Girls, plastic collars, zip ties and duct tape

Sixteen-year-old Ben just came home from a 4-H leadership conference in Fort Collins. He had looked forward to it since last year when he met a bunch of friends and found that there is, indeed, life beyond Hotchkiss. Even “girl” life. That was particularly exciting to him. So, when this years sign-up list was making the rounds, Ben’s name was first to hit the roster.

The event lasted three days, and for some young pups, it was the first time away from home. They frolic, drink Mountain Dew, Red Bull and other caffeine-based drinks, listen to inspiring lecturers and then drive the chaperones crazy until the wee hours. Usually, with a little therapy, the chaperones bounce back to normal within a week. Some remain abnormal the rest of their lives. (You know who you are…)

As is our tradition, all heck broke loose on our end as Ben left. Dad broke his hip; a goat got her leg broke by a dog; another goat got sick and Dad’s cows got a case of the “Happy Feet,” and were running loose apparently heading for a field trip in Montana.

The photo, at right, shows one of Dad’s cows deep in thought about navigating the most direct route to Montana.  Once the plotting is complete, the cows feet levitate and the rest is a blur of hooves, wringing tails and cow glee. 

Waiting to pick up Ben from his trip, I got a phone call from the vet saying he had a shot for the sick goat and that we could stop by to pick it up on our way home. Time did not allow me to alert Ben to the change in the usual drive home, so he launched into a full detailed account of the most exciting parts of his trip. That included one story after another involving girls.

“There were so many girls there that I couldn’t dance with them all,” he said. “They even came up to me asking me to save slow dances for them – but there were only about five slow dances and four times that many girls,” he continued, lamenting what he felt was a dire situation. He bounced from one story to another – all involving girls – when the turn to the vet’s office came into sight.

“What are you doing?” he panicked, searching the rear-view mirror for police lights. “Where are we going?”

“We’re going to the vet’s,” I said, matter of fact.

“Why? Did something bad happen?” he asked.

“No. I just figured it was time to get you neutered,” I answered. “You’ll stay home better, and all these thoughts of girls will vanish and you’ll be better able to focus on school and the important things,” I say, trying to keep a straight face.

Long pause.

“I know you’re kidding,” he said. “Besides, I have an opposable thumb. Whatever he does to the dog, I can undo.”

“That’s why they have zip-ties, duct tape and a plastic collar,” I say, unable to resist.

We arrived at the vet’s. Ben opted not to get out of the car despite the sweltering heat. I went inside thinking this would be a quick visit, but the vet’s wife was on the phone telling someone that their dog might need to have its eye removed. I could tell the call wasn’t going well. Then, Doc entered the operating room and appeared to be in a foul mood as well having just taken an eye out of a cow. I figured he could use a little comic relief, so I told him why Ben was holed up inside the car and wanted no part of seeing him today.

The vet chuckled, probably finding me sick and demented, but un-medicate-able. His wife opted to end the dog call before memories of her own son’s discovering girls caused her to chuckle inappropriately.

As the heat in the car increased, Ben’s grit expired and he reluctantly came inside. He quickly sat down, legs together, hands folded over his lap in a protective fashion.

Now, what I would have given to have the vet come out with a set of tweezers and a large plastic collar and tell Ben to get up on the table…but, no, my vet is soft.

“Don’t worry, Ben,” he said, smiling. “I’m on your side.”

“My mother is SOOO ornery,” said Ben. “She hasn’t seen me for three days. You’d think she’d be nice for, well, at least an hour. But noooooo. It’s like she’s stored up three days worth!”

“All women are that way, but the ones with horses are the worst,” said the vet, giving a sidelong glance at his wife. “There’s no cure, and it appears to be genetic. That means that you’ll probably behave the same way with your kids,” he said, smiling.

Farm funeral director wanted

Coyotes are notoriously unpredictable farm funeral directors. They rarely take the right bodies, preferring registered young stock over those about to die.

A few years ago, I was kidding a friend who was complaining about his wife. I told him that if he and his

wife did not work out, that Grace-the-goat would have fallen for him with no concern for pre-nuptial agreements, unless they tasted good. Another goat, Matilda, would have fallen for him too, but instead she fell over dead.  I would have noticed something was up if she didn’t always act that way.  She was the one that I thought was brain damaged from late horn removal by a previous owner. 

My main criteria for determining a brain-damaged goat was that whenever the whole herd went right, this one stupid goat went left. When they all easily came in for grain, she stood outside in the rain. When all the other goats were eager to be milked, this one made an event out of it. Anyway, we did not expect to lose her and it was a shock to my daughter, Heidi, and probably to Matilda, too!
It also brought up that our resident farm funeral director, Dad, was unable to complete the normal dad-duties of disposing of dead livestock with the tractor claiming “I had a massive stroke. I cannot do it.” We all know this is a lame excuse, but since he can get half of his face to droop, when none of the rest of us can do that – despite valiant attempts – he succeeded in avoiding the duty. Now, looking back, I think he would reconsider and the rest of us would have tried harder to mimic a stroke.

I thought applying for this position would be highly competitive, so I admit I glamorized my resume. Yes, I have driven the tractor on a number of occasions. No, I do not rev the engine for grins except in extreme cases. Yes, I know where reverse gear is. Apparently those were outstanding skills for this position and I, over my husband and son, was promoted. Funny thing…I caught a glimpse of my husband’s resume and he denied ever seeing a tractor before. Said he had a hair appointment and was prone to driving on two wheels. Only the last part is true. Clearly he preferred his day job. My son was little at the time, so the qualified applicant pool was disappointingly narrow.

Farm funeral director promotions apparently do not come with balloons and supermarket sheet cake. The announcement was met with dread by all who attended. Mom seemed to think that my lack of tractor-bucket operating skills would be a disadvantage. The only one really excited about the affair was the family dog, but, in fairness, she gets excited herding ants on the sidewalk. A farm funeral was a definite upgrade for her.
Sensing the promotion ceremony had ended, I went out to the pasture and attempted to scoop Matilda up into the bucket no less than three times when, in a fit of anger, I backed up the tractor, put it in high gear and charged toward the dead goat with the bucket in low position. 

Mom, heard the commotion and arrived just as I sent the dead goat flying – still unloaded in the bucket. She then insisted on helping Heidi and I manually load Matilda into the bucket.  It’s a good thing there are no funeral requirements regarding compassionate care toward this client because if there were, I violated most of them.
Once loaded with legs bouncing from atop the rim of the bucket,
Heidi and I proceeded to drive the tractor up to the old animal cemetery, where for convenience no holes are dug. Digging holes required more tractor skill than I had amassed.  As the tractor groaned up the hill, I found a slight ravine which looked perfect to dump a goat.  I noticed that the tractor gained momentum down that slight grade and worried a little about getting back out.  I remember old man Whittaker getting pinned by a tractor and yelling for nearly the whole day before his wife found him.  Why do thoughts like these always come up when you would least like to think about them?
Anyway, I “layed to rest” Matilda with a thud and I attempted to back up. Before I was done, I had nearly pulled a Whittaker myself. I hated this new position of mine, vowing to give multi-vitamins early and often and to haul any wistful looking animals to the local livestock auction quickly to reduce future funerals on my shift.
In all the years of living on the ranch, I never knew that Dad’s job as funeral director of the animals was so terrifying, or that it required so many skills. I stand impressed at his talent and would gladly pass the baton to some other willing funeral director. The entire family would probably agree that would be a good idea.
If interested in the position, apply with tractor and nose-plugs to our
living room and don’t expect a lot of pay. Bring your own supermarket sheet cake and balloons because I will celebrate!