The Sheep Who Thought She Was a Person

Doris and I were waiting for Dad to arrive home from a trip to the “big town” of Strathmore.  He needed some parts for the repair of a seeder, and Mom had tacked on a request for groceries.  We two were hoping the groceries included some store-bought goodies.  The old car rattled in and Dad got out.  He was carrying a bag of groceries – and cradling a cardboard box with his other arm.  “What’s that, Mom?” we asked with excitement.  “I have no idea!” was her reply.  He came up the back steps.  Mom held the door for him and took the bag of groceries.  Dad gave her a grin, and tilted the box so she could peek in.  Her gasp of amazement made Doris and me jump up and down in excitement.  “What is it?” we chorused.  Dad carefully set the box down saying, “See for yourselves.”  There was a tiny, white bundle, and a baby bottle.  It was a very small, very young, little white lamb!  It poked its nose towards us and gave a soft bleating cry.  Figuratively, if not literally, the four of us fell on our knees.  We were captives of this wee, needy morsel of animal life.

I never did hear the story of how Peggy (we all agreed this was her name) came to be in that box on her way to enter our lives.  The Thompsons never raised sheep.  We kids had rarely seen sheep, and never up close.  Even the adults in our family knew little about raising sheep.  More pets we kids did not need!  We already had house cats and barn cats, dogs, horses (who qualified) and mice and bats (who did not).  That did not even count the creepy crawlies that at least one of us enjoyed.  But never a pet like this one!     

Although her origin was never discussed, I do have an educated guess.  Dad had intended to stop and visit a farmer friend of his on the way home.  This friend did mixed farming, which means he raised all sorts of animals for sale, as well as growing grains and hay.  I suspect that Dad’s friend showed him this newly born lamb, whose mother either died in giving birth, or as some first-time mothers do, rejected her.  Suppose the farmer said, “Too bad, Will, but I’ll have to put this one down.  I just do not have the time that is required to give it a chance to survive.”  If something like that occurred, it would explain Dad’s sudden arrival with Peggy.  Dad, I just know, would have had to give the little lamb a chance at life.

The next few weeks were very busy.  Peggy was temporarily housed in a large cardboard box, which Mom placed near the coal-burning kitchen store to keep the baby warm.  Her bedding was scraps of old blankets and towels.  We all took turns bottle feeding this hungry little guest, and keeping her quarters clean.  We talked to, petted and cuddled her by turns.

The weeks went by and eventually she was weaned from the bottle, eating crushed grain, and growing like a bad weed.  She outgrew her box and was moved to a larger pen.  For the life of me I cannot remember where her more permanent quarters were, but by the time the move came she had firmly bonded with the family.  Two things we all could see – that she thought she was a person, and that our new family member was an extrovert and a character!  No shrinking violet was this lamb!  Every day was met with energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and a determination to get her own way!  She dearly loved us, but often differed with our decisions.

An example of this latter trait was her ongoing battle with Mom over access to the house.  Once she was well launched on her way and moved to her permanent quarters, Mom issued a firm order.  Peggy could NOT come into the house.  She was welcome in the house yard, on the back steps and porch, even on the front porch, but NOT inside.  As a child I thought it a bit tough for Peggy.  From my present viewpoint I’m firmly with Mom!  For one thing, being house trained was not one of Peggy’s achievements.  For another, waxed and polished hardwood and linoleum floors did not go well with hard, cloven hoofs!  So the battle lines were firmly drawn and Peggy never gave up trying to get in.  Only once did she win, and that was quite an event, which I will cover later.

Many of my early childhood memories are centred around the small back porch and steps.  We played jacks there and ate treats there.  Our dog and cat would join us, to be petted or just to sit in the sun and enjoy!  It was a warm and cozy spot.  With the addition of Peggy, it got a bit crowded!  She was too big to sit up on the small porch, and she resented being relegated to the steps or sidewalk below, especially when that cat and dog were up two steps with us!  So she pushed and bleated –and pouted.  I remember Doris and I having a hilarious time one afternoon, feeding jelly beans – one at a time – to Peggy.  She loved them, but almost dislocated her jaws trying to chew them.  Sheep’s mouths and teeth were designed for grazing, not for eating jelly beans.

Another memory is tobogganing with Peggy.  When the snow fell and covered the slope of the coulee across the road we got our toboggan out and trudged over to the hill, Peggy following as usual.  We tried to get her on the toboggan with us, with no success.  Down we went with her running through the snow beside us.  We tumbled off at the bottom and trudged up the hill pulling our toboggan behind us, with Peggy following.  This was repeated until all three of us were tired and happy, and made our way home.

Finally, I return to a lovely sunny afternoon, a Ladies’ Aid meeting, and an almost full-grown sheep.  These meetings were popular social events for the ladies of the community.  They came dressed in their best, and entered by the front door, not by the back door as was the usual way.  I was home and enjoying being dressed up myself, and excited by being allowed to be part of an adult affair.  A car would drive in, and a group of ladies would arrive at the front door, laughing.  Peggy was with them, trying to squeeze in unnoticed.  Several times Mom saw her and shooed her off, but finally it happened.  Peggy scooted by her and stopped dead.  For the first time she was seeing our living room.  Mom ran towards her, Peggy turned and dashed for an open door which happened to lead to a bedroom.  Her hoofs hit the polished hardwood floor and flew out from under her and she shot across the polished floor on her thick wool coat.  Peggy struggled to her feet and looked up  –  into a full-length bedroom mirror, my Mom’s pride and joy.  Mom and I froze.  Peggy was staring at a sheep, the first one she would remember seeing.  What would she do?  Slowly she slipped and slid and reached the mirror and leaned forward — and licked the image before her.  By this time I had crept up behind her and caught her collar.  “Get her out,” hissed my mother.  With the two of us pushing, and to the clapping and laughter of our friends we reached the door, and Peggy and I left.  To her chagrin I locked her in our garage.  Ignoring her bleating I returned to the party, which was off to a light-hearted start, if I do say!  Inwardly I was thanking my lucky stars that she had not decided to attack that strange animal she saw in the mirror.

Peggy was one of the most engaging friends of my childhood, never to be forgotten, always remembered with warmth and affection.  Parting brought sorrow – but that’s another story, for another day.


Filed under Prairie Childhood

5 Responses to The Sheep Who Thought She Was a Person

  1. Jim Taylor

    Hi, Marjorie,

    I love these stories about your childhood animals. You were fortunate having parents who were open to the idea that animals were also sentient beings, and who were willing to treat them as more-or-less equal members of the family.

    Jim T

    • Marjorie

      Yes I was fortunate, Jim – although they did gave their limits! Garter snakes and toads were definitely “out” — a decree that I could not understand then, but can now. Dad literally put his old work horses “out to pasture”, when they passed the age of being able to pull machinery around. They were old friends, and he took care of them till they died. He went into the barn one day and one of the old horses kept whining so he finally went over, rubbed her head and said, “What’s the matter with you?” At that point she sighed, leaned against the stall wall – and died. Apparently she had wanted to say goodbye. A few experiences like that and one looks on animals in a different way. Glad you enjoy the tales. Marjorie

      • Marjorie

        Dear readers: We checked with a sheep expert to see if Peggy’s behaviour was typical or unusual. Here’s is Ben’s reply:
        Peggy was a typical bottle lamb. They all act like that. I try to handle mine as little as possible so they act like sheep and not dogs/people. I have a friend who, among her 60-odd ewes, has an old wether (ed note: a castrated male sheep) who was a bottle lamb. Danny is pretty sure he’s a dog, and will actually follow the Border Collies around “working” his fellow sheep rather than hang with the flock. He’ll also hang out with people often.

  2. Traci Rasmussen

    Marjorie, our local library posted your blog on its Facebook page today. I have really enjoyed reading what you have written so far! Today, I live in the oldest house in Standard – it will be 100 next year! The church also celebrated 100 years this summer! I’m printing the ‘small town’ story to add to my history book!

    • Marjorie

      Traci – That’s great news! Thanks so much for letting me know. For anyone who wants to see what Standard is up to these days, here’s the link. Marjorie