“You mean the cows can poop anywhere they want on your ranch?” Justin, age 7 asked my grandson Barrett, also age 7.
I leaned back against the jeep and watched as the boys squatted and stuck sticks into the brown, largely fresh, cow patties that decorated the white caliche road. Then, I tilted my hat so I could admire the vast, Texas sky – robin’s egg blue with white puffy clouds, and not a single trace of rain. The sun sat high, keeping the fall temperature cool and comfortable.
“Sure. All the animals do. There’s coyote poop and bull poop and horse poop.” Barrett threw his hands wide. “It’s everywhere.”
Yes, I thought, the pasture was full of manure. That’s what happened when you left a couple of hundred head of cattle in one place for a while. I yawned and glanced over at the nearest group of black, Angus steers. Nope, they weren’t showing a lick of interest in the boys or me. Oh, they had when we’d first driven up, but now that we’d been there for ten minutes or so, they’d gone back to eating… and doing what comes next. Which was what had started this whole conversation. But, I was fine with that. Babysitting, and being a grandmother. But then, time had just worn me down until I was fine with most stuff.
Earlier that morning, before we picked Justin up, I’d called and warned Becca, his mom. Told her I let the kids play outside and they’d get muddy. I heard her hesitate. But then, she’d gone on to say it would be good for Justin, since he’d never been exposed to anything but city life. Which was impressive, since Becca was the kind of mom that freaked out. A lot. Like she was legendary.
So, I wasn’t surprised that she’d doused him with bug spray and sent him with a first aid kit, complete with her pediatricians’ emergency number.
“And nobody picks it up?” Justin’s eyes grew wide. “My Mom makes Dad get it all out of our yard. She says it’s gross.”
“I bet we could even find a snake turd if we looked.” Barrett kicked at some prairie grass.
“There are snakes here?” Justin’s expression changed to horror.
“Yep.” Barrett squatted, all-important like. Pushed aside the dried up, brown stems and peered in. “If we’re lucky, we’ll see one.”
I smirked but didn’t say a word. Barrett knew all the snakes were hibernating. He was just showing off.
Justin tiptoed over.
Barrett drew a big breath and then stood. “Nope. Not one here.”
Then he shoved one hand in his blue jeans and stared down the hill. “Grandma, can we go down to the creek?”
“Sure.” I said, comfortable that nothing dangerous could happen.
The boys trotted off.
After a couple of minutes, I felt a wave of exhaustion roll over me. I climbed into the jeep, made myself comfortable and shut my eyes. I could hear the boy’s happy chatter.
“Grandma?” Barrett shook me.
I jumped, instantly alert. “What’s wrong?”
I relaxed for a second, but stiffened right back up. Something wasn’t right. I glanced at Justin, and then Barrett. Guilt plastered both their faces. I shifted my gaze to Barrett and waited, intending to let him sweat.
“We didn’t do nothing. Really.” Barrett shifted his eyes from the jeep to the ground and back to Justin. Never looking at me.
They were lying.
I leaned forward and put my face about a foot away from theirs. “What did you do?”
Brrrr-ing. Brrrrr-ing. I glance at my cell phone. It was Becca.
“Hi Kathy. Well you wouldn’t believe it but I just happened to be in the area so I thought I’d save you the trip and pick up Justin.”
Her voice sounded nervous and way too jovial.
“Oh.” I glanced at the time. She’d let him stay for two hours. That was an hour less than she’d agreed to. But then, this was Justin’s mom, so I should count my blessings we’d had him this long. Instead I rolled my eyes. “Well, that’s so sweet of you. How close are you?”
“I’m sitting in your driveway. I ran the doorbell but nobody seems to be home. Is everything alright?”
Her voice had taken on a note of panic.
“Yes, we’re just out in the pasture. Give us a couple of minutes and we’ll be there.”
I hung up, told the boys to get into the jeep and took off. I muttered the whole way. I mean really, I could watch two kids. Like, this wasn’t brain surgery.
Five minutes later, we pulled into the driveway. Becca’s face shone with relief as Justin jumped out of the jeep unharmed… Like it was a miracle he’d survived the wilderness…
“Justin, darling.” She enveloped him in her arms, kissed his head and squeezed him again. “Did you have fun?”
“Yea. I saw some cows and bulls and one of them pooped right in front of me. Mom, you wouldn’t believe it. There’s poo-poo everywhere.” Justin’s face was bright with excitement.
Becca’s was not. She’d pulled back. Her nose twitched. Her face contorted. Then, she leaned in and sniffed Justin hard. “You smell like… manure.”
Which I thought was funny. After all, they hadn’t rolled in it or anything.
But, both boys froze. Guilt radiated from their every pore. It was the same look I’d seen just five minutes before.
Suddenly, I was worried.
“What did you do?” Becca’s face blazed with suspicion.
The boys exchanged a glance, then grinned and burst into giggles.
“We pooped on the ground and we didn’t use toilet paper and nobody picked it up.”
Becca reeled back. Her head jerked up and she glared at me.
I swear, she looked like an angry coyote about to attack.
Then, without saying a word, Becca whipped around, grabbed Justin and jumped in her car.
With tires screeching and dust billowing, she blasted out of the ranch.
As they disappeared, Barrett turned to me. “Wow. She sure was mad.”
He shrugged. “Oh well. Grandma, you want to go look for fossils?”
“Sure.” I leaned in and sniffed. The reeled back. “But first, you need to take a shower.”