Our kids are all nine-year veterans of the 4-H program in our county. Over the years we’ve seen them work on and show a lot of exhibits, and probably none have been as frustrating–nor as popular–with them as their livestock exhibits.
For those of you who have never experienced the process of getting those animals to the fair, let it be known right now that there are some things mothers just tolerate, and other things that they plainly should not see.
Fair time approaching usually meant that I could reach underneath the sink to seize the dish soap, but it didn’t mean that it was always there. Fair time meant phantom dish soap–I knew it should be there, but I could never see it. Typically, it would be out by the hydrant where they were washing sheep and calves, and all that was left under our kitchen sink was dishwashing dreams and spiders which had probably lived there since the Nixon administration.
And then, there was breaking those sheep and calves to lead. Thus, the one thing that mothers should not watch.
Around the Schwallers, breaking sheep and calves to lead was something that was typically not done until shortly before the fair. We wouldn’t want to begin the process too early–it just wouldn’t be true Schwaller style to begin something in a timely manner.
One evening in an outright display of mental instability, I sashayed out to watch one of our sons break his calf to lead. The weather was gorgeous and I was looking forward to seeing how the whole process worked from the beginning–so I climbed up on the fence to watch. The other calves were leading well by then, but this one had some extra snort and a gangster-like attitude. It acted like it should be coming out of a chute–rider on top with a hand in the air.
Some fancy roping resulted in getting a halter of sorts on; that was the last time I remembered being content with watching what went on in that self-made rodeo.
Our son clutched the rope as some role reversal started things out, with the calf leading him around for awhile. There was much chasing around, and all of a sudden the calf took off, our son hanging onto the rope, and it looked like a new Olympic ski sport had been born–Manure Mogels. Our son displayed quite a show of athletic prowess–demonstrating strength, balance and tenacity as he hung with the cow, sliding on his heels in the greasy….well, okay; …and determined to win this one. I was praying he would let go before something happened, but just that quick, the cow stopped to rest, and our son slid to a stop.
Actually, my heart needed that rest more than that cow did.
Pulling on the rope to show the cow his disgust with that rather bossy display, our son was able to slowly approach the cow again. It spun around–this time, slamming our son up against a nearby building and keeping him there for a short time.
As he calmly and mechanically separated himself from the calf and the building, I was beginning to think about that John Wayne movie, “The Cowboys,” and how our kids must have watched that at least a gazillion times before they got old enough to go to kindergarten. Somehow this looked so much easier in the movies.
Our son landed against the side of that same building a second time, and luckily, his cell phone and a ripped pair of blue jeans were the only near casualties of that incident. The phone still worked, but he could no longer see who was calling him.
This, I thought, could work out to my advantage.
It was becoming more evident that the calf was not going to get broke yet that evening, but I was wondering if WE were going to be if the whole process continued on much longer, considering medical costs and the emotional cost of me sitting and mending more blue jeans. The calf did eventually get broke to lead in time for the fair, and led very obediently in the show ring…without anymore ripped-out jeans.
That night I walked back to the house–slightly numbed, very amazed at our son’s calm work with a ferocious beast, graciously thankful that he wasn’t terribly hurt, but even more respectful of all the work that 4-H and FFA kids do to be part of a livestock show at the county fair.
I also remembered an earlier fair when some young Schwaller kids had pigs in the show ring at the livestock sale. As the auctioneer (who knows our family well) prepared the prospective buyers for bidding on this pen of pigs that belonged to our other son, he joked with the crowd saying, “Yes siree–those hogs are broke to lead, too!”
Now THAT would truly be something that mothers should not see. Except this time I would know that before I foolishly sat down to watch the show without nitroglycerine pills and an airsick bag.