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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

While the Farmer was away

Actually, the Farmwife was away too. So you would think the mice had ample opportunity to play. But they didn’t. As far as I know, anyway. I’m not on Facebook anymore – my account has been hacked into one too many times – but I think if there had been a party at the Fisher farm in my absence, someone would have surely told me.
Maybe it was because Milena, the eldest, was in charge. Or maybe it was because we were only gone for a few days, in the middle of the week. Not too many people would be up for a party with school the next morning. Or maybe we have done a pretty good job raising a fine bunch of young adults.
In any case, we were happy to come home to find that the house was in good shape, the liquor cabinet was still full, and the animals were all where they were supposed to be. The only sign that people had been here in our absence, in fact, was that the barn cats were suddenly tame, crowding around my feet when I entered the barn, and the new ceiling fan in the sunroom works. Pat, the future son-in-law, fixed it. He gets points for that.
So all is well. I don’t know why we didn’t do this sooner – leaving the farm in the hands of the very capable offspring while we take off for a few days. I guess I had nothing to worry about. Must have been thinking about someone else’s kids. Like the ones I grew up with.
I remember going to one house party where a goat ended up in the kitchen and a dog was in the pool. The dog didn’t concern me much – he just swam to the end and climbed out -but I remember being worried that certain inebriated houseguests might try to feed the goat alcohol.
There was no evidence of partying with farm animals in our absence. There were, however, signs that the animals were having their own party in the barn. Donkey had once again knocked the gate to the storage room off its hinges. He and several dozen of his woolly friends had their way with the cat food, sweet feed and bags of disinfecting powder in the storage. Oh yeah – and they spilled the Farmer’s tools all over the floor and pooped on them. Nice.
It was during this intensive cleanup session that I found a strange item, stamped into the manure on the floor of the barn. The Farmer’s black leather belt was there. It was dirty, mind you, but I still recognized it. I had been looking for it since our return, because the Farmer needed it for his day job, as a dress pant-wearing university professor.
I brought the belt back to the house, made a mental note to deal with it later, and sat down to call Milena to thank her for looking after things. She reported that she had enjoyed her stay at the farm, that it was both relaxing after a long day of work and stressful at the same time. Donkey has been particularly mischievous in Misty’s absence, as he finds life quite boring without her. He can’t wait til she returns from summer camp. He entertains himself by tackling the sheep and dragging them around, with a foot in his mouth. Milena said she had to yank the axe out of the wood stump and chase Donkey down the field with it until he let the sheep go free. I asked her if she was wearing her high-heels at the time. She didn’t find that particularly funny.
“Oh yeah, and that broken-leg lamb wriggled out of her splint so I tackled her and made her a new one,” she reported, proudly. “She put up quite a fight but I held her down and strapped her up good.”
What did you use? I asked her, just as the answer formed in my mind.
“One of your tea towels and an old belt.”

To all the Fathers...

I no longer have a father to hug and kiss on Father’s Day. But I can celebrate the 40 years that I did have with my father by reliving the memories.
The relationship between a father and daughter is a special one. If you are father of a little girl, take note.
You are the first man that your little girl will meet. So take care to make a good impression, will you? Every man she meets going forward will be compared to you, the benchmark. You will be her measurement of toughness, softness, caring, forgiveness and masculinity. She will one day subconsciously choose a mate who reminds her of you. If you’ve done your job well.
A little girl also learns her own measure of self-worth through her relationship with her father. She needs your acceptance, your approval, and your understanding. She needs you to tell her that she has done well, that she makes you proud, and yes, she needs you to tell her that she is pretty.
My dad didn’t do a whole lot of fawning over me as a child, but he got the approval message across with the reverse psychology technique as I grew up. When I wore something a little too skimpy, he let me know. When I changed into a less-revealing outfit, he voiced his approval with a nod and a grunt.
When I barely passed the Relations and Functions math course, he just said “you are smart in other ways”. He read every one of my news articles, magazine stories and columns.
If I was on stage for a public speaking contest, theatre production, piano recital or talent show, Dad would be sure to show up early and sit in one of the front rows, where I could see him. If an event was especially important to me, he would wear a suit and tie. That had a definite impact on my self-esteem.
Dad communicated without words. He didn’t say “I love you” very much, but I new he did. Without a doubt. It was one of the true absolutes in my life. My father’s love.
When I made mistakes (and there have been some doozies), Dad quietly helped me to clean up the mess of my life. He lent a hand, lent money, gave me a car and a roof over my head, and did not pass judgment. He let me learn my lessons the hard way. But he always made sure that I knew he was watching. I feel him watching, still.
Dad lives on in my memories. He had a saying for every situation (some of them rather crude but we couldn’t help laughing) and I still hear his words in my head. There are many things that trigger memories of my dad. The taste of black licorice cigars, Eatmore candy bars and Napoleon pastries. The smell of Old Spice and snowmobile engines on the cold winter air. Being in a speedboat, with the wind in my hair. And certain songs remind me of Dad too. I can picture him doing his little groovy shuffle dance when I hear them. He loved “Rasputin” by Boney M, most songs by ABBA, and anything by Elvis. Dad loved to dance. Of course, the words to some songs about dads just make me cry. This one in particular is a real tearjerker: “If I could steal one final glance, one final step, one final dance with him, I’d play a song that would never end ‘cause I’d love to dance with my father again…”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Skinny Love's Lucky Day

Normally when we are loading the sheep onto the truck for market, I tell them there is always the chance that someone will buy them as a pet. They go to auction, strut through the ring, and who knows? They don’t always end up in someone’s freezer, with a recipe for moussaka taped to their side. You don’t believe me? Well, remember Skinny Love? Now I have a real story to tell the sheep about the possibility of life after the farm.
Skinny was born a multiple, and she was what you might consider a runt of the litter. But she was surviving. When the weather got warm enough to let mom and lambs out onto the pasture, however, Skinny promptly lost track of her family. She didn’t cry much. If she had, perhaps her mother would have identified herself. But sometimes you end up with a mother who is not exactly maternal. One who loses count of her own offspring. In any case, Skinny spent most of her energy each day trotting after one ewe or another, blending in with the other lambs, and attempting to steal milk. It took all the energy she had. Soon Skinny was tired out. And she had that horrible hunched-over look that lambs get when they just aren’t getting enough to fill their tummies.
Skinny hadn’t been given a bottle since birth, so she didn’t know what it was.
The good thing about a weak lamb, however, is that they are easy to catch. Every morning I would sneak up on Skinny and tackle her, then assist her with the bottle until she caught on. Luckily she caught on fast.
Soon she was running up to me when she saw me approach with the bottle. I fed her morning and night, and that seemed to be the added little bit that she needed to keep her going, on top of what she managed to steal every day.
Then came the day when she didn’t need me anymore. She would still approach when she saw me, but she wasn’t interested in the milk. She was on grass now. She was a big girl. And she still wouldn’t let me catch and cuddle her. I was proud that she had thrived. Another little success story on the farm. But this is not the end of the Skinny Love story.
Last week, someone who had read my story about Skinny Love in the paper called us up and announced that they would like to buy a lamb. Now, I normally stay out of the whole lamb-marketing business. I try not to name them, and I don’t even look at their ear tag numbers. I don’t want to know who is leaving. The Farmer is careful not to sell any of the ones that he sees me regularly carting around in my arms. He knows my favourites.
But this was a new situation. The caller was not looking for a lamb for meat. She wanted it as a pet. And she was buying it for a neighbour, as a companion to the lamb she already had. The Farmer asked me if I had any lambs that would suit.
I had one in mind.
When the ladies arrived at the farm, they followed me out to the pasture and watched as I called for Skinny. Soon, a head popped up and the little lamb came bounding over. She wasn’t the whitest, fluffiest, stockiest lamb of the bunch, but with a little TLC I’m sure she will clean up just fine. The Farmer cut a whole in the bottom of a feed sack and we put Skinny’s head through it. The lamb sat quietly on the woman’s lap in her little feed-bag dress and gave a shiver, as if she was anticipating adventure.
I hope everything goes well for all concerned at Skinny’s new home. And if you have a moment, new owner of Skinny the lamb, would you give me a call or send me an email just to let me know how she is doing? She was one of my favourites.

Saturday, June 5, 2010