The Llama Lady wore clear gloves that went all the way up to her mid bicep. I’m sure that was intentional because she was elbow deep up the Llama’s hooha.
It was hot and muggy in the barn. My upper lip was speckled with big drops of sweat that would drip to my lips, salty and cool. The smell of animals and poop clung in the air so thick you could let it slip through your fingers like a wisp of smoke.
As an adult, I’ve often wondered where one gets gloves up to your armpits without Amazon or Google. A vet catalogue? Some farmer supply store? I envision the Llama Lady, thin and plain, approaching the clerk and asking for the special “Up the wazoo” gloves. As the young clerk went to the back to check if they had some in stock, the Llama Lady would call out, “Get me the good ones, Randy! The off-brand gloves you gave me last time tore while I was in there and no amount of soap got me clean!”
But I still question my memory. Do farmers normally birth their own animals? Don’t they hire a vet? Maybe *she was* a vet? When I look through the lens of my memory, all I see is her right up in the poor llama’s Mary-Ellen – and me – fidgety on a wooden bench finding it a little hard to cope. All the other details are out of view.
A few of us neighbor kids were usually invited to watch Llama births. This was my first. I was about 6 years old and my mom sent me off by myself. Lucy just turned 6 and I can’t imagine sending her off to get the mail at the end of the driveway by herself, let alone traversing the prairie to witness a live llama birth. But this was a time when crimes against children were much, much higher, while fear of that happening was much, much lower – so apparently us moms just do the best we can in the era we live in.
My collie, Lassie (real original, Mom and Dad!), walked with me over to her house. Whenever I was out walking around with Lassie, we were usually accompanied by another neighbor dog, a Basset Hound named Auggie. But he wasn’t there with us that day and I wondered where he could be. Maybe he was home inside, the day too warm.
As Lassie and I made our way, I tried to imagine what was in store for me. I naively assumed I would watch a Llama writhe in pain on the straw covered floor while a baby blew out her backend. But would there be snacks? Any Fruit Punch? Little Debbie snack cakes? Surely there’d be refreshments. RIGHT LLAMA LADY?
Lassie wasn’t allowed in, so I left her at the gate. The first thing I noticed when I arrived were some neighbor kids, already sitting on a bench in the barn. The second thing I noticed were the lack of refreshments. I joined my friends, our sweaty arms rubbing up against each other, each of us a little nervous. I could have really used a snack, or at least a cold beverage. I don’t know what kind of live birth event this lady was trying to put on, but I wasn’t impressed!
The llama wasn’t on the straw floor and while she adjusted her footing a bit more than normal, she stood tall and stoic. I was curious how this was all gonna go down, and even more curious as the Llama Lady put on the long, clear gloves. She wasted no time getting straight to business. She patted the Llama’s bottom, and spoke gently to her, before ever so gently sliding both arms in an area that shouldn’t be able to handle arms, let alone multiple arms. I was witnessing something impossible. Other worldly. My eyes were round like saucers as sweat collected in the crease of my neck. My friends and I stared straight ahead, none of us made a sound. Then the llama lady pulled. There was resistance, pivoting. The llama shuffled her feet and groaned. And then out came a slippery, slickery baby llama. She wobbled and crashed to the ground, then got up on all four hooves and stood. Her mother nuzzled her. Then the baby began to wobbly wobble and walk.
Just like that, something new that hadn’t been there before appeared before my eyes. And it was walking! I sat, stunned, while still wishing I had at least a crisp Capri Sun to see me through.
I don’t remember much else, but I do remember my walk home. I buzzed thinking about the new baby llama. So small, but so capable too. Walking and moving and nursing just moments after being born. Up ahead, I saw my brother playing catch with Lassie on our front lawn. I saw another neighbor dog running around them. The dog was some kind of mix– the lean active type that runs crazed for hours. But still no slow, clumsy Basset Hound I’d come to favor.
“Where’ve you been?” Christian asked.
“I was at the Llama Lady’s watching a baby llama be born,” I told him, tripping over some long grass.
“Really? Was it gross?” he asked playfully.
“I guess so,” I told him, sparing him the details of the Llama Lady and her gooped up arm length gloves.
“Cool,” he said, throwing the ball again.
“Have you seen Auggie?” I asked, itching my right calf with the white Ked on my left foot.
“Oh, you haven’t heard?”
I looked up at him and shook my head.
“Auggie died last week,” he said, throwing the ball. “He drowned in a pool.”
A trickle of sweat spilled down my temple. I was barely old enough to grasp the new life I just watched enter the world, and barely old enough to grasp that another had just left it.
My mind tried to envision him in the pool, his cute little body, somewhere at the bottom, but I wouldn’t allow it and swatted the image away like a fly.
I walked up our drive and entered the house through the side, near the garage. Mom was in the kitchen, putting things into cupboards.
“Well, how was it?” she asked, on her tippy toes, reaching high.
“It was neat,” I told her. What else could I say?
“That’s it?” she said, turning towards me.
“The baby was really cute and slickery and wobbly,” I told her. I knew I had to throw her a few bones or she’d never drop it. I didn’t ask her about Auggie — if she knew and kept it from me. Or maybe she had no idea. I made my way up to my room. I wanted to keep the rest for myself. To ponder it in my heart a little longer before an adult told me what it all meant.
I sat on my bed and tried to not think about Auggie. I can usually tell what matters to me most by what I remember as a child. I remember my awe at new life. The confusion and grief as one ended. And my disappointment when there weren’t any Little Debbie’s.