Was pitching hay into a feeder when the barn phone rang. "Could you bring a lamb to our church?" asked a strange voice. I was confused. Pet day? Sacrifice? (Surely not!) "I teach Bible stories in the summer program, and I'd like the preschoolers to see real sheep while learning the story of the Good Shepherd. A tiny lamb would be perfect."
"I don't have any tiny lambs," I said. "The youngest are three months old and fairly hefty." I sensed disappointment. "I'll see what we can do," I relented.
The day of the sheep excursion I commandeered my son and visiting niece, both 11, as apprentice shepherds.
I parked our faded station wagon at the barn door, and spread canvas and newspapers in the back. I scooped some cracked corn into a bucket and hid it in the front seat. Another scoop of grain, rattled in a bucket, brought the whole flock racing to the barn.
"We'll take Lucy and Little Squirt," I decided. Lucy was a placid, sweet creature, and Little Squirt was a people-follower. She had been the last born in a set of triplets. Rejected by her mother, she had nursed from a bottle and bonded with people.
We grabbed the two sheep and hoisted them out of the barn and into the car. A handful of corn on the floor kept them contented as I slammed the door.
"Keep an eye on them," I instructed my helpers.
I didn't really expect any problems. We used the family wagon whenever we bought or sold sheep. Usually they were content chewing their cud and watching the scenery go by.
As we bounced along the gravel drive, Lucy and Little Squirt finished their corn. They looked up and seemed surprised to be moving without walking.
"Lie down," Tommy encouraged with a little push, but they preferred the excitement of unbalanced motion.
"Aunt Pat, Lucy's eating my straw hat!"
"Put it on the seat! Don't let her ruin it!" I said.
Deprived of that entertainment, Lucy turned to the window, burped, folded her legs under herself, and settled down to chew her cud.
Little Squirt tried to remain upright, staring at passing cars. When we stopped at a red light, a little boy in the next car squealed with delight and waved out the window to her. She stared back disinterestedly.
I parked behind the church near a grassy lawn. We jumped out and opened the back door. "Come on out," we encouraged. The sheep just stared. Tommy got the grain bucket and shook it a little. Ears perked up and the two sheep leapt out of the car.
They were busy chomping grass when the children marched out. The rush of little people startled the sheep, and they took off in opposite directions. Tommy and Julie herded them back.
"These people are shepherds, just like the people Jesus spoke about," one teacher said. The kids looked skeptical. A woman and two kids in jeans, T-shirts, and old hats didn't fit the biblical image of solemn men with beards, long robes, and hooked shepherd's crooks.
I explained that we took care of sheep just like the shepherds in the Bible. "We have to protect them from wild animals, and especially from people's dogs."
"Do sheep bite?" one tyke asked.
"No," I said, "but they'll nibble on your fingers to taste them. It doesn't hurt because sheep have no top teeth in front. Their front teeth are for tearing up grass. But don't get your fingers near the back. Those teeth are sharp."
I talked about shearing, cutting toenails, feeding, and watering. The kids put their hands in the lambs' wool to feel the lanolin.
Soon the teachers reclaimed their flock and herded them back to class. I gathered up mine. "OK, kids, let's bundle our young ladies into the car." The sheep were reluctant. Now that children no longer poked and prodded them, they could nibble this lovely grass in peace.
"Let's go, girls." We shoved. The grain was depleted, and the sheep were not impressed. We finally herded them close enough to the car so we could heave them up.
"In you go!" We puffed as we dropped them in the back. As soon as we slammed the door they stared out the window with that look of contentment peculiar to sheep.
As we started home, Julie put her hat on Little Squirt. The sheep had apparently eaten enough. They didn't try to dine on the hat. And contrary to my expectations, Little Squirt didn't try to rid herself of this nuisance. She assumed a ladylike pose and placidly looked about with a refined air.
Julie and Tommy thought this state of affairs was cause for high hilarity. When we stopped for gas, the surprised stares of other customers amused them nearly to total collapse.
BACK at the barn, we unloaded the sheep. They baa-ed loudly and bounded across the pasture to rejoin the flock.
"I wonder if they're recounting their adventure to the others," I said.
"I think Little Squirt is bragging about how gorgeous she looked in that hat," Julie said.
"And what about the kids?" I asked. "Do you think they learned anything?"
"I think they learned that sheep have greasy, thick wool, eat a lot, but don't eat people. And you can't ride them," Tommy offered
"And shepherds don't look like Jesus, but are nice people anyway," Julie added.
And that about summed it up.