Baa, Baa Black Sheep

It’s National Agriculture Day today, but more importantly, it’s National Agriculture Week – yes, a whole week dedicated to honoring America’s men and women who work hard to put meat, fruit and vegetables on your dinner plate, milk in your glass and shoes on your feet.

Each year at this time, I strive to write a daily blog (my regular readers have likely noticed my struggles to blog even once a week lately … sorry about that!)

As I was thinking about my tales of farm life to share this week, it wasn’t difficult to come up with an idea. For the past week, my Grandma Elizabeth has been on my mind often. She was moved into an assisted living facility a few days ago, and I know the move has been a difficult one for her.

Once she’s settled, I have no doubt she will like her new surroundings. Grandma, a once strong – and strong-willed – farm woman, has been without her husband for more than 30 years. The oldest of five children, she’s the only one still living. She’s lost family, friends and neighbors, and once told me that it’s no fun to live to be as old as she. She’s experienced a lot of loss, and now, she’s lost the apartment that had become so familiar to her.

Anyway, with Grandma on my mind and a farm tale to write about, I decided to share one of my favorite memories of Grandma on the farm.

The year was 1991. It was my last year in 4-H, my second year at Worthington Community College (which meant it was the last year the farm was my permanent residence), and the spring my dad endured the second of his open heart surgeries.

I had a barn full of goats and sheep to take care of, but thankfully most of the kidding and lambing was done before I was thrust into solo livestock production.

Grandma came from her home in rural Danube to stay at the farm and keep us kids (basically younger brother Jason and myself) company. She loves baby animals as much as I do, and would often join me for the evening chores – if for nothing more than to pet the goats and let the bottle lambs nibble at her fingers.

As I mentioned, it was my last year in 4-H, and I was required to select my show lambs and complete an enrollment affidavit for each of them. This required me to weigh my lambs and pierce their ears with plastic, numbered tags.

Well, Grandma and I had quite the predicament. How were we supposed to weigh the lambs?

I don’t recall just whose idea it was, but we decided to carry the bathroom scale out to the barn (the alternative would have been to carry the lamb to the house … but that would not have gone over too well with Mom!)

Once the scale was in place, we pondered just how we were supposed to get a lamb to not only stand still on it, but do so long enough for me to read the dial and determine its weight.

Grandma’s solution: Go get the steel wash basin, set it on top of the scale, weigh the basin, and then subtract it from the weight of the lamb in the basin.

Her plan worked spectacularly – or at least that’s how I remember it. I think Grandma kept a hand on the lamb so it wouldn’t jump out, and I read the dial and recorded the information.

I’m sure we looked a sight after it was all done – me a muddy mess after first catching the lambs I needed and then carrying them to the basin, and Grandma in her scarf and Mom’s boots getting dirtied by keeping the lambs in their place in the basin.

I remember Grandma and I sharing a lot of laughs that afternoon – especially when she said, “I wonder what your Dad will think when you tell him how we weighed your lambs?”
My response: “He doesn’t have to know!”

I did tell him the story while he was still recovering at the hospital and, though he laughed at our method, he never said, “Well, you should have done this…” or “Why didn’t you…” like a typical dad would do.

Grandma and I … two farm women – two strong-willed farm women – proved we can do just fine with a little muscle, a little brain power, and a whole lot of determination.