I was born under the Zodiac sign of Taurus the bull, and all my life the people who knew me growing up accused me of being as stubborn as one. My father was especially capable of calling us by names other than those he and my mother had given us at birth. He’d also declare that we would grow up to be worthless sons of various things, being as we were as hardheaded as a mule, but he never did–as far as I remember–compare us to a billy goat. But if it’s true that we were as worthless and hardheaded as he professed, it may have been because he’d seen one or two goats too many as he was growing up.
Goat story #1: Back in the years of the great depression when I was a boy on the farm in north Florida, my uncle kept a bunch of goats. As anyone who’s ever been around goats knows, they can be real aggravating in a number of ways.
My uncle lived with my grandma in a big, two-story house with no plumbing, no electric lights, and no running water. There was an open well about 30 feet deep across the road from the house. The well was situated there because the horse lot was there, and it was convenient to draw water for the horses and pour it directly into the trough there, thereby saving having to hand-carry it.
Goats have a way of jumping up on anything and walking around on it. The rock well curb was no exception. One day a bunch of goats jumped on the well curbing and started walking around. The well curbing was about six to eight inches wide and, in their frolic, two of them fell down into the well which had about fifteen feet of water in it.
My uncle just happened to be nearby and foolishly he climbed into the well to rescue the goats. He got a goat under each arm to keep them from drowning, but discovered he couldn’t climb back out holding the goats, so he was hanging onto the bucket and rope and yelling.
No one is sure how long he was down in the well before a black man living nearby happened to be walking down the road and heard the yelling from the well. Now remember, in the early 30’s most black people living in the country were uneducated and were very superstitious as well.
When he heard the voice coming from the well, he was reluctant to see what the problem was because he thought it might be a “haint.” Yet he wanted to be a good neighbor and assist if there was anything he could, so after a conversation with himself he got up the nerve to look down into the well.
When he saw my uncle down there with a goat under each arm and near half-drowned, he got so excited that he didn’t know what to do, but he wasn’t about to go down into that well. My uncle finally talked him into going to a nearby farm to get a plow line to lower into the well. When the plow line reached my uncle, he would tie it around one of the goats and the black man could then pull him out. This way they managed to save the goats–but not the water.
After that my uncle built a cover for the well to keep the goats out. I remember helping draw the well dry to get the goat-contaminated water out so the well could be usable again. That was almost a day’s job drawing that well dry.
Goat story #2: Grandma’s farm joined Papa’s farm with only a fence between them. Some of my uncle’s goats had long horns and would get their heads caught in the fence while trying to reach through to graze on Papa’s side, so it was my job to go around the fence each day and release the goats that had gotten heads caught in the fence.
One day as I made my daily rounds checking the fence, I released two or three goats, but there was one great big billy goat that was caught. He cut so many capers that he almost cut my finger off when I got it caught between his horns and the fence.
I had always heard that a billy goat’s head was so hard that it would stop a bullet. Well, after getting my finger almost amputated, I wanted to do some harm to that goat because I still couldn’t get his head unstuck from the fence.
I went to the house and slipped by Mama and got the pistol and searched around the dresser drawer until I found a cartridge. I placed the gun under my shirt and under my arm and held it close to me so it wouldn’t drop. I did this just in case Mama or anyone else saw me, they wouldn’t see the gun.
I went back where that old billy goat was with his head still hung in the fence. Now was my chance to see if a billy goat head was so hard it would stop a bullet. I carefully loaded the gun, backed off about five or six feet, took careful aim, and pulled the trigger.
That old billy goat went “baaaaaaaah” and fell down, dead as a door knob. His head really did stop the bullet! But not in the way I was led to believe it would. I can, from experience, tell anyone never to shoot a billy goat in the head expecting the bullet to glance off. IT WON’T!
I didn’t tell anyone about this incident until I was grown for fear of what would happen to me if Papa found out I had swiped his gun and killed his brother’s goat. I don’t remember how many more years my uncle kept those goats, but I do remember as long as he lived there, it was a daily chore to release goat heads from the fence.
Postscript: Since I hate guns in general, I can only say that this story amply illustrates the very reason guns in the home are so dangerous, even when children are trained to shoot them. I would also like to point out that the reference to the black man in the first story being fearful of “haints” and uneducated is and was not intended as a racial slur, keeping in mind the events of this story occurred in a less enlightened period of our history. I believe my uncle, were he still here, would want me to point that out. Oh, and just so you know, by the time he died in 1973 my father had changed quite a bit from the name calling zealot he was in his younger years. I believe he thought his kids turned out just fine in spite of everything.
I always love to read your uncle’s tales, they tell of a youngster’s way of life so interesting and different from mine, a city gal.. . .Did you eat goat then? I had roast goat in Rome and loved it, better than lamb, but it is difficult to find here except in Mexican grocery/butcher shops. Living alone, I cooked some once or twice and wished it was more easily available…..A colleague in Las Vegas kept goats on her oversized property, and had me over for roast goat dinner.
You know, Eiko, I never have tried goat. The same way I feel about little calves (veal), sheep and horses. It may make no sense at all in the scheme in things but it would have been like eating my pets. I have a few problems eating meat of any kind anymore unless I detach myself and not think about what I’m doing. But shrimp and other seafood don’t affect me that way…yet! Good thing I didn’t grow up under the sea like Ariel, huh? Thanks for stopping by. Loved hearing from you as always.
I’m dying to know….who found the dead goat and did the uncle ever suspect who shot it? I hope this incident didn’t spark a feud, like the Hatfields and the McCoys. I think that was started over a dead chicken. Your uncle was great at keeping this secret. I never got away with anything.
Hi Ml! I was wondering the same thing actually, but then I decided–knowing the perpetrator–he probably got it loose from the fence and buried it somewhere. That’s the only way he might have gotten away with it. I wish he’d finished the story. As for Hatfields and McCoys, these nine boys, as close as they were, feuded variously with each other as they got older. For awhile, as a kid I remember it was hard to remember who was mad at whom (in both families actually, my mom’s and my dad’s) this week.
Very interesting that we who grew up without pets or never were around farm animals would ever think of the beast itself first when planning a meal. We simply purchase a chunk of meat and cook. Large animals were to be seen only in zoos and at a safe distance.
You’re so right, Eiko! I know that all the years after I left the farm and lived in cities that it became quite easy to pick up a roast or package of ground beef and take it home to cook for the kids and at the same time always planning a meatless entree around the side dishes for vegetarian hubby to eat. After all, it was “manufactured” that way, right? It took little effort never to think of those chunks and beef on trays as real animals–not so easy as on the farm when you may have inadvertently seen the animal stumble and fall and bleed after it was shot on butchering day. I hope I haven’t destroyed your appetite for beef today?!