Tales from Date Creek Ranch – Junior the sadistic sheep

This is not Junior. Junior had devil’s horns

At one time or another, we raised all manner of animals on Date Creek Ranch. Chickens, ducks, geese, wild turkeys, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs. If Old MacDonald had it on his farm, at one time or another we had it too. This is about the time we raised a lamb.

Sometimes, in the spring, when the rains were good, we’d end up with that happiest of all rancher problems, excess grass. When that happened, we’d often pasture sheep. A truck would show up with a few hundred sheep to graze for a month or so and a couple of Basque sheepherders to take care of them. (Basque is a region in Spain. Apparently sheep are quite the thing there. I don’t know for sure though and I’m really too lazy to look it up.)

Anyway, one year, when I was about seven or eight, the sheepherders gave us a lamb. Its mother had died and they weren’t really in a position to raise it so they passed it on to us. The job of actually raising it fell to me.

I named him Junior. I fed him calf formula (we raised orphaned calves from time to time) from a glass 7-Up bottle with a nipple on the top and he was just as cute as the dickens. He lived in the front yard and when I showed up with that bottle he’d come running just as fast as his little legs would carry him and then drink ravenously, butting the bottle as he did so. I’m telling you, it was adorable.

Then he grew up and you know what? He stopped being cute. He became dirty (sheep wool is just a magnet for all kinds of crud) and obnoxious. Sure, he was helpful after parties, eating the peanut shells and cigarette butts off the lawn, but we really only had one party a year.

But there was one family member who actively hated Junior, and that was my brother, Scott.

Now, why would a little four-year-old kid hate a young sheep, you ask?

Because Junior tormented Scott.

Junior, it seems, had a sadistic streak. His favorite game was to lie in wait in the front yard (I guess a sheep’s life gets kind of boring after a while) for Scott to come out of the house. When Scott came out of the house, Junior would run and butt Scott and knock him down.

Well, Scott wasn’t one to go down without a fight. He found himself a big stick and leaned it on the wall of the house by the front door. Every time he came out the front door he’d grab the stick, shake it at Junior and yell at him to go away and leave him alone.

Which Junior never did.

Instead he’d stalk Scott, one slow step at a time. Scott would back away, eyes fixed on Junior, the stick held up threateningly, and Junior would follow, matching him step for step.

It was a good plan, really it was. It just had one flaw. Inevitably, about halfway across the yard, Scott would lose his nerve, throw the stick down and turn and run for it.

Whereupon Junior would race after him, lower his head, hit him in the butt, and knock him down.

Scott would cry and rage impotently at his tormentor while Junior stood there, waiting for him to get up and run so he could knock him down again.

Junior thought it was great fun. Scott hated it. The rest of us thought it was hilarious, which Scott also hated.

No one was happier than Scott when a friend of ours took Junior home with him to Las Vegas, bound for the petting zoo there.

I’ve often wondered how long Junior lasted at that petting zoo.

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Tales from Date Creek Ranch – a new brother is born and he will not be denied

When I was almost four, my younger brother Scott was born. For some reason I have a memory of standing outside the Wickenburg Hospital in the dark, standing on my tiptoes and peering through the window to catch a glimpse of my newborn brother. I don’t know who was with me, though I would imagine it would be Kim, almost eight at the time. Is this an actual memory or just something I imagined? I have no idea. I’ve learned that a lot of my memories, even recent ones, are flawed. (What the devil did I eat for breakfast this morning?)

Scott was the polar opposite of me. If you’ve been following along, you know that I was a scrawny, sickly child. Scott, however, was a big, chunky, healthy kid. Heck, what am I saying? He was fat. Yes, I know babies are often fat, but he was beyond that. He looked like someone tried to stuff twenty pounds of kid into a ten-pound skin. (Ironically, he is actually more slender than I am now. Not an ounce of fat on him.)

He was always hungry too. No amount of milk or formula ever satisfied him. He was only a few weeks old when Mom had to leave him with Grandma for a day. When she returned to pick him up, she found Grandma feeding him oatmeal. Mom was a little freaked out because babies that young aren’t supposed to eat solid food yet but Grandma’s response was, Hey, he was hungry, he wouldn’t stop crying, I gave him food and now he’s not crying. Mom asked the doctor about it a few days later and the man basically shrugged and said, It doesn’t seem to be hurting him. (Things sure have changed, haven’t they?)

Mom was busy with caring for the house, feeding all of us, and doing her share of ranch work as well, so she didn’t have lots of time for Scott. Fortunately, Scott was always as healthy as a horse and one of those kids you could pretty much just dump on the ground and let him go. He had no trouble finding plenty to do, so long as he could play in the dirt. I think he liked dirt better than anything. In every memory I have of him as a baby (and in just about every baby picture) Scott is just filthy. Like Linus-filthy (you know, Charlie Brown’s friend). Dirt crusts his entire face and is liberally applied to the rest of him.

Mom tried to keep him clean, she really did. Most babies you can just put in the tub, swirl some water around and voila! they’re clean. But not Scott. I can remember Mom scrubbing and scrubbing him with this little brush. Even right after bath time he was still only marginally clean, the dirt having gotten stuck in his fat folds and refusing to come out.

Scott was always stubborn and strong-willed. He knew what he wanted to do and he wasn’t going to let minor obstacles like being a baby get in the way. The lawn in front of the ranch house had a fence around it to keep out the horses and cows (the lawn was pretty much the only green grass for ten miles in every direction), except where the driveway entered. A gate would have been a pain in the ass to open and close every time you wanted to get a vehicle out so the previous owner had put in a cattle guard. (A cattle guard is just a big, metal grid laid over a hole in the ground. The gaps in the grid are wider than a cow’s or horse’s hoof so that if they try to cross it, their foot will slip through. They work, too, unless you have a real smart cow, and we had a few of those).

Scott sat in front of the house and watched Kim and me skipping across that cattle guard and out into the wide world while he was imprisoned in the front yard and he didn’t like it. He wanted to get out too. Who cares if Mommy wanted him in the front yard where she could keep an eye on him? He had a need to be free.

As soon as he managed his first few, shaky steps, Scott headed for the cattle guard. His moment had finally come. Now, the trick to walking across a cattle guard is to center your foot on a metal bar, then repeat, while being careful not to slip and fall into the gaps. Scott didn’t know anything about that. He just knew that he finally had the means to cross the moat.

He made it to the second step before his wobbly legs betrayed him and he fell, his fat little legs getting jammed between the bars (and scraped up; those bars had kind of sharp edges to them). Where he was trapped, screaming, until Mom came and rescued him. Mind you, I said screaming, not crying. Though he shed plenty of tears, I believe they were primarily tears of rage and frustration. Sure it hurt, but mere pain was nothing compared to his anger at having his will thwarted.

What did he do right after Mom had freed him and soothed him? Went right back and tried again. Over and over until he could make it. No one, but no one, was going to accuse that kid of being a quitter.

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