The Old Hand: Another Back In the Day


Most Christmas gag gifts are forgotten by New Year’s. Some however last a lot longer. My great-uncle Elmer and his old friend, Gene, kept one going for years.

A couple acquaintances of Elmer wanted to give their children a pet and they settled upon a cute little billy goat kid. The problem was the kid outgrew his cuteness very quickly. He became a real problem for the parents and the children who wouldn’t even go outside unless the goat was tied up.

Since nobody answered their ad offering a free goat, they did the only thing they could think of to get rid of the animal; they took it out to Elmer’s farm and gave it to him, knowing well he was too nice to refuse it.

I image that the goat had been given a name by it’s former owners, but uncle Elmer named it Goat. He never was too imaginative about his names. He had a border collie that was the best cattle dog I ever saw. Elmer called the dog, Dog. He had several horses with the same name, Horse. He had about twenty cows with the name Cow, except for the one he called Bull.

His first child was a boy and was given a normal name, which not too many people remembered over the years. Elmer nicknamed his son, Boy, the first time he saw him, and the name stuck all the rest of Boy’s life. As their family grew, Aunt Amanda, laid down the law, no more of those silly names, and the other kids grew up being called by their given names. But since Amanda never cared what he called his animals, Elmer gave them names he thought was appropriate.

Elmer got a lot of teasing about being such a softy and taking Goat. He just laughed and defending his action by saying, ‘You can’t look a gift goat in the mouth’. Although there were many times, he wished he had.

That animal was foul-smelling, obnoxious, mischievous, contrary, mean, ornery, and the list went on and on. In fact, if you look up some of the aforementioned words in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of Elmer’s goat.

The one thing nobody ever did twice was turn their back on Goat. It was as if the critter saw the seat of a person’s pants as one big target. Ram! Bam! And after he played his little joke on the poor sap, you could swear there was a smile on Goat’s face.

Of course, Goat never tried anything with Elmer, one big reason was Dog. Not only was Dog a great cattle herder, he was also a darn good goat trainer. Dog could actually make Goat behave. But, if by chance some poor unsuspecting man turned his back on Goat, Dog was known to look the other way. Dog would never allow Goat to accost a woman or a child though, and Goat never tried to after Dog nipped him a few times for even thinking about it.

Gene, one of Elmer’s best friends had a farm a couple miles down the road from Elmer’s. The two had a lot in common, especially teasing and playing practical jokes on each other.

I  loved  Elmer telling the story about Gene hearing drinking goat’s milk was good for arthritis. When Gene found out that Elmer had just been given a goal and  he offered to buy Goat from Elmer. Elmer had that goat sold until some loud-mouth told Gene that Goat was a billy, not a nanny. ‘Yup,’ Elmer would laugh, ‘I’d a paid money to see the first time Gene paid to milk it.’

After almost getting taken by Elmer on the sale of the goat, Gene teased Elmer about his goat every chance he got. ‘Hey, if you want to get Elmer’s goat, just ask him about his Goat.’  Or when Elmer would stop in at the VFW for a euchre game, and Gene was there already, Gene would holler, ‘Hurry up and close the door. Must be a goat outside. I sure can smell it.’

It was the second Christmas of Elmer having the goat that Gene came home from Midnight Mass and saw lights on in the barn and his pack of dogs barking up a storm at the barn door. When he opened the door there was Goat in the box stall with the team of horses. Goat was helping himself to the hay and the two horses were standing as far away from the intruder as possible.

Around Goat’s neck was a large red ribbon and bow. It didn’t take much to figure out who the Santa was that left the present. Thinking back, Gene should have figured something was up when he didn’t see Elmer at Midnight Mass.

Like Elmer, Gene never looked a gift goat in the mouth and accepted it with a laugh. The only thing was Gene never called the goat, Goat. He renamed it Elmer. If Elmer the goat had any ideas that life would be easier without Dog around, he was wrong. While Gene didn’t have a dog like Dog, actually nobody did, Gene had a pack of dogs that managed to keep the goat in line.

And then come the next Christmas and there was no Gene at Midnight Mass, Elmer wasn’t at all surprise to open the barn door and see Goat, nee Elmer, standing there with the big red ribbon and bow around it’s neck. Dog jumped around and actually licked Goat’s face. Elmer laughed and commented later that at least Dog was happy to have Goat back.

This ritual went on and on. Whoever it was that was going to get the goat made sure he went to Midnight Mass to make it easier on the giver. The red ribbon and bow was an important part of the gift so it was always kept in a safe place. They couldn’t trust it just hanging in the barn for fear the goat might eat it.

The goat, Goat or Elmer depending on which farm he was spending the year, matured thanks to age and to Dog and Gene’s pack as trainers. It got so was actually a pet. The two men found a pony harness and cart at an auction and broke the goat to be hitched up and pull it. Whenever kids would come to the farm where the goat was, it was drive-the-goat cart time. The goat and the cart and the kids were also big attractions in the parades at the various fairs and get-togethers during the summers and falls. And although the red ribbon and bow was also an important part of the goat’s wardrobe, the only time he wore it was Christmas Eve.

It was in the summer of a year when Elmer the Goat was living at Gene’s farm that Gene had the fatal heart attack while milking the cows. The day after the funeral Elmer told Gene’s widow what he intended to do and she thought it a good idea. Later that day Elmer came and took the goat, the harness, the cart, and the red ribbon and bow back to his farm – for good.

Every Christmas Eve, Elmer put the red ribbon and bow around the goat’s neck before Midnight Mass and took it off right after. If the goat missed Gene and Gene’s pack of dogs, he never showed it. He seemed content to live at just the one farm and didn’t seem to mind that no one ever called him Goat or Elmer anymore. From the time he came at Elmer’s to stay for good he went by the name, Gene.

Published BB 2/13/17

21 thoughts on “UNCLE ELMER’S GOAT

  1. Great story. At every turn I kept expecting something to happen, but I didn’t see Gene’s heart attack coming. Elmer did do right by by Gene though in the end.

  2. A great story, and my husband enjoyed it too. On another subject, I went to an exhibition on the (Australian) band Midnight Oil today. They were known for their high energy live performances, and songs based on environmental and social issues. There was a quote from one of the US roadies who worked with them for the first time when they toured there. It went along the lines of “watching the drummer practically destroy the kit he had spent all afternoon putting together” and that after the performance, he felt so wrung out, that he thought he might take up a safer profession, like “mine diffuser in a war zone” – or words to that effect. I thought of you . . .

      • I wondered if you had. How interesting! Another blog post perhaps? Midnight Oil have just reformed (as in got back together, not learned to behave), and will do some gigs internationally this year. Did you know the lead singer became a politician for a short while?

      • I’m glad you clarified they were reforming and not trying to behave. That is interesting about the lead becoming very political. Sounds like his politics might prevent the band from touring in the US as long as the Trump regime is in control.

      • Peter Garrett’s first (failed) attempt at entering politics was for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984. He re-ignited that career by becoming a lower house representative for the Labor Party in 2004. In exceedingly simplistic terms, the Labor Party is for the working class, while the Liberal Party is for the capitalists. His roles in government revolved around Climate Change, Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. He resigned from politics in 2013 after our first female Prime Minister was defeated in a leadership spill. AND NOW dah dah – THE GREAT CIRCLE 2017 WORLD TOUR will kick off in Brazil and be in the USA all of May. I doubt Trump will notice though. He is making enough noise and shock-waves without any help.

      • Sounds like his political views are just what keep him out of ‘Trump’s’ America. If, and that is a big IF, Trump is still president, his neoNazi advisors will certainly bring Garrett’s views to Trump and they’ll think of something.
        I mean that guy wasn’t in office a month when he did something no other American President ever did: he got into a beef with AUSTRALIA.

  3. Hilarious and Amazing !!
    I lived in Coutts Alberta, on the Montana border for a short time. Grade 4.
    2 kids (humans) that came to our school were the Madisson brothers. Their Dad had a farm close by and owned a bunch of goats. The Maisson boys had goat chores every day and at times never bothered to clean up before coming to school. They were promptly sent home – the smell was so bad. Don’t know how often they pulled that off, but they probably didn’t care. They also had this huge billy goat who occasionally got loose and rampaged around the town chasing and butting people – ’till the Mounties got the lads to fetch him. I believe the boys thought this was great fun.
    I therefore wholeheartedly buy your goat tale. or tail …

    • I thank you for your kind words, Lloyd and I hope you get awarded the Mystery Blogger Award. It sounds like fun. But I will pass because I have turned down nominations of awards and although this one does intrigue me, I must continue to turn them down. But I am honored that you thought of me.

  4. This is such a great and tender story; those red-bow rituals that continued were surely ones that gave comfort while remembering a dear friend.

    Thank you for sharing your stories, and for your support of other bloggers. Your comments are always appreciated.

    Humble thanks from the equator,

    • Oh, thank you so much for your kind words, Lisa. Coming from one with such a beautiful insight and talent as you, it is that much more appreciated. You have such a fine blog.

      • That is a very special story that I will keep close to my heart. It’s one that bridges cultures and classes of people and goes to the core of what makes us human…

        long ago my father promised my pre-teen son 100 dollars when he could dunk a basketball… he was a good athelete, and my father often rode with me to ball games. when he died suddenly, there was that empty seat even though his presence was near. once when i drove the few miles to the family cemetery, i found a basketball placed dead center on the dying flowers… a few days later at an opportune time, i mentioned that to my son.. he nodded and said it was a very difficult ‘gesture’ and the closer he got to the grave, the more difficult it was….

        your story reminded me of that one as well.. placing that bow was surely a sobering one, tht gave comfort and helped heal the wounded heart….

        thanks for listening.

        my son has my father’s name, btw, nd they were very close….

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