Goats of Christmas Past
Although Alice and I are regular attenders at 1st Respectable Church, that doesn't mean I like Christmas. I'm only occasionally known to mutter, "Bah, Humbug," and then, it's for the opposite reasons of Ebenezer Scrooge, at least, in my reading of Dickens... Scrooge thought it all a waste of time and money. I don't mind wasting time or money, but it seems like given the expenditures, some one should at least be made happy by it. Instead, the affluent small percentage of the world is awash in stuff no one wants or needs, while our cast offs, exported, wreck third world industries... It's a good thing I'm not one of those depressive types, or I'd be depressed by it all.
Instead, I maintain stout denial in the face of the coming holidays. Fortunately this goes along well with Alice's Swedish upbringing. Actually, I don't know if Swedes still do this or not, but in Alice's family tradition the tree doesn't go up till Christmas Eve. So until the tree goes up, I can ignore the lights, ads, and Santas everywhere. This does make Christmas Eve a bit busy, as I'm shopping, procuring a tree, and helping get the house looking decorated. Nowadays, with the kids off being professionals somewhere, my attitude towards the holidays hardly matters. When the kids were young, Alice often accused me of helping to spread an air of panic about our holiday celebration. The time I'm thinking of, panic was the order of the day, and rightly so...
Back then, it was the disco era, and banjo sales were few and far between. Alice and I had gotten married in the 1970's. In keeping with the times, I had her sign a prenuptial agreement that we would name our children after powerful influences from our formative years. Bonzo was born, and then a couple years later Starfighter joined us. Alice wasn't sure Starfighter was a good name for a girl, but I told her we have to leave our sexist stereotypes behind. "Look at Princess Leia," I pointed out. "Even though she mostly just squirmed around in her flimsy attire, she gave it to Jabba the Hut good when she got a chance..." Alice never wanted to argue with me when I got on a Star Wars rant...
All this had nothing to do with the looming holidays, and us living in a dilapidated school bus in the cold woods of Minnesota, except that, as my wife frequently pointed out, I had a rich fantasy life... It's that same fantasy life that makes me think these were the good old days, before the Internet, computer games, and indoor plumbing made us all into sissies. You didn't have to worry about putting on extra weight in a leaky old school bus heated with a potbelly wood stove--the -25 temperature when you were out splitting wood robbed you of any extra calories you'd care to count (not to mention any exposed appendages). Bonzo and Starfighter played with sticks and pans in a circle around the temperate zone of the wood stove like planets going around the sun.
The remnant of the Minnesota Big Woods that we were living in didn't have any evergreen trees, and we were dead set against cutting down a living tree just for a mostly pagan German ritual (this was long before I met Erdmore, though I doubt he would have disagreed with us). It's true that not having the money to buy a tree might have helped push us into our vigorous tree-hugging stance. We didn't even have the money to feed our growing goat herd.
It was a funny thing about goat herds. We got two nannies, because we learned that they were herd animals, and didn't like being alone. We got them for the romantic notion of producing our own milk. We shouldn't have worried about their being alone. When word spread through the community that someone actually wanted goats, we soon had a couple more. Then, of course, in order for them to produce milk, they had to have kids, usually 2 at a time... And in order for them to be bred, we had to have a buck. That's where Genghis came in.
The neighborhood grapevine produced Genghis for us, and his owners were in no hurry to have him back. That was probably because buck goats exude a scent which no doubt drives the does crazy, but was probably designed to lure them from miles away, judging by the potency of the smell. Genghis never had his horns removed as a kid, and they were spectacular, about 4 feet across, making it so he'd have to turn his head to enter a barn door. Even though goats' eyes resemble the eyes of many other mammals, when you look a goat in the eyes you know there's nothing sane inside...
As I was saying, we didn't have the money to buy hay for the goats, although we figured with the woods nearby, and goats being goats, and a supplement of oat mash, they'd make out okay, and they did. Of course later we figured out they were going over to a neighbor's old corn stalks pile, but part of being goats is being resourceful...
It was also a part of our lifestyle, to be resourceful. I'm not sure that friends will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no friends, but it was a friend that had gotten a very tree-like branch that had broken off her grandmother's fir tree, that led to our having a Christmas tree. This friend was leaving for the holidays, so offered it to us shortly before Christmas, as well. Used trees are all well and good, but they tend to be dry, particularly in the dry heat of a woodfired school bus. We were to be gone several days prior to Christmas to visit my family, so we left our tree outside, ready to put up on our return.
Even though I wax nostalgic about the good old days in the bus, the fact was that it was steady stoking and many layers of clothes that kept us from being icicles in that Minnesota winter. There was no backup heat, so when we were gone, the place froze up. Since we didn't have running water, that was one thing we didn't have to worry about freezing... But I only mention this to point up the contrast between our life and my parents, who had central heating, and didn't wear long underwear. Suffice it to say that we enjoyed the fossil fueled warmth experience, but it was time to get back to our sustainable (if fragile) existence.
So we returned, to the snow that covered our comfortable squalor, only to find the Christmas tree was bare of needles. No, the tree wasn't that dry--it was the goats that ate all the needles off the tree. And with the needles, there went our hopes for a semblance of a "normal" Christmas. But we still put up the tree, and put our homemade decorations and a string of clear lights on it. And it looked pretty good--very 3 dimensional, like looking at an X ray of a Christmas tree.
Since then we've been happy with whatever tree that comes to us. After all, we've got the lights and decorations, and the memories of the goats of Christmas past...
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|11. The Secret Six||12.
|13. The Old School|
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