I’m still not exactly sure why I thought Emily should have a pet goat. She loved the outdoors and she loved animals, and our home bordered an overgrown hillside that needed some gnawing. The idea of a goat blossomed as Christmas approached when Emily was 11. I dropped lots of hints about the virtues of goats to Becky and the kids for a few weeks. They weren’t exactly enthusiastic, but I was pretty sure that a goat would capture their hearts. They didn’t think that I would actually get one, and that was rather motivating. But I had other motives, as well.
A dad doesn’t want his child to miss out on something good or interesting or challenging that he had experienced as a child. I think back to when my dad purchased Rumples for us. Rumples was a large, mostly white, ill-tempered billy goat with impressive horns. We had missed out on an agrarian childhood like Dad’s, and he hoped Rumples would help. I remember having mixed feelings about the beast. It was fun to have an animal unlike any of my classmates, but he was an escape artist, and my brother Joe and I had to catch and drag him by his horns up the hill and into his pen. It took both of us pulling with all our might to get him to budge. One time he escaped and butted our baby sister Mary unceremoniously onto her diapered derriere. That was the last straw. Rumples was gone the next day.
Twenty years later, I was the dad thinking about getting a goat for the good of his kids. What’s the deal with that? You would think that Rumples had inoculated me, but as I mulled things over, I realized that the problem was not that Rumples was a goat. He was just the wrong sort of goat. I could do better for my kids. Each generation enjoys an opportunity to improve.
Another explanation is that I just like it when something a bit unusual is added to a situation. I like finding out what might happen. As a boy, I liked those chemistry kits that had the little warning signs about mixing certain substances. Clearly, the makers of the kits were using reverse psychology. Tell a little boy that it’s dangerous to stir A into B in a test tube, and he’s certain to do it. Thankfully, no one was nearby the time A plus B began to boil, and I chucked it out the window.
Sometimes we can just nudge things along just a bit by adding unusual ingredients. My older children still remember the pomegranate omelet I made for them 20 years ago. It’s a good thing to create happy family memories, and adding a some pomegranate seeds or a goat to nearly any situation improves the chance that something memorable will happen. Just imagine a goat with you in at the office. The average goat can easily perch on file cabinets, while sampling the ficus tree, while making droll comments, while processing large numbers of confidential documents.
The fun began on a rainy Christmas morning. We were cozy and warm with Becky’s homemade rolls in our tummies, a fire in the fireplace, the second chapter of Luke’s gospel read, and a pile of packages under the tree. The brothers opened a few more presents than Emily, because her big present was hidden outside, chewing on shrubberies. The blessed moment finally came, and I presented Emily with Gretchen, a lovely brown nanny goat with an apparently sweet disposition. I had hoped to find a nanny goat without horns, but Gretchen had such a fetching personality that she won me over. The real clincher was that she was a sturdy, mature goat who would not only be a wonderful companion and landscaper, but she would be able to help Emily with her paper route. She would be the ideal pack goat.
I couldn’t have been more pleased. Becky was rolling her eyes a bit, but she was a good sport about the whole thing. It was Christmas. Emily was genuinely surprised and doting on Gretchen, and she thought the paper route idea would be worth a try. She grabbed her raincoat and boots, and we loaded Gretchen with hefty bags of Christmas edition newspapers.
Halfway up Seville Drive, Gretchen was handling the load nicely, and Emily was coaxing her along. I was trailing along behind, happily enjoying a dream come true. Emily had a truly useful and companionable goat.
The moment was short lived. The customers’ flowers were becoming an irresistible distraction. Emily was yanking on Gretchen’s lead, trying to keep her on task. I ran to the rescue and helped drag Gretchen home. Visions of Rumples danced in my wee little head.
So Gretchen would not be a pack goat. Emily finished her route, and we consoled each other. She still had a delightful companion goat who would eat poison oak on the hill.
It was just a couple of days later when I had to admit defeat. Gretchen tested her horns on Emily’s little brother Joey, and it was Rumples all over again.
As I was arranging Gretchen’s return to the farm in Half Moon Bay, I remembered that the problem was fundamentally one of choosing the wrong goat. What Emily really needed was a little goat without horns that could be trained and properly socialized. I reassured her that she didn’t need to give up on having a pet goat. We drove down to the farm, and traded Gretchen in for little Heidi and Bridget, a darling pair of Nubian sisters who were just four months old and ready for some proper training. They had adorable, floppy ears and no horns, and I figured that they would tame the wilderness twice as fast as Gretchen. A win-win situation.