A Socratic Rancher 10-5-09
I’d just finished loading a yearling wether goat into my truck at the Sale Barn when a woman came up behind me. “Hi. I’m Jo Jean.”
Latching the gate on my slide-in stock racks, I tried not to seem too surprised by her large, white cowboy hat, colorful embroidered shirt, and tight jeans topped with a belt buckle nearly the size of a hubcap.
“Would you sell me that goat?” Jo Jean asked, not looking it over very carefully.
I don’t recall right off what I replied, but I need to confess before continuing that I actually hadn’t intended to buy this particular goat, having mistaken him for a nanny when he came through the door to the sale ring. Seeing a goat poke a head through the door, I’d reflexively raised two fingers and ended up with the winning bid. Of course, I had to pretend to all around me in that it was an intentional purchase of a much-needed wether, meanwhile trying to think of how I might explain the purchase to my wife, who would be quick to point out that the wether would eat his cost in feed in less than a week and still be worth only two dollars. If that.
Jo Jean and her oversized belt buckle presented an unusual opportunity, the delicacy of which I respected by saying, after an extended foot-shuffle, “Well, it depends.”
“I wanted to buy that goat,” she said, “but I was, well, to be honest, I was powdering my nose when the dang thing came through and I, well, I obviously missed out. I don’t want a milk goat, you understand. Just a companion for my horses.”
“A goat such as this would be good for that,” I agreed.
She presented me with her card. “Deliver the goat to this address, I’ll pay you 20.”
Trained in the art of not appearing too anxious when presented with good fortune, I paused, and ended up getting 30.
The wether went to a type of operation I knew nothing about in those days (1973), except that they were a growing and spreading phenotype of things to come in the scenic rural areas around town: the hobby horse ranchette, complete with indoor arena and hay barn next to a 12,000-square-foot home with four-car garage. For two people and 10 horses. Oh, and they had a stock trailer the size of a small barge, which accounted for the necessity of my slide-in pickup stock racks for hauling a smaller mammal.
After unloading the wether with the horses, Jo Jean gave me a glass of ice tea, and then several glasses of Long Island ice tea, clinked with her husband Larry Ed on the elaborate deck of their home where we tossed the hog about hay prices, welfare, and the weather. All in all, the chance meeting with Jo Jean provided a pleasant break in the flow of my habits.
It must have been a couple weeks later, Jo Jean called. “Would you please come get this goat and take him back to the sale? Please.” There was no mistaking the urgency in her voice. “The ornery thing has about chewed up everything we own.”
I had to bale hay that night and wanted to take a nap, but when she offered me a hundred bucks to come get the beast that evening, I drove over and got him.
At that point, I stood $128 ahead, and the sale barn stood 10 miles closer than home, so I took the wether straight to the barn for the sale that would take place in three days. It would cost some yardage, but I figured that might be cheaper than the havoc the wether might reek on the home place, based on what I’d seen at the Jo Jean and Larry Ed spread. Their landscaping had been severely pruned in ways that didn’t look professional. A BMW had hood dents and nibbled side mirrors. Several torn feed sacks had blown into a corner. Jo Jean told me the last straw had been when the wether, whom they had fondly named Ceasar, had ripped up their lawn furniture, including the umbrella.
At the sale barn three days later, I arrived after the cattle and hogs had sold, and took a seat in the far back section with the old men. Goats started to come in, and to my surprise, when Ceasar came through, someone jumped in with aggressive bidding from a perch high in the opposite corner. But from the way the auctioneer was running the bids, I could see it was a one-horse race. Then I saw the big white hat and dashed up to Jo Jean. “Don’t bid anymore,” I whispered. “That’s the wether you just got rid of.”
“No,” she said. “You wouldn’t have – “
“Yes, I would’ve.”
“Going once, boys … I’m going to let ‘im go. Sold! A nice fat wether for 23 dollars to the lady in the extensive white hat. Thank you, Ma’ma.”
Jo Jean put her head in her hands. “That’s how bad I am,” she said, nearly sobbing. “I didn’t even recognize him, after all he did.” She looked up at me, hat off, balanced precariously in her lap. “Would you take him?”
I left the wether at the Barn for the next sale date a week later.
Several days before the sale, the clerk called to tell me the goat had caused so much trouble, jumping from pen to pen, stirring up the other creatures, that an anonymous staff person had finally lost control and, well, the goat had disappeared. Money was offered as compensation.
“A hundred should cover it.”
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