FFA Jackets, sheep and songs…


Yesterday, I was hanging-out with some of my favorite songwriting pals at an informal gathering where we play originals, work shop the tunes a bit, and get downright silly. There may have been some adult beverages involved.  And banjos.  But I’ll never tell..

I mentioned this crazy radio segment I heard while driving last week.  The Memory Palace it is called.  The most fascinating nine minutes of freaky storytelling genius I’ve heard in a long time.  I am a convert!  When the story involves charlatans, bigamists, Nazi sympathizers, and goat testicles, I’m in.  No.  That was not a typo.  Clean your glasses and read that again.  G O A T glands, nads, oysters.   The story had it all.

There must be a song in that story.  I am trying to convince my friends.  They are considering it, though not that seriously.

Today, I realized that I also have a few livestock stories of my own. They cannot possibly top the story of Dr. Brinkley, the “goat gland” doctor.  I can’t even try.  But I have driven across the Oklahoma countryside in a 1978 Chevy Nova with two sheep.  They are surprisingly good travelers actually.

Back when Old Shep was a small fragment of DNA and T-Rex was figuring out how to play guitar with his tiny hands, I was a high school senior on a mission.  Forgive me for the lame T-Rex joke, but I really wanted an FFA jacket.  I’m not sure why, but I thought these jackets were the coolest thing ever and I only had one year of high school left to attain one.  So with the clock ticking away, I joined the FFA.  What is this FFA?  Why it’s an organization that only rural kids probably know about, the “Future Farmers of America.”  And just so you know, they don’t just GIVE anyone the damn jacket.  Joining FFA also meant I had to PARTICIPATE. Really?

So I begged my dad to fund the purchase of a Suffolk lamb.  I knew nothing about sheep.  There was no Google back then and to be honest, let’s say I was not really too keen on learning much about it anyway.  It was only for the jacket.

My lamb was the cutest thing ever.  Black legs and face. Wooly white body.  I imagined she would be a sweet little ewe, soft and happy. Mellow and easy to train, I figured. Yeah, that was not at all what the damn thing was like.  The thing hated me.  It hated the leash.  It hated exercise.  It drug me around the pen, leaped in the air when I tried to handle it.

But I wanted the damn FFA jacket.

Apparently, I was supposed to make it exercise each day by setting up some barrels in the pen and coaxing it to jump over them.  I was also supposed to get it used to being grabbed from behind and “felt up.”  None of these things happened.  In my defense, you just cannot overcome 500 years of lamb rape in a day.   I’m just saying.  But I tried. In my half-ass, “I’m only doing this for the FFA jacket” kind of way.

Another issue I didn’t think through very well was transporting the lamb to livestock shows, which was apparently the point of this exercise that would somehow win me the jacket.  I had a friend who drove the aforementioned Chevy Nova and due to not having money for a proper trailer or pen to haul the sheep with, we put them in the Nova.  Saturday mornings that fall and winter we developed a method for transporting the sheep in the Nova. This was not sophisticated by any means.  We just removed the back seat, picked up the sheep, and forcibly threw them in the car.  Driving on winter mornings with the windows down when it was freezing cold sucked.  But the sheep were good sports about it.  They stood in the back, bleated a lot, and basically pooped all over everything.

At the livestock arena, we would unload the sheep and take them to the outdoor hoses to wash them with Woolite.  Woolite.  Who would have thunk it?  We were told not to bleach them.  It makes them yellow, they said.  After washing the sheep, we would blow them dry and then put them in their holding pens where they would lie down in the poop and straw and undo the grooming we had just administered.

In the meantime, we had to hang-out for hours on end with very little to do.  You could watch the pigs.  They were interesting in a gross and stinky sense.  Or you could go in the outhouse and remove ticks.  Or maybe you might be lucky enough to buy a big-ass pickle at the concession stand, if there was one and you had any money, which I did not.  Finally, your number was up and it was “show time.”

Imagine kids from other schools.  Schools that had more money and kids who knew how to train their sheep. And you’re there in the ring with your very fat, flatulent, devil lamb.  Fat due to lack of exercise.  Flatulent because of God knows what.  Your overweight she-devil bathed in poop, straw, and Woolite cologne that will not move, unless she is not supposed to move and then of course, panics at the prospect of the judge grabbing her hindquarters, withers or whatever you call them on sheep.

Lets just say I never got a ribbon.  Lets also say that sheep can run really fast when they think their hind-ends are in danger.

In the end, I never got the jacket either.  I spent all my money on Woolite, gas, and lamb feed.  My dad repossessed my lamb when I graduated.  I guess he sold her to the neighbor lady who bragged about what a great sheep she was, so docile and sweet.  Sure.

Still, I did get this story out of the experience.  And it was kind of fun to drive around with a couple of sheep. Especially since it wasn’t my car.

And maybe there is a song in my own little story?  I could call it “The Jacket.”

It ain’t no Memory Palace but I guess it will have to do.

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