All My Love for a Goat
July 21, 2012
If my parents hammered one lesson into me, it was “Make sure you make a good deal,” “Never pay retail,” and “Always offer a bit under fifty percent.” Value lessons focused on this central theme.
You’d think they’d have been more concerned with hammering moral values, the Ten Commandments. Do not lie, Do not steal. But, no, the only reason I turned out to be an English teacher rather than Madoff’s partner in a ponzie scheme was that I learned I never could get away with much of anything. I tried and tried but it just didn’t work out. Besides that I knew where the switch rested, always ready for an infraction. By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was a savvy shopper and almost sin-free.
So it was no surprise that I got a good deal on a goat.
Almost a year after Gus died and my parents were in another separation mode, I was staying the weekend with my daddy at his mother’s house. (She was a weird little gnome that everyone referred to as “Bigger.” I was almost in junior high before I realized she was my paternal grandmother; we were actually related.) Nevertheless, daddy sent me to the grocery store with fifty cents to buy something.
I was always instructed to walk down the alley to enter the Green Spray. Otherwise daddy figured I’d get hit by a car. Neither parent gave me credit that I had been smart enough since I was four years old to avoid Daisy, “The Little Horse from Hell,” from kicking my brains out. I could surely avoid cars. So just to prove to myself that I could avoid getting hit, I often snuck around the other way out of pure defiance.
However, on this particular day I headed toward the store via the alley.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Before me was the cutest animal I had ever laid eyes on: a tiny baby goat. She was tied by a little rope to leisurely eat the weeds around her. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She didn’t even have buds yet for horns, plus when my eyes and one of her eyes met, we knew we belonged together.
I raced around the block to the goat’s front door.
“I’d like to inquire about your goat. Is it for sale?”
The cagey owner replied, “It could be.”
“How much do you think you’d ask?”
“Ahh, I figure a dollar would do it.”
“Is that the best you can do?”
“Well, I don’t know. What did you have in mind?”
I was so anxious to own the goat that I completely forgot about offering a little bit less than half.
I opened my palm and flashed the two quarters. “This is all I have. I can’t get any more. It’s a take it or leave it deal.”
I was worried as I walked into Bigger’s house. I was walking in with a goat, I had completely ditched the store errand, and I had spent the money on a goat. But I steeled my self with the sentence that I thought would carry the most weight. While I praised the goat to the heavens, I frequently threw in what a good deal I had gotten. I wondered why daddy was squeezed up in an arm chair with his hand stuck over his mouth muffling his every word while tears rolled down his face.
He couldn’t wait to drop the goat and me at home. It wasn’t until Dora Mackay (named after both my grandmothers that I didn’t much care for and who I thought would think I was honoring them by naming the goat after them) and I got inside that I realized when mama got home, she might not want a goat, especially not one in the house. I stashed Dora Mackey in my closet for safe keeping until I could break the news.
No matter how many times I came back to “but I got a good deal,” to mama, I failed to score even one point.
“Where is it? Is it in the backyard?” I figured she was hoping I was stupid enough to put Dora Mackey in the yard with Daisy so she could kick Dora Mackey to death.
“I mean it. Where is the goat?!”
I slowly walked mama to my closet, opened the door, and saw that Dora Mackey had eaten the bottom half off all the sashes on my dresses
“Get that goat out of here. Now! You hear me?”
I apologized to Dora Mackey all the way to the garage and repeatedly assured her that we’d be together again as soon as things cooled down.
I dragged back in the house knowing full well mama would carry this anger for years. That was one character trait so embedded that it wasn’t until she was almost dead that she sent me a letter of apology for all the mistakes she made in rearing me. By that time the one character trait so embedded in me was the inability to forgive.
“You call your daddy, that old goat, and tell him I’m not having another old goat in the house. You tell him to come over here right now and get this goat. Do it. Do it right now!”
I called daddy and never gave it a thought that he answered on the first half of the first ring. Hiccupping and sobbing, I repeated mama’s words.
“You go tell her that I said she’d have to live with a goat one way or the other. It’s her call.”
Every day of every separation, and for many years after their divorce, they battled through me.
“You tell your daddy I said …”
“You tell your mama I said …”
I was the conduit through which all bitterness, jealousy, and revenge roiled. Even after I married and moved to another town, every visit began and ended with the same broken record. At least by the time I was twenty-one, I had learned to blow them off; I just didn’t learn to forgive them.
Dora Mackey stayed until she was grown. At first I wanted to show her to Mrs. Dyer, our neighbor, who, when parental arguments became unbearable, would let me run to her, put my head in her lap, and sob.
“Please, please, please, let me take Dora Mackey and show her to Mrs. Dyer.”
“No, you’re not taking that goat down to her. And stop asking.”
I got it in my mind I’d do it anyway. Of course, as soon as we entered Mrs. Dyer’s kitchen, Dora Mackey pooped pellets on her clean floor. This act was followed by her old gray frightful husband running me and the goat out of the house. It was only after I was grown and Freddy Kruger was popular that I figured he was modeled after Mr. Dyer.
Every morning I tied her in the alley to eat and put her in the garage every evening. I couldn’t leave her in the backyard for fear Daisy would kick her to death. Several times while I bent down to tie her to the fence, she ate the ties off my headscarves. She often chewed on the shoulder of my coat which ignited mama again. I looked like a ragamuffin that year as I hardly had a piece of clothing that she hadn’t gnawed something loose.
Finally after one of my parents’ reconciliations, daddy took Dora Mackey to the 40 acres he’d purchased for the Shetlands where I expect she spent the rest of her days trying to avoid the “Little Horse from Hell.”
Oh, yes, this reminds me of another good deal I got on a monkey when I was in the third grade.