My husband would be the first to admit he’s not one of the great romantics and he’s given me some very odd presents over the years.
Think secondhand breadmaker on my 30th birthday – every woman’s dream.
But the most marriage-threatening gift he ever gave me was a day-old lamb he’d rescued from euthanasia.
We’d moved from Perth to our barely-converted two-room shed in Margaret River, but he was back in the city for a fortnight’s work.
He was acting with good intentions – “it’s company for you” – but no consultation or practical thought (what would the lamb and I do when I had to go to work?)
Despite having visited family farms as a child and teen – where I learnt to handmilk cows, separate cream, bottle feed lambs, shear sheep and feed pigs – I was still a suburban 20-something, naïve in the ways of the country.
Spoiler alert: giving the lamb to me didn’t extend her life by much apart from car trips and cuddles.
He came home with the tiny woolly darling on the middle Saturday, stayed overnight, then headed back to work, assuring me the newly-named 100% Lambo would only need feeds every few hours.
Childless at the time, what neither of us fully understood was that the wake, feed, pee/poo, play, sleep cycle meant only 20-minute sleep windows for Lambo’s human if just one of us was on deck for her.
But even with the sleep deprivation, she and I did fine for the first few days as I could be with her all the time.
I was only working Wednesday to Friday for the local newspaper.
When we did have to go out, Lambo joined me on the bench seat of the old HQ ute for excursions to fuel up or grab a quick bite.
Our firewood pickup from a sheep farm south of Witchcliffe was an interesting experience for her, but she showed no signs of wanting to join the flock, instead staying close ‘round my ankles.
There were a few worrying red flags about Lambo’s seeming lack of survival instinct.
In particular, she would stand by the pot belly stove with her eyes closed, swaying side to side and edging closer and closer, blissed into a kind of fugue state by the radiating heat.
I understood the temptation, since it was brisk Springtime and the windy draughts squealing through the gaps in the old shed’s door frames and walls were barely kept at bay by the well-stoked fire.
Even with close attention and intervention, she still managed to get so close to the cast iron belly that the surface wool on her left side was singed.
After each feed her tummy would be so distended she needed to go outside immediately to wee out the previous feed’s leftovers.
You could actually see her sides shrinking as she drained, all the while voicing a contented baa-mewl.
Despite my close monitoring of this need, she still managed to wee on the couch cushions, the carpet, me and half a dozen blankets at various times.
Eventually most of our soft furnishings were outside hosed-off and drying, there was nowhere to sit inside but a kitchen chair or the rug on the concrete floor, and the shed’s charming residual motor oil scent was overridden by lanolin and urine – eau de shearing shed.
And it was only Day Three.
Wednesday came, she was already sleeping longer during the daytime and I thought I had our schedule sorted.
With a well-timed feed she would fall asleep right before I left for work at five to nine, my lunch break would cover the noon feed, then I’d be back again at three o’clock.
Thankfully my part-time hours suited Lambo’s evolving sleep cycle, although it was tight, and the first day went well.
On Thursday I went off to a long interview that ran over and I didn’t make it back ‘til 12.30pm despite pushing the speed limit all the way from Rosa Brook.
I burst in through the shed door expecting plaintive baa-ing only to find our little Lambo stiff on the rug.
In instant panic I ran to her, tearfully attempting chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth, but I knew from how still and stiff and cold her tiny body was that it was no use.
Giving in to the inevitable, I swaddled her in a soft fleecy pink baby wrap from my own childhood and laid her to rest amongst the blankets in her cardboard box bed.
Returning distraught to the newspaper office, I noticed my new workmates (particularly the graphic artist who did vet nursing on weekends) seemed to be having trouble taking my trauma seriously.
There even looked to be some mild inner cheek biting going on, especially when I mentioned the mouth-to-mouth.
Recognising just how little country wisdom I had, they reassured me that sheep – particularly orphaned lambs – were prone to dying for no apparent reason.
That didn’t stop me blaming myself and imagining the poor little broken-hearted baby succumbing to loneliness or starvation in that missed half hour.
After work I did what any fish-out-of-water 22-year-old does and called my mum, who was appropriately sympathetic, while miraculously managing not to suggest for the 100th time that I just come home and perhaps find a more suitable husband.
When I sobbed the story out to my ‘unsuitable’ husband on the phone that evening, he failed to show the level of concern I’d been imagining.
But by the end of the conversation he was at least left with no misconceptions about what would happen if he ever brought home another sheep.
In the words of US country legend Tammy Wynette, D-I-V-O-R-C-E!
© Danielle Berryman 2021
Danielle Berryman spent 20+ years working on newspapers in Fremantle, Perth and Margaret River as a journalist, editor and photographer.
She was director of the Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival from 2011-2013.
She returned to Fremantle in 2017 and since then has had a snippet published in Readers Digest Australia and placed second in the 2018 KSP Non-Fiction competition.
Along with Gary McHugh, Danielle is a coordinator of Freo Writers at The Meeting Place.
She’s working on a memoir; a small-town murder tale; and anything else that inspires her.