The Summer Of ’58 by Tina Mattern
It was 1958. I was 8 years old and newly adopted by a lovely couple who were doing everything they could to help me forget the sadness of my past, and they were succeeding. Life had become almost perfect. There was only one thing standing between my mere contentment and sheer joy: my new mother’s alleged allergies to anything with fur, feathers or hair. This meant no puppies, no kittens, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets, goats or horses, which our back yard was too small for anyway. It was the first time in my memory that I didn’t have an animal to love on.
In the months to come, I ransacked my brain trying to come up with an idea for a pet that Mom couldn’t claim an allergy to, and then one early April day, like a benediction from heaven, it came to me.
Mom and I were headed home from delivering lunch to Dad. My parent’s company was on the outskirts of Portland, about 3 miles away from home—an essentially straight shot out Sandy Blvd, which was lined with farms mostly owned by the Italian families of St. Rita parish.
Since Mom was secretary-treasurer of the company, she spent quite a bit of time there. If she was only planning to stay a short while, I would often ride with her so I could skip out to the shop and surprise Dad, who always lit up like a Christmas tree at seeing me. And I, even if I had been with him only a few hours before, would run joyously to him and jump up into his arms, wrapping my legs around his tall, sturdy frame like a velcro monkey.
Anyway, riding in the car on the day of my great revelation, I was in the middle of one of my non-stop, stream-of-consciousness jabberings when I spotted something I hadn’t noticed before—a little farm house with a white picket fence. It looked like a picture out of a country magazine, but it wasn’t the house that grabbed my attention…it was the little pasture next to it containing a small flock of sheep. And bounding gleefully about their watchful mothers, were at least a dozen fluffy, white lambs!
Oh. My. Gosh! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Lambs don’t have fur, feathers or hair! They have wool! My mother could have no argument against a lamb. We could keep it in the tool shed behind the garage. The back yard, while being too small for a horse, was certainly big enough for a lamb.
But then a shadow passed over my heart…sudden memories of the sheep farm I had lived on with my birth father before he gave me up for adoption. Were these sweet lambs destined for the same heartbreaking fate as my only friends?
I pushed the memory away and shook my head. No! Not this time. I couldn’t save every lamb, but I could save mine.
My plan was simple but it would take time; I needed money to purchase a lamb, which I somehow figured had to be somewhere in the range of $4. My monthly allowance was $1, so the hardest part of this plan would be the months of waiting.
I passed the time daydreaming about how impressed my friends were going to be when school started and I brought my lamb in for Show and Tell. Keeping the plan a secret from everyone was imperative, but frustrating.
The days and months dragged by like dying snails but August came at last and I was ready. With my allowances and a little extra money made from volunteering to do odd jobs around the house (which floored my mom), my little coin purse held $4.85—enough for a lamb and maybe even a fancy collar.
The morning of my quest dawned sunny and warm, with the radio weather-guy predicting temperatures up into the 90’s by noon. I scarfed down my breakfast and watched my mother bustling around the kitchen, putting the dishes into the dishwasher, wiping and re-wiping the countertops, going through her usual morning routine.
“Are you going to the office today?” I asked, casually tracing a finger along the center seam of the table. Mom, momentarily distracted from scrubbing the refrigerator of nonexistent fingerprints, seemed surprised I was still in the room.
“Yes, I have a little bit of paper work to do and then I’m going to the grocery store. Why? Do you want to come and say hi to Dad?”
I was quick to shake my head. “No, I want to stay home and read my new Nancy Drew book.” Mom didn’t question my decision; it wasn’t unusual for me to stay behind when she wasn’t going to be gone long.
For the next couple of hours I mentally paced the floor waiting for her to leave.
Everything was ready: my coin purse was in the pocket of my sun suit, the length of rope I was bringing along for a leash was coiled and in my bike basket. I even had a small bag of cookies that I had filched from last night’s dessert, to entice my lamb should he or she need encouragement to follow me home.
Finally, around 11 o’clock, she said goodbye and left.
I wasted no time in heading out. The day was slipping away and I was so excited. At last I would have a pet of my own. No more making due with stuffed cats and dogs, I was going to be the only kid on the block with a real live lamb!
Peddling for all I was worth, I rode up Prescott Street and made a left at Gianinni’s Big Chief grocery store. One more block and I was on Sandy Blvd, which I knew would lead me directly to my destination.
As I rode along, the blocks falling behind me, I sweated with a combination of exertion and the temperature, which was already in the upper 80’s. I wiped away the perspiration with a forearm, and pursed my lips to blow my bangs up off my forehead. The road ahead seemed to stretch much farther than I remembered. For as far as I could see, there were buildings and businesses, motels and small stores; there was no sign of the farmland I knew was up ahead somewhere. Refusing to be discouraged, I glanced down at the rope in my basket and peddled a little faster. But then, watching the cars go whizzing by, I had a terrible thought: Mom drives this road. If she comes back early and sees me, the jig will be up. I knew in my heart that if she knew my plan, she’d find a way to foil it. Of course, once I had the lamb, it would be too late, the price would be paid and I was sure the farmers wouldn’t allow it to be returned.
I looked around and realized that there was a deep ditch that ran alongside Sandy Blvd. From down there, cars driving by wouldn’t be able to see a small girl on a bike. I maneuvered my bicycle down into the trench, which, to my dismay, was laced with blackberry bushes. There was no way I could ride through them—the pedals would tangle in the vines. I had no choice; I would have to walk my bike most of the way to the farm.
“Ow!” I looked down to find a thorny vine wrapped around my calf. Pulling it loose, I plowed ahead, then seconds later, “OW! CRAP!” Blood ran down from my thigh where yet another monstrous green tentacle had fastened onto my bare skin. I rubbed miserably at the bloody gouges. Overhead, the sun reached its highest position and the temperature rose to almost 90.
Block after block I trudged along, the sweat running into my eyes and my legs bleeding. I had no idea how long I’d been walking, but I was already pooped. Only the thought of leading my lamb home kept me from turning back. It can’t be much farther, I kept telling myself.
Finally, I began to see farmland and I knew I was getting close. To take my mind off my aching feet and burning shoulders, I thought about what I was going to name my lamb. “Fluffy”? Nah…. “Lambert?” Yes! That’s a great name! Visions of “Lambert”, doing tricks and amazing the neighborhood carried me along the final stretch of my odyssey.
A rooster crowed; I looked up and suddenly there it was! The white picket fence of the farm!
Walking my bike down the short driveway toward the front of the farmhouse, I looked out into the pasture and was surprised and worried when I didn’t see any lambs cavorting around their grazing mothers. Rivulets of sweat rolled down my cheeks and I brushed them away thinking, it’s so hot! And on the heels of that thought the answer came. Of course! It’s way too hot outside for little ones. They must be in the barn where it’s cool. I parked my bike next to a chicken coop, making the little tenants flutter and cluck in alarm. I looked around, expecting to see the farmer or his wife coming to see what the disturbance was, but no one appeared. Must be eating lunch. Gathering the rope from my bike basket, I patted my pocket, reassured that the money was still there, and marched up the three steps leading to the porch and farmhouse front door. I knocked, and waited. Nobody came. I knocked harder, almost bruising my knuckles. This time, I heard someone approaching.
The door opened and a blonde woman in blue overalls looked down at me, surprised, I could tell. She said, “Well, hello!” and looked past me then, like she expected to see someone else. But when she saw my bicycle and realized I was by myself she frowned and said, “Can I help you, dear? Are you lost?”
Smiling real big, I straightened up to my full 4’11”, held up my coin purse and rope and said, “I’m here to buy a lamb!” The lady’s face went through several strange contortions, so, remembering my manners, I added, “Please.” When she looked confused, I suddenly understood; “Don’t worry, I have the money!” I told her, “$4.85! And I have a leash too,”
“Oh, honey…” Mrs. Farmer shook her head, and I felt sick; if lambs cost more than $4.85…..
But the news was worse than that:
“Sweetheart,” she said, “the lambs were born in the early spring. It’s August now and they’re not babies anymore.” She stretched her hand out to point to the sheep in the pasture. “See, they’re all grown up.”
I stared at her, blinking hard, trying to process what she was telling me. No lambs? I had walked my bike all this way, through brambles and thorns, cutting my legs to shreds, for nothing? It was all I could do to keep from sitting right down on her porch steps and bawling my eyes out.
Mr. Farmer came up behind Mrs. Farmer and asked, “What’s going on?” But she nudged him backwards and said, “S-h-h-h, never mind. Go on back inside.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, and patted me gently on my sunburned shoulder. “I can see you came a long way. Do you want to call your mother or someone? Or I can drive you home.”
I shook my head, unable to get any words out past the big lump of disappointment in my throat. I turned and walked back down the steps.
But then I had a terrible thought. I turned back to her and asked, “Did you eat them?”
The farmer’s wife bit her lip, then shook her head and said, “No honey. Of course not.”
Was she telling the truth? I didn’t know and it didn’t seem to matter anymore. I walked back down the path to my bike. Behind me I heard the lady sigh before closing the door.
Tina on sheep farm