Too Soon

By Leslie Floyd

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    For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search for my sheep [goats], and seek them out (Ezek. 34:11).

    April awoke in the cold darkness to find her father’s hand shaking her. “Time to check the nannies again, honey,” he was saying.

    “Why do mother goats have to have their babies so early in the year when it’s still so cold!” April moaned. Bracing herself for the shock, she jumped out of bed, grabbed her cold, rumpled clothes off the chair, and ran barefoot across the cold wooden floor to the fireplace in the living room. Her father already had the fire going, and April held her clothes in front of it to warm them before putting them on. It was a struggle to get her jeans on over her pajama bottoms, but they would help to keep her legs warm.

    “Ready to go?” called her father from the back porch.

    While she hurried into her coat and boots, April wondered if there would be any new kids this morning. The nannies had to be checked every three or four hours in case any were having trouble delivering their kids.

    April’s father was just a black silhouette between her and the dim beam from the flashlight as they walked through the misty darkness. The north wind made them both hunch down in their coats.

    The barn felt almost warm after the harsh wind. Turning on the light, they began to look over the nannies penned there. Her father always separated a newborn kid and its mother from the rest of the nannies for a few days. April called these small, private pens the maternity ward.

    “Look, Dad, there’s one over in the corner.”

    “OK, April, you get the kid. I’ll catch the nanny.”

    April couldn’t resist rubbing her cheek against its small nose. It nuzzled her back, and she grinned up at her dad.

    “Careful,” Dad warned her. “If you get too much of your smell on him, his mother might reject him.”

    “I know, I know. But they’re so cute and so soft that I can’t resist just one little nuzzle.” She placed the kid by its mother and watched it begin to nurse.

    By the time April and her father had finished checking the pens and feeding the goats, the cows were mooing to be milked and the dark of night was fading to the gray of dawn. April shivered, and her Brrrr came out in a small cloud. She was turning to go back into the warm barn when she saw a lone nanny outside the gate to the corral. April hurried to let her in. “Look, Dad,” she said. “That nanny has been out all night. She’s kidded too.”

    “Yes,” said her father. “She probably came up to eat some hay. She’s hidden her kid somewhere in the pasture, and she won’t return to it until dark, when she can go without being seen.”

    “But, Dad, a newborn kid can’t stay out in this cold all day. It will freeze to death.”

    “Maybe. And maybe not. That pasture is a big one, and you’ll never find the kid, anyhow. Once a nanny tells her kid to hunker down, it won’t move, even if you stumble over it. It’s going to look just like a small rock out there. But you can start searching if you want, and I’ll join you as soon as I can.”

    As April walked, she checked all the white spots that she thought might be a baby goat. Her glance swept the pasture on all sides of her continually. Once she saw her father on the other side of a ravine, looking carefully about. A fifty-acre pasture sure is big when you’re looking for something small, she thought.

    After what seemed like hours, April met her father. “We’d better give up,” he said. “There are just too many places for the kid to be hidden. I can’t spend any more time looking for it. Maybe if she found a sheltered place to leave the kid, it will still be alive tonight. Or it may already be dead. I’ll turn the nanny out again as soon as I get back to the barn. Just maybe she’ll go right back to her kid.”

    April thought, If I’m cold with my thick coat on, how cold is that newborn kid? Her eyes swept the pasture again. I’ll keep looking a little longer, Dad.”

    “OK, but don’t get yourself chilled. You’re worth more than any goat kid to me.”

    April’s father walked away, disappearing in the mist that coated everything. The tiny drops that looked like small diamonds would only wet the kid’s hair, chilling it that much faster.

    Please, Heavenly Father, help me to find it, April prayed silently as she searched. Don’t let it die! Please help me to find it. She had walked the whole pasture at least once and now was checking out places that she might have missed the first time. She thought of the warmth waiting back in the kitchen. I could be sitting at the breakfast table in fifteen minutes, she thought. I’m so cold and tired—and I did try.

    She was turning toward the house when she remembered how good she had gotten at mimicking the nannies talking to their kids. She knew all their calls. Now she wondered if she could fool the hidden kid. She took a deep breath, and, from a low place in the back of her throat, let out her best maaa uh uh imitation of a nanny calling her kid to come nurse. Again she went maaa uh uh with all the urgency of a nanny trying to find her own baby in the midst of dozens of other kids. Then she added the unh unh unh loving sound a nanny makes when she has found her own and is urging it to nurse.

    April stopped and listened. Silence. She called again and listened. Then she heard it—a very faint naaah close by.

    Calling as she walked, she heard the kid answering. Suddenly, almost at her feet, what looked like a rock lying by a log struggled up onto four legs.

    “Oh, you poor, wet thing!” she cried. Gathering the kid in her arms, she tucked it inside her coat to warm it. She talked to it in goat language, and it nuzzled her under the chin. Walking toward the warmth of the house, she whispered, “Too soon! I almost quit too soon. Thank you, Heavenly Father.” Then, laughing happily, she told the kid, “That’s what I’ll name you—Too Soon.”

    Illustrated by Dick Brown