Constable: Growing up on the farm, some March lambs had the chops to be lions

  • This lamb looks meek and mild. But don't be fooled. A butting lamb during his childhood gave columnist Burt Constable a summer of skinned knees.

      This lamb looks meek and mild. But don't be fooled. A butting lamb during his childhood gave columnist Burt Constable a summer of skinned knees. BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/27/2020 8:09 AM

Weather has been toying with us all winter. A record-hot Christmas and a polar vortex. Ice storms and thunderstorms. Apocalyptic snow predictions that melt away like snowflakes on a salted sidewalk.

However, March, which arrives Sunday, has a reputation to uphold.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One of the first and most memorable proclamations about March was published in 1732. On page 295 of "Gnomologia: adagies and proverbs; wise sentences and witty sayings, ancient and modern, foreign and British," British author Thomas Fuller says of March: "Comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb."

This is meant to suggest that March begins with strong remnants of winter weather and ends with a meek arrival of a mild spring. But it's a flawed metaphor.

Based on my personal encounters, a lion is a lazy animal that lounges peacefully next to pigeons on zoo rocks, while a lamb is a barnyard predator that lives to see little boys bleed. My lamb story begins innocently enough with the acknowledgment that I was a kindergarten kid on our family farm, and Mary was a little lamb.

Mary was mine. I fed her, watered her and petted her. As she grew, I realized that I could bury my fingers in her wool and ride on her back, which was great fun for me but not so much for Mary. I grew bored, Mary and I grew apart, and Mary just grew.

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Several weeks later, I went into the barnyard to play my solitary baseball game where I'd toss a ball out of view onto the barn roof and try to catch it as it fell to earth. I was a few innings into this game when Mary struck.

She buried her head into the small of my back and butted me to the grass. I pulled myself up, and she knocked me down again. As I ran to the safety of home on the other side of the barnyard gate, Mary knocked me down several times on our gravel lane.

Mom saw my bloodied knees and rushed to the medicine cabinet to fetch the mercurochrome, a red antiseptic designed to sting so badly that a kid would forget about his original injury. Unwilling to admit that I was battered by a lamb, I told Mom I simply slipped on the gravel.

Scabs on my knees never healed during the Summer of Mary. I'd venture out to play and spy Mary in some far-flung corner of the barnyard, possibly terrorizing bunnies. "Mary!" I'd shout, and the lamb I used to ride would pay me no heed. Cautiously, I'd start my baseball game, and Mary stayed put. Minutes later, the ball rolling off the barn roof would arrive in my glove at the same time Mary's head would meet my spine. I'd run. Mary would knock me down. Mom would apply the mercurochrome and wonder how her son could be so clumsy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I spent much of that summer inside out of fear of Mary. Mom almost never set foot in the barnyard or helped Dad in the field or with chores. She was an inside mom. But one day, Dad asked Mom to drive our old dump truck out to the field.

Mary, as I've heard that lions in the wild will do, patiently stalked us, waiting for the moment when Mom would leave me vulnerable. Mary trotted outside my passenger door, her eyes focused only on me. It had rained the night before, and Mom tried to veer the truck around the puddles and rocks in the lane. Suddenly, I was propelled from my seat. Mom had run over Mary.

A motionless Mary was flattened in a mud puddle. Mom was hysterical. I was ecstatic.

Opening the door to witness the carnage, I saw Mary shake a bit in what I assumed was her death rattle. Mary slowly rose to her feet as I stood there in catatonic astonishment. Then Mary knocked me to the muddy ground.

Grabbing the running board of the truck, I pulled myself back inside, where Mom and I agreed to never speak of this again.

That fall, Dad was preparing Mary for market, which meant a grisly procedure to remove her tail matted with cockleburs. I was asked to hold the end of Mary's tail over a tree stump as he used an ax to chop off the tail. Confident that Mary would bolt at the last second, pulling my right arm into the path of the ax where it would be hacked off at the elbow, I gifted Mary to my sister, Sally. By that afternoon, Mary was gone, my sister still had a full complement of limbs and my Ovis aries adversity was history.

Still, I won't mind if March comes in like a lion and goes out like a sea lion.

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