For sixteen summers I have scribbled late at night in the sheep barn at the Porter County Fair while my children waited to sell their 4-H lambs, always the final livestock to be auctioned off.
During fair week various drafts and revisions of my historical novels took shape as scrawled lines in spiral notebooks or typed pages slashed with red ink and arrows pointing to addenda in the margins. Unlike Sir Georg in Kingdom of the Birds, I could never employ a scribe like Seppel to make a fair copy of my work because nobody else could understand my scratches, as my children have often told me.
On sale night my children would read or play cards or run lines–for ten years one or two or all three took part in the Young Actors Shakespeare Workshop at Valparaiso University. After watching the youngest, eight year-old Matt, debut as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the sainted John Stephen Paul, founder of that program, remarked, “The Lutzes are the Barrymores of Valparaiso.”
They would sit on the Hil-Mar Farm showbox beside our lambs’ pens, reciting their parts to one another. Over the years I prompted Mercutio and Prince Hal and Lady Macbeth and a host of others as the lambs bleated inconsolably and the auctioneer’s staccato crackled over the intercom. Our sheep must have been the most cultured in Porter County–one year even a basket of Hil-Mar wool was featured in a production of As You Like It.
Last night when eighteen year-old Matt sold his last lambs at the county fair, his sister Katrina was treading the boards across town in a community theatre production of Romeo and Juliet, a fitting end to our years of sheep and Shakespeare.