Shirley Jean opened her eyes. Still fighting sleep, she turned over to watch Gramp walk across the yard, carrying the sliver milk bucket to milk their two cows. Her white iron bed was low enough to look out the wooden framed window next to her bed. She thought her Gramp was the handsomest man she’d ever seen. He was wearing his green pants with the cuff turned up, his faded blue overalls and his dapper straw hat. He walked straight with his shoulders back as though he had no debt. He skimmed the grass, walking as though he were a dancer.

Shirley Jean and Gramp lived on a farm in northern Michigan, where the North Wind blows and the animals are wild.

Gramp was a sheep farmer but also, he had two hefty workhorses, two lovely brown cows for milk, barn cats to chase mice, and a very nice bunch of chickens.

Shirley could smell the fire Gramp made in their living room. She slept in her upstairs room with her clothes under the covers so when dawn broke she could dress before toes touched the cold floor.

It was early morning, the sun throwing pink and yellow bands of color against the sky. Gramp looked out the window and declared, “Looks like it’s sheep shearing time. The tools are sharpened and the day is fine.” Shirley loved how Gramp could read the weather. He told her he could feel the air, smell the hay and watch the sky. He said those were sure ways to judge the day. “I might need your help a bit, so put on your overalls and your straw hat. If the ewes {those are the mother sheep} act up it could be a long day.”

“I was sick last spring and only got to watch you from the window. This time I’m going to help you double.”
Gramp smiled at her. “Wall, the lambs get in the way, making it hard to shear the mother but I’ll have you sit on them till the mother is done.” Shirley was hesitant, wondering if she might hurt the little sweet lambs, but she trusted Gramp and hoped she would be of some help.

“Gather the eggs while I get everything ready.” Shirley took down the egg basket hanging on the wall next to the back door. Gramp had moved the nail down a foot so she could reach it easily. She loved gathering the blue and brown eggs and especially loved the baby chicks. She would slide her hand underneath the hen, pulling out eggs and putting them in the basket, all the while cooing sweet words of encouragement, hoping for a baby chick to poke its little yellow head out, trying, just like Shirley to see the great and beautiful world.

Gramp went out to milk the cows and water the horses, adding a few orange carrots that they ate like candy. Then when all was ready, Gramp released the first sheep from the pen as Shirley ran across the yard to help with the shearing or at least to help with the lambs.

Sheep carry quite a bit of wool around on their person. In the summer the sheep have the thickest and warmest coat and they must wear it even if the temperatures go as high as eighty degrees, which is really hot. It’s like if you were walking around in hot weather and had to wear a winter coat or two, you would be sweating so bad you might have thought you had jumped in a lake. So when wool-shearing time came, one might imagine that the sheep celebrated just as if it were Christmas.

Gramp had all his tools sharpened and ready for shearing, which really means getting a haircut but in this case it was a wool cut. “You keep the lambs from worrying their mother while I trim the wool.”
said Gramp.

Gramp was the best farmer in the county. He read about medicine for his animals, how to groom, feed and care for them.

The little lambs were running all about as Gramp gathered up ewe’s four legs and pulled them out from under her bringing her down to the ground very quickly. He bound her legs with a soft twine and began clipping her coat away. However, her little lamb was in a tizzy, trying to save his mother, not understanding that mother would be free of her coat and happy for it.

Gramp had to stop and lay the lamb down, waving Shirley Jean over, saying “Here, sit on this one until I’m done with her mother. He might buck a little but just hold on.”

Shirley Jean always tried to please her grandfather but she was definitely worried about sitting on a sweet little lamb.
Gramp was in a hurry, so Shirley Jean carefully sat down on the lamb, thinking she might hurt the animal, but she could pet the little head and ease his worry.

Gramp went back to shearing the mother, while Shirley Jean got the biggest of surprises. The little lamb bucked and kicked and fought for freedom, as Shirley Jean held on for dear life. If you’ve ever seen a rodeo where a cowboy gets on a bucking bull or horse and the animal rounds it’s back, kicks it’s feet, twists and turns in violent motion, you might have an idea of what Shirley Jean was going thru. The lamb through its head back, hard enough to hit Shirley’s lip and split it, blood dripping down her chin but she still held on. The lamb bucked her half way off while Shirley was trying to get her leg back up around the lamb. It was the very longest twenty minutes she ever spent.

When Gramp finally unbound the sheep, letting her jump up, the little lamb had one last buck, and thru Shirley high and wide.

Gramp called out “Is there anything broken?” Shirley answered back, rubbing her knee, head and behind, “I don’t think so but if there is, I don’t know where to look first.”

Shirley Jean started to walk towards Gramp but he stared at her overalls and called out, “Don’t take another step! The lamb left his mark all over your front side. Go to the house and leave your clothes on the back porch. Shower off under the hose and when you’re dry and dressed come back and you can keep the lambs busy with apples, sweet grass and honey from the jar. Put a dab of salve on your lip. That little lamb toughened you up a bit.”

Shirley Jean walked proudly back to the house. She saw the way Gramp looked at her and knew he was proud of her. Maybe someone else would have cried a little or complained a bit, but not Little Shirley Jean. She could take a whopping and still come out alright.

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