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Sweaters For Billy
I was brought up on a sheep and goat farm in the middle of nowhere. Raised to be a homeschooled Shepherdess with friends who could only say “baaaah”. My family didn’t have neighbors or companions to smile with or make jokes to, so decidedly we put all our humor into our animals. Every year when new lambs or kids (baby goats) were born, we would give them the most creative names we could think of. At seven-years-old, I was the funniest person I knew so naturally on my seventh birthday when given a goat to raise as my own, I tried to give it a funny name.
Male sheep are called rams while male goats are referred to as Billys’. We’d had several goats named Billy over the years for the name was naturally fitting and in turn, we’d had numerous sheep whom we named Ram. At the time, my young mind was convinced that I possessed all the irony in the world so rather than naming my baby goat Billy I gave him the unexpected and opposing title of Ramsay.
My little sister Caroline was five years old when Ramsay was given to me and complained for days on end about how she deserved an animal of her own as well. Caroline being the ‘precious’ and deceiving child that she was, was able to make her dream come true, and was given a beautiful baby lamb. I would have been upset, considering my parents never would have given me a lamb at her age but Caroline made up for it when it came time for her lamb to be named. I felt complimented as Caroline decided to name the lamb Billy, as though she was praising my humor and letting my joke take on a new form. Every morning Caroline and I would wake up to feed our pets. I would button up my soft yellow jacket and Caroline would slip into her brown fuzzy boots before we would run out to the barn with buckets of feed and bottles of nutritious milk. Sometimes during the day, we would return to the barn to bathe or play with them but not once did we miss going to the barn at night to wish our creatures sweet dreams.
For years I stuck to this routine, I loved all of our animals and only devoted a little amount of attention to my precious Ramsay over the others. I was perfectly content seeing him two or three times a day and spending the rest of my hours studying or helping to shear the sheep. Caroline, on the other hand, didn’t love all animals the way I did, she loved only Billy in particular, and loved him with everything she had. Billy didn’t stay a resident of the barn for very long, because Caroline soon convinced our parents to let Billy stay in her room. Caroline’s bed proved inessential to her way of life, for each night she and Billy chose to sleep on the floor instead.
In the winter, when the thin walls of our farmhouse could no longer keep us warm we turned to making wool blankets. Itchy as they may be, we relied on our never-ending supply of wool to keep us warm when our rickety A.C unit could not. My family used numerous techniques to keep the sheared sheep warm in the barn on cold winter nights yet these same techniques could not be extended to Billy who was stuck in the freezing farmhouse like the rest of us. For this reason, Billy typically stayed cradled in a blanket during the colder days. He would sit in Caroline’s lap while she adorned him in wool previously belonging to his brothers and sisters. My family would try to do the same, using the daylight hours as a time where blankets were enough to keep us warm. However, each night when we would go to sleep and the air would grow colder, these blankets were not enough for us anymore. Because of this, we each found warmth in wool sweaters. Typically given to us as Christmas gifts from our Mother, they each possessed bright colors or even patterns for us to call our own.
Each night before bed, my parents, myself and Caroline would put our sweaters on before crawling under the covers, yet when the sun rose the next day only three of us would still be wearing them. I can’t tell you at what hour of the night Caroline always decided to hand her sweater over to Billy, or why she even bothered putting the sweaters on in the first place, all I can tell you is that every morning Billy would come running into the kitchen covered in wool and Caroline only in a T-shirt. As Ramsay spent his time in the barn growing closer with the other animals, Billy spent his time growing closer to our family and closer to my sister’s sweaters. By the time Caroline was eight, her wrapping paper on Christmas morning no longer said “To: Caroline”, but was instead addressed to Billy for he was the one wearing the sweaters after all. Many months of the year Billy was stuck wearing his own boring white colors but during all the others, he would wear bright reds, blues, greens and perhaps even polka dots.
Billy was a sweater connoisseur and waking up to see him modeling the different styles became a family tradition. Eating pancakes on a winter morning was no longer the same if there wasn’t a sheep sitting next to you in long sleeves and a bright yellow turtleneck. Year after year I was given just one sweater for that was all I needed, but not Billy. My Mother found her joy in making Billy’s sweaters, and Caroline found hers in letting him wear them. Our personalized family calendar hanging up in the kitchen was no longer the same if each month didn’t include a picture of Billy in one of my Mother’s finest. Relatives would come to visit and head straight to our pantry door to gaze upon Billy’s monthly photos. There was red, white and blue for July, orange sweaters in October and light pastel patterns reserved for the Spring. For me going out to the barn on shearing days was a chore and a burden, but for Caroline, shearing Billy was a time of excitement and pondering what sweater he would wear next.
Caroline grew up with Billy by her side. They spent birthdays blowing out her candles together and mornings reading books together in our pasture. Billy was to Caroline as Wilbur was to Fern and every day their bond grew. Caroline would do anything for her sheep so it was no surprise the day she did just that. It was the morning of Caroline’s fifteenth birthday - as well as Billy’s tenth- and a beautiful fifteen-year-old she was. Where I had pale skin, Caroline had freckles and where I had stringy brown hair, Caroline was given long thick shimmering locks. She was tall and slender and had a laugh that any person would say a thousand jokes just to hear one time.
She learned to love singing and reading and writing poems to share with all of us. But she especially developed a love of running although only if Billy was running right beside her. On her birthday morning she set out on one of her longest runs yet. Because of this my Mother got up early so she could bake Caroline’s cake while she was out getting exercise, and when she was done she set me out to retrieve my sister.
Our family owns only one car because only one car is what we need. For this same reason, the road running through the hills surrounding our land is rarely used and when it is used it’s typically by our own family or people interested in our products. It’s no wonder Caroline’s birthday would be the road’s busiest time of the year, for it's no wonder all our family would want to see the treasured girl on her special day. Caroline had no knowledge of the day’s guests nor did Billy who due to the lack of cars was also never taught to look both ways before crossing the street.
I had been looking for fifteen minutes when I finally found them. Standing on the side of the road atop of a particularly steep hill where you had no chance of seeing any cars creeping up it. I will always blame myself for what happened next, because I was the one who called out her name. I could have gotten closer to her, and maybe used a quieter voice but because I had been looking for so long I instead decided to yell out from far away. My voice broke through the silence, creating a presence so alarming that Billy not only jumped but ran. He ran away from me, away from Caroline and right into the street.
On most days this would present no problems because on most days this road was never used. This day however and oh so unfortunately, was not most days. The car belonged to my aunt. It was orange and small and fast and it came up the hill quicker than any of us could process. I braced myself for the impact, and for Billy’s death, for I knew there was no way he could escape the road in time.
Now, I love Billy with all my heart, but I will always wish it was he who died that day, or Ramsay, or even me. Instead, Billy lived. He lived in thanks to a beautiful fifteen-year-old girl with hair and a soul as golden as the sun. A girl who ran out into that road to push him out of harm’s way. On this tragic day, the humor of Billy’s name passed on, as the girl who bestowed his name upon him passed as well.
The irony of his name, however, survived. This irony took on a new form in the event that five years later at the same innocent age of fifteen, Billy died as well. He died on a walk, in the same spot, on the same road, and once again it was me who stood right beside him and watched as his old age gave out and he honored my sister for all she was worth. I repeated Caroline’s same good deed and took Billy out of the road, I laid him down in the grass and I cried. I cried the tears that I couldn’t on the day Caroline left. I cried the tears my little sister cried the first time she saw her lamb shivering and decided to offer him her sweater. I cried the tears that filled my Mom’s eyes as she pricked herself making Billy’s sweaters each year, and I cried the tears my Dad did sitting at my sister’s funeral.
I then gathered my family to help lift Billy’s innocent body to his favorite spot in the pasture. The spot where my little innocent sister would try to teach him to read. The spot where Caroline herself was buried. The spot where Billy’s grave would be dug next to hers. The spot where for the first time, Billy was forced to sleep next to Caroline in nothing but his own white wool, for it was now Caroline who wore the sweaters. The sweaters for her and the sweaters for Billy, enough to keep her warm as she slept through eternity.