A lamb named Johnny

Story_square“You have to help me with this,” my mother said, swollen with a belly containing my younger brother. “I can’t do this alone.”

I pulled away from her. Dad had heard dogs in the night and chased them away, but not before they had torn into the lambs my older brother and I were bottle-feeding.

Death seemed to hover near the little shed where my lamb lay and I, at age 5, had a pounding heart and heavy feet.

Mom held out the glass bottle with a black nipple stretched over the mouth. “You have to help me.”

I gripped the warm bottle, the sweet smell of milk tickling my nose, and followed Mom out the back door of our farmhouse, across the yard and into the low shed where the two lambs lay in a bed of thick yellow straw.

My brother’s lamb struggled to its feet and searched out the bottle Mom held.

My lamb lay on its side, too weak to get up. I had named him Johnny and I whispered his name while  stroking his wooly head. I tried not to look at his raw leg, slashed open by dogs’ teeth. It smelled like death to me.

I dropped into the thick straw, smelling its sweet scent, and lifted his tiny head. He could still suck on the bottle so I held it for him, his head cushioned in my lap.

He drank most of it and then closed his eyes and slept.

We trekked to the shed three times a day for weeks to feed little Johnny. He gained strength and soon was able to stand while he took his bottle.

In that time, my brother was born and then Mom took me aside. “You’ll have to change the name of your lamb,” she said. “We’ve named your brother ‘John.’”

I nodded quietly.  The deed was done; the baby had been named.

So I didn’t argue with my mother about renaming Johnny. But, after all my lamb and I had been through, I didn’t do it, either.


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