I learned the hard way why Cowboy said not to name them. But how can you spend hours with an adorable baby and not name it, even if the name is never mentioned to the cowboy?
My first hard lesson had come when I stood beside Cowboy at an auction and bawled—cried my eyes out—because he was selling "Norma." She was a Hereford calf who had not been thriving. Boy howdy, when I stepped up she thrived all right. Cowboy had said, "Don't name her," but he never said how to keep from loving her.
One day I sat in my office at Big Bend River Tours pouring over paperwork. In walked my husband and plopped himself down in a chair. He had a devilish expression on his face that caused me to wonder what he'd done now. I figured he'd bought a new horse until a lump in his jacket began to squirm.
"I don't want to know what that is," I said. Wasted breath.
He unzipped the jacket and out popped the fuzzy head of a tiny lamb, a newborn. My heart sank because I knew what would follow.
"He was born yesterday," Cowboy said.
"He's precious, but he needs to be with his mom." More wasted breath.
My cowboy proceeded to explain that the little guy was one of three and was the smallest. His mom was doing the best she could but there was not enough milk for three and he was being shoved out. “He will die,” he said in a whiny way, not like my stoic cowboy.
He already knew I would fall for the tiny critter, so he could have skipped the impassioned plea I barely heard anyway.
My seven-year-old daughter squealed with glee when she saw the lamb standing on his unsteady legs in our laundry room. It was cold and what choice did I have? You can't put a newborn creature that just lost the comfort of his mother outside in the cold, or I can't anyway.
She ran up to him and hugged him and yelled, "Can we keep her? We're keeping her!"
“He's a boy," I said.
"Are we really keeping her?"
"Oh, Puffy, you're the very most cutest thing I ever saw."
The cowboy walked away, the coward.
So the baby ram was called Puffy and never seemed to care.
The next thing out of my daughter's mouth, "I'm sleeping with her tonight."
"No you're not, Margarita."
I put the two cutest things you ever saw to bed. Separately.
I got up three hours later because Puffy needed to eat and I recognized that cry. The Cowboy was doing his usual wee-hours thing, sleeping in oblivion. I made the formula and walked into the laundry-room-turned-nursery. There was my daughter, sleeping soundly and drooling onto Puffy's bedroll.
Fast forward a few months. My husband relocated Puffy to our "ranch" where he was reunited with the rest of the 8-head herd. Puffy was happy, my daughter not so much.
She moved on, as small children do. Then came a day that is seared into my brain. The cowboy brought Puffy from the ranch and I knew why.
Not Puffy. Not in my backyard.
"I thought I should do this while Margarita is gone," the terminator stated.
La la la. I can’t hear you. No way was I going to eat Puffy.
Fifteen minutes later, Margarita returned from her friend's house and flew through the door in a rage. "Papi said I can't stay outside with him and HE HAS PUFFY."
"I need to talk to you."
Her little face scrunched up. "He's going to kill her, isn't he?"
My child was aware of the fact that her Papi raised animals for food, but this was personal. This was Puffy. "Yes, he is."
"I'm not going to eat her." Now she was crying out loud.
"Neither am I."
"Why can't we just get our meat from the grocery store like everybody else?" My daughter wailed.
"Margarita, what do you think is in those packages?"
"I don't know, but at least it's not dead animals."
"That's exactly what it is. The difference is that somebody else killed them."
"That's better than Papi killing them!"
"No it's not. It's the same thing."
She ran away screaming that there were too many murderers and
she was going to go live where nobody killed animals. I felt proud
of her but I also feared for her because she had her mom's soft
heart for animals and a rancher for a dad.
Margarita came back a few minutes later and crawled into my lap and
sobbed. I cried along with her. It's hard to watch your child learn
of the cruel ways of the world.
At last she wiped her eyes and declared, "I'm not going to eat meat
if all of it is dead animals."
"You won't make me?"
"What about Papi?"
That evening I made rice, beans, and a salad. Meanwhile, Cowboy
stir-fried lamb and vegetables outside in a "disco," a plow disk turned
wok placed over a fire. By then, a bunch of his friends had come
over and brought the usual accouterments: tortillas, salsa, and beer.
My husband came inside. "What's happening in here?"
"We're not eating Puffy," declared my little champion of farm
He plopped down next to her at the table. "I can’t eat Puffy, either.” He glared at me. “Never name an animal you raise for food."