The other word that misled me for a long time when I was a little boy was animal husbandry. It seemed clear enough; one looked for a husband for one’s animal. When I thought of those engaged in ‘animal husbandry,’ my ten-year old brain conjured up images of compassionate men and women choosing to make a difference in the world by working in barns alongside female cows and ducks and otters, enabling each one to find an ideal husband.
This is what I thought Father Malcolm did too. Father Malcolm was the local pastor. My father once told me he undertook animal husbandry on the side. Father Malcolm was a kind man and so I thought he was in the right business. That is why when my Aunt May lost her husband in a car crash, it seemed logical to enlist Father Malcolm to help fill the gap in her life by finding her a husband.
‘Can you help my aunt?’ I asked Father Malcolm. ‘She is keen on husbandry.’
‘Why, of course,’ Father Malcolm smiled.
‘Are you interested in husbandry?’ I later asked Aunt May just to be sure I wasn’t poking my nose in other people’s business.
‘Now that you mention it,’ she said, ‘I’ve always been interested in how they isolate desired traits.’
What was she talking about?
‘Will you be able to isolate the desired traits?’ I asked Father Malcolm.
‘Depends on what traits she has in mind,’ he said.
‘What are your favourite traits?’ I asked Aunt May.
‘Longevity, of course,’ she said wistfully, having just lost a husband.
‘Lingerie,’ I told Father Malcolm.
‘What was that?’ he asked.
‘She’s interested in lingerie,’ I whispered to prevent my parents from hearing us.
‘David, where did you hear that word?’ Father Malcolm asked me.
Then he told mother about it.
That night, mother browbeat father for an hour behind closed doors.
‘Are you keeping other women’s lingerie? Its Rita isn’t it? I know it!’
‘What the hell are you talking about? I am not lingering anywhere near anyone!’
‘See your face! Liar! She was here that night when I was out of town wasn’t she? I’ve seen the way you two look at each other. Show me the lingerie! David! Come in here!’
‘Why are you dragging him into this?’
I walked into the room. ‘Show us where you found the lingerie,’ mother told me. Silence while they both stared at me.
‘Actually,’ I said, ‘it’s about Aunt May. It’s one of her desired traits and – ’
But I couldn’t complete the sentence. Things were flying through the air by then because now mother was convinced it was not Rita my father was having an affair with but May, her own sister.
Later, when the confusion cleared up my mother, in a better mood, told me, ‘Do me a favour. The next time you encounter a word you’re unsure of, can you check with me first?’ I did some digging and discovered that animal husbandry was not a concerted effort on part of some chosen people to recruit a husband for animal. It was a farming practice. I also discovered that animal husbandry was known by another name: selective breeding. It was all still very unclear to me but I had to save face with Father Malcolm.
‘Look Father, I think I may have got it all wrong,’ I told him in the confession box. ‘Aunt May isn’t interesting in lingering around or anything. What she may really be looking for is selective breeding. Do you want to selectively breed with her? ’
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