Goats and Bugs

by Nick Brady

Chapter 12

George rode the school bus with Bobby on Monday morning. The new cellphone was in his front pocket. He would have to be careful that his mother didn't discover it. Why should she mind anyway? It hadn't cost her anything. Now that he had ridden his bicycle to Herb's place, he had taken another step in establishing independence from his mother. It felt good. The interesting thing was that she had almost seemed relieved that he had done so. Perhaps she was ready to be without the constant responsibility of a child.

He ate lunch with Bobby as usual. They were together as much as their schedules would allow. They had English together and lunch. They touched base before and after school. It would be obvious that they were close friends. If not quite the odd couple, neither were they obviously compatible. Bobby was a quiet muscular farm boy with fiery red hair. George was taller, leaner and loquacious. Bright, but overly garrulous. Given to using big words. While not exactly effeminate, he waved his hands a lot and was often seen carrying a butterfly net. George attracted attention without intending to. Bobby was essentially invisible in spite of his red hair and attracted as little attention as possible. George had been bullied in the past and might have been fair game for it now, but the almost constant presence of Bobby at his side made bullying George less attractive.

The problem on George's mind had to do with his mother Phyllis. It was clear to George that his mother was seeing a man who was probably married and the father of a boy in one of George's classes. The class was pre-algebra and the boy's name was Anthony Walker. Earlier in the year the school held an open house and parents were encouraged to attend. Phyllis was unable to be there but Anthony's parents were in attendance. He had not thought anything of it at the time, but when he came home from school to find his mother in her bedroom with a man, George thought he had seen him before. As he searched his memory, he realized that he had seen him at the open house with Anthony's mother. In George's mind, this explained why Phyllis was keeping that relationship private.

In George's mind if his mother was trying to keep her boy friend a secret, it meant that she knew it was problematic. However, if George was away visiting Bobby on the weekend, Phyllis could have use of the apartment without fear of being discovered. As it turned out, the weekly visits were to their mutual advantage and Phyllis's protests became minimal. When Thanksgiving came and with it a brief fall break, Bobby was allowed to spend the holiday with his friend Bobby while his mother went to visit an unnamed relative.

Thanksgiving with Bobby was great. It meant a four day weekend with Bobby and Ely. They were invited for Thanksgiving dinner with another farm family from Ely's church. Turkey with all the trimmings was a bit beyond Bobby's ability, so the invitation was accepted gratefully. George was included without question.

Bonnie and Clyde were thriving. At 4 months of age, they had almost doubled in size from when they first came to the farm. George and Bobby had both done a lot of reading about goat breeding and were optimistic about them being a profitable venture for the farm. This was turning out to be more than a one-off 4-H project.

"The goats are getting big," George said to Bobby as they watched them foraging around the barnyard.

"They will be old enough to breed when they reach 7 months," Bobby said.

"And after 5 months Bonnie will be a mother, right?" George asked.

"That's right. When she gets pregnant she'll start lactating and we can milk her."

"Won't the babies need the milk?"

"Some of it, but she'll start producing more milk than they need. We'll let the kids nurse and pull off the extra," Bobby explained. "They'll get enough and she'll keep on making milk until she's ready to breed again."

"So we should have baby goats by the end of next summer?"

"Should have. She can have another batch after 6 months. Kinders average 3 kids per batch so that's maybe 6 kids per year. And the little does from the first batch can have their own babies when they are 7 months too, so we're talking lots of baby goats."

"Do you think Clyde will be up to that?"

Bobby laughed, "Oh yeah. He's getting kind of bucky already. "He'll be fine. I don't know about him siring his daughters though. That's controversial. I need to ask Mr. Snyder about that. Some things I read say it's OK if the breed characteristics are strong, but I've always heard it can cause problems. There is a lot I have to learn."

George looked at the goats prancing around the barnyard looking for goodies. "We could see about getting some other females that aren't related to Clyde, I guess."

Bobby nodded his head. "Right. I think that would be the best way to go. We could build up the size of the flock quicker that way."

"How many do we need to have?"

"It depends on what we want to do with them. It's like with the milk cows and the laying hens. We only have 6 cows because that's all I can take care of. If we had the money we would have milking machines, storage facilities and the like. We might have a bull, raise our own herd stock, keep the cows for milking and sell the bull calves for meat. Or with the chickens. We don't keep a rooster. We buy a couple dozen chicks in the spring, cull the roosters for meat and let the hens lay to replace the old girls who end up being roasters. We sell a lot of the eggs, but not the chickens. The milk and eggs is my deal. Dad does most all the farming, keeps the books, pays the bills. It's too much for a man and a boy."

George reflected a minute. "Are you thinking I could make a difference?"

"Yeah. I think you could if you're willing to work hard. None of this stuff is easy," Bobby reminded him. "We can't do everything at once. Running cattle requires a lot of initial investment, We've talked about raising chickens on a bigger scale, but it would be hard to compete with the big Arkansas chicken ranches that raise them by the thousands. The thing about goats is that not that many people are doing it. If we could supply good quality goat milk and meat to a specialty market, we might make some money at it. Maybe even make goat cheese."

"How may goats would we need to have?"

"I don't know for sure," Bobby scratched his head. "It would be good to have 20 or 30 ewes to milk. They need to be pregnant every year or so to keep their milk going so that means we would have a steady supply of kids coming along. The males would go for meat and the females for milk, or to sell for somebody else to raise. It could grow."

George frowned a little. "I'm wondering how long it would take to milk 30 goats twice a day."

Bobby laughed. "It might take a little while. When we start, the goats that are ready to milk will get phased in over time. By the time there are 20 or 30 ready to milk, we might get good at it. I'd say maybe 5 minutes per animal. So that's what? 150 minutes? 2 and a half hours? Not twice a day though. It would be a lot of work. I don't know. Maybe 30 is too many. Maybe half that. I'm just thinking out loud really."

George shook his head. "If it takes that long to milk them I can't see how much we could grow the business. How do people manage big herds of milk cows?"

"They automate," Bobby told him, "They have milking machines that can do several animals at a time, and faster. The machine pulls off the milk and moves it into a container without ever being touched. Very quick, very sanitary."

"Why don't you use that stuff now?"

"Because it's expensive," Bobby shrugged. "It won't pay for itself if you just have 6 cows. It will if you have a hundred. There is some point in between where it's worth the investment."

"This is a lot harder than I thought. How do you know what to do?"

"You start with what you can afford and quit when you run out of money," Bobby shrugged.

"I'm not sure I'm following you. What are you saying we should do?"

Bobby smiled, "Let me try again. I was talking with Dad about this last week. We were imagining what we might do if we had an extra hand, and how we might improve on our income. The milk and eggs are bringing in some money, but not enough. We decided with some extra help, we could increase both of those a little and not get ahead of ourselves.

"Which means?"

"Which means if instead of 6 cows and 30 chickens, we had 10 cows and 40 chickens, we could bring in a little more money without too much extra work. Assuming we had a little extra help." Bobby pointed at George.

"The chickens are easy. It's the milking that takes time."

"Not if you help. Milking a cow is a learned skill you know."

"I could probably do that," George admitted.

"Right. And if you get to where you can really help with that, we might get even more milk cows. That would make a difference," Bobby nodded. "If we could grow that by hand until we get to where some equipment started to pay for itself, we might be doing a lot better. It would take time, but the goats could be a money maker too. That could be mostly your little business. Goat milk and meat, and try to make some cheese. No huge investment in equipment for that. See what I mean? Dad is talking to the county agent about some ideas for a better cash crop next spring. We're looking at a lot of things."

George smiled. "You and your father are serious about this aren't you?"

Bobby nodded. "Of course we are. It's getting tougher and tougher to make this place work. If we can't keep it going, we're out of luck. There's no plan B. This place has been in the family for four generations and I might be the last."

"Do you really think I could help that much?"

"You would be an extra hand at least. But more than that, you're smart, George. You see things differently and have new ideas. You could help in lots of other ways."

"I might be able to get out here most every weekend," George said. "I don't know about more than that."

"Right. You have to get this past your mother. But it's not just coming out and passing the time, this would be a live-in job. You would have to work hard and we would expect to pay you. We can work that out. If the things you do help make us more money, you will get a share of that."

"Like you get part of the milk and egg money?" George asked.

"Right. Like that. We'd be fair with you. Honest we would," Bobby assured him.

"I'm not worried about that," George smiled. "I'd love to see that happen. I'd move in here to stay if I could."

"I guess it all depends on your mom."

----------//----------

Phyllis had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday with her friend Ron Walker. She had been single since George was very young. The truth was that she had been married to his father only briefly.

She had met George Cassidy when she worked in Little Rock and he was stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base. She was infatuated by the tall dark-haired man who told her he was a pilot. She was young and easily impressed but not experienced in matters of love. As a result she soon found herself pregnant and threw herself on the mercy of her lover. He agreed that they should be married quietly and so gave his name to their child. Six months after the baby was born, he announced that he was to be transferred to a military assignment in Afghanistan and promised to keep in touch with her until his return. That was the last time she heard from him.

Assuming that he had been killed or wounded, she tried to contact him through the personnel office at the base to learn that no such person had ever been stationed there. Realizing that she had been victim of a cruel hoax, she elected to erase him from her memory and that of her child. George's questions as to the identity of his father were deflected until he assumed that it was a mystery he was not to understand.

Having been previously burned, Phyllis had been reluctant to enter into any lasting relationships with another man. Choosing instead to engage in a number of brief affairs which she declined to take seriously. That is, until she met Ron Walker at a club and found him to be a person of great charm. He was separated from his wife and found Phyllis very attractive. In short, they hit it off.

Phyllis was determined to keep Ron's identity hidden from George. When she had been seeing him for almost a year, he proposed that they should marry. He had taken a fine new job in Kansas City and encouraged her to move there with him. Because of George, she initially declined and then became convinced that if she was ever to know happiness, she must accept Ron's offer. He promised to finalize the divorce from his estranged wife. Their plan was to marry over Christmas. She would introduce him to her young son and they would move away to start her new life. It was this life changing information that George was to encounter when he returned home after the Thanksgiving holiday.

George asked to spend another weekend with Bobby but was this was denied on the basis that his mother had plans for him to meet someone. She seemed excited and George wondered if it could be good news of some sorts, but was uneasy. He called Bobby on is new cell phone from the privacy of his bedroom.

"I can't come out this weekend. Mom says she has someone she wants me to meet."

"Any idea who this is?"

"She was mysterious about it. I'm guessing it's that guy."

"The guy in the bedroom?"

"Yeah. Anthony's father."

"What do you think?"

"I don't know. I don't think I'm going to like this."

"Maybe it's not what you think."

"Maybe it is. I bet it's her boyfriend."

"Did she say it was a guy?"

"No. But she wouldn't be this mysterious about introducing me to same lady. Mom's not a lesbian."

"Well, what if it is her boyfriend? She's not going to stay single forever. Maybe this guy's OK."

"But this is my mother. It bothers me that she is sleeping with some guy."

"It would probably bother her to know that you were sleeping with some boy. You reckon?"

George sighed. "Maybe I'm not being fair. This whole thing is awkward."

"Everybody deserves to be happy," Bobby suggested to him. "There has to be some way that you and your mom can both come out ahead on this. And who knows? Maybe this guy is OK."

"You're right, Bobby. I have to look at my mother as a person, not just as 'Mom'. And I don't really know anything about this guy except that I assume he's married."

"I just think you have to give your mom a little space, that's all. She needs to do what's right for her, just like you need to do what's right for you. And that might not be the same thing."

"I know, I know," George admitted. "I have to think about this. I want to be fair, but it's confusing."

Bobby was silent. "Sometimes things work out for the best. You never know."

George let out a long sigh. "Mom has never been great about giving me the straight story on things."

"Well, whatever it is, try to keep your cool. You know I'm here for you no matter what."

"Thanks. I'll call you."

The mystery person was to come for dinner on Saturday night. George was instructed to wear slacks and a sweater so he would look nice. He changed clothes and stayed in his bedroom trying to make a plan. He heard someone come into the living room and speak in low tones with his mother.

"George? Would you come into the living room please?" Phyllis called to him. "There is someone I want you to meet."

George took a deep breath and stepped through the door. It was the guy.

"Darling? I want you to meet Ron Walker. Ron, this is my son, George."

George asked himself what the correct way to greet your mother's lover should be. He extended his hand. "How do you do, Mr. Walker."

"Just call me Ron, please." They shook hands.

"I understand you're in the eighth grade," Ron said. "I have a son in the eighth grade."

"Yes, sir. Anthony."

"Oh. Do you know my son?"

"He's in my math class. You came to the open house with his mother," George replied deadpan. He thought he might mention that he also saw Ron come out of his mother's bedroom but decided to let that pass.

"I see," Ron's smile went a bit frozen.

"I have a nice dinner for us, Why don't we sit down," Phyllis smiled.

They went through the motions of dinner. George did not have much appetite. Phyllis made polite conversation, Ron didn't have much to say. George heard his mother say something about Kansas City. When he looked blank, she repeated herself.

"Ron is taking a wonderful new job in Kansas City. He has invited us to go there with him."

To his credit, Ron decided to cut through the crap. "I've asked your mother to marry me, George. I want you to move to Kansas City with me."

George was momentarily speechless. His mother filled in the conversation. "Ron has a beautiful new home up there. It will be ever so much nicer than this little apartment. I think you will love it."

George regained his power of speech. "No. I don't want to move to Kansas City. I don't want to move anywhere. I want to stay here."

"Now George. You will have everything there. You simply have to give this a chance."

"No." George shook his head. "I can't do that. I will stay here." He was not defiant. He was refusing politely.

Ron frowned, Phyllis flushed red. "Now, George. You don't really have any choice. Ron and I are getting married and we are moving to Kansas City. Of course you will come with me. You can't stay here by yourself."

George sat up in his chair and laid his hands on the table. "I won't stay by myself. I will stay with my friend, I will stay with Bobby." He said this very calmly as if it was an established fact.

Ron looked at Phyllis. "Who is Bobby?"

Phyllis was having trouble keeping her composure. "Oh, Bobby is this farm boy George is infatuated with."

"Bobby is my friend," George explained quietly. "He and his father Ely have already invited me to live there and work for them, and I have accepted. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I will not be going with you, Mother. I will stay here with my friend."

George stood and turned to face his mother's lover. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Walker. I wish you both the best. Goodnight." He turned, went into his bedroom and quietly shut the door.

In his bedroom, George sat down on the bed and began to shake. He had never so openly defied his mother's wishes but was completely convinced that it was the right thing to do. He would not go with them. He told himself that they could not force him. He was terrified that they could.

He undressed, put on pajamas, and got into bed, pulling the covers up tight to his chin. Still shaking, he was afraid to try and speak to anyone, even Bobby. He was afraid that his mother would come into the bedroom and confront him. He prayed that she would not. He heard muted conversation from the living room. Finally he heard them leave. George breathed a sigh of relief and exhausted, fell asleep.

When he awoke in the morning the apartment was quiet. He ventured across the hall to the bathroom to relieve himself. When he glanced into his mother's room he saw that her bed had not been slept in. He dressed quickly and left the apartment. He rode his bicycle to a corner deli and went inside to sit in a booth. He ordered a Coke, then took out his cell phone and called Bobby. After a few rings Bobby answered.

"Hello, George? What happened?"

"Where are you?" George asked. "Can you talk?"

"I'm in the barn. Of course I can talk. What's the matter?"

"I'm scared. I Might be in big trouble."

"Calm down. Tell me exactly what happened."

As best he could, George related the encounter with his mother, her friend and his refusal to go with them. "I told them that I had already accepted an invitation to work for your father and live with you. I didn't ask permission, I told them what I was going to do. It didn't go over well."

"Did you keep your cool?"

"I did. I tried to be real polite, then I left the table and went to my bedroom."

"What did your mom say?"

"I haven't talked to her. They left for the night and weren't back when I got up."

"That might be a good thing," Bobby suggested. "Where are you now?"

"I'm in a deli down from the apartment. I don't want to go home."

"I understand, but eventually you're going to have to face her."

"Yeah, I know."

"OK, so try to imagine what she will say, and how you will respond. Be prepared for the possibilities."

"She might say, 'OK you can stay with Bobby'. How likely is that?"

"Not very likely."

"She will probably tell me I have to go with them whether I like it or not."

"More likely," Bobby agreed. "So what will you say to that?"

"The same thing I said last night, I guess. I'm not going to Kansas City unless they tie me up and lock me in the trunk."

"They probably won't do that. It could get ugly though. What's this guy like?"

"I don't know. He really didn't get to say very much," George admitted. "He wasn't a jerk."

Bobby sighed. "I don't know what to tell you. I'll pass this along to Dad to give him a head's up."

"I hope I haven't put Ely in a bad spot."

"Don't worry about that. He offered to let you work out here and live with us. He'll stand by that if anybody asks," Bobby assured him. "I'd really like to see that happen."

"Me too. More than you know. I guess I better go home and face the music. Wish me luck."

"I wish you luck. Be cool and I'll talk to my dad. Bye."

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