"How do I love thee?

"Let me count the ways . . ."

"Heeeee-haaaaaw !"

"Happy 14th anniversary, Nancy !"

WHAT?

"Yes," I told my astounded wife, "we're getting a cute little mule this year. She may be small, but what she lacks in size she makes up for in personality, looks . . . (and voice)."

Some might wonder why an otherwise sane (everyone's a little strange) man would give his wife a mule for an anniversary present. Well, as one knowing friend in the office said when he heard my plan: "Oh, yes. Mules are very special." (I won't go into what some other co-workers thought of the idea.)

Before deciding on the mule (we've named her Sally), I thought back on anniversaries past.

The last two years in a row we celebrated with extravagant dinners at Washington restaurants, followed by an overnight at a quiet and comfortable in-town inn.

For our 10th anniversary I gave a surprise dinner party at our Charles County farm, with several old friends, plus a new English riding saddle.

Another year it was a large antique butcher block for the kitchen. Another time, three lambs (we bred them and the offspring ended up in the freezer).

And I'll never forget the year we got the geese -- Albert and Victoria. They were beautiful, but wound up terrorizing guests and everyone in the family, except me. Come to think of it, I wish I could forget that year's gift.

There are several years I can remember what we got. So this year, I decided, it's going to be something neither of us will forget for a long time. (Mules are known for their longevity, sometimes 30 years or more.)

In a weak moment, Nancy had said something about how nice it would be to have a Sicilian donkey. We had once boarded a donkey, named Rumpelstiltskin. It brayed each time someone drove down our driveway . . . sort of a watch donkey.

Remembering what she said, and with visions of another Rumpels, I was determine to find a donkey. I put the word out everywhere, but no luck. (Donkey's, in case you're ever in the market for one, are not so easy to come by.)

Then a few weeks ago, as we were sitting down to dinner, our dogs (6) set up an alarm. Someone was coming down the drive. I went out to see who.

"I'm glad you were the one to come out," whispered a friend from a neighboring farm. "How about a mule?"

He gave me a name and number to call. "you're brilliant, Harry," I said. "Don't say a word to Nancy about this."

"Don't worry about that . Don't you tell her it was my idea either."

A few telephone calls and one visit later, it was all arranged.

Anyway, Sally's settling in now. The kids love her . . . in fact, we all love her. And I think she's so much nicer than dinner and a night on the town or a dress or a book or. . . .

And Nancy? She may not be humming about "My Gal Sal'' and "15 Miles on the Erie Canal," but she's getting there. . . .

And now, for our 15th anniversay?