The Goat

Author Vicki Peterson is allowing us to preview here a story that she will submit to the Pen Women national magazine for publication in the coming months. It’s a delightful reminiscence that explains why, should anyone require an explanation, Victoria Stoddard Peterson does not like chèvre. 

 
Isn’t it remarkable how one smell can bring back so many memories?
 
 
I’m not sure why Daddy brought the damn goat to the farm to begin with. Goats— they are not the most pleasant looking creatures, and they do have that peculiar scent. I was only four, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It turns out that the goat was a perfect metaphor for my father—strong-minded with a singleness of purpose. That purpose was to do what pleased him—my father, and the goat!
 
My mother hated that goat, and she came to hate the farm. They had come to the farm at the end of the war for a more serene and ordinary life. Daddy’s best friend in the war told him that his father was looking for someone to manage a small farm in Virginia. My dad had been a B25 tail gunner, the worst possible position. He had witnessed unspeakable horrors that he would live with for the rest of his life. After the trauma of the war, he and my mother wanted to find some peace, to have a sense of accomplishment, to feel connected to something.
 
After the depression years and five years of world war, they just wanted to live a normal life. They felt that a connection to the earth would accomplish this. Believing that the scarcity of war would lead to the demand for fresh produce— watermelons, cantaloupes, corn—they saw their way to a new beginning. My mother had lived in cities all her life, and she just wanted to be a farm girl. She had the romantic notion of lush green fields, a beautiful garden, a charming farmhouse with a wrap-around porch.
 
What they encountered was far from that—a run-down, neglected, overgrown, non-descript farmhouse in the middle of a dusty field at the end of a long dirt road that turned into mud whenever it rained. Mother and Daddy worked determinedly to turn that farm into a place they could be proud of. With little disposable income and little help, they built a corduroy road; even though it was rough, it was an improvement over the often impassable previous one. They worked tirelessly to turn the farmhouse into a home. Daddy plowed the dusty fields and planted crops, he packed his truck with beautiful fresh produce and drove North, where the money was.
 
It wasn’t long until my mother found out she was pregnant with me. This slowed things down considerably. My father was working incredibly long days, often traveling miles to deliver the produce, struggling to make ends meet. My mother was alone, really alone, with a crying, premature, newborn baby who refused to eat.  It was at this point that things began to go downhill. My mother was overwhelmed, as was my father. Mother began to hate the farm. I know this because she wrote long, mournful letters to my father’s sister questioning if this were the way things would always be. My father would return home from his long trips only to go to the neighbor’s farm for some “relaxation.” He had always been a party boy. Everyone loved him, and he loved being with everyone. The demons of war began to catch up with him; drink became his best friend.
 
My early memories of the farm began when I was about four. The warmth of the wood-burning stove crackling with life. The smooth sides of the wood box in the corner of the kitchen that I loved to climb into. The velvety feel of the wood floors in the living room and the subtle aroma of furniture polish throughout. I relish the memory of the light coming in through the back door, the resinous scent of the boxwood bushes on a summer afternoon, the beautiful, peaceful river in the distance, and the sound of the tractors in the field. I loved walking with the dogs through the woods to the nearby farm, where I was rewarded with pancakes smothered in blackberry jam and dripping with freshly churned butter.
 
My favorite place was the old barn with the earthen floor that captured the rays of the sun as she peaked through the cracks in the walls, the creaky steps leading to the hayloft, and the sweet dark rich smell of the straw. I treasured the rough wood of the stall and the soft nuzzle of our horse, Jack.
 
And then came the GOAT. I am not sure what possessed Daddy to bring that goat home; maybe he had won it in a card game, perhaps it was a gift. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was the beginning of the end of the farm. Mother was outraged. That was my first memory of my parents fighting. My father wanted that goat, and my mother didn’t, and he would stop at nothing to keep it. He refused to return it. With me in the front, my mother tossed the goat in the back of the old Woody, and we drove it back to its original owner, that nasty goat kicking and bleating the whole way. The next morning the goat was back, and then that stinky,  mean, no-good goat chased me all the way down to the river. I was petrified; my mother was furious. Back into the Woody we went. This back and forth went on for three days. Each time, my mother tossed the goat in the back of the old Woody with me in the front and the foul-smelling, putrid goat thrusting and moaning louder and louder every mile that we went.
 
Then there was the ultimatum. The goat, or my mother and me. My strong-minded, stubborn father could not bring himself to give up the goat. With that, my mother packed up the old Woody once again—not with the goat, but with suitcases. This time to return to the North—not with watermelons, cantaloupes, or corn, but with me. It was the end of the farm and our life on the farm.
 
My father finally did return the goat, but my mother and I never returned to the farm. They had discovered farm life was not for them.  Eventually, my father, my mother, and I moved to a charming home in a small town with lush green grass, beautiful flowers, and a wrap-around porch.
 
It wasn’t until years later that I thought of that damned goat. My first taste of goat cheese brought all those memories flooding back. That smelly, mean, nasty goat is forever etched in my mind.
 
Isn’t it remarkable how one smell can bring back so many memories?

One thought on “The Goat

  1. So beautiful, Vicki! One can smell that goat and feel mothers pain! I loved the writing and your poetic grasp of the English language with of it’s subtleties to create a wonderful picture…loved it!

    Like

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