Toodles: The Early Years

I'm an undergrad at Penn State where I plan to major in Environmental Resource Management. When I'm not playing guitar or coaching high school track and field, I can be found reading or writing ... [+]

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Heart pounding wildly, he cavorted through the house, wreaking botanical havoc. Hearing an anguished cry as his assault on the houseplants was discovered, he tossed his head in spirited defiance. Another plant casualty; how long could he evade capture? His mother rounded the corner to see him fleeing the crime scene with a palm frond clenched in his teeth. He was caught.

Bettie didn't remember toddlers being this much work. Like most babies, he had a penchant for causing trouble. But he was not a baby per se. While he behaved like one, there was no denying that he was a sheep. He was a remarkable lamb with an unorthodox upbringing, but a sheep nonetheless. She plucked the plant material from the rogue herbivore's jaws; thinking of how far he had come.

He'd arrived on a March morning, bright, cold and windy, but the woodstove was crackling and the farmhouse was comfortably warm. She had just glanced out the kitchen window to see her daughter briskly heading for the front door. Bettie noticed she had something tucked in her coat, and knowing she was returning from the barn, Bettie guessed what it was. She was no stranger to lambing season, nor the occasional bottle lamb, but she asked regardless: "Is that a sheep?" It was. Her daughter carefully set the shivering bundle before the woodstove and left in search of a blanket. The lamb was all legs then, no heavier than ten pounds, and covered in felt-like wool. Bettie knew lambs were bred for cold weather and often did just fine in early March temperatures. But this lamb was undersized and wouldn't eat, the kind that Mother Nature dispassionately culls without a second thought. Bettie sighed. "I hope we can save him," was all she thought.

And save him they did; with the help of warm blankets and full bottles, the lamb made a remarkable comeback. They named him Toodles, for he'd been a Lost Boy, and he now had a "family". They purchased a thirty-pound bag of milk replacer; much to her husband's chagrin, Bettie could not find a smaller bag. He warned her, "He's never going to eat all that; he's going right back to the barn in a few days." Yes, early on, he had truly believed that Toodles would return to the barn and resume life as a normal sheep. But he'd made a crucial mistake in underestimating the time it would take for Bettie to become attached to Toodles.

A few days passed by and Bettie pronounced Toodles "not ready" to move out. Her husband groaned in exasperation as his well-laid plans evaporated before his eyes. He suspected That Sheep would be impossible to keep inside for very long, and said as much. It would be ideal for all parties involved if Toodles was promptly relocated to the barn, where he could still be bottle-fed three times daily. This was met with fierce resistance from Toodles's surrogate mother. Toodles would move out to the barn soon, she said with strained patience, but he clearly was not ready to be coldly jettisoned into harsh wind and weather! Any fool could see he was abnormally small; such an abrupt shift in environment would almost certainly be a death sentence for a lamb like Toodles. Upon hearing his name, Toodles quickly surmised his dire situation and mustered a faint baa.

Bettie pursed her lips and eyed her husband as an orator would regard a highly incompetent audience. Couldn't he see how pitiful Toodles was, she demanded, and how small? Toodles tried to appear even more pitiful. Recognizing reason as no match for a mother's will, her husband qualified that Toodles at least be housetrained. Drunk on her victory, Bettie scoffed. "Oh, please. He won't be here that long." She rolled her eyes and repeated that Toodles would move out soon. Skeptical of how soon his wife would relinquish her new charge, but knowing better than to push his position, Bettie's husband sighed in resignation. He shook his head slowly, and began forming a new strategy to reintroduce Toodles to sheep life when the time came.
Toodles, pleased to have resolved the conflict regarding his living conditions, went to work on making himself at home. He was given full run of the first floor, a spare dog bed, and all the attention a young lamb could dream of. He quickly adapted to his unusual and motley flock, which consisted of two large dogs as well as three humans, and seemed to think nothing of it. By day, he explored his palace, and by night the young princeling could be found in the lap of one of the family, placidly watching Jeopardy. After about a week, he was outfitted with a diaper of sorts. It was uncomfortable, but he grew to ignore it. And so a week became two weeks, and two weeks became three. Now it had been an entire month since they had brought him home, and they were rather fond of him.

Toodles enjoyed his new flock as well. He could hardly remember that cold, drafty place in which he had been born, and he did not miss his mother, as he could only remember Bettie. Like all sheep, he was brighter than he seemed; he knew each member of the family by the sound and tone of their voices, he learned his name, and he knew when it was time to eat and when he was in trouble. And so Toodles evolved into quite a pet; he was a house-lamb. He spent most of the time lounging around with a studied air of indifference, but occasionally, a mood would take him, and he would run through the house, skipping and bouncing, testing the strength of his legs. He discovered the mastiff's own bed in a corner one day, and proceeded to jubilantly bounce up and down on the foam, tossing his head at the novelty of it all. Miraculously, the mastiff allowed this infringement on her territory, and not so much as a grumble was heard when Toodles tired of his newfound game and lay down to fall asleep.

He found other hobbies to occupy his time; his favorite was staring dreamily at the warm embers of the woodstove. Toodles was perpetually chilled, and even when his wool grew thicker, he still loved to stand by the woodstove. Whenever the walls of the farmhouse became stifling, Toodles would stroll outside for a breath of fresh air. He would wend his way over hill and dale, and go leaping through the grass, joyously reveling in the physicality of youth.

When Toodles was over forty pounds in mid-April, Bettie began the daily play-dates during which he was brought to the barn to spend time with lambs his age. Bettie supervised the visits, of course. She hoped to reacquaint Toodles with his roots, but he had stubbornly imprinted on her. In addition, his ovine relations did not recognize his scent; Toodles' own mother didn't know him. She had given him up for dead, and now kept a close eye on her remaining lamb. He was ostracized, and the ewes pushed him away, fearing he would compete with their own lambs for milk.

Thus, the integration of Toodles the house-lamb into regular sheep society was a tumultuous one. It was early May when Toodles fully transitioned to living outside, much to his dismay. To be locked out, thrown into darkness, was almost too much to bear for poor Toodles. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, those first few days. But he adapted, as all heroes must. He discovered the beauty of being able to walk around anywhere, and eat whatever he wanted. The fresh air did wonders for his health; his wool grew, and he wasn't cold anymore. He even saw Bettie every day. Toodles had the best of both worlds. There was just one thing the great outdoors couldn't replace. Jeopardy.