The livestock auction in Colfax was the highlight of my summers in Iowa. It was every Saturday at 1 p.m. By the time I was 14, I was an experienced bidder. Grampa let me know what he needed and what he wanted to pay and I would bid.
The bidding had to be done surreptitiously in order to keep Grampa’s enemies from running up the price on something he wanted. Some of the bidding was extremely subtle. Grampa’s method was a slight nod. I used the twitch of my right index finger.
On this particular Saturday, Grampa needed an old ewe. He used the old ones to test his rams out on. To see which rams were willing and able to honk it on aggressively. That was about the only value the old ewes had, and they were often sold individually rather than in small flocks. They had to be healthy enough to be mounted by three or four rams consecutively.
That’s how the testing was done. I waited patiently for the right ewe. Grampa relaxed and waited patiently for me. I wonder if he already knew. I wonder if I did too.
Grampa had a dull red 1952 Ford pickup. It had sideboards that we installed for hauling sheep and goats and whatnot. I don’t recall hauling any cows or horses in it. He didn’t keep many cows or horses. Not for long anyway.
The ewe I bought looked to be in worse condition than she actually was. I think I paid about six dollars. Grampa was pleased with the price and the fact that I’d looked beyond her initial appearance. She had been sheared poorly, and was ungainly in some strange way. We loaded her up and put the sideboards on the pickup. Each section had to go in specific holes in the truck bed. I was a slow learner on projects like this. I had no sense of direction either. I believe these two shortcomings might be related somehow.
It was a nice, warm summer afternoon in Iowa. The skies were blue and these smells in the air were indigenous to Iowa as far as I knew. Then there was the sheep dip smell at the auction. All sheep to be sold were dunked in a tank of insecticide of some kind.
There was pig shit smell everywhere. It got on your shoes and tires and permeated the whole state. Silos of corn had their own dense smell and stuck with things that passed by. Sheep shit wasn’t so bad.
I rode in the back of the pickup with the ewe on that fine afternoon. She was terrified at first but gradually got comfortable with me. I jumped out at a store to get some milk and she bleated until I got back in. by the time we got to the farm, I’d given her a name. I named her Sally.
That night I dreamt that Sally and I were in the back pasture. There was a stretch of woods behind it, and a small airport behind the woods. I sometimes shot at the planes as they went over. Anyway, in the dream I was sitting in the pasture and Sally was grazing. There was a herd of bunny rabbits hopping around being happy. Off in the horizon a storm was gathering. I could feel rumbling in the ground beneath me. Sally came over and nuzzled my ear. Lightning shot out of her mouth and through my head.
I bolted upright in bed. I had a raging hard-on that actually hurt. Grampa was in bed with me, which may seem strange in this day and age, but it didn’t then. I grabbed my dick and masturbated violently. It never occurred to me that he might wake up or know what was going on. I ejaculated into the bedspread and went back to sleep.
In the morning Grampa and I went out to let the sheep out of the huge pen they stayed in at night.
I always loved to watch the young ones leap into the air as they headed for open pasture. The leaping seemed choreographed somehow, none of them leaping at the same time, but at perfectly spaced intervals. They all made the long trot to the hills. Grampa and I headed back to the house for breakfast. Sally was alone in the front pasture. I went over to say hello.
“Don’t be chasin’ that ewe around. Hoo hoo hoo.”
Then Grampa’s eyes darkened. The sheep were coming back. There were three dogs chasing them. “Go get the gun!”
I ran to the basement and grabbed the gun. I looked at the box of bullets. Grampa was going to kill those dogs. I couldn’t take him the box. I took one bullet out and ran back to Grampa.
“ONE bullet?” He was as mad as I’d ever seen him. He loaded the bullet and squeezed off a round towards the dogs. They turned and ran. “One bullet? You want those dogs to kill my sheep? You brought me one bullet? Criminy.”
I knew the drill. Sally would be brought into the barn and put into one of the sections. The rams would be brought into an adjacent section.
Grampa would open the gate between them and let a ram in with Sally one at a time. He had a cane that he used to grab sheep by the neck. He was a big man, and could manage the toughest ram by himself.
I was instructed to coax sally into the barn while Grampa separated the rams from the herd in the pen. He held his cane in one hand and the rifle in the other. He was still looking for the dogs and didn’t seem to trust me to handle the gun where the dogs were concerned. That was fine with me.
Sally followed me right into the barn and I put her in the section Grampa told me to. One by one Grampa brought four rams into the other section.
He leaned the rifle against the wall and grabbed the biggest ram with his cane. His other hand unlatched the gate and he shoved the ram in with Sally. Sally threw her head back and began trotting in a circle. The ram seemed scared of her and stood there looking stupid.
Grampa was having a bad day.
We waited for a few minutes as Sally settled down. The ram stood there looking more idiotic by the second. Grampa finally went in, grabbed him with the cane, and brought him out. He sometimes muttered in what I thought might be German. He was muttering now.
He caught another ram and put him in with Sally. If you’ve ever fed a mouse to a snake you know what I’m talking about. The ram was on her. Sally looked terrified as he rode her into a corner, humping as if there were no tomorrow. The suddenness, the violent nature, the simultaneous elements of sexual excitement and horror, were more than I could stand.
“Stop him! Stop him!”
“Hoo hoo hoo! He’s doin’ good, boy! That’s just what supposed to happen. That’s just right. That’s how it’s done.”
I figured he was right. This world sucked that hard. Grampa was a kind man and I loved him. He had never done anything to hurt me, but some things in this world just weren’t right, even if they were supposed to be. I went outside.
When all the thumping subsided, I went back in to hold the gate while Grampa got the ram out. Sally looked right into my eyes. I couldn’t stand it. “That’s enough Grampa.”
Grampa shook his head. “Let’s get this done, boy.
Then you can go beat your meat. Hoo hoo hoo.”
I was shattered. He knew. I couldn’t believe he could have said that. He grabbed another ram.
“Don’t do it.” I felt an anger I’d never known.
“Little cock, learning to crow. Hoo hoo hoo.”
I smelled blood, I really smelled blood. Something in my nose seemed to burst and I literally saw red. The gun was in my hand. Grampa’s eyes were big. I shot him right through the throat. He dropped, he kicked, he shit, and he died.