Goats From Hell
Remember in grade school. The story of Billy Goat Gruff? Or singing the old song: “Bill Grogan’s goat was feeling fine, ate three red shirts, right off the line —-“. Okay those were right out of the 50’s. Not exactly popular today.
I always had a passing respect and liking for goats as long as they were in a book or mentioned in a song. What was a goat to me? Something to pull Heidi’s cart – or a small white goofy bit of fluff that ran around in the Sound of Music. Sort of a miniature sheep with horns and chin whiskers. This all changed when I was put in charge of taking the Watering Turns at age ten.
The Turns came during the day but also in the dead of night. Go along the cottonwoods lining the creek up to the head gate below the Murdock Canal; turn the water in for a four-hour session. Guide the water into the ditch, check to make sure there was somewhat equal distribution over our two-acre field and then head back to bed. Any flooding went onto the west neighbor’s lower field – so no big deal. However there was one significant problem – going through the east field up to the canal. Goats, they kept Goats. Not the nice little waggy tail sheep-like goats but horned monsters that would make Billy Goat Gruff look like a hamster. Male goats are not the most sanitary of creatures, and the old term “You smell like a Goat” became well known to me.
Male goats have scent glands on their heads and when in rut (pretty much all the time) they rub the yellowish waxy secretion all over their bodies. To complete aroma, they also mix this oil with their own urine – an interesting process – I’ll spare you because of the despicable and disgusting details – plus this story could someday be used in Sunday School and I wouldn’t want to offend tender minds.
Only a female goat can understand. Unbelievably skunk-like, skin-penetrating potent, and long lasting. If you had been butted or even brushed by a stinky goat, (despite scrubbing with Lava Soap and drenching your body with Old Spice), you could count on having the best looking girl in your class (who sat right in front of you) turn and ask: “Are you still playing with farm animals”?
Days were a problem, Nights a Nightmare. There were three males, and two of the supposedly gentler nature – all horned to the hilt. I gave them various names, but the biggest – solid black – was Satan. The others were Killer and Vlad the Impaler – the females were called Nasty and Nastier. The idiot neighbors had named their herd Blackie, Brownie, Spottie, and Dilly and Dolly – of course, they were under the delusion that these were celestial goats rather than direct descendants of the Devil.
The goats instinctively knew that I was afraid, and would give chase as soon as I approached the fence. At first it was a tree-to-tree game – with me up in a tree for 5 minutes at a time until they lost interest – then race for the next one. Ever seen a male goat extend himself – giraffe-like – unbelievable. I fell out of the apple trees several times – goats trying to bite my foot as I climbed onto branches that would not support me. I was butted, stepped on with cloven hoof, bitten and treed repeatedly – they weren’t trying to kill me, just playing some sort of Goat Rugby.
In my mind’s vengeful eye, I could see their utter destruction – but do you know how hard it is to find a merchant selling ground glass, napalm or arsenic when you need some. The old story that goats will eat anything – tin cans, paper, rags – not so. I tried feeding them a variety of fine stores such as chicken manure, broken bottles, cow pies, barbed wire and a few other goat desirables. They turned up their horns and went back to eating bark off the trees and plotting against me.
Nighttime – I was already afraid of vampires, slimy monsters and werewolves – waiting to pounce as I snuck along the creek to the canal head gate, but the real menace were the goats. They honed in on my flashlight like a light seeking missile. I would turn it off and creep over the fence, but with Satan being black, he had the advantage. So, I just shot the light in their eyes and started the tree race. The buggers would hide until I de-treed and then charge me out of the black.
Complain to my parents about this continual terror? I remember my mom saying to me in a very sweet voice, “your dad says it will toughen you up”. “Great” I thought, “they’ll be sorry when I’m dead”.
Then something happened, I grew about four inches one winter, and I decided it would be better to die than be the subject of further goat abuse. The bullies at school – J. D. Nerdin, and Parly Nelson’s gang, were already using me for a punching bag – I would go blocks out of my way to avoid them, as did everyone else. Suddenly the goats seemed a lesser challenge. I looked for a weapon of choice and finally decided on a broken hockey stick.
That first afternoon when I climbed the fence, they all started to gather around, choosing lots to see who would get the first knock down. I stood my ground when Nasty got up on her hind legs and began the downward punch. Having always been chosen last for any game, including Dodge Ball – and never being sent in until the final inning for my little league team – my power stroke was a bit off. I aimed for the forehead but ended up hitting Nasty on the hoof. Really, I just wanted to scare the goats so they would leave me alone (that’s an outright lie) – if I could, I would have mangled every one of their kind into sausage filler and ground their bones, horns and hooves to dust – to be burned at midnight inside a pentagram – sending them back to hell where they belonged).
After the whack, Nasty immediately retreated to think things over with a significant limp. The Impaler came next. My aim was better and I whacked him squarely on the forehead. He shook his head from side to side – I got in a second blow – he staggered off. I decided then that the best strategy would be to aim for the base of the horns and stun them into retreat.
And that became the routine at least during the daytime. Worked pretty well until I pulled for the fences one day with a cracked softball bat and knocked off the left half of Satan’s horn. Trouble. What would our neighbors the Spencer’s say? More fearful, would they complain to my Dad when discovering a half horned goat. I had brief numbskull thoughts of gluing the horn back on – or maybe using some barbed wire to graft it together. But how would I catch and subdue the goat anyway. Finally tossed the horn over the wild currant bushes into the creek and hoped for the best – that the neighbors would see it as a case of some natural disaster or illness – Dropping Horn Disease or some such.
What about the Dark of the Moon? Fire – that was the solution – Fire. It finally dawned on me to keep some kerosene soaked cattails up by the chicken coop. When I entered the Goat Arena I would light one up and squint to see where the goats were lying in wait. As soon as one came at me, I thrust the three-foot flame in its face. Goats don’t like fire, despite their real origins, and after burning some of their whiskers and actually setting Killer’s coat on fire (he rolled it out all too quickly) they left me alone, but I still carried a burning torch each trip through the dark.
From then on it was Joe 100, Goats Zero. I felt that after years of humiliation it was my natural calling to torment and disturb them at every opportunity. I rallied my friends and we entered Goatland armed with heavy winter coats and hats, leather gloves, wooden 2×4’s, ropes and a canoe paddle.
The goats seemed to take these attacks in the spirit of a jousting tournament and would oblige us by spirited two-legged head-crashing charges – throwing slobbering strings of goat saliva in our direction – and doing their best to urinate on us. We were anxious to fire back but didn’t have the range or pressure to complete.
Nights were riskier, but much more fun. We took turns chasing and being chased – knocking off three more half horns and one full set to toss in the creek. Hornless Goat Disease, I told everyone. Didn’t really hurt the goats and the horns grew back – took a half horn to school and claimed it was off a Unicorn. Of course we stunk of Eau de Mungy Goat and were shunned by all. We were proud of it. At twelve we were a lot more interested in chasing goats than chasing girls.
Now those days are past, the goats long dead, but their memory lives on – at least in my nostrils. Once in a while I still get a whiff of that Randy Goat Aroma, and I turn quickly to make sure there isn’t a set of horns headed my way.