him and Ted kept the other three.  But as soon as Allen got home with his chicks, his mother put her foot down.


“No way!  You are not keeping those nasty birds,” she yelled.  “Get them out of here!”


Allen's mother hated chickens, ducks and birds, and didn't want to be anywhere near them.  Allen had to give his three chicks to his uncle, who lived on a farm in the country.  But, of course, we kept all three of Ted's chicks as pets.


Within a week, one of the little chicks had died.  The other two were fine and growing very fast.  We kept them in the house while they were still little.  Ted named the one he liked best “Yellow Fellow” and my mother named the other one “Chanticleer.”  When they got bigger and had to move outside, Shane made them a nice chicken coop out of old wood and chicken wire he found around the yard.

Yellow Fellow was a sweet little chick who Ted loved.  Yellow Fellow loved Ted too.  He followed Ted all over the yard peeping.  I think he thought Ted was his mother.  But on the other hand, there was Chanticleer.  Chanticleer was one nasty bird,  and he got meaner every day, as he got bigger and older.

At the end of fall, chicken hawks got into the chicken coop and killed poor Yellow Fellow.  All we found the next morning was a pile of feathers – and Chanticleer!

By the time Chanticleer was a year old, he was very nasty.  He hated everyone who got near him.  Chanticleer would chase us around the yard, biting the back of our ankles.  The only one he'd let anywhere near him was my mother.  Shane was the one who always let Chanticleer loose, even though he bit Shane too.  Chanticleer even bit the mailman, who then refused to deliver our mail if the nasty rooster was on the loose.  But the one Chanticleer hated most of all was poor little Ted, who had bought him with his hard earned money.


Ted couldn't even get out the door of the house if the rooster was out.  Chanticleer came running to the door, ready to start pecking as soon as Ted opened it.  If the rooster was out by the back door, Ted ran through the house to the front door to get out that way.  But Chanticleer was faster.  He’d run around the house and get Ted as soon as he went out the door.  Sometimes Shane let Chanticleer in the house, where he'd terrorize everyone.  We kids wouldn't come downstairs if Chanticleer was loose in the house.  What a nasty rooster – he was worse than the meanest guard dog I ever saw.  I guess there was one good thing about Chanticleer – no strangers or robbers dared to come in our yard with that crazy rooster on guard.

By Halloween, Boaz had grown quite large and was a member of our strange family.  A week before Halloween, while we were at school, my mother got busy making all four of us kids costumes.  Maura wanted to be a witchdoctor, so my mother made Maura's outfit from our curtains and some of Grandma Aggie's jewelry.  Cathy made little Kathleen a cute black cat costume out of an old fuzzy coat of Shane's.  Ted and I still didn't know what we wanted to dress up as until my mother came up with a great idea.  It was Halloween of 1960, just a few days before the presidential election between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy.


“Wow,” Cathy said, “Sheila, Ted and Boaz can be the Democrats!”


On Halloween afternoon, we all got ready.  Ted dressed as John Kennedy, with a top hat and all, and I dressed as Jackie, with a bright red pillbox hat made from a cardboard box lid.  We all decorated the donkey in red, white and blue ribbons, flags, banners and campaign buttons that said “JFK for the USA.”  Then we took Boaz out trick-or-treating.  Boaz carried a plastic pumpkin in his mouth for his sugar cubes.



Boaz was a great hit with the Democrats.  They loved him.  People said we were the most interesting costume they ever saw.  But some of the Republicans, who liked Nixon, slammed their doors when they saw us coming.

Later that Halloween night, Kathleen and I had just arrived home from trick-or-treating, and we were about to sit down to dinner.  Suddenly Ted, still dressed as President Kennedy, along with his friends Tommy and Allen, burst through the door.  They were white as ghosts as they ran through the house and down into the basement, without saying a word.


”What the heck's the matter with them?” I said.


Then the door bell rang.  Thinking it must be kids trick-or-treating, I got the plastic pumpkin full of candy and opened the door.  There she stood – a real live witch, and she had an ax!  I let out a loud scream, slammed the door in her face, threw the plastic pumpkin across the living room, and ran down into the basement after the boys, followed by Kathleen.


My mother wondered what in the world was the matter with all us kids.  She opened the front door.  There was Miss Richards, standing there with her right arm raised and an ax in her hand.


My mother said, “Hello, Miss Richards. How are you?”


Miss Richards growled out the words, “Keep those little brats away from my house.  Next time I will eat them.” Then she walked away, swearing under her breath.

Miss Richards was the only one in Point Pleasant who was stranger than our family.  She was a thin, pale woman, about seventy years old.  I'd sometimes see her downtown, shopping at the old A&P supermarket, in the pet food isle with her dogs.  When Miss Richards walked around town, she always had a green, rusted wheelbarrow and two or three mangy looking dogs with her.  I guess she was a good Catholic.  On Sundays, we'd see her walking to church, dressed in an old fashion, pink flowered dress and a 1930's straw hat, with a large red silk flower on one side, and combat boots.

Miss Richards was known to the kids in town as a wicked old witch.  The kids said that she painted her house with gasoline and she kept wild tigers and an elephant in the house.  Some kids would torment her by ringing her doorbell and then running, throwing rocks at her house and teasing the dogs.  The boys in town, including Ted, loved teasing her.  They knew after awhile she would get mad and come running out of her house and chase them with a butcher knife or ax.


That Halloween night, Ted and his friends were teasing her all night.  Miss Richards finally had it with them.  She got her ax and came out the door like a maniac, swinging her ax and running after the three boys.  She was very fast for an old lady.  This time she almost caught them.

By the spring of 1961, Boaz was almost full grown.  Boaz was out in the barn, eating hay, when Maura came in with her friend Leslie to show her the donkey.  Leslie loved to feed him sugar cubes.


“He is the cutest donkey I've ever seen,” Leslie said, as she petted his nose.  “I wish my mom would get a donkey.  All we have is an old cat.”

Lesley looked over to the back wall of the barn in amazement and said, “Wow, what's that?” as she pointed to a huge object that was suspended in mid air with ropes.  It was the inside of an old piano.


“That's just one of Shane's crazy noise making things he made to annoy us,” I said.


“That was my piano,” Maura said, “but Shane got his hands on it and took it apart.  Now he bangs on what's left of it all night long, keeping us up.”


Leslie laughed and said, “It's beautiful.  I love it.  I never saw the inside of a piano like that before.  Can I play some music on it?”


“Why not?” Maura said.  “Shane likes it.  Maybe it's fun.”


Maura, Leslie, her brother Billy, Ted and I gathered up sticks, rocks, spoons and all of Shane's other instruments that we found around the house.  We then started making all kinds of different sounds with Shane's old piano part and the other instruments.  We had fun driving the neighbors nuts with our music.  No wonder Shane loved to make so much noise!

Later that afternoon, when it was time for Leslie and Billy to go home, Maura told Lesley that Gakie said we could walk them home.  Leslie asked Maura if we could take Boaz and one of Shane's instruments to show her mother.  She loved music and animals.


“We can take Boaz and all the instruments,” Maura said, “except the huge piano part.”


Soon we were all on our way down Arnold Avenue with our parade of pets and music.  What a strange sight we must have been in the small, conservative town of Point Pleasant in 1961.  All the cars slowed down and stopped when they saw us go by.  Ted had our dog Toby and Shane's old trumpet.  Billy had Chanticleer in a cat carrier and a flute.  I had a doll carriage full of cats that were all dressed in doll clothes.  Leslie had Shane's saxophone.  And Maura had Boaz on a leash.

We had walked about four blocks, when we came to the old bridge over the Manasquan River.  We got about half way across it, when Boaz stopped dead in his tracks and refused to budge.  Maura pulled with all her might, but the donkey just stood there.  I think he didn't like the feeling of the metal grids under his feet.


Then, in a loud voice, someone yelled out, “Hey you kids. Get that donkey off this bridge. Now!”


It was the man who worked on the bridge, opening and closing it when boats came by.  So we all got together and pushed and pulled on the donkey.


“Come on, get moving,” I yelled to Boaz.


But he would not move.  He started to hee-haw.


“There's a boat coming,” the man yelled again.  “I have to open the bridge for it now!  You kids better get your damn jack-ass off the bridge or I'll call the cops!”


This man was usually very nice to us kids, always asking how we liked school.  But now he was very upset.  He looked mean and red faced.


Ted and Billy laughed.  “That man said a bad word,” Ted said.

Maura was standing there crying.  Leslie and I were pulling on the donkey's leash, but now Boaz was sitting on his butt.  Ted and Billy were still falling over laughing, and every car on the bridge was blowing their horn at us.  The bridge keeper was screaming his head off, jumping up and down.  He looked as if he were about to explode.


There were now three boats under the bridge, waiting for it to open.  All the boats were blowing their whistles.  There were also fifty or so cars stopped by the gate, the drivers getting mad, beeping horns and yelling at us.

“Maura!” Billy yelled out.  “Kick him in the ass.  Then he'll move.”


By this time, Maura was furious.  She yelled, “Get the hell up you stupid donkey!  Move it now!”


Boaz just sat there and hee-hawed at her.  Maura, with all her might, gave Boaz one big kick in the butt.  Boaz immediately jumped up, kicking his long back legs, and turned around, looking Maura dead in the eyes.  Boaz was showing her all his teeth, spitting and looking evil.  Maura was now scared of Boaz.  Boaz said, “Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw,” then turned back around, still kicking his legs, and hee-hawed once more.


With one of his long legs, Boaz knocked over my doll carriage, sending all the cats flying.  After that, Boaz ran all the way home and back into the barn.  All three cats ran off hissing, right behind the donkey, still dressed in doll clothes.



“Oh my god!  Rosalee is running away,” I cried, as my favorite cat ran off in a silly hat.  “Rosalee, come back! Rosalee!  Rosalee!  Please come back.


But she kept running.  She stayed away for a week.  She finally came back home, still wearing a doll's undershirt.

Ted and Billy were falling over laughing.  All the people in the cars were clapping.


“That was the best show I saw in my entire life,” said a woman in a red Cadillac.


Finally, the bridge was just about to open, when Billy dropped the cat carrier with a huge crash.  As it hit the ground, it fell apart and opened, and the rooster hit his head on the concrete sidewalk.  Now Chanticleer was loose and boy was he angry!



“Oh, no!  Oh, no!  Eeks!  Yikes!  No way!  He’s out.  I'm dead!” Ted yelled.


He ran across to the other side of the open bridge as fast as he could go, with Chanticleer right behind him, snapping at his heels.

The Police Take Shane to Jail


© Copyright 2008 Sheila O’Neill. All rights reserved.


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