Nine-year-old Carrie held her dad’s strong hand tightly as they walked through the bleating sheep in the paddock (enclosed area). Ewes, watching their playful lambs, stamped their feet protectively as father and daughter pushed through the milling flock to the sheep shed. Old Jake, his face weathered by the Montana summer sun and winter cold, met them at the door. He was holding a new lamb.
“We have a bad one this time, boss. I gave him his first feeding, but he’s got a crooked set of hind legs and can’t seem to get up on them at all.”
Dad took the squirming lamb gently and carefully examined its twisted legs.
“What do you think, boss?” Jake asked. “He won’t be able to suck from his mother, so he’ll be just another bummer (orphan) lamb—and a mighty poor one at that.”
Dad put the lamb down in the new straw and watched the determined baby struggle to get up. Its forelegs were strong.
Carrie knelt beside it and stroked its wiry, short wool, hardly warm enough to keep it alive without a mother in the cold April nights. Its huge, soft eyes turned to her, and with a loud bleat it again struggled to get to its feet. Instead, it fell, the deformed legs useless. “Daddy, you wouldn’t really kill this lamb, would you?”
Dad studied the lamb, then Jake, then Carrie for a long time. Finally he asked Jake, “Do you think he’s pretty healthy otherwise?”
“Seems to be. He took the bottle OK.”
“Please, Daddy,” Carrie pleaded, “if he can take the bottle, can’t I feed him with the other bummer lambs?”
“That’s a big responsibility,” Dad said. “Raising a bummer is hard enough when they can fend for themselves and go to the pasture for grass when they’re bigger. You’d have to be not only his mother but also his back legs.”
The lamb continued to bleat and struggle to get up. Carrie hugged it. “But could I try? I promise to get up early to feed him before school. And as soon as I get home, I’ll take care of him again.”
Jake laughed, “Well, you can’t beat that for loving. But you’re forgetting the feeding during the day and at least one in the middle of the night. And how are you going to keep this little fellow warm?”
Carrie looked up at the old sheepherder. “You’d help me, wouldn’t you?” she pleaded. “I could help extra by feeding the ewes after school for you.”
“It looks like she’s as determined to keep that lamb as he is to get up and walk,” Dad said to Jake. He turned to Carrie. “Yes, you can keep this lamb. He will be your special responsibility. Jake and I will help you, but you will have to ask us.”
Joyfully Carrie picked up the lamb and followed Dad outside.
Soon Carrie faced the problems of her little lamb. It couldn’t be put in with the other bummer lambs for fear that they would trample it. She not only had to put up a pen for it outside, but she also had to put it in a big box in the sunroom at night to keep it warm. It couldn’t move about by itself, so she needed to move it often and change its straw frequently to keep it clean and warm. Like all the other bummer lambs, it had to be fed at six in the morning and again in the evening, as well as by Jake while she was in school. And she had to get up at night to check on and feed the hungry baby. No matter how sleepy she was, she had to clean out the bottles so that no sour milk would cause sickness. Besides, as she had promised, she helped Jake with the ewes.
One night at supper, Carrie, especially tired, slumped in her chair and blurted, “It’s just too hard.”
“What’s too hard?” Mom asked.
“It’s too hard to take care of my lamb. And he’ll never run and play with the other lambs. He’ll always be different.”
“Did you want to help him?”
“Yes, but I didn’t want all his problems,” Carrie faltered.
“Have you asked your father for his help? I know he said that he’d help you if you asked him.”
Carrie did ask for help. She and her dad made a better pen for the lamb outside. They also fixed up an old wagon for her to haul the growing lamb around in. They found that with some grain and a few hours in the pasture each day, it needed fewer bottle feedings.
Whenever the lamb, affectionately named Little Lamb, heard Carrie’s voice, he bleated happily to her and wriggled all over in excitement. Despite his unusable back legs, he started to pull forward on his forelegs, and when she held him, he nuzzled her lovingly and shook his head playfully.
Spring slipped into summer. The lambs spent more and more time in the pasture. With his strong forelegs, Little Lamb joined the others, pulling himself forward slowly but determinedly.
Watching the little flock of orphans one evening, Carrie and Dad laughed to see the strong bummers leap over Little Lamb and circle back around him, including him in a playful game of tag.
“Well, Carrie, it seems that your lamb is doing wonderfully,” Dad observed. “Thank you for taking such good care of him.”
“Oh, Dad, I couldn’t have done it without you!”
The next morning, Carrie ran out with her bucket of bottles as usual, calling “Lambie, lambie, lambie,” and hearing a chorus of noisy, appreciative blatting in return. Just as they recognized her call, she knew their voices. But one was missing—Little Lamb’s.
She ran to the lamb pen. He was gone! Frantically she looked in the pasture, in the driveway. No Little Lamb. She ran to the house, calling, “Dad! Mom! Jake! Have you seen Little Lamb?”
Soon the entire family was involved in the hunt.
It was Jake who discovered that the pasture gate had been left open. Somehow, Little Lamb had pulled himself to the creek flowing past the house. Jake found him lying lifeless near the water.
Carrying the lamb, he slowly walked back to the house. “I’m sorry, Carrie. He’s gone.”
“Oh, no!” she sobbed, reaching for the lamb. “He can’t be. I tried my best to take care of him. I loved him even with his bad legs. Dad, Jake, can’t you do something?” Dad gathered Carrie and the lamb into his arms, cradling them silently for a few moments as Carrie continued to sob. “Why did he have to die? Why?”
Finally Dad spoke. “I don’t know why this lamb died, but I do know that he lived for a special reason. He was born too deformed to stay with his mother. But he lived to give you love, to help you know that all life is good, even though it may be different. He lived so that you could learn the joy that comes from caring for someone else, for putting the needs of someone else above your own. Maybe you won’t understand all that right now, but I hope you’ll understand that the love you have for Little Lamb is good and that your memories of him should be happy ones.”