My 80-year-old mother and I went to visit our 91-year-old neighbor – or former neighbor. In the spirit of witness protection, we’ll bestow on her a secret spy name – let’s call her Greta.
Mom has known Greta since before I was born. My parents moved to Houston in 1968 with my 18-month-old brother in tow. Arriving in the dark of night, they showed up to the suburban house they had purchased and found themselves locked out. While waiting for the realtor to show up with a key, they forlornly camped out in the driveway like refugees.
As they waited, a tiny, vivacious fast-speaking woman with a strong German accent popped out from next door and asked if she could help. Greta entered stage right and on that hot, steamy summer night, a lifelong friendship formed.
Fast forward almost 50 years, the characters in the story have changed. For the sake of this story, it is enough to say that I finally appeared and Greta moved out of the neighborhood a few years ago and retired to lovely community about an hour away.
So recently, Mom and I piled in the car and drove north on a quest to visit Greta. We had a wonderful visit and shared stories of the past and the present and lovingly talked about people loved and lost.
Greta also shared the story of Hermann the Ram.
Hermann the Ram sounds like a 1940’s mafia name that should belong to an aging gangster with a limp, a scar down his cheek and a list of enemies longer than the Mississippi River.
But Hermann the Ram was actually a ram – you know, a sheep with horns. And Hermann lived with Greta in a house in the Houston suburbs.
Now, Houston is infamous for a lack of zoning that leads to some weird stuff – like having a strip club next to a church or building skyscrapers in residential neighbors that are so tall they cast the nearby houses in perpetual darkness. But rams are not a common site.
Greta’s husband was an amazing sculptor. He crafted life-size bronze sculptures of many famous people including presidents, generals and heroes. He also sculpted Herman the Ram. Apparently, the ram was one of his first commissions and destined to eternally stand guard at the front entrance of a building for a ram-logoed corporation.
The sculptor preferred to work from life models. One day, a farm truck pulled up and Hermann strutted down the ramp into a new life of suburban bliss.
Kids from all over the neighborhood saw the commotion and came running. Remember the days before video games and smart phones when kids hung out outside to play together?
Kids swarmed over the yard and perched on the fence to see the new kid on the block. They got a chance to visit, and then Hermann was pressed into modeling duty.
Tabloid reports failed to mention whether the imported model had agency representation, a Screen Guild (SAG) card, or requested any special snacks, premium bottled water or pampering.
When not modeling, Hermann lived in his special version of a green room – the backyard. According to our sources, Hermann did not like to be alone – he needed constant adulation from adoring fans. Greta and family planned shifts to keep Hermann company.
He enjoyed his new life as the center of attention. He arrived as a young, naive ram and vaulted from small-farm life to big-city (or at least suburban) stardom.
Hermann got a lot of his attention from Greta’s young son. They played together, grew together and formed a spiritual bond – the classic tale of a boy and his ram.
Eventually the sculpture was completed and modeling gig ended.
Greta and her husband called the farm to come and collect Hermann and return him to his life of desperate obscurity. The farm folks just laughed. Hermann had been bought – not rented – so he belonged to them.
What to do? Register Hermann as a dog and keep him in the backyard? Let him loose to wreak havoc in the neighborhood? Mutton for dinner?
Greta put out a call for someone to adopt Hermann. Harder to do in the days before Facebook Market, Ebay, Craigslist and Freecycle, but they managed. They offered Hermann to anyone who could give him a home in which he would not be sold or killed.
A family with an animal refuge just outside the city took Hermann and gave him a new life. A truck pulled into the driveway and Hermann walked up the ramp into the next chapter of his life. He lost his spotlight and modeling career, but he gained fields and woolly company.
For the next few months, Greta and her son would drive out to the animal refuge. The boy would jump from the car, run to the fence and call Hermann’s name. The ram would come running and they would race up and down the fence – laughing and baaing.
One day, Hermann did not appear. They said that Hermann found a girlfriend, and the two of them had run off together. No one had seen them since.
Hermann was gone. The classic tale of a boy and his ram had turned into a love story. Or else someone had mutton for dinner.