Local Commentaries
3:30 pm
Mon August 17, 2009

Alison McGaughey - August 18

Macomb, IL – Every summer during fair season, I want to be a kid again. But it has nothing to do with cotton candy or riding rides. It's the kids in the livestock barns. When I see little girls who know how to lasso, I want a re-do of my own childhood.

I had every opportunity to develop farm-cred. My parents put me and my sister in 4-H. And I actually lived on a farm, unlike the rest of the kids in our club, which was called the Peppy Peppers.

But the town kids, somehow, were the ones who showed hogs and cows come fair-time.
Me? I did Drawing. And Photography.

My sister didn't show animals, either, but she did crochet and counter-cross-stitch her way to the state fair. The best I ever did was a blue ribbon for a latch-hook rug but I made it from a kit I bought at Ben Franklin. (All my 4-H work, I made sure, could be done in front of the AC and the TV.)

Dad must have begun to notice his daughters were getting away from the fundamentals of farm life. Because one day he came in for supper announcing he had a surprise for us.

We ran out into the front yard, me hoping for a new 10-speed. Or a pool.

But it was a goat. A little black billy goat.

And instantly, it charged at me. It was being affectionate, but I screamed. "Get it off me!"

My sister laughed. She thought it was cute. So we'll say she was the one who picked out his name.

Dad came outside with an old Pepsi bottle he had filled with milk and topped with a gray rubber nipple. He got hold of the goat, tipped back his little head, and gently yet forcefully got it to suckle.

I guessed it was kind of cute (standing still).

Later, there was a knock at the kitchen door. (That's a big deal when you live out in the country.)

Mom went to see who it could be. But no one was there.

She was still looking out when there was another knock.

"Wait a minute." Mom peered down through the top half of the screen door. "Aha!"
Michael Jackson had gotten out of his pen and was bashing his little head against the metal.

"It's the goat!" we giggled. "You're so silly, Michael Jackson!"

Later in the summer, my sister and I had an official chore: to rub a stinky ointment on the goat's head twice a day. I guess it was like goat Orajel for horn cutting pain. Or maybe horn control.

But we couldn't get it on him. It was impossible to get him to stand still. He was like a four-legged, black-furred junebug, banging constantly against his pen and against the kitchen door, because he always got out.

Soon, Dad was the one doing horn-deterrent duty.

We didn't have him a whole summer. Did we even have him a full month? I think Dad finally foisted him off on our cousins, who were also farm kids though I'm not sure why they were expected to do better at keeping him in his pen than we had.

Now I realize the Michael Jackson episode was a foreshadowing of the poor excuse for a farmer's daughter I was to become. The few times I was ever asked to do chores like walk beans I whined my way out of them.

I could have learned a lesson about raising animals, a small step in keeping our family's farming tradition from fading away. But what I really cared about was getting into town, where my friends had cable, so I could watch MTV.

The next summer at the fair, I showed not a cow or a sow but a comic strip about a little girl who tries to get out of doing her homework.

These days, I regret that I never learned any of the 4-H skills that would come in handy in real life. (Last time I checked, you can't latch-hook a button back onto your blouse.) But I have to accept the fact that when I was actually in 4-H and had the chance to learn about farm life, it just wasn't me.

I guess I couldn't help it any more than Michael Jackson could help not wanting to stay in his pen.

What I really wanted was to moonwalk, not walk beans.