Getting his Goat

Posted by on Jul 3, 2006 in All things natural, Dad | 0 comments

He got the goat to save money on mowing grass, which gives you an idea of my father’s keen business sense. Of course, he talked mother into it, so you know that what he lacked in business skills, he made up for in salesmanship. He often said the goat wasn’t really his idea, and in a sense he would be right. As I remember, he took the goat in exchange for repairing the car of a man who claimed the goat would be far better than money. It’s a fact that the easiest person to hoodwink with a good sales pitch is another salesman, and Dad was drawn to “bargains” like a moth to a flame. The goat was not the first or last of his impractical acquisitions, but it may have been the most obviously flawed. Dad soon learned that no matter what the man had told him, it is not possible to keep a Billy goat happily staked out in the yard until it eats a circle of grass, and then move him on to another spot. In fact, this goat could have taught Houdini a few tricks, as he had the ability to extract himself from any confinement. Once free, he didn’t seem to have any particular place to go, but instead hung around the house exhibiting a knack for local mischief that makes one understand why the devil has horns.

At that time my parents had a porch on the side of the house with a long row of screened windows. The goat, free on one of his mad adventures, decided to try leaping through one of the screens. He must have been a bit startled when he landed on a cushioned chair, but after milling about for a while and finding nothing edible, he decided to leave. He was not superstitious about using the same entrance to make his exit, so he went out through a different screen. Over the next several days it must have slipped his little goat brain that there was really nothing interesting on the porch, or maybe he just enjoyed the circus like thrill of crashing through the screen, but he continued his game till there was a goat sized hole through each and every window. I was too young to remember the reaction of my mother to this invasion, but she absolutely forbade any animal into the house, and she had a flare for drama that any horror movie producer would have been delighted to film. I recall an old hound dog that once innocently accompanied me through our back screen door and into the kitchen. Mother’s reaction was instantaneous and terrifying. She grabbed the broom and ran circles around the house after the terrified hound, swatting the floor where the dog had just been, and yelling like a banshee. Unlike the goat, when the dog finally located the opening to safety, a team of wild horses couldn’t have pulled him back inside. In fact, I spent the rest of the day far away from that backdoor myself.

The goat might still have been forgiven if he hadn’t developed an unfortunate habit of nighttime prowling. Dad was a large powerful man, but he had a surreptitious fear of the dark dating back to childhood, when he was often locked in a closet for punishment. The goat had no such trepidation, and being equipped with a natural stealth, would sneak up behind my father after sunset and nudge him in the nether regions, scaring the bejesus out of him. The goat’s final doom came the night my Dad woke to the sound of someone outside, trying to break into the bedroom window. He jumped bleary eyed from his warm bed and grabbed the revolver he kept in his dresser. He flung open the curtain and pointed the gun at a hideous hairy visage, with beady black eyes and a full beard. It took longer than you might think for his half awakened brain to morph that head from human to animal and realize he was eyeball to eyeball with our friend the goat. The culprit had his front hooves solidly on the window sash, and was attempting entry into the bedroom. Since Dad was not trigger happy, the goat lived through the night, but after that episode his days were numbered. I hope he went off to live on a nice farm with some interesting nanny goats to keep him entertained, but that part of the story was left purposely vague by my parents.

Some years later, when I was about 10, the family was sitting around the dinner table talking over the events of the day. Dad had pulled the sorghum molasses out and was slathering it on his biscuits. Those of you who have only had commercial molasses will have no idea how delicious our locally produced syrup tastes with country butter and hot bread. The marvelous sticky stuff is made by a very labor intensive process that involves first growing acres of sorghum cane, then pressing it in a mill turned by patient mules who must walk all day in a circle, encouraged by treats of tasty cane leavings. The resulting juice is then simmered slowly in giant metal trays over a hot fire for many hours. What with all the growing, crushing, collecting, and tending, the resulting dark treacle has always been a bit pricy. Dad, in the throes of a sugar induced daydream, started speculating on how easy it would be for the family to save money by starting a molasses making business on the side.

We all sat there silent for a few seconds, letting the irrationality of the idea sink in, then my sister began to tease, pretending to take him seriously. We all joined in, and before long we had a plan to grow the cane in a hothouse, keep the mules in the attic, and cook the juice on the stove, so we could keep the factory running all year round. I kind of felt sorry for Dad when he realized none of us had intentions of working in the cane fields so he could have a limitless supply of sorghum, but at least this time he didn’t already have a mule hitched to a tree in the back yard. We all left the table laughing that night, including Dad, but I know deep in his heart he still believed it might just work. As long as my Mother lived she kept Dad from major foolishness, and none of us ever knew how. He certainly wouldn’t take business or financial advice from family, friends, or even his own attorney after she was gone. I know it’s too late now, but I wonder if it would have helped if I had diplomatically mentioned the goat from time to time.

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