“Hey, Aaron, are we going to the fair this year? I hear the animals are asking about you.” Danny was my best friend, but he loved to give me a hard time, especially in front of Jenny, who was sitting nearby. The only thing I was more afraid of than large animals was talking to Jenny.
Last year, we were at the fair watching them hitch up the oxen to a large wooden yoke so that they could pull the cart for the hayride, and Danny said, “Let’s go see if we can touch them.”
“Not after that Billy goat tried to head butt me,” I said. “There’s no way I am going to get close to an animal the size of a minivan. They probably don’t want us to get too close to them anyway. I’m going to look at the sheep.” Sheep don’t have long, pointy horns, and can’t stomp you into non-existence.
I still remember Danny mooing behind me as I turned to head off to the small animal barn. I knew it would take a while to live down.
Now, it was time for the fair again. The fair is always at the end of summer, just before school starts.
“We are going to be eight graders this year,” Danny said, “and we need to show the other kids we aren’t afraid of anything.” He was right, but he also wanted to tease me because Jenny was nearby.
Danny mooed, and Jenny giggled.
“Very funny.” I said and walked off.
That Friday, Danny, Jenny and I went to opening day. The first thing Danny wanted to do, of course, was go see the oxen, but I was ready. When we got to the Ox enclosure, I jumped up on the fence that held the two huge beasts.
“Hi, Jenny.” I said. “Come on up.”
“Aaron,” said Jenny sounding a little concerned, “What are you doing up there? Aren’t you afraid?”
“What, of Hank and Sunny? They’re not scary.”
“But they’re so big!” Jenny said, taking a slight step back.
“Yes, they are almost six feet tall, and weigh over 1600 lbs.” I explained.
“Last year you were afraid of a goat!” Danny said.
“I didn’t know the goat. But I’ve been volunteering and helping with the oxen over the summer, and I learned that once you get to know them, they are very friendly.”
I turned to Jenny and said, “Do you want to pet Hank?”
Danny, who had been watching from several feet away, asked, “But, what about their horns?”
“Their horns are kind of like long, pointy fingernails,” I explained, “and when the ox is about two years old, they have little caps put on, so they don’t poke each other or get broken. So, they are safe.”
Jenny hopped up on the fence by me, while Danny edged a little closer. She petted Hank’s side and then his nose, and said, “They are so soft!”
Hank turned around and backed up against the fence, and I said, “Watch this!”
The handler that had been standing there started to groom Hank’s tail, running her fingers through the long hair and pulling on it gently. After a minute, Hank started to sway from side-to-side and bob his head back and forth.
“He’s dancing,” Jenny giggled, “it’s so cute.”
“That’s amazing,” said Danny, who had come all the way up to the fence.
Later, walking around the fair, Danny said to me, “A couple of months ago, you were afraid of animals, and wouldn’t even talk to Jenny. What happened?”
“I found out that once you learn about something, you don’t have to be afraid. And once you’re not afraid, it’s easy to talk about something you are excited about.”
Danny said, “We’re going to have such a good year.”
I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, but for now, I’m going to go talk to Jenny.”