Sheep-tending items mark passing of an era

Sheep-tending items mark passing of an era By Bob Karolevitz I was cleaning out the garage the other day and I came upon a drawer containing the remnants of Phyllis's sheep-tending years.

There were bolus-shooters with which she forced worm pills down resisting throats; her needles and syringe which she used to give hundreds of shots for God knows what; a few ear tags and the torturous device used to puncture the necessary holes; plus the rubberband-applying castrator that was never used because it was too "inhumane."

If one can get sentimental over a drawerful of ovine gadgets, I did.

They marked the passing of an era, like when I put away my ball glove for the last time. Oh, we still have sheep on the farm during the summer and early fall months when our banker friend brings his registered animals out to our pasture.

But it's not the same, though. Phyllis doesn't cry when they go, and she doesn't name them.

In my nostalgic reminiscences of her shepherding past, I recalled a veritable litany of pets, most of whom have probably gone off to the Great sheep cote in the Sky. There were Annie, Blackie, Freckles, Daisy, Mabel, Prunella and Maude I, II and III. I remembered Jumper whom we couldn't keep in the pen, and Mary-Mary, a little orphan who lived in a box in our kitchen for days until she was big enough and strong enough to join the flock outdoors.

As far as I was concerned, if you see one sheep, you've seen 'em all, but it was never that way with Phyllis. She knew them all as individuals, with their eccentricities and personality traits.

As I sorted through her various veterinary supplies, I thought about all those bone-chilling winter trips to the barn during lambing time, of half-frozen lambs in the kitchen sink and of all the bottle-babies Phyllis nursed into adulthood.

I remembered learning about breech births as I held the heads of recalcitrant ewes while mein frau did her mid-wifing chores behind us and which I didn't care to watch. Procreation, I decided then, was a messy business which God in His wisdom � or sardonic sense of humor � foisted upon the animal kingdom.

I thought about when Phyllis stomped fleece in huge burlap bags during shearing time, and how I stayed upwind of her until she took a shower to wash away the lanolin-laden aroma of the sheep-wrestling episode.

In the drawer was the last bottle of iodine which must have stung a lot when it was applied to withered umbilical cords. And there was pine tar to treat barbed wire wounds.

Memories kept tumbling back. I remembered how Phyllis milked lamb-bearing ewes for life-giving colostrum which she kept in our refrigerator for emergency use. I thought about how we "flushed" sheeply brides with extra rations and lush grass before they were introduced to the more-than-willing ram. It always seemed to me to be a slower version of Ogden Nash's "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" technique.

I suppose I should get rid of all that paraphernalia of an unretrievable past, but it's a lot like throwing away old Christmas cards or the letters you've saved for years. It's not easy.

As it turned out, I just closed the drawer and went about those garage-cleaning tasks which didn't have the same nostalgic implications. Phyllis's sheep may be gone, but the memory deserves to linger on.

© 1999 Robert F. Karolevitz

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