–Wow, Caleb, you have lots of brains.– –No, I don’t! I only have one brain!– –I mean, you have lots of sense.– — I don’t have any cents, only three pennies.– (Caleb-3 with Laura)
“I hate it when things die!” Erin (7) sobbed bitterly.
I have tried to teach the children not to hate because hating makes you feel hateful. But I understood her sentiment: her pet goat had died. She didn’t want to feel the deep grief of the loss of things loved.
“We never even gave him a name,” she lamented. “We just named him Goatie.” Continue reading →
Dead and dying poplars stand along the ditch bank on Rabbit Lane, like sentries propped up against battles long ago lost and won. Many branches, devoid of leaves, poke absently out and up like ten thousand fingers on stubby arms. On the oldest, the only leaves huddle close to the trunk, near the base. Finches and sparrows hop happily amidst the morass for some purpose unknown to me, or for no purpose. Their nests lie hidden somewhere in dense bushes; no seeds or insects can be found in the spiky tree stubble. But safety from cats and falcons the branches certainly provide. Continue reading →
While I was away attending the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2013 with my teenage sons, my wife and younger children brought home two little precocious pygmy goats. They named the black-and-white kid Olive, and the light-brown kid Cupcake. Oh, they were adorable, running and jumping and calling to their human friends non-stop. They loved the attention of being petted and bottle-fed, and followed Hyrum and Hannah around everywhere. “My babies,” Angie called them. This poem is about her love for the new kids.
CUPCAKE AND OLIVE
Olive is a pygmy goat,
white with black splotches,
or black with white,
two months old, almost.
You brought her, two days old,
home, with little cousin Cupcake,
and bottle fed her
four times a day.
She doesn’t bleat like Cupcake
(oh, my goodness),
even when hungry,
but cocks her head to one side,
just so, as if to say,
And where, Mama, have you been?
Olive will only suck
from a bottle held by you,
having jumped and flopped
onto your mother’s lap.
You stroke her neck
with a free hand.
The deaths of dear pets have hurt my children’s tender feelings many times over as many years. The sad fact is: pets die. Sometimes from neglect; sometimes from sickness; sometimes from old age. From tiny hamsters to guinea pigs, and from chickens to full-sized goats, each death raised in the children’s innocent minds anew the questions of why things die, and why did their heart have to hurt so much when saying good-bye to friends. I grieved for them and with them as they grieved their losses. The day one of our pet goats died, Erin and Laura cried and cried. I didn’t know how to comfort them. But I stayed with them and talked with them and did my best to sooth them. I wrote this poem about the occasion. It isn’t a great poem, but it expresses poetically the bitter-sweet experience of losing our pet goat. You can read more about our pet goats in Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig post in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
OUR PET GOAT DIED TODAY
Our pet goat died today.
We noticed he was sick:
gasping for breath;
struggling to raise his head off the ground.
Big hands placed him in the November sun;
little hands rubbed him warm,
coaxed him to suck from the bottle, but he wouldn’t, or he couldn’t.
Then he was dead.
He was our friend, and he was gone.
I held him and gathered my little children close around,
where they wept as death and loss seeped into their reality:
“I don’t want him to die,” they sobbed.
“I’m sad too,” I said.
Daughters chose the burial place,
near Diamond, last Spring’s kitten.
Father and son dug deep in the hard clay.
Old chicken straw made a bed and a pillow and a blanket,
to keep our goat warm and comfortable
in his resting place.
Fall’s last roses placed around his head
would bring him pleasant smells in Winter.
A child’s graveside prayer,
trusting an unseen wonder,
would protect the goat and comfort their sad hearts.
“Daddy, where do goats go when they die?” they asked,
knowing that I would know the answer.
I looked in my heart for sweetness and truth:
“I’m sure God loves goats just like he loves people, so goats must go to heaven.”
Through tears they asked hopefully, “Will we see him again?”
“I hope so,” I said. Then, “Yes, I’m sure we will.”
Worried at the thought of the goat covered with earth, they asked,
“What will happen to his body when he’s buried?”
“This is the goat’s resting place, and you have made it very special
with your flowers and prayers.
He will just rest here awhile.”
One last scratch on his nose to say good-bye.
My son works to fill the hole.
My daughters gently place the reddest rose petals on the mound.
Then they run off to play,
and I hear the scared bleating of a lonely goat.
–Our garden is going to grow because of this beautiful rain!–
Caleb (2) loved to feed the goats. We kept a bucket under the sink into which we scraped all the table scraps and vegetable peelings. Each time Caleb saw the bucket, he cheered, “Goatie, goatie!” I carried the bucket in one arm and the boy in the other to the goat yard, dumping the bucket’s contents into the lopsided plywood manger I had made. At 14, one of Caleb’s daily chores was to empty the scrap bucket into the pig pen, and it was no longer an occasion he looked forward to. Continue reading →