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A Special Christmas With Billy the Kid
posted December 17, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – Every growing boy should
enjoy the companionship of a goat. There is much to be learned in
keeping and caring for a goat. During this Christmas season I recall
the time my brother and I got our
own goat. On Christmas Eve of 1939 Billy joined our family. He was a
solid white goat about six months old.
My father looked across the breakfast table that morning and said he
had something special to show us. He took us out back to the
smokehouse, opened the door and there stood Billy.
I rushed in and hugged our Christmas present. I had wanted someone to
play with other than my brother, who was the baby of the family until
my parents adopted our sister in 1952.
My brother loved being baby brother. He would have been a girl had my
mother gotten her druthers. But making do with what was delivered,
mother didn’t have brother’s hair cut until he started school and kept
him in dresses until father objected. My brother’s status led to a lot
Billy was pampered, too. He was fed on wheat shorts, corn meal, oats
and greens and in time grew into a magnificent goat with a fine set of
horns. He also showed the dark side of a goat - unpredictable and
cantankerous. He climbed atop chicken coops, chewed clothing hung out
to dry and chased barnyard fowl.
My father was a sharecropper and we lived on a farm about three miles
out of town. The farm was at the edge of a Carolina bay, which we
called a swamp, and the land belonged to a widow lady by the name of
Dolly Johnson. I saw her only once but remembered she had a huge mop of
Oscar Ard, a handyman who repaired wagons and harnesses at one of the
town’s livery stables, helped my father at times. He sometimes sat with
me and my brother in the evenings when my parents went to visit
neighbors and family members or went to square dances. Oscar would tell
us ghost stories, and he terrorized us with the tales of creepy things.
Oscar was a jack of all trades, and a master at making things out of
scrap lumber, metal and other materials. It was this talent that
prompted my father to ask him if he would build a little cart that the
goat could pull. I don’t know what my father was thinking about.
Oscar jumped at the chance to show off his skills and within a few days
had turned a pair of old tricycle wheels, an apple box, some banana
crate wood, baling wire, scrap leather and other odds and ends into a
I remember the morning he delivered it. My brother and I were beside
ourselves with joy when the cart was wheeled into the yard. My father
and Oscar caught Billy, put a pony halter on him that had been modified
to fit his head, and hitched the goat to the cart.
I started to get into the cart but my brother began crying. He always
cried to get his way. He told my father he wanted to be first. My
brother wanted to be first in everything, except the Saturday afternoon
baths forced upon us by mother or helping to do the yard chores.
“Let Knotty (my brother’s nickname) go first,” my father said. My
brother got his nickname from a family friend who said his mop of
tangled curly hair looked like twisted tufts of wool.
I reluctantly stepped aside as my brother, with a smirk, jumped into
the cart and grabbed the lines that were attached to Billy’s halter.
Oscar had been struggling with Billy, holding tightly to his horns and
bending the goat’s head down in an effort to subdue him. The struggle
was a clear sign of disaster in the making.
“Turn him loose, Oscar,” my father said after my brother took his perch
in the cart seat and began popping the reins like a stage coach driver.
What happened next remains among the most memorable - and exciting -
moments of my life.
Billy, freed of Oscar’s strong hands, shot forward as if propelled out
of a cannon. Bleating and kicking, Billy raced toward a ditch that was
used to drain the front yard. It was through a miracle that the goat
and cart roared across a pine pole bridge spanning the gully. I looked
on in wonder. I didn’t realize a goat could move so fast.
With the cart bouncing wildly behind the enraged goat and my brother’s
screams of terror filling the air, Billy made a sharp left turn just
across the bridge and headed down a wagon path that ran parallel to the
Billy didn’t go far when he decided to make another left turn. He
headed back toward the ditch, the cart careening left and right. The
goat suddenly went airborne and leaped the narrow, deep ditch, but
gravity took control of the cart. It plunged into the ditch, which was
filled with stagnant water, briars, cattail stalks and plum brush.
The impact broke the cart shafts and released the harness lines,
freeing Billy. I watched Billy race across a stubble field and head in
the direction of the swamp about a half mile behind the house. My
wailing brother, bruised and punctured by branches and briars, was in
the bottom of the ditch with the remnants of the cart. It’s amazing how
long and loud someone can scream when the threat of doom appears.
My father and Oscar, who had taken out running behind the cart, jumped
into the ditch and began pulling apart the wreckage and freeing my
brother, who was screaming for mother. He was dragged out of the ditch
and taken to the house for comfort and first aid.
I didn’t run after the cart. I stayed in the yard and waited for Billy
to return. It turned into a long wait. Night came and there was no sign
of Billy, so I cried myself to sleep. My brother didn’t miss Billy, and
he told me over and over he never wanted to see the goat. My mother
pouted at my father.
Christmas is supposed to be a time of miracles, and one was soon to
appear. Billy had been missing for almost a week when a neighbor came
walking into the yard late one afternoon. He carried in his arms what
appeared to be an old sheet. It was Billy. My goat was shrunken and
shriveled and his once chalk white coat was frayed and muddied.
The neighbor told my father he found Billy in the woods about two miles
from our house. He had gone there to cut fireplace wood and poles for a
chicken house and came upon Billy tangled up on a stump. The broken
line on his halter had snagged on the stump and the more he struggled
the tighter his bonds became.
“Someone said your goat was missing, and I figured this was him,” the
neighbor said while handing Billy over to my father.
Billy was near death from thirst and starvation, but my father brought
him back. He was bedded down in the warm smokehouse on a deep pile of
hay and fed grits, corn meal cakes, collards and helpings of mush laced
with cod liver oil and other tonics.
Each day during Billy’s convalescence and as soon as I got home from
school, I would go to the smokehouse and spend time with my goat. His
recovery was important to me, because Billy and I had a lot in common.
We were both independent and didn’t like to be put upon by others,
especially my brother.
A few years after the cart was destroyed we moved across town to
another farm. We put everything we had in a couple of wagons, including
Billy. He rode up front with me and my father’s friend Silas, who
loaned us a wagon for the move. We went through town like we were on a
Roman chariot, while the city kids laughed at us.
I have thought about Billy a lot over the years. He was a special
Christmas gift, and he has remained in my heart and memory. It was
because of Billy and my brother that I will always remember the old
saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.”
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