Nathanael, then 10 years old in 1933, wanted to learn as much as he could from Grandpa about sheepherding, so he kept asking more questions. Grandpa enjoyed his grandson’s interest and curiosity.
“What’s a shepherd do?” Nathanael asked.
“Think about the 23rd Psalm,” Grandpa replied. He explained that the sheep depended on him to find them good food to eat, sweet gentle waters to drink, safe places to sleep, protection from wild animals and dangerous places. Once in a while Grandpa went searching for lost sheep that wandered too far from the safety of the flock. If it was a lamb, Grandpa would either carry it in his arms or draped around his shoulders and take it back to its momma.
“Sounds like a lot of work!” Nathanael said.
“It was, but if you really care about the sheep, then it doesn’t seem like work, at all.”
“Did you help deliver babies… err, I mean lambs?”
“You betcha!” Grandpa said, “And, a fair share of twins, too… and even triplets, a few times, but when that happened, we usually had to bottle feed some of them to get them off to a good start in life.”
“Where did you live, Grandpa?”
“In a specially-outfitted covered wagon pulled by a pair of mules.” he said,” It looked more like a little house on wagon wheels, with glass windows on the sides, a regular door in the back and a stove pipe sticking through one corner of the shingled-roof.”
“How many sheep did you take care of?’
“Oh, around hundred or so,” Grandpa answered but he was quick to acknowledge the help of Sam, his highly trained Border Collie.
“Sam had more experience than I did and maybe more brains, too.” Grandpa laughed.
“How did you get food to eat, with no stores around?” Nathanael wondered aloud.
Grandpa rubbed his scruffy chin whiskers and asked a question of his own, “Have you ever heard the story of Jesus feeding a big crowd of people way out in the middle of nowhere with barely enough to feed just one little boy?”
“You mean like feeding the 5,000?”
“That’s right!” Grandpa bellowed, “God provided enough for them, and He did the same for me, too… and He still does.”
Nathanael listened to Grandpa explain that every two weeks or so, the flock-master sent out a person, called a camp tender, to deliver a wagon load of fresh supplies to wherever Grandpa was camped. It wasn’t hard to spot out in the open grasslands. If Grandpa was camped closer to the mountain meadows, the tender could usually just look for the smoke rising from the wagon’s stovepipe chimney… that is, if Sam hadn’t found the supply wagon first.
Grandpa was in full story-telling mode by now, having lost all track of time. The fire began to die down as chunks of burnt wood fell under its own weight with a thump. Nathanael gritted his teeth once more as Grandpa reopened the stove’s cranky door, stirred the dwindling fire, and shoved another small log into the stove. But this time Grandpa slammed the stove door quickly, eliminating its annoying sound.
All the flocks were herded back to the main ranch before winter arrived and for lambing season when the sheep needed hay to eat and shelter for their newborn lambs to survive the bitter cold winter months. Once it warmed up enough in the spring, their wool was sheared, like a buzz haircut, before heading back out to the grasslands and mountain meadows. Grandpa said he saw Gustavo again during lambing season at the ranch. They swapped stories of their summertime herding.
“Did you ever take a break?” Nathanael asked, wedging a question into Grandpa’s pause.
“Funny you should ask that,” he responded, “Now that I think about it, we always seemed to be busy… sheep need a lot of care, you know… but we both carved wood to pass the slow times.”
Actually, Grandpa said he did more whittling than carving and that Gustavo really knew how to carve wood well, realistic-like.
As for himself, Grandpa said he usually had to tell people what it was that he was carving. He chuckled, saying “you know, identify it.”
But then Grandpa pointed out that Gustavo didn’t have all the tools that Nathanael saw in Grandpa’s workshop. Instead, Gustavo had just a few simple hand tools—several chisels and gouges—yet he still managed to make precise cuts in his work.”
“When did Gustavo give you the lamb and cross figures?” Nathanael asked.
“Not for another seven years.”
The hour by the fireplace had passed by quickly as Annie and Sally listened intently to Nathanael’s recollection of his 1933 conversation with Grandpa.
Annie asked him to talk then again about Grandpa’s lambing experiences.
It was one of the aspects about raising sheep that fascinated Annie… especially helping a mother ewe through a difficult delivery or helping an orphaned lamb survive. Sally? Well, she was more of a dog lover at heart, wanting to raise champion sheepherding dogs more than she did sheep.
“Sure,” Nathanael responded. But first, he wanted to take a break and sample some of those cookies and fudge… and probably see how well the twins followed Grandma’s recipe.
Nathanael started to say, “It’s been a long time since,” but he was unable to finish his sentence, as he began recalling his recent steady diet of K-rations during the fierce fighting in Europe. Nathanael stood silently shaking his head, eyes riveted to the floor. The twins jumped to Nathanael’s side draping their arms around his broad shoulders. Now, it was their turn to help Nathanael who’d been there for each of them so many times before.
Images of the hungry, homeless, and bewildered-looking faces of children, many orphaned or abandoned, filled Nathanael’s mind. Evidence of war’s collateral damage that Nathanael had seen recently as his platoon liberated towns and villages, often house-by-house. Some memories—like those of the invisible wounds of war for which there are no visible Purple Heart metals—are hard to erase. But just as after falling into the icy snow trying to reach Grandpa’s workshop as a ten-year old boy and plunging into the icy waters off Normandy just last year (reciting Psalm 121 all the way to the beach), Nathanael asked God for help once again and for wisdom and courage to face his current challenges of helping his grief-stricken family and of knowing how and where he was to follow Christ.
The twins were relieved when Nathanael told them after a few moments that he was “Okay.”
Nathanael held a piece of fudge after taking a bite and said, “This is so good, Grandma would be very proud of you both for sure!” All three grandchildren broke into smiles because Grandma meant so much to them.