Lambchops my favorite pet


I always spent my summers at the farm….just a few miles from the vermont border
in New York State, we would meander the country road for miles until we came to
grandma’s and grandpa’s home.

What I liked best about my Grandparent’s farm were the animals. I could smell the sweetness of dung a half mile before we reached the house in my mother’s car and this was always somewhat uncomfortable when I was allowed to bring a friend along for the visit, but as soon as we walked into Grandma’s kitchen, my friend’s face would brighten at the aroma of hot cinnamon buns or Raspberry Rhubarb pie.

I spent the summers at my Grandparent’s home and the year I turned ten, an ewe
named Molly birthed a litter of pretty little lambs. One morning at the kitchen table, my Grandfather looked over to my Grandmother and announced, “I’m going to put that runt lamb down today, she’s not feeding it and it’s starving to death.”

I piped up from my eggs and looked hard at my Grandfather. There’s no mercy in farm life. If an animal is too weak, it will starve and the most compassionate thing to do is to put it down. I never could grasp the concept. I adored the baby animals as I suspect most children do; and the runt lamb was especially cute with brown freckles covering his pink downy belly and one floppy ear thrown over his still sewn- shut eye at almost three weeks. I took a deep breath and told my Grandfather that I would bottle feed the lamb, if he would allow me to do so.

He straightened his John Deere cap and got up from the table. “Alright Jenny, but the first time that lamb is neglected, you know what will happen.”

And I did.

I named the Lamb, “Lambchops,” and for the rest of the summer, he went everywhere with me. I dressed him in bonnets, my baby doll clothes, tied yellow ribbons around his tail, strolled him through the garden behind my Grandmother in a baby carriage, and on several occasions, he slept with me in bed at night. After a few months, he thought he was human. He’d baa baa.. to be let in the screen door at dinner time and more times than not, he was allowed to sit in a high chair and eat dinner with the family. I would lie in the grass behind the barn by the old school bus with Lambchops each day and read him story books. He wasn’t a very good listener, grinding his nose into the pages until they were sticky with snot, trying to eat the back cover, constantly interrupting me with licks and grunts. But, if the sun was hot enough, he’d roll over on his back in the grass and every so often in one sweeping jerk, troll his legs up to the sun with a baa… that knocked the blue bonnet with pink roses off his ears– and that seemed worth all the trouble.

At the end of the summer, I kissed Lambchops goodbye and promised to visit on Thanksgiving. Whenever my Grandparents called, I heard Lambchops in the background of the farmhouse baaing and carrying on the way sheep do. My Grandmother began to hint around after Easter the next year that Lambchops was getting too large for the house and perhaps he’d fair better at the Bartley’s farm down the road where they had more space. I could understand her reasoning, the last time I saw Lambchops he was larger than any of the sheep in the barn and began to be a nuisance around the property. He dug holes in the flowerbeds, knocked over the neighbor’s trash cans and one day when Grandma wouldn’t let him in the house, he charged through the screen door and scared her into a heart siezure.

So that June Lambchops moved to the Bartley’s. The Bartley’s were a strange family with three boys. The eldest Liam , was a greasy looking auburn haired boy with freckles covering every square inch of his wiry frame, even his backside. He was a year older than me and my Grandma claimed that Liam was a pitchfork short of the devil.

“That boy took his air gun and shoved it in his little brother’s rectum and pulled the trigger!” She told my Grandfather at the dinner table a few years later.

“He couldn’t sit down for a month. Can you imagine what it must have been like to go to the bathroom?” My experience with the Bartley boys’ included riding 4- wheelers through half foot trails in corn fields with me hog-tied in a cart pulled from the back, and I believed my Grandmother when she said Liam had thrown his brother Jason from the loft of the barn. At eleven, he was smoking cigarettes and showing me his penis every chance he had, and at thirteen he held me down in the raspberry bushes and ripped open my shirt. I never told my Grandfather what happened, for fear that he would hurt him and instead made up a story about getting snagged with a fishing lure. But, there was also something about Liam that excited me. He could be very kind at times and would surprise me after one of his mean streaks by instructing me on the proper way to cast my fishing rod, or riding towards me on his bicycle, he darted to one side after playing that he was going to run me down and showered me with flowers as he passed. He always blew kisses at me.

The only thing that scared Liam was his father. When the Mick would yell from the porch, Liam would jump into the brush or under a stall in the barn and motion with a finger for me to be quiet. I noticed the lash marks on his back when his pants fell below his hips, but I never said anything. I suspected as much trouble as Liam got into, he probably did something to deserve it. Once, when we were hiding in the loft from his father, Liam put his arm around my waist and whispered, “If he tries to hurt you, I swear to god, I’ll kill him.”

Lambchops had grown to the size of a small calf by his fifth year and Liam half hinted to me one day walking along the creek side trail, that if I really wanted, he guessed he could show the sheep for 4-H with his champion winning rooster, Pedro. With Liam, I learned never to act excited, but still couldn’t help myself. I tried to hug him, but instead he pushed me in the water and yelled, “Get away!” A few moments later he helped me up.

Getting a sheep ready for show was not as easy as I thought it would be. There was preparation involved. The ram had to be bathed and combed daily and walked around a small pen. Lambchops wasn’t used to being treated like an animal. He resisted the leash and even more, the switch used to train him. But after a few weeks, he was ready for show and both Liam and myself were certain we had a winner. The night before the big event Mr. Bartley surprised Liam and invited me over for dinner.

I’d never seen the inside of the Bartley’s home. The outside resembled an old barn looking shack with a roof of different colored shingles and plastic over all the windows. Insulation was visible in parts of the siding where one piece of plywood sealed a hole in the structure. The first thing I noticed was the smell when I walked in the door. It smelled the same way as Liam–a cross between manure and musty wet clothes. There appeared to be five rooms in the house, the first room had an old washing machine where the clothes were placed into an open aluminum tub and then ran through two parallel rollers to ring them of excess water. An old woodstove was propped up on bricks in one corner where Liam’s mother was cooking. She didn’t turn around when we walked in and continued to stir a pan with her head down. A curtain led to the dining and living room area. There was a small black and white television set in the corner that Liam’s father was watching from a beat up recliner, and a wooden table with unmatched chairs where his brother sat coloring. Crates of canned foods scattered the floor as if they were just dropped off that day and needed unpacking, but there were no cupboards. There was a curtain on the farthest side of the house that led to another room with a bed and chest of drawers and another small entrance next led to a toilet with no visible bathtub. Liam’s mother set the table silently and when dinner was ready, she motioned with a hand for us to sit down.

The food was delicious. Mrs. Bartley was a wonderful cook and had made cheesy scallop potatoes with turnips, corn on the cob, and fried lamb chops. There wasn’t much conversation throughout dinner and Mrs. Bartley just nodded when I told her everything tasted good. I could tell Liam wanted to finish the meal and leave quickly by the way he scooped the food eagerly into his mouth and pushed the plate in front of him when I had barely finished half my meal.

“We’d better get going, I’ll walk you home Jenny.” He said getting up and I followed him to the door. His father lifted his head and grinned, displaying jagged and missing teeth in his mouth blackened from chewing tobbacco and his eyes were glazed over from what I imagined to be drinking from the jug of clear liquid by the recliner.

“What’s wrong Liam,” the Mick slurred, “How’d ya like those damned lamb chops?”

Liam glared at him and said, “They were fine.”

His father began to laugh, tipping his chair back so far he almost fell over, but caught himself on the wall. Leaning forward, he shouted as Liam opened the door, “How’d ya like those Lamb chops boy?”

This time Liam turned around. Shaking his head in disbelief, he cried, “No! You didn’t!”

His father kept laughing and squealed, “Oh, but I did! How’d your little girlfriend like Lambchops?”

I started to gag and Liam peered at me from the corner of his eye as I threw up all over the floor. Then ever so calmly, he walked over to the dinner table, picked up the hot Dutch oven and smacked the hot side of it across his father’s face so hard that he fell from the chair and remained there long after we ran from the house.

I didn’t see Liam the rest of that summer and only in passing the next, but he never made eye contact with me or spoke. Grandpa said he lived in a lean to down by the river, and no one went near him. The summer he turned sixteen, he was arrested for blowing up an old covered bridge in the next county and spent time in juvenile detention.

I received a box from Sullivan County Juvenile detention center, I slowly opened it,
there was a letter from Liam, and a carving of a ram. It was beautifully
handcrafted and at the base was the name “Lambchops”.

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3 Comments »

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  2. What’s up everybody under the sun, I’m chic to the forum and justified wanted to say hey. hi like get to know unexplored pepole and share in bits with them

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  3. What’s up everyone, I’m chic to the forum and honourable wanted to impart hey. hi devotion manoeuvre to know fresh pepole and allowance stuff with them

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