Thursday, May 2, 2013

Animals and Teenage Boys

(The following post was May 2010 Farmer Fred Award Runner Up. I hope you find it worth a second glance.)

GriggsDakota is a place where animals live. Wild animals, farm animals, pets, teenage boys, all kinds of beasts and wild things. 
What do they have in common? For me it is this:  I wish that they could be just a little more human.
 I am often disappointed in their lack of personality, manners, and good judgement. Why is that? Why am I expecting something that isn't there?
I was raised with television and cartoons. Is there a true blue, one woman mouse in the real world? Let me assure you, not in GriggsDakota. Mice are filthy and creepy. And I've never found a mouse nest with a father on guard. But, Mickey made me want to believe there could be a mouse with a conscience.
No spider I've ever encountered has had a voice like Debbie Reynolds, or any voice at all.  Wilbur the pig is full of humble goodness. We've raised some pigs in GriggsDakota that were pretty smart. Just smart enough to be unreasonable and extremely piggy.
Though their webs are sometimes beautiful,
 Charlotte is the only spider who could ever spell "some pig." 
The more human attributes we believe our pets have, the more likely we are to purchase things for them. Outfits, toys, Christmas presents, and birthday cakes are fun for humans and tolerable to pets. We can almost imagine that our dogs and cats appreciate it. But, then, they throw up on the rug or go outside and roll in something rotten.
 No matter how hard we have tried, every cute furry little kitten in GriggsDakota grew up into a cat. Yowly, hungry, lovable, but nothing more than a cat.
Horses can seem almost human except that you cannot comfort them when they spook. The horse bolts and you can yell, "It"s OK! That is just a clothesline with sheets flapping in the breeze." They don't get it. Fear makes them run away.

When I was growing up we raised steers and heifers to show at the GriggsDakota county fair. We spent time taming our cattle, washing them, combing them, teaching them to lead with a halter. Heifers are young females. Because a show heifer is chosen out of the herd as the top female calf, chances are good that she will stick around the farm for years while producing calves. 
However, without fail heifers come home from the fair after a summer of training and turn straight back into one of the herd. Honestly, they have very little brains and soon forget how much fun they had all summer. The heifers turn into cows, plain and simple.
We showed steers at the fair. These are castrated bull calves, grain fed to produce the best beef. 
They are judged on the hoof for their potential as a carcass. How long is the loin? How deep is the round? At the end of the fair a trucker would back his semi up to the loading chute at the fair barn and we could ship the animals to market. Often, we hauled our steers home along with the heifers, but not always.

It was a late summer night, after the final premiums had been auctioned at the fair. In the cattle barn, exhibiters were packing their show boxes with brushes, combs, and halters, hauling leftover hay bales to waiting pick-ups and trailers, and pitching out the used straw from the stalls into the alley that ran down the middle of the barn. We had decided to ship our steers that night and one by one my brothers had led their steers down the alleyway to the waiting truck. My oldest brother, Cattleman Jim, didn't want me to have to do this job. He instructed me to wait until he got back. As Jim led his steer away, I felt determined to follow him with mine and stepped up to untie the halter. Someone stepped into the stall behind me, then put a hand on my shoulder. "Let me help." It was a friend who also had stock in the barns. I let him help. We walked together down the alley of the barn. He paused to allow me to give my show steer a final pat, then removed the halter and urged it into the truck. I was feeling a little sick as he turned back and he probably noticed my panic. He caught my eye and grinned. Standing there between life and death was a teenage boy. I smiled my appreciation and walked back into the barn.

I make no apology for including teenage boys in the list of animals. I knew, even  then, it is a list on which most boys belong. They are wild, unpredictable, unreasonable, and completely appealing. What sets teenage boys apart from all the others is their great potential. Time and effort turns them into real responsible human beings. Patience, discipline and love transform them into good men.
No disappointment there.

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