Six Geese a-Laying (or various barnyard animals)

thumb_SteeringTowardNormalDay Six of of our 15 Days of Christmas Giveaways, and we’re hitting the barnyard! At this point in the song, I figure everyone’s about done with birds, so let’s hang out with some cows, shall we? And not just cows, but steer. In Rebecca Petruck’s Steering Toward Normal, we meet Joker and Diggy together for the first time:

Diggy had gone out to Mr. Lenz’s last weekend to select the steer he’d compete from among the other spring-born calves, and he had felt an immediate bond with this one. But that was a week ago and in a different setting. Even though he knew all would go well with raising his chosen calf and had for the last three years, Diggy still got nervous when it came time to bring a steer home.

He walked around the back of the trailer and looked in, seeing mostly rump. The calf was in a simple rope halter tied through one of the openings in the trailer’s side. It saved time with the breaking to let the steers fight the halter during the ride.

Diggy eased into the back as quietly as he could—pretty much impossible with boots and an aluminum trailer. The calf rolled back his eyes and bawled. Diggy scratched the calf ’s rump until he quieted, then pulled the brush from his back pocket and stroked it over the steer’s hide.

Diggy couldn’t help but admire what a fine calf he’d chosen. He had a long, straight top with a clean line through the throat and brisket. He was full but not too muscled, so he had room to grow in the year they’d be together, and his legs were sturdy, not too bent or too straight. What Diggy liked best was the way the calf watched him back. Calm and alert. The eyes and hair were almost equally black and absorbed light like it would help him grow. Only his nose glistened.

Diggy was so focused on his new calf, it took him a while to feel July looking in on them. He turned to her, scratching the calf ’s rump again. “He already looks like a champ. And did you see how quickly he calmed for me?” It was a sign of trust that meant they’d have a good bond.

The steer twitched his tail aside and pooped. On Diggy’s boot.

“Crap,” Diggy said, laughing. “You’re a real joker, aren’t you.” It was Diggy’s fault for having his feet in the line of fire—but the laugh burst like a bubble overhead, becoming a black cloud. He had promised himself he wouldn’t name his steer!

He clattered out of the trailer, setting off fresh bawling, and dragged his boot in the grass.

July gave him the eye, clearly not happy with his behavior. “It’s not like that’s never happened before,” she pointed out.

Diggy sighed. “I wasn’t going to name him.”

“Ah.” The small sound was filled with echoes of Diggy’s own regret. July knew exactly what it was like to care for an animal and have to let him go. She hugged him to her side. “I used to tell myself that, too, but every year . . . So, what’s our sweet boy’s name?”

“Joker.”

July laughed. “Yeah, that’s him, all right.”

They looked in at the calf.

Joker looked back at them and winked.

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