This story won an Honourable Mention at an Inscribe Spring contest a few years ago, inspiring my grandma to submit it to the Olds Albertan, starting a series of animal stories in that paper. The story was later reprinted in the Edmonton Journal as well.
Straw scattered in all directions as the ewe lunged towards the far side of the pen, leaving behind her a tiny white lamb with droopy ears, big eyes, pink nose, and soft hair on his face. The other lambs dashed after their mother, but this little one’s attempts to follow only ended with him tumbling into the straw in the same place he’d been sitting. He stayed there until Vern reached over the edge of the pen to scoop him up.
The little lamb hung in the big hand, looking even more pitiful, as Vern passed him over to me, saying, “You can have him for nothing; that’s about all he’s worth.”
Something in that comment stirred the fight in me. That lamb would get every chance to live. Riding home, Mom called him Ebenezer, meaning ‘he whom God has helped,’ for he would need all the help he could get. He was tiny, weak, and crippled. Not very good odds for an orphan lamb, who have less chances of surviving anyway. Mixed formula isn’t the same as real milk, and lambs bottle-fed at certain times, instead of getting their mother’s constant supply of milk, don’t grow as fast. Orphan lambs are also more likely to get bloat or illness. Ebenezer had these things going against him, but his mother had also either had troubles birthing him or had stepped or sat on him. His legs were shaky and weak, almost useless.
I had to hold him when I bottle-fed him, for he couldn’t stand and drink at the same time. Though at first I had to coax him to eat, he soon developed a healthy appetite, bunting the bottle from his sitting position. When he finished, I would help him stand up and encourage him to walk. He’d get his three weak legs under him and hop around the pen, until his legs got tangled in the straw and he tumbled down again. He never appeared to be in pain; as far as he knew, it was normal to have weak legs. That never stopped him from trying to chase me or the other lambs.
About a week after we got him, I went out and found he couldn’t walk. His left side appeared totally paralyzed. I helped him stand, but he could only support himself on two legs; his left legs just hung there. It was a mystery what happened to cause this latest set-back, but Ebenezer wasn’t one to let it bother him.
When he started walking again, it was on only two legs. He’d push himself up and take off, doing fine as long as he could keep going. But when he stopped, he would lost his balance and fall over, and have to struggle to his feet again. The cats would sit watching him, this little lamb barely half their size. He’d scurry over to check them out, and invariably fall on top of them. But falls never deterred him; he would be up and at it again as soon as he’d rested a minute.
That was life as normal for Ebenezer, until he broke his leg. Bad luck seemed to chase him everywhere he went. I made a splint for him as best as I could, and bound his leg securely, but a break on his left hind leg above the knee was very hard to fix. At first, Ebenezer had troubles with the splint, because it was big and awkward. I wondered if it did more harm than good. He kept falling over, and I kept picking him up, worrying that he was hurting himself further. But he wasn’t content just to rest in the straw; after every fall, he would try to get up again, and so I let him keep trying.
In a few days he’d gotten used to his splint, and was going around as before. When I saw him starting to use his splinted leg – adding the occasional push to the other two legs as he darted around – I knew it had healed. So, three weeks after he broke his leg, I took the splint off, and Ebenezer started using three legs, chasing the other lambs around as best he could.
He never became a big lamb, always being slightly smaller than my ewe’s lambs or even the other orphans. He got a rather bushy face, with curly wool on top of his head and under his ears. In the evenings, when the lambs got frisky, he’d lead them around the pen, hopping stiff-legged like a deer on all four legs. He was the fastest, and could dart, dodge, stop, and take off again without any hesitation.
He loved to follow me, and was happiest when he was with me. I had to learn to sneak out the gates, for Ebenezer was fast and small, and could slip out behind me before I could stop him. Then he was most stubborn about going back in, and as he got bigger it became a tug-of-war between us as I tried to push him back inside. Sometimes, when I let him go with me, he’d stop to nibble on something and I’d get a little ways ahead. Then when he noticed he was being left behind, he’d kick his heels up, give a twist, and be off after me as fast as he could.
In the fall, as I watched him charging about on four strong legs, I smiled, remembering the little lamb who came in the spring – the little lamb who was “worth nothing,” but who wouldn’t give up.