As you all know – and you should all know, as I’ve been making enough of a fuss over it – about five weeks ago I had a knee replacement.
The surgery itself, like all surgeries, was a snip. They put you to sleep with apologies for having to stick needles into you, and then, a couple of hours and several thousand dollars later, you wake up, and presto! the deed is done.
But, unlike other surgeries, with a knee replacement, that is when the fun begins. The insulted leg is, understandably, sore and cranky, and it doesn’t want to move. It wants to lie there and suffer, and have people make a fuss over it, and bring it flowers and goodies.
However, sadly, there are ogres in this world called physiotherapists and these creatures are determined to make your knee – and so the rest of you – Suffer. You will note the capital S – and that is because, the surgeon having cut off your leg and then re-attached it, they now want you to move it, and bend it, and walk on it, and move it, and bend it some more to some unheard of angle that you just know it can never attain – but why go on! Then, having enjoyed this attention and their lovely hospital food for one whole day, they send you home to Suffer with the visiting physiotherapist. This person, although a lovely woman in her other life, advances upon you armed with several instruments of torture and makes you wish you had had the damn thing cut off instead.
But why go on – this is just the reason for my not having written earlier, as I am sure you would have asked me if I wanted some cheese with my whine. So – instead, until very soon, when I will feel more lively and positive, I am posting a letter from the past – many years in the past, when I first met the love of my goaty life, my pet goat Snowball. The way she came to enrich my life – and she did just that, for so many years – was a story in itself, and, as it’s been some 17 years since I shared it with you, I thought I would do so again. So, here are my memories of …….
LIVING WITH A GOATLING
My niece by marriage, who is a very soft hearted sort of gal, once went to a 4-H Fair, where the kids were selling off the livestock they’d raised as part of the 4-H program.
One of the rules of 4-H is that the animals, once raised, have to be sold so that the children learn about the economics of farming. The only trouble is that they’re invariably sold for slaughter, which of course the kids know, and consequently, on Fair day, there’s always a lot of little ones boo- hooing, saying goodbye to their pets.
Rona, wandering around the fairground, saw a little girl crying and asked her: “Why are you crying, little girl?” and the little girl said: “ I have to sell my lamb, boo hoo, and she’ll be slaughtered”. So Rona, moved to pity, said: “Don’t cry, little girl, I will buy your lamb and I promise you she will never be slaughtered”. She paid for the lamb and brought her home.
Now Rona, like most ranchers, has a lot of animals to feed, and after a while it seemed to her that the sheep was a needless burden on the feed bill. But, what to do with it and still keep her promise? Why, sell it to someone, of course, someone who wouldn’t want to eat it, but who would want to keep it as a pet. Not an easy person to find, among practical ranch folk.
She looked around for a suitable fool and her eye fell on me. She phoned me:
“Eve, I have this lamb, at a real good price….. “ and poured forth a convincing story. “Naah,” I said, “I don’t think so, but thanks all the same”. I’d had a lamb at one time already and didn’t really want to repeat the experience.
“Oh but”, said wily Rona, “I’ll throw in a goat for nothing.”
A goat? Hmmmm. I had never had a goat, and the idea sort of appealed to me. I made the fatal mistake of saying “A goat…?”
“Yes, yes, and she’s bred”, burbled Rona winningly, pushing home the advantage.
I paused. Just think, something for nothing, maybe two, or even three, somethings for nothing…… The study of every con game in the world will reveal the fact that people will do all kinds of stupid things if they think they will get something for nothing.
“OK” I said, “bring them over”.
And so Tinkerbelle the goat, and Lambchop the sheep entered my life. I put them in the pen and at first, apart from the occasional visit, didn’t really think much about them, until the fateful day when Tinkerbelle’s time to kid arrived.
It is a fact of ranch life, that whatever animal is due to give birth, it will invariably choose the coldest, most unpleasant time of the month to do it, preferably in the middle of the night, and, if at all possible, a cold, rainy, windy night. True to this practice, Tinkers chose the coldest evening of early April to go into labor.
Shivering, Danny and I hovered around her in the pen, waiting to see if she would need help, because Tinkerbelle is a very small goat. She is part Pygmy and part Saanen, and unfortunately she had got herself accidentally bred by a Nubian buck, so the chance was there that there would be trouble.
The first kid arrived as per schedule, and relatively easily. I caught it, dried it off and set it on its feet. It was enchanting. A tiny white fluffy ball, with an alert little face and comically droopy long ears, it staggered around on long, coltish legs, and immediately showed healthy signs of wanting to nurse. I named her Snowball, and happily put her under Tinkers for her first feed, and awaited the arrival of the next baby.
But the next baby wasn’t forthcoming. Time dragged by. Tinkers laid down, and got up, laid down and got up, strained and labored, with no result, until Danny announced we would have to help her. A couple more hours went by, but all our efforts at midwifery were in vain, we couldn’t get the second kid delivered.
Finally, in desperation, we phoned my sister-in-law, a lady of much experience with sheep and goats. Although she lives on the ranch next door, it was still some 7 miles over a rough road, and she arrived about a half hour later. But even her skilled help was to no avail. The second kid’s head was turned back and no amount of effort would get it turned around.
To make matters worse,Tinkers didn’t suffer in silence. To us, who were used to dealing with many a first time heifer calving stoically without a sound, Tinker’s ceaseless, almost human screams were most unnerving. Finally, about 2 hours later, Marilyn said: ”She’s going into shock. We’ll have to get her to a vet or we’ll lose her.”
I ran into the house and phoned one of the local veterinarians.
“Nancy”, I said frantically: “I have this goat, and she’s in labor and we just have to have some help!!” “Whaaat?” said the sleepy voice at the other end of the phone line, “at this hour of night?” “Yes, yes, now!” I wailed. Nancy struggled with sleep and medical ethics. Medical ethics won. “You’ll have to bring her into the clinic” she yawned, “I’ll meet you there ….”
There was no way that the goat, sweaty and shocky as she was, could go in the horse trailer or the back of a truck, the normal way to transport most farm animals. There was only one thing for it – my car. We put a bed-sheet behind the back seat of my 4 wheel drive, put Tinkers and the baby on it, piled into the car, and drove 47 miles to the vet’s office.
We got there a little after one a.m. Nancy and her helper were waiting for us. Once again Tinker’s screams rang out into the night air. A half hour went by, then another, and still nothing. I was beginning to feel like some medieval torturer, when Nancy finally said triumphantly, “There it comes”, and drew out a large brown and white kid – dead. It had been dead for a couple of days, Nancy thought, “but let me see if there might be another one in there”, she said, and dived back into poor Tinkers.
A funny look came over her face. “There is something”, she muttered, and then a look of horror dawned. “Oh no”, she said, “that’s not another kid, she’s got a torn uterus!” We looked at each other in dismay. “What do you want me to do?” she said.
Do? Do? What a stupid question. I couldn’t believe my ears. Here we had done this to this poor goat, and she is asking me if we should let her bleed to death.
“Fix it, of course”, I said wildly ……. and that is how I came to get a $230 vet bill for a $40 goat that I had got for nothing. Not a good way to do business, but the only way for a business of the heart.
And that is also how I came to raise a baby goat in my house.
We came back from the vet. hospital at around 4 in the morning, tired and worried. Nancy couldn’t hold out much hope for Tinkers. After the two hour operation she laid her in one of the hospital’s dog cages and we left her to fight it out.
“The baby will need some milk” Nancy’s assistant said, and while Tinkers was still on the table, milked a little milk into a bottle. “Here” she said, “the baby will drink out of a bowl, she won’t need to suck”. This surprised me – orphaned baby calves have to suck to help the development of their rumen, the first of their four stomachs, and if they are raised on a bucket, invariably look poor and pot bellied. Apparently goats were different.
I took Snowball and the bottle of milk and we climbed into the car for the trip home.
“I’ll have to sleep with her in the spare room”, I told Gerry. He gave me an exasperated look. To be driving a goat around in the middle of the night wasn’t his idea of a good time, and he had a hard day ahead of him just a couple of hours from now.
“What on earth for?” he said,”put her in the goat pen”.
This wasn’t even worthy of a discussion. Put the baby into the goat pen, indeed! Not only was it cold and windy in there, but it was also most chauvinistically occupied by Lambchop, not the most amiable of sheep, who would, I was sure, view this latest arrival with a great deal of suspicion.
I got a large cardboard box, lined it with an old towel and installed this makeshift bed next to the couch. I had to sleep fast. Nancy said the baby needed to eat every four hours; Snowball’s idea was to eat about every two hours, and not only to eat, but to be entertained. I found that picking her up and giving her the bowl of milk was only the beginning of the circus. After eating she would bounce around the sofa for a while, pull at my hair, step on my face should it be foolish enough to be on the pillow, and it was only with the greatest of difficulty that she could be persuaded to settle down in her box and go back to sleep. Her ears presented a bit of a problem, too, because they were long enough to dip into the milk bowl, and would then distribute globs of greasy milk all over the surrounding area. I had to get a bottle, but fast.
About four days later Tinkers arrived back home, surprisingly only a little the worse for her experience. She had a huge long scar on her side, and she came with instructions to be housed separately, and given penicillin injections daily. I set up housekeeping for her in a covered two- horse trailer, where she remained for a week or so, sleeping a lot and eating everything in sight. However, when she emerged, some 10 days later, she predictably wanted nothing to do with the small cause of all her troubles.
It appeared that, like it or not, I was momma goat for a while, and as I definitely didn’t want to move into the goat pen, there remained no alternative – as I told Gerry – but that the baby remain in the house with us.
While she was small, and lived only on milk, Snowball was easy to house train. She would eat, I would put her out, she would do what she had to, and would then be safe for about four hours or so. Safe as far as bodily functions went, that is. Not, however, safe in other vigorous goaty activities. She wasn’t two weeks old when she discovered the delights of the sofa and the thrills of a goat launch from its arm rest across the room to the coffee table, across which she would then skid on all four feet, WHEEE!, scattering all before her. As our coffee table and end tables are glass topped, this necessitated a certain amount of goat proofing, such as covering everything with ugly pieces of ply wood, and removing anything that was breakable or edible, which meant just about everything.
I was amused to watch her thought processes. Everything would be first sniffed, and then experimentally nibbled , and each action would be accompanied by a waggle of the tail, so it would be sniff, sniff, waggle waggle, nibble, nibble, waggle waggle. I finally deduced that the tail waggling represented the stashing of information into the goaty brain, much as a person would nod to himself while pondering the atomic theory, say.
Before long, objects hanging on the walls were thoroughly investigated and, if susceptible to goaty yanks, pulled off and just as thoroughly demolished. I rescued my precious Apache burden basket in the nick of time, and before long our house began to resemble a place through which some sort of a huge, malevolent tide had swept, depositing anything of any use whatsoever high out of reach.
The tempo of our lives changed, too. As she grew a little older, the cardboard box would no longer hold her, so I borrowed a portable dog house from my sister-in-law and installed that in the library. After her dinner Snowball would be firmly bundled inside, the door would be locked and I would then be free to go to the guest ranch dining room for my dinner.
However, my return trip began to resemble a quick dash across a minefield. Try as I might to tiptoe past her door, that keen goaty ear would hear me and “MEEEEE, MEEEE!!” piteous and demanding bleats escalating in decibel level, would issue from the library so that, in order not to wake Gerry, I would give in and go sit with her, and wait for the little goaty snores which told me I was free to sneak out again.
She particularly loved our adjust-a-bed. Our daily morning ritual is to drink our coffee in bed and hold our planning meeting for the day. In order to sit up comfortably, we tilt up the upper part of the bed, so making the underside accessible. On the very first day of this routine, Snowball disappeared under the bed, and before long strange noises began to issue forth. “What’s that damn goat doing under the bed?” Gerry asked suspiciously one morning, as the noises increased in rhythm and intensity. “Oh nothing” I said, “just playing. Don‘t worry about it”.
But after this had gone on for several mornings, I grew curious. What was she doing under there? After Gerry had safely left the house, I yanked the bed up again and climbed underneath to see.
The moving parts of the bed frame had been carefully cushioned with thick strips of foam rubber at the factory, in order to ensure smooth operation of the mechanism – but alas, these were no more. Only a few forlorn shreds remained, hanging like refugees from a hurricane off the wooden frame – the rest were gone. Not a crumb remained. And they weren’t on the floor – presumably they were in the goat. Distraught, I waited for Snowball to get sick, but apparently a diet of foam rubber agreed with her, because she thrived.
During the day I took her to the office, and installed her in another box left there for the purpose. This did fine for just long enough for her nap to be over, and then she would wander around the office, investigating. Goats, I found, are incredibly curious creatures, and, what’s worse, totally without a social conscience. No amount of stern “No!”s would deter her, and one by one, pieces of paper, letterheads, bills to be paid and such would fall prey to her little nibbling mouth, nibble, nibble, waggle, waggle. I spent a good deal of my time rescuing important papers from destruction, just as I spent a good deal of my time outside rescuing rose bushes and flowers. And then one day she ate our bedroom drapes and her time in the house was over.
This domestic upbringing had a sequel, though, almost a year and a half later, when she had long been a real, honest to goodness goat living in the goat pen.
I had turned both goats and Lambchop out to graze and by some oversight had left the yard gate open, and the house door not quite shut. I was waiting for a phone call from a big time city vet, who had a large hospital and who was too busy to talk to people in the ordinary course of his day. If you needed to talk to him, you called his answering service, left your number, and he would call you back.
He had called back, and I was busy taking down a whole lot of instructions about some treatment for a horse, when suddenly the door swung open and Snowball burst into the room. She bounded into the middle of the floor, and looked around with enthusiasm. I could see fond memories dawning in her eyes. It was almost as if she had spoken: “I remember this place! This is a FUN place!!” and her gaze fell on the sofa, and the now pristine, glass covered table. I knew what was coming only too well.
“Hang on, Larry, hang on!!” I bleated desperately into the phone, and dropped it on the floor. In the nick of time I grabbed Snowball by one of her horns, propelled her unceremoniously out the door, and firmly slammed it shut. I picked up the phone again.
“Sorry to keep you, Larry, but I had to get the goat out of the living room…”
There was a puzzled silence. I could just see him, in his white coat and two million dollar hospital, trying to deal with this startling piece of information. Finally he evidently decided his ears had played him false.
“Excuse me?” he said politely.