Homer Hundigger told this story at the Crawdad Club last night:
Daddy always said I didn’t apply myself. I did, just not how he wanted. We was dirt poor, so Daddy probably didn’t apply himself neither, least not the way Momma wanted.
The Gritstones, a mighty fat family, lived behind the church and had a sheep pen in the rear—six or seven head. Now, older folks might see the Gritstones laundry on a line and think nothing of it—young folks is different. I saw them clothes hanging there, and them sheep resting comfortably, and I thought it would be awful funny to see those sheep dressed for meeting, the next day being Sunday. If that ain’t application, I don’t know what is.
What happened? Why, there wasn’t nothing else talked about for most of a week! Everybody said it was a good one, and I figured I’d ride it for some time. Even Daddy said it wasn’t bad, only ornery, which usually meant he’d switch me then laugh afterwards.
Mr. Gritstone didn’t laugh, though. Was he angry! Did you know that a sheep’s mental health affects the quality of their wool? I didn’t either, but Gritstone explained it when he grabbed me after church.
“Do you know how much this will cost me?” he hollered.
I shook my head, pretty scared.
“Happy sheep produce warm wool,” he said. “Frazzled, worried sheep—what I’ve got, thanks to you—produce inferior wool. I don’t need to explain the consequence.”
Actually, he did, and I told him so.
“For every frazzled sheep,” he said, “a little orphan girl will have cold fingers and a little boy will have a cold head. A worried sheep has an unsure step and their baas lack conviction. In a post-wolf age, this is unacceptable. Your father will pay for your actions.”
Well, my folks hardly had money to fill the dinner plates, much less pay for frazzled livestock. That night, Daddy visited that pen to see if he could soothe them sheep. Now, Daddy would play the folk harp most all day—he never worked. He figured maybe music would do the trick, so he sat and sang and played to the sheep, just like King David. (Ha ha! If the sheep had understood sea chanties, they’d have been a heap more frazzled than they were.) Well, Daddy played and sang most of the night, and not only did the sheep recover, they thrived. Gritstone said he woke next morning to laughing baas. Come shearing, he never had such quality wool.
My Daddy was lazy, maybe, but he weren’t no fool—he saw he had a gift. Hung out his shingle as a “livestock therapist.” Played that harp for all kinds of stock, even ducks and geese. And for as long as he lived, Shadowers never heard a sad moo, a despondent neigh, or a melancholy quack, and Daddy was gettin’ paid to do what he’d always done for nothing.
You see, in the end, it was Daddy who learned to apply himself. Me, I’d been doing it all along.