Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A day in the country—from a seven-year-old boy’s perspective

Jacob has not confided much of this to me, so it’s mostly how I think he felt about being at the ranch. He's been there many times since he was an infant, but this was the first time there wasn't a mob of family and he was the only child. The visit began just right when my brother gave him a camouflage gimme cap which he almost refused to take off the rest of the trip. John asked him to help collect eggs, and Jacob came back to proudly present Aunt Cindy with two eggs. Dinner was great because Aunt Cindy served delicious home-made French fries and a grilled cheese, while the rest of us struggled along on salmon and fresh squash. When bedtime was suggested, it drew a protest of “I’m not tired yet.” All it took was for Uncle John to say, “Son, are you going to help me with chores in the morning?” Jacob was instantly in bed and asleep.

The next day John had a shadow—Jacob followed him everywhere. The day began with the trip to get the paper—when Cindy began to walk, John asked Jacob to walk with her and “Take care of her for me.” John's way of giving him some responsibility was masterful. We followed in the Kubota, and then John took a turn at walking. Back at the house for breakfast, Jacob kept saying, “We’re going to move the cows, and it’s going to be a lot of work.”

First we let the chickens out for the day, and Jacob was aghast when he asked if I wasn’t going to help, and I said “No, I’d stay in the mule.” I mean, how much trouble is it to open two gates to the hen house? Then he ran to meet the aged—and not very sociable—horse and pet the miniature donkey who alarmed him a bit with her rubbing and bumping, all of which were the donkey's way of seeking affection. And finally we had to pick vegetables.

Actually moving the cows from one pasture to another was indeed a lot of work, and not quite as much fun as he envisioned. When Cindy got out of the Kubota to herd on foot, Jacob found himself alone in the back seat with cows milling around everywhere. “I don’t want to be back here alone.” So he climbed carefully around, looking a little nervously at the cows at his feet. Once in the front he felt safe enough to laugh at the way cows run—they do have a funny gait, and in her haste, one almost fell right in front of us. But Jacob was a bit worried about the bull, though I assured him it wouldn’t charge into our vehicle. Frequent question: “Where’s the bull?”

That afternoon, the excitement was looking for Bigfoot tracks…and we found them on the muddy edge of a stock tank. The ecstatic look on Jacob’s face was worth everything! Ever patient, Aunt Cindy walked the entire edge of the tank with him, but they found no more Bigfoot prints—just some wild turkey tracks. But that discovery made Jacob’s day.

What was important, though he might not have fully realized it at the time, was both the discipline and the positive reinforcement Uncle John gave him, saying at one point, “Jacob, you’re a good hand. You have an instinct for animals, and you go slow with them.” Indeed Jacob made friends with the two German shepherd males but quickly learned when to keep his distance, and he loved the cat. John praised in other ways—instead of saying, “You must eat something,” he said, “He’s a healthy boy. He’ll be fine.” As our father had done, however, he insisted on table manners and respect. And when appropriate he exploded with authoritarian firmness, as when Jacob was clowning around in the tub rather than getting his bath done and letting others have their turn! Aunt Cindy just showered Jacob with love and "What can I fix for you?"

From my viewpoint, the whole trip was a learning experience for Jacob—although the lessons may not sink in right away. It’s a trip he’ll remember, and I hope we repeat it.

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