The words single family dwelling dont come close to describing
the homes of country folks. Our scrapbooks are filled to overflowing
with photos of ungrateful house guests we have provided free bed
and board through the years.
When a rancher queries the wife, Guess whos coming to dinner?
he is more apt to be referring to a newborn calf than a business
associate. As everyone knows far too well, having company requires
great sacrifice. I too like to cozy up on a rug in front of a
fire but the hearth in my home is hogged by animals. We couldnt
use the oven for a week because of the litter of premature bunnies
that found warmth there. Ive never been able to relax in a bathtub
because thats reserved for thawing out calves. Despite having
a house big enough to bed down an entire herd, there have been
times when even it was too small, and the overflow spilled into
the garage. We raised a calf there once we named Two Car because
thats how many vehicles it displaced.
At lambing time it got so crowded in our animal house that there
was hardly room for the dog. More sheep have spent the night under
our roof than in-laws. Not that Im complaining, Ive had human
house guests that needed dipping more than most sheep. The lamb
that couldnt walk and hung in a sling on our back porch was less
work than most people visitors. We raised a motherless fawn on
a bottle that was less dependent on us for its meals than dear
relatives. Animal guests dont raid the refrigerator, dirty laundry
or leave a ring around the tub. At least not all of them do.
I know there are other folks who put out the welcome mat for critters.
A Colorado rancher sent me photos of the buffalo he raised in
his home, although Im not sure Id go that far. In trying to
sleep I never did get both eyes closed worrying what the buffalo
might do if it broke out of its cardboard box on the back porch.
City folks find such hospitality towards animals disgusting. Ive
had a man who smokes stinky cigars so smelly theyd gross out
a pig, comment on the sheepy smell in my home. Stockmen are
seen as peculiar by people whose pets sleep with them. I have
a friend who never heard a toilet flush till he was 40 years old
who now spends a fortune on kitty litter so his cat doesnt have
to go outside to use the facilities.
I read where prior to 1900 it was a common practice in the Netherlands
for people and their animals to live communally in a home with
no division between them. The barn was contiguous with the living
quarters and to say that the peasants lived like animals was a
great compliment. Sharing their home with cows and showing how
well their animals lived was considered a status symbol; the 1990s
equivalent to a Rolex watch, although a little more fragrant Id
My wife and I lived in a house like that once, on a ranch we were
leasing. There was one abandoned bedroom that was closed off from
the rest of the house because the roof leaked and the floor slanted.
As sometimes happened in the cattle business, we had an orphaned
calf once we couldnt get mothered up and for a few days we let
it stay in that abandoned bedroom. Until we had some unexpected
company. I have never admitted this till now but we hurried and
cleaned up the room, moved in a bed and kicked the calf outside
into the yard.
If fish and house guests start to stink after the third day these
visitors were absolutely putrid. A week had passed and they showed
absolutely no sign of moving on. We were considering just giving
them the place when the orphaned calf saved the day. He spent
most days looking forlornly through the bedroom window and our
visitors made the comment one day that his behavior made them
feel a little uncomfortable.
Oh, he probably just wants his old room back, I casually remarked.
We havent seen hide nor hair of those house guests since that
day they left in such a hurry.
Lee Pitts writes from Morro Bay, Calif. His books, "People Who
Live At the End of Dirt Roads" and "Back Door People" can be purchased
by calling 1-800-RANGE-4-U.