Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Bathing sheep is a baaaaad idea...

I've told this story many times. Each time I have to preface it with a little ditty 'bout my mom...

Some people have parents who like to dabble in wine tasting, home repair, watercolor, what have you. My mom likes to dabble in nature. And by this I don't mean simple botanical feats, such as growing all 37 varieties of her hot peppers from seeds. Oh no. Mom has a green hand, to be sure, but her 'dabbling' extends to critters as well. Iff'n thar's a critter out there needin' a little dabblin', by gum, it's me mum who'll be dishin' out said dabblin'.

If you were living in east Des Moines, Iowa, between say, 1983 to 1990 and one of your dogs went missin', chances are good that my mom took it. She had neighbors across the street from whom she relieved TWO canine companions because she felt they were being abused. And, truth be told, they were. She would also come home from the grocery store at times with more than bread and milk. Once, it was with a pregnant golden retriever. Stray cats (and some not so stray) from around the neighborhood would gather on the back deck under the magnolias at twilight waiting to be fed. It was always interesting to go visit while I was in college; you never knew what was going to be living at and around La Maison de Carole. But think of this fact: she found homes for each and every stray (or stolen) animal that resided there.

***As a disclaimer, I also need to say that my mother's house on any given day is spotless. She and my stepfather do not live like the old lady with a thousand cats, nor like the tweakers Jack posts about who can't even smell dead frikkin' mice under their sofa cushions. No, no. My mom is almost obsessive with her cleanliness... which is a nice segue into the story behind the title...***

Back in 1993, a few years after my parents had moved from Des Moines to a small acreage in the country, my mom decided she'd like to get some sheep for the purpose of keeping the back pasture 'mowed'. Besides, she thought they were cute. Didn't hurt that she was getting waaay into the koziness of kountry livin'. Heck, she already had a coop full o' layin' hens complete with the world's meanest rooster, aptly dubbed Dickie the Killer Cock. The prior spring she had successfully hatched two duck eggs in a borrowed incubator and then raised them in the bathtub until they were old enough to be put on the pond (Bonnie and Clyde... their mother was unfortunately eaten by one of the meaner cooters living -- at that time -- in Warren County). It would be a few more years before she 'dabbled' in the life of Sally, a pregnant stray, who gave birth to the two cats with whom I now share air, living space and the poog.

So yeah... sheep. Seemed like a natural progression to arrive home one spring afternoon and see six sheep out in the back pasture following my mom around. Now for whatever reason, I'd taken a week off work to go home and help Mom out on The Farm. One day after mucking out the chicken coop and the sheep stall, power washing duck and geese shit from the dock and pruning the wild tangle of bittersweet, Mom decided that we desperately needed to give each of the six sheep a bath. Um, Mom? Are you serious? Damn straight she was...

It was probably close to three in the afternoon at this point; I was sweatin', I was cranky, and the last damn thing I wanted to do was go along with this hair-brained idea that these sheep needed to get gussied up. Into the dome home I went, having removed my shit-caked boots, of course. My step-dad was on the phone with a client trying to work out some software glitch and I made a bee-line for the fridge. Nothing like an ice cold beer to liven my spirits. Alas, in came the whirling dervish that is my mother. She had a coil of rope in one hand and a steel brush in the other. This was not looking good for the cud-chewers.

Mom (very businesslike): "Allen, tie a knot on the end of this rope!"
Allen (still on phone and half paying attention): "What kind of knot, Carole?"
Mom (heaving world's greatest sigh as if to say...): "It doesn't matter! Just a knot!"

My stepfather tied a knot for her. Mother then came searching for me, found me swilling a beer in the kitchen and basically told me to get the lead out. "We got some sheep to wash!" Back out to the barn we plodded...

However, once we were confronted with these 175 lb. wooly bullies, Mom's pluck flickered for just an instant. But it was in that nanosecond that I realized she had absolutely no clue how to go about accomplishing this task. She saw me smile ever so slightly, and that was the kick she needed.

Handing me the 'noose' end of the rope, she said "Ang, go over there and slip this around somebody's neck." Her idea was to then pull the unsuspecting beast over to the trough and thoroughly hose the little sucker down. Yes, she had Woolite. Still failing to see the point of all this, I did as was told, shrugged and walked over to where my mother was tugging on her end of the rope to 'help'. Neither one of us expected the sheep would drop to the ground and claw at the air with its little hooves. I ran back over to the poor thing, which was now frantically trying to right itself, and saw its poor little eyeballs rolled into the back of its head.

Yep. It didn't take long to find that Allen had tied a slip knot and my mother was, for all intents and purposes, strangling her beloved sheep. Needless to say, Mom decided that maybe the sheep really didn't need washing after all.

**Nota bene: No ovis aries were injured during the retelling of this story. At the time, only one sheep sustained minor damage to the throat and neck region, but was fully recovered by the time the lot of 'em were sold to Hormel. I always wondered what kind of meat they put in their Dinty Moore...**

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