By the time we had arrived back at Grandmother's house after burying her husband, she had already changed from her church clothes into a faded pair of baggy jeans and t-shirt. I reminded Josh that our time here was limited, because back in Raleigh was a dog that probably needed to go to the bathroom. I felt terrible for even suggesting that he cut short time with his family for the sake of letting the dog out.
While the rest of the family sat, ate, and visited, Grandmother was already out the screen door. Predictably, Josh was only a step behind, still wearing his suit pants, shirt, and tie. It was predictable because he is just so helpful all the time. Before I can even recognize the opportunity to lend a hand, he is already two hands in. Sometimes, strangers compliment me on it, as if I had done something other than stand stupidly by. He doesn't ask what needs to be done, he doesn't offer assistance, he just jumps in and does it. Then later, I point it out and tell him to please, please, please teach that to my children. I don't even know if it's something that can be taught.
After a minute, I decided that the best place to spend our dwindling time was with Grandmother, so I followed them out. I found them in the barn, feeding the sheep. Actually, Grandmother was feeding the sheep, and Josh was taking pictures of them with his phone. There has been talk of getting rid of the animals. While they did sell the wool and eat the lambs, the sheep were mostly pets. With Grandfather gone, Josh's mom and aunts thought that the sheep might be too much work for a widow in her eighties.
I didn't know the sheep-feeding process (we had goats when I was growing up), so I got in the way twice and also almost let them all out. I worried about looking like a city kid. She gave them two coffee cans full of feed before taking a pitchfork and throwing in a fork-load of hay. It was the last of the bale. Josh asked if he should get another bale ready for her, which was the first time he had offered to do anything. She said they had enough for now; she'd get another bale in the morning. How she was planning to do that, I don't know.
Then we went down to the chickens. We collected eggs in an old saucepan. She went into the henhouse with a bucket of feed and a broom to fight off the rooster. She came back out with a bucket of dirty water. She carried the water up to a flower bed that had fallen into neglect. There were flowers, blooming and beautiful, but also weeds and a series of chipmunk holes. She said that Grandfather had just gotten out the trap for the chipmunk the other day, but it was still sitting on the picnic table under the carport.
She refilled the water bucket from a spigot in the henhouse - indoor plumbing! I was still carrying the saucepan of eggs, feeling somewhat useless tagging along for farm chores. We went back to the house. She keeps the eggs in a fridge in the basement, but the door was locked, so she set the saucepan on a shelf in the garage and said she'd get it in the morning. Anxious to be helpful, I thought that I should offer to run in the house right quick and unlock the door from the other side, but then it seemed like the moment had passed.
Back inside, with all the food and the folks, I saw Josh disappear down the hall. And I knew then that he had gone to the basement to get the eggs and put them away. Somehow he knew what to let Grandmother do and when to step in.
I thought Grandmother seemed to be doing pretty well, all things considered. But I guess the sheep and the duck and the chickens get hungry, just like the dog needs to be let out, no matter what day it is.