June 2014
Through the Fence

Breaking up the Monotony

When I finally get around to doing a job I dread, I realize why I dreaded it. Cleaning out the feed room is one of those ugly jobs. If it isn’t cleaned periodically, it will get so filled up with feed bags, strings, paper scraps, buckets, loose hay and pieces of baling wire that we can’t get in the door. Of course, that is the perfect kind of job to enlist free child labor. They’d prefer watching TV in the air-conditioned house, but then how would their character ever get built?

That job reminds me (and I then remind my kids) how much easier it would be to tidy up a little each day. Then, we wouldn’t have had that colossal mess in the first place. I’m sure that lecture falls on deaf ears.

Everyone has a designated job. One kid picks up baling wires and folds them several times. Another kid picks up strings and paper tape. I work with another kid, flattening and folding the empty feed bags and stuffing as many as possible into another bag.

One day while we cleaned the feed room, it was particularly hot. I didn’t intentionally pick the hottest day of the year, but my children wondered otherwise. Inside the confines of the metal room, the heat was truly sweltering. It wasn’t exactly therapeutic for our allergies either, with all the dust hanging in the still, hot air.

I should have been wary that day because the job was going so smoothly. That should have been an omen in itself. No one was arguing about whose job was harder or asking to take another break. Wires were getting rolled and bags were getting flattened and folded. Occasionally, there would be a few particles of feed left in the bottom of a bag, and I’d just dump them out on the ground to be swept up with the loose hay.

My teenage daughter was standing next to me when I emptied a bag. Unbeknownst to us both, there was a tiny mouse in that bag. No doubt he’d been feasting on the rich, high-protein goat ration, and was, for the moment, safe from the family cat. When I turned the bag over, he tumbled out and scrambled for cover. When he did, the closest route to safety was over the top of my daughter’s sandal-clad foot.

When she felt those little feet scurry over the top of her feet, she reacted with tremendous shock and surprise. My head was down, and I was already grabbing the next bag to be emptied, so I was unaware of what was happening. But when I heard her gasp, I looked up. All the color had drained from her face. She threw her hands over her mouth and paused. I waited for her to exhale. When she finally did, she let out a blood-curdling scream. Then, she broke down into hysterical sobs, tears streaming down her hot, dusty face. I couldn’t really understand all she was saying, because she was blubbering by that time. But it was something about being "grossed out" by the mouse’s tickly feet on top of hers.

I don’t know how many times I had told her and the kids not to come outside to work in flip flops. Proper clothing and footwear are essential for efficient completion of any job. However, sensible information like that never seems to find its way into her teenage brain. It’s already too crowded with critical data about which boy was going out with one of her friends, or which boy was going to call her that night or meet her at the next rodeo.

When she finally calmed down, the other kids and I had a good laugh at her expense. It was a dramatic overreaction to such a little mouse. She failed to see the humor in the situation, which made it even funnier. At least, it did break up the monotony of the hot, tedious job. It didn’t take much convincing that perhaps it was time for us all to take a break in the house and have a glass of tea.

When we went back out to finish the job, my teenager put on her boots - without even being told.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..