March 21st, 1956


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Ann Kennedy’s weekly “Diary of a farmer’s wife” recorded aspects of rural living in the 1950s.

It was the frantic bleating of a ewe that first attracted my attention.

I was in the kitchen at the time, preparing the dinner, with one eye on the clock: for my husband had specifically requested that the meal should be on the table on the dot of one, so that he would lose no precious time from the ploughing.

I was rolling pastry for an apple tart when the cries of the ewe, coming from the field below the house, caught my attention. Still clutching the rolling-pin, I went to the window and glanced across the yard. The animal was standing motionless, close to the wide boundary ditch. Only her bleating displayed her agitation.

At the gate I paused, looking with indecision from my shoes to the sodden, hoof-trodden grass. While I still hesitated, a new sound reached my ears. It was a faint, thin wail. With a couple of long jumps I was across the squelching grass and hurrying over firm ground.

“Put on your boots,” I called back to Margaret who was trotting behind.

The ewe took no notice of my approach but continued to gaze into the ditch. I joined her and peered over. A new born lamb lay at the bottom, in a couple of inches of dirty water. A stick had broken his fall and prevented him from sinking into the black mud.

“You silly creature,” I scolded the ewe crossly. “A fine mother you are!”

I slid down the bank and grasping with one hand an overhanging branch, reached for the small body. Margaret’s face appeared over the edge of the ditch and, unceremoniously interrupting her flow of questions, I put the lamb into her arms. Her face expressed doubt and some distaste, for indeed he was a horrifying sight, limp and sticky, dripping with mud, and seemed altogether more dead than alive.

I managed with some effort to draw my feet out of the bank without leaving my shoes behind. Then I took the lamb, to Margaret’s relief, and, wiping away the worst of the mud, slapped him a couple of times. The head jerked and the mouth opened in a pathetic wail.

The ewe, who had been darting about in a frantic fashion, immediately ran forwards, but I walked away, carrying the lamb across the field.

She followed for a time: then, as she paused in bewilderment, I put the lamb on the ground and when he bleated, she came on once more.

It was slow progress but at length we reached the old orchard and, judging that we were far enough from dangerous ditches, I placed the lamb on the grass.

As we left the ewe was licking the dirty wool and already the lamb was making an effort to rise on wobbling legs.

Back in the kitchen I gazed regretfully at the half-finished pastry. But it was too late and I quickly cored the apples, filled them with sugar and spice and pushed them into the oven to bake.