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In the eye of the school yards

After my mother yanked us out of New York City, our new home was located inside the convergence of three schools, all within one block of each other. Kitty-corner to my house stood Washington School with fourth grade through sixth, plus kindergarten. My best friend, Terry, lived on the opposite corner. Kitty-corner to her house stood Whiting School, which housed first through third grades. Directly behind our block, the Junior High School claimed an entire city block.

One of the first things my mother did after she purchased this old house was to erect a three-foot chain-link fence around the yard. The fence contained—just barely—an ever changing menagerie of critters during the years we lived there. Being centered, as it was, between the three schools, an ever-present stream of children walked past our house, gawking at our impromptu zoo.


After the initial influx of dogs, cats, guppies, puppies, kittens, and parakeets, we took in a pair of bum lambs. Lambing season begins early in the spring. Wyoming claims only two seasons: a long winter and a short summer, so lambing there takes place during the cold, snowy winter. Sheep are frightfully ill-equipped to birth and nurse their own young, so as lambing season revs up, sheep ranchers camp out in the lambing sheds for round-the-clock vigils, rescuing lambs from mothers who ignore them or who die in childbirth. Our two little lambs were a result of just such a catastrophe.

When we first brought them home we barricaded them in the kitchen with cardboard boxes for beds. Lambs are blessedly unconcerned about the origin of dinner. Their greedy jerking on the rubber nipple attached to a pop bottle often resulted in impromptu milk baths and schooled us in the proper fit of nipple to bottle. The lambs thrived and seemed to never miss their mother. Eventually they grew strong enough to explore mom’s scraggly flower beds in the yard outside. I’ll never forget the day the poor adolescent beasts discovered the aphid-infested hollyhocks that creeped me out. Mom charged out the front door, broom in hand, shrieking at the sheep for munching hollyhocks instead of the rich green grass she’d expected them to mow for their keep.

Talk of the town?

Ya, so we lived in Wyoming, nothing strange about bum lambs in the kitchen, you may think. This is true—for rural Wyoming. But homes in town were expected to be tame—free of barnyard animals. I have no idea how the city officials approached this travesty. I don’t remember any visits from cops or councilmen. But I remember school kids gawking over the fence at our growing lambs. It was quite the spectacle, especially when their tiny tails suddenly disappeared below the tight rubber docking band, later to be found and brought into the house by the ever-vigilant dog.

The lambs served their purpose, not by mowing, but by stocking the freezer. Oh yes, Mother wanted us girls to know and understand where our food came from—what was involved in producing the meat that glared back at us from the fine china.

The lambs were the first unconventional visitors to the Paul Urban Zoo. Next came Sandy, the orphaned filly. She makes her appearance in my next post.