Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sheep. Or, How To Cash In On A Life Insurance Policy And Make It Look Like An Accident

I believe my childhood ultimately is what made me stronger. Let me be more specific... SURVIVING my childhood is what has made me stronger. There is a long standing belief in our family that my parents tried (unsuccessfully, as of today's date) to kill off their offspring.

Take for instance the sheep. One day my dad decided we needed sheep. Lots of them. We had no idea why. He used to do these things when we were kids - random, unexplainable things that no one understood. I used to think he was just a stereotypical eccentric artist; now I realize he more than likely had consumed one too many cans of Pabst prior to coming to that profound decision.

And so we became the proud and very sudden recipients of a herd of sheep.

They were kept in a pasture. A large pasture. Huge. With sun and shade and even a small creek emptying into a shallow pond where they could drink. A fabulous pasture where they could run and frolic and do whatever it was that sheep did together.

Periodically, though, the sheep would escape the Eden-like pasture. Us kids never actually witnessed the sheep escaping... we were simply notified by one or both parental figures yelling, "Kids! The sheep got out again!" Sure enough... we'd squint towards the furthest portion of our property and there they were in the apple orchard. A whole herd of sheep happily munching on fallen apples. That was another odd thing. Every single sheep always escaped. No one was ever left behind, and none of the sheep appeared to have been 'just arriving' in the orchard. They all looked like they had settled in quite nicely some time ago. Try as we might, we kids never found any portion of the fence line cut or bent to allow for the passage of our fat, woolly sheep. There was certainly no way the sheep could jump OVER the fence and the gate to the pasture was always chained. Yet they continued to escape.

It is our belief that our parents would sneak out to the pasture gate, encourage the sheep to walk through, and shut the gate behind them to make it appear like a master escape. They would then allow enough time to pass so that every single sheep could get as far away from the gate as possible. Assured everything was in place, they'd notify us of the break out.

"Kids! The sheep are out again!" they'd call out, crossing their fingers, hoping maybe, just maybe they would be able to cash in at least one life insurance policy. (They would never be so bold as to wish to cash in on all four at once, would they?)

We had no choice. Our roles had been cast. We were commissioned to return the herd of wool through the orchard, past the house, down across the gravel drive, past the barn, and back into the pasture.

The first step in our dangerous mission was proper footwear. Bare feet was deadly – there were potential dangers everywhere on the farm... prickers (or thistles, as some call them), gravel rocks, the occasional rusty nail. Flip-flops were also too risky as they could easily flop off leaving you barefoot. Laced shoes were required. You'd have to hurry though to get the shoes on your feet though, because although the sheep loved apples, there was always that one idiot sheep who thought it was a great idea to wander into the hay field – and if that happened we were just screwed.

So, like skilled firemen jumping into their gear the four of us quickly fashioned our shoes in double knots. (We couldn't afford any loose shoestrings.) Out to the garage we flew to claim an empty ice cream pail (those flimsy plastic gallon tubs with the thin metal handle). Most the times the handles would fall off but we had to make do.

Our secret weapon: dry dog food.

To the sheep this was some sort of drug. They couldn't get enough of it. We'd put a handful or two of the dry kernels in the plastic bucket. And, being careful not to scare them away with a fast approach, we quietly crept into the back yard towards the rows of apple trees. Closer. Closer. Until one would jerk it's head up – suddenly aware of us. Stay still! Don't scare them away. Still... still... They're all looking at us now – not sure what to do, wanting to run. Still. Don't move anything. Stay still. Wait until you feel them relax. Wait. Wait. Don't rush it... there. See that... the one who is the leader – he relaxed (though barely visible)... but we knew... it was time.

With a slight gentle twist of the wrist one of us kids would stir up the kernels of dog food. Like the sound of sand paper, they circled the bottom of the pail. He was listening – you could see it. Now another of us would twist our wrist... shhuuuk... shhuuuk... shhuuuk... easy now... easy... he took a step forward... they were all listening now... trying to place that sound... shhuuuk... shhuuuk... shh - - - OH SHIT!!!!!

Within a split second the herd thundered toward us, their only goal to get the dog food drug – which was generic crap anyways; not even the good stuff. Like bats out of hell we took off towards the gate. (You know, I've never actually understood the term "like a bat out of hell", but I'm pretty sure it clearly explains how fast we ran. But I digress.) Four skinny, scrawny kids running like mad through the property being chased by crazy dog food-fiending sheep.

We knew if we dropped a bucket it would all be in vain – the sheep would stop and eat the pieces scattered to the ground and turn back to the orchard. We needed to keep going strong - and FAST! - making sure we didn't lose the goods.

The most dangerous part was the gravel driveway. It was easy to lose your step, slide through the gravel – more than likely falling face first, which meant gravel embedded in your hands (if you were quick enough to put them in front of you) and knees. Not only that, your bucket will surely fall emptying its contents all around you, the sheep - running with way too much momentum built up wouldn't be able to stop. They'd trample you, then circle back around and stand on your little gravel-pocked body while they ate the cheap dog food that surrounded you. They wouldn't even notice you lying there. And so we knew there was only one option – DO NOT FALL.

Once you made it past the driveway it was a straight shot to the swing gate... this had to be timed perfectly... there were four of us kids... you couldn't risk losing one to the herd. (Besides, by this time in our life we were all skilled in the art of holding grudges and treating each other maliciously when called for. To allow one sibling down meant sure hell for the next week or possibly longer.)

Like professional aerial acrobats we raced to get side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder, mad hooves thundering behind us. With perfect running steps we ran... one.. two... three... and LEAPED onto the gate, our weight forcing it to swing wide open as we threw our buckets WAY out into the pasture... raining hard, dry nuggets of dog food ... our hearts racing, chests heaving, through the dust kicked up by the crazed herd racing after their drug.

The kid closest to the chain would step off the gate, slowly swing it shut, wrap the rusted metal chain around the post, securing it in place. The rest of us, exhausted, would slowly fall, one by one, from the closed gate. Turning towards the house we'd catch glimpses of mom and dad peeking through the kitchen window, the curtains quickly snapping shut. And on we'd walk... to wait until the next time the sheep got out again.

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