Jack and the Gene Stalk


When I was a little girl, my siblings and I had a couple of pet lambs.  Dad brought them home and made a bed of straw for the little twins on the closed-in porch.  We fed Jack and Jill with a bottle of Purina formula that Mom mixed up in the kitchen.  I never noticed any smell anything other than the sweet smell of oat straw, lanolin and lamb’s wool.  We had many pets, all with names, all with some type of practical function.  Jack and Jill were the only pets we had that were there just to cuddle and baby; or so I thought.

We had cows for milk:  Bell and Lightfoot.  We had a sow, Red Rose, for giving us a passel of piglets for sale and for bacon.  We had cats for keeping mice out of the barn; I claimed Davey, a grey tabby, as mine.  We had a dog for companionship and for guarding the house.  Nickie was a big German Shepherd that belonged to all of us, but who made it known my sister Bonita was her owner.  We even named the steers we raised for meat.

By this time in my life, all the aunts and uncles, cousins and friends had moved out of our house and on to homes of their own, and we began to expand and fill the farmhouse.  Now I had three sisters:  Deanna, Bonita, and Vickie, and one much-celebrated brother, Loren.   Most likely a baby was on the way, or would be soon.  For fifteen years there was always someone just off-stage waiting to make their début.

Jill, the weaker of the twin lambs, died within a fortnight.  I went to school that day.  “Jill died last night.”  I sobbed to the teacher.

“What!”  the teacher jumped up in alarm, knelt at my feet and wrapped her arms around me.  “Your sister died.”

“Jill.  My lamb.  She died last night.”  I said, wiping my eyes.  The teacher loosened her grip and let her breath out slowly.  Se said was sorry and told me to sit down.

All of my affection and care showered upon Jack.  In spite of his robustness, I feared his days might be numbered, too.  By Spring and all through the summer Jack followed us everywhere.  He’d even let us ride him, although he got so wide across, that after a while he was difficult to straddle.  I guess Jack missed us when we went back to school that Fall, because he often followed us down the drive to wait for the bus.  Some mornings we had to take him back to the house more than once, and we argued about who had to do it this time.  One day, just as the bus door opened, Jack made a bee-line down the drive, and as if with single-minded purpose, clamored right up the stairs and onto the bus.  Deanna had to take control and get him back to the house.  “Deanna had a Little Lamb, Little Lamb”, all the kids laughed at that one.  She was so embarrassed.

Jack had one bad habit, which we all thought was hilarious.  If he saw anyone bending over, he’d lower his head, run, and butt them right in the butt, sending the victim sprawling.   Lightweight kids are like straw tossed in the air; we thought it was great fun,  suffering only fleeting pain and  a few minor bruises.  So we encouraged Jack, and sprung the joke on unsuspecting neighbor kids anytime we could.  One day Uncle Gene,  Mom’s brother came to visit.  This may have been the only time Uncle Gene visited our house, so it was noteworthy in and of itself.  Now, Uncle Gene was also known as Mean Uncle Gene for his tricks and practical jokes, which we kids didn’t always understand, like the time he told all scowly and gruff, to stay off his driveway, because he had just planted grass there.  We were outside playing with Jack close at our heels, or you might say we were spying, ’cause when we saw Uncle Gene, we dropped behind the hydrangea bushes and hid.  Uncle Gene came over to borrow the garden hose, we deciphered, as he bent over to roll the hose into a nice neat coil.  You can guess what happened next.  Yessir.  Jack flattened Uncle Gene.  The three older girls, Deanna, Bonita, and I, clasped our hands over our mouths so he couldn’t hear us giggle, and crouched in those bushes trying hard not to move a muscle.  We must have looked like those three little monkey, only we all mimed ‘speak no evil’.  Uncle Gene got up, rubbed his behind, and looked around.  As far as I know, he never saw us.

By winter, Jack was ready to leave us.  Dad told us he sold Jack, he did not go to the butcher.  Still, being quite accustomed to having some of our farm pets show up on the dinner table,  we did not quite trust him.  Every night right after the blessing, one of us would look at our plate and say, “Is this Jack?”

We had a great time telling that story of Jack and Uncle Gene over the supper table that night, and for many nights after that.  Mom tells us that was not Jack on the table, that we traded him for some other mutton.  Mom always shakes her head and tells us, even now, we should have stopped Jack from flattening Uncle Gene.  At the same time she can hardly keep the corners of her mouth from curling into a grin, and her dancing eyes give away her amusement.  After many years, I now know that her brother Gene pulled many tricks on her when she was a girl, like putting ants in her bed.  Those will be stories for another day.

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