Four years ago I got a sheepskin from a family/friends farm. It was a particularly Vermont moment when they unpacked their maple syrup, sheepskin, and side dishes from their woven baskets. This gift exchange was during the heart of our local eating, when the kids still called their beef Marilyn after the first cow we dined on. I felt a literal and figurative warmth for the sheepskin.
I thought about the way the animal had been raised, its humane slaughter, and how they had been used from tip to tail. When I curled my toes into the dense fur I felt connected to the earth, and protected by it…probably the way the sheep had before we killed it. I wasn’t the only one in the house who was drawn to the pelts.[Tweet theme=”basic-white”] At the time we had three cats, two of whom snuggled deep into the warmth of the sheepskin and one of whom pissed all over them.[/Tweet] After washing the soiled skin gently in warm water using the lanolin soap left over from my wool nursing pads I laid it out to dry. When it smelled a little less like the animal it had been, and like the animal that had marked it I draped it over the back of a chair rather than setting it on the floor.
The next day it had been marked again. The culprit sat curled in the corner purring. I went through the washing and drying routine and then stored it away for another time.
Years later the time has come. The last of the cats is gone, and the replacement cat seems to pee only in her litterbox. As I brought up the menorahs and ornaments I unwrapped the sheepskin from its storage and wore it up the stairs. I might or might not have pretended I was a warrior from the olden days…one who had a collection of menorahs. Once I made it upstairs and back to present day I smoothed it out of the back of a chair in our front room and patted it.
Early the next morning I had a friend over for tea, and as she picked her way over pine needles to the front door she plucked the sheepskin from the chair, tossed it to the floor and sunk her toes into it with a look of comfort on her face. Clearly it needed to be on the floor.
So I wandered around the house, wearing it like a cape, and picked the barest spot. The area in front of the sink. I knew it would get splashed…but this isn’t silk, sheep get wet…then they dry. I stood satisfied and looked at the contrast of the long cream colored hair against the grey concrete. Very pleasing.
That evening I watched Oliver throw away everything in his binder. When he finished it was no longer 8 months pregnant. The recycling overflowed as he pushed his papers in without care or strategy. I watched a yogurt tub bounce onto the sheepskin and had my first hint of questioning my placement. He crossed the room with an enamel pitcher in hand to water the Christmas tree. I looked around the room for a slightly less vulnerable spot for the sheepskin but couldn’t consider it for long because there was a cry of “oh no, OH NO” coming from the living room and then a prolonged crashing crunching sound. Having lived through this in the past I knew I was hearing the sounds of a felled Christmas tree.
Oliver climbed out from under it, needles in his hair. “Something knocked over the tree.” He told Steve and I, eyes round. “I don’t know what happened.” He continued with surprise. “It must have been the water.” He concluded. We all stood for a bit looking at the mess. Branches, needles, water, and lots of glass shards covered the rug. “I’m surprised our living room isn’t on fire.” He mused. This was a good point. Steve explained that the strings of lights were very sturdy and Oliver raised an eyebrow at him. “I heard a lot of things break.”
For twenty minutes I picked up shards of glass alternating between feeling grateful for my numb thumb and worrying that I was headed towards a gash, infection, and likely death. Oliver delivered the vacuum and whispered to me. “I think I was the one to knock over the tree, I’m so sorry.” This distracted me from my imminent hospital stay as we gave each other a quick hug and I told him I thought it was pretty funny.
Finally the visible bits were gone, the ornaments re-hung, and needles composted. As I brushed the last bits of bark into the compost Leo came up from behind with his saucy self and saucy wings. He hip checked me and told me to leave the compost open. With flair he raised the container high, then higher and we both watched in slo mo as the wings fell to the floor. Onto the sheepskin. So I knelt down and began to scrub the sauce and yogurt, knees still aching from the tree clean up. Leo apologized and tried to help, stepping on my good thumb, then decided to work on the counter instead. As he pushed the wings into the compost he opened the sliding door wider to catch the wings. Per usual he did this with a flourish and the door ricocheted off my head. Seeing stars I decided to let the sauce set and made my way onto the couch for a rest.
I probed my numb thumb with my bum thumb and contrasted the sharp pain with the dull nothingness. Was that what it had been like for the sheep at the end painful, or numb, or both.
I left the rug at the sink…an act of optimism.