It’s difficult to pin down the exact reason I decided, at age 44, to leave the bustle of the city and move to a rural area more than 1,000 miles away. I think I just needed to jump-start my life with a new adventure.
A month or so after the move, I decided that to really experience the rural lifestyle, I needed at least one farm animal. A goat, I thought, would be a good starter farm animal for a woman who had previously owned only the usual array of household pets.
I responded to a notice on a bulletin board advertising Pygora goats – half Pygmy and half Angora. I fell in love the moment I saw the tiny 2-day-old bundle of white hair. Winchell I would name him.
As soon as I returned home, I lifted Winchell out of the car and placed him on the ground. I wasn’t prepared, however, to see him take off running as if he feared for his life. He would be impossible to catch, I decided, after a futile 30-minute chase.
Luckily, Winchell’s gnawing hunger finally prevailed, and he decided I was his only hope for food. Thus began a three-month bottle-feeding routine during which we bonded as mother and child. For such a tiny creature, he sure could make a bone-chilling cry when he was hungry. But after a big meal, he curled up on my lap or on the cushion of an old chair in the corner of the big country kitchen. Angelic, I thought, the first few days. That perception soon changed.
My place was about a mile outside of town, and each day I walked my dog into town and back for exercise. Winchell was not about to be left behind, so he accompanied us, walking on a leash beside the dog. I had to watch that he didn’t eat the neighbors’ roses along the way. It never occurred to me this duo might seem odd, but apparently Winchell attracted a bit of attention on our daily walks. One day I overheard a merchant standing outside her store tell a tourist, “Here comes the goat lady.”
The goat lady! I was far too young to be known by such an eccentric label. From then on we avoided Main Street on our forays into town.
When Winchell was about 6 months old, I was compelled to leave town for the weekend. I could take my dog with me, but I felt, with some certainty, I would not find a motel that would accept a goat. I decided to go back to the farm where I had first purchased Winchell and see if they would keep him for the weekend. “No problem,” said the cheery owner. After all, she had 100 other goats.
When I returned Sunday evening to retrieve Winchell, the woman was standing with a somewhat put-out posture, arms crossed, sporting an unhappy frown.
“So did Winchell miss me?” I said innocently as I approached her. “I hope he wasn’t any trouble.” What trouble could one goat be in a herd of 100?
The woman mumbled something I didn’t quite hear, then pointed to the roof of her barn. There on top stood a triumphant Winchell, surrounded by a couple dozen goats. Apparently, Winchell had taught her goats how to make their way to the roof by jumping from the ground to a wagon, to an old tractor, to the top of a water tank and eventually to the barn roof.
“I’ve never had a goat on my barn roof before he arrived,” the woman said in a scolding tone. “Don’t ever bring him around here again!”
I didn’t have many visitors those days, but the local children were unable to resist Winchell’s intriguing antics and soon discovered he loved to push with his rock-hard head. He twirled around on his hind legs, then came at them as if he were going to knock them over. Winchell always stopped at the last moment and gently pushed on their legs.
One day, I received a phone call from a woman I had never met.
“This is Mrs. Vechy down the road,” she said. “My son Tim is having a birthday party this weekend.”
Finally, I thought, I had broken the curse of the new resident and was being invited to a party.
“Tim was wondering if Winchell might be able to come.”
Great. The community was embracing my goat; I apparently was still considered an outsider. That Saturday afternoon, I sat at home alone knowing full well that Winchell was having the time of his life.
As Winchell matured, he developed a great fascination for my bright yellow 1981 Toyota long bed. Granted, the pickup was old and rusted, but I depended on it nonetheless.
First it was the windshield wipers. For some reason, he decided to eat the rubber. I replaced them once, and the new ones lasted less than a week. I no longer drove the truck in the rain.
Soon afterward he broke the antenna. The radio was the old truck’s only option; no longer would I enjoy the local country music station crackling on the AM dial. Winchell eventually dented the truck’s hood by bucking up and down on it several times a day as the sound echoed for blocks.
One day I discovered he had eaten the small renewal sticker on the license plate, and I was put in the embarrassing position of trying to convince the clerk at the motor vehicle department I needed another sticker because “my goat ate it.”
Over the next few weeks, he continued his campaign to test my patience, breaking the truck’s mirror, denting the top of the cab, destroying anything and everything. The truck’s bed was caked with small black marbles. While the Toyota still ran, it was an embarrassment to be seen driving it. I threw up my hands in frustration one day and made an audible announcement. “OK, you win,” I said. “It’s now your truck.”
From then on, Winchell spent hours each day on the truck’s roof chewing his cud and surveying the countryside.
Anyone who owns one will tell you there is no animal quite like a pet goat. Winchell was my greatest joy one day and my greatest frustration the next. But the spirited little “farm” animal brought a sense of fun to my new country life and made each new day an adventure. And, after all, that had been my original goal when I moved to the country.
Sharon K. Taylor, a freelance writer and instructor at Ozarks Technical Community College, lives in Branson, Missouri.