travel day: my childhood

The goat came to us because it was sick. And because it was cold.

The goats – along with cows, chickens, a surly pony, and cats – lived on our farm out in the country. We lived in town during the school year and trekked out to the farm to feed the animals every other day. On Dad’s last trip out, he’d found one of the goats slumped in a corner of the barn, dull-eyed and lethargic. The vet said it could go either way, but it needed constant supervision. And, it was cold. Tennessee was experiencing record-low temperatures that year and the animals were huddled together in the stalls. Dad stacked hay against the walls but the wind came in – too much, they worried, for a small sick goat. So it came to town in the back of the Subaru, and was barricaded in the furnace room with blankets and grain and newspaper on the floor.

I’m sorry to say we kids were less compassionate than we might have been. We had a goat…in our basement. Who else keeps goats in their basement? Why do we always have to be so weird?

“Oh, keep your shirt on,” my mother says crossly. “It’ll be fine in a few days and will go back to the farm. No one will know.”
That might have been true except for the fact that my brother’s friend John stopped by to borrow a book for some homework, and was standing in the kitchen when the goat decided to break into its own rendition of “Old MacDonald”.
“What was that?” John asks.
It’s hard to make the following statement with insoucience, but I want you to know I went for it. “Oh, it’s just a goat we have..in the basement.”
A definite pause. But it turns out we have underestimated John. He’s a boy not easily perturbed.
“Really? Nice! Can I see it?”
We trooped down the stairs together to see it, curled up on a rug by the furnace. It didn’t look so good, but it was as friendly as ever, leaning in for a scratch behind the ears.

Two days later, though, we awoke to the news that the goat hadn’t made it.

It was sad, but of course we’d lost a lot of animals over the years, not even including the steers that would disappear in the spring at the same time small white paper packages would mysteriously fill up the back freezer. Some goats had been sold, and both the sheep had run away immediately after the red ribbon for the 4-H project, and we’d lost track of the times we’d find more feathers than chickens in the hen roost.
Dad had wrapped the little goat in an old blanket and plastic and packed it in the trunk of the car for transportation back to the farm for burial. He took the day off work and headed off. And then was back, in too short a time to have buried anything.
“Ground’s completely frozen,” he tells my mother. “We’re going to have to wait until it’s a little warmer.”
“Guess I’m not getting groceries in that car,” is her prompt response.

Oh, sure, hilarious, Mom! So funny! Except that this is the car she picks us up from school in, drives us to soccer and basketball practice, transports us and our friends to the mall. Runs errands, goes to Junior League meetings. The car that now has a dead body in the trunk. And the ground is still frozen the next day. Oh, and also the next.

Now it’s been three days with a body in the trunk and my mother is beginning to become paranoid. One kid catching a ride home with us walks to the back of the car and asks to put his backpack in the trunk. “No!!” my mother snaps. “You can hold it on your lap!”
She watches her rearview mirror constantly. “If we get rear-ended at a stoplight I do not know what I’m going to do. Run for it, probably,” she tells me. I take a moment to contemplate life as fugitives.
“I guess we’re not going to Mexico,” I remind her, “what with the lack of Spanish-speaking, which I continue to blame on you and Dad.”
“Oh, really? Well -” She breaks off in mid-sentence, spotting red and blue lights flickering as a patrol car cruises by.
“Buenas Dias! Estas un federale?” I practice. Learn Spanish in the Car! had been maddeningly unhelpful for this scenario.

In retrospect, I guess it’s a good thing this was long before I’d attended law school or we’d have been twice as worried. I’d have warned her not to keep anything incriminating in her car, because cops can always find a way to search your car without a warrant (free legal advice! don’t ever keep anything incriminating in your car). Not that the goat was incriminating, exactly; I mean, we hadn’t murdered it. But let’s face it: it was going to look really, really bad, no matter what.

In the end, it didn’t come to that. No accidents with trunks springing open!…no speeding tickets…no surprise inspections…no family on the lam to Mexico. I mean, Canada, what with that lack of Spanish thing that I believe we’ve discussed previously. On Day 4 the cold snap broke, and my parents finally drove back to the farm and came back with an empty trunk the rest of us avoided for the remaining lifetime of the car. I’d hold that backpack in your lap, if I were you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: