Goats and Bugs

by Nick Brady

Chapter 2

The next day, George sat next to Bobby again in their English class but didn't have as much to say. When the teacher came in the room, they were sitting quietly, so she left them alone. After class was lunch, and they walked to the cafeteria together. George tried to make conversation as they went through the serving line.

Bobby took a sandwich and excused himself. "I got to run an errand for my dad. I'll see you later, OK?"

"Oh. Right. See you later. Monday I guess," George was disappointed.

It was against the rules to leave the school grounds during lunch, but Bobby knew Mr. Brown, the Vice-Principal, from church. Mr. Brown knew Bobby and understood his situation. Bobby eased up to him and said quietly, "I need to run over to the hardware store and get some staples for my dad. Do you think that would be alright?"

Mr. Brown glanced down at him and gave him a quick wink, then jerked his head in the direction of the store and turned away. He didn't see a thing. Bobby trotted down the block to the hardware store, eating his sandwich on the way, and went in to ask for the staples. The storekeeper knew Bobby and Ely well, put a box of staples in a bag and handed it to him. "I'll put this on Ely's tab. Anything else?" Bobby shook his head.

Bobby was back at the school in less than ten minutes, walked back to the cafeteria, waved at Mr. Brown, then put the staples in his locker. He looked around for George, but he wasn't in sight. He would see him on Monday.

When Bobby stepped off the bus and started down the road to the farm, he saw Ely on the tractor plowing under the stubble from the soybeans. He walked down to where his dad had been working on the fence. One fence post had three tight strands of barbed wire on the right, and three strands hanging loosely on the left. At the base of that post was a pair of hammers and an empty box of staples. He started to go into the house to change out of his school clothes then decided that they needed washing anyway. He picked up the hammers, opened the new box of staples and began to stretch and staple each strand of wire one pole at a time. One hammer was used to grab the wire in its claw and lever it tight against the post. The other was used to secure it with a staple. Working his way down the fence, a line of three taut wires began to extend to the left.

After about an hour, the sound of the tractor grew closer as it approached the barn, then went silent. Looking around, he saw Ely smiling at him and waved. Dropping the hammers at the bottom of the post, he took the remaining staples with him and walked to the house where his father stood standing on the back steps.

"What's for supper?" Ely asked.

"What are you fixing?"

"Do you really want me to poison us both?"

"I'm not that picky Dad," Bobby told him. "I can fix us something, but we'll have to eat a little late. I should have gone in and tried to start supper, but I saw the fence and thought I would hang a little wire is all. Sorry."

Ely put his hands on his hips and grinned at his son. "I think that's the most words I've heard you string together in a while."

Bobby grinned. "Well...." then he shrugged.

"I hate to give us both indigestion. What do you say we drive to town and eat at the Corner Cafe?"

"Sure." Bobby brightened up. They turned and walked into the house together.

"I got to change," Ely said and looked at Bobby. "You look fine. Give me a few minutes."

Bobby sat on the sofa and brushed off his jeans. He heard the water running in the tub, and his father's dresser drawers slide in and out. A moment later the bathroom door closed muffling the sound of the water. Ten minutes later Ely came out looking pink, freshly combed and wearing clean jeans and a dark red Arkansas Razorbacks T-shirt. "You ready?"

Bobby stood by way of reply, and he and his father went out to the old Ford pickup that served as the sole means of transportation outside the confines of the farm. It was not often that they ate in a restaurant. The Corner Cafe was not exactly fine dining. However, it was decent enough and had the advantage that neither of them had to cook or clean up.

They found a booth by a window and thanked Tricia, the waitress, when she brought them a pair of menus and silver wrapped in a paper napkin. "What y'all want to drink?"

"Pepsi," Bobby said.

"Coffee," Ely requested.

They waited for their drinks and examined the menu. The selections were limited but popular with those who frequented the place. Tricia brought their drinks. "Y'all ready?"

"I want the chicken fried steak," Bobby said.

"You get three sides with that," Tricia reminded him.

"Right. I'd like mashed potatoes and cream gravy, green beans and a green salad with ranch dressing. Gravy on the steak please."

"OK, honey. And what about you?" Trishia looked at Ely.

"I'll have meatloaf, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, corn and a salad with ranch."

"You got it," she took the menus and disappeared into the kitchen.

"This is kind of a treat," Bobby smiled.

"Maybe we both need a break from your cooking."

"Aw, Dad. It's not that bad, is it?"

"No. I'm just teasing you, Bobby. You know that. You're a pretty good cook." Ely assured him. "I don't know where you get it from. Surely not from me."

"We both got to eat," Bobby grinned. This was about as much of a compliment as he could hope for.

In a few minutes, Tricia brought their plates and left a basket of rolls with butter.

As they dug into their dinner, three boys came in with a crash and took the booth behind theirs. Bobby glanced up and noticed that one of them was George, although George didn't see him. They were laughing and being noisy. Tricia walked over looking slightly irritated and asked them what they wanted. They ordered Cokes, and she turned away to get them. Returning in a moment with the drinks, she admonished them, "Y'all behave yourselves now."

They responded with giggles and proceeded to make a nuisance out of themselves. They bantered loudly back and forth, scuffled around in the booth, ate the crackers in the basket intended for those eating salad, then poured salt on the table and attempted to balance the salt shaker on its edge. Tricia scowled at them while Ely and Bobby tried to ignore them.

Halfway through their meal, Tricia came over to give Bobby and Ely refills on their drinks and said under her breath, "Sorry for the disturbance. Some of these kids can be a pain. Y'all gonna want some pie? We got fresh peach."

Ely and Bobby both nodded. "Please."

After they cleaned up their dinner, Tricia brought the pie, another refill of their drinks then went back around the counter. Just then, George and one of the other boys chased each other noisily back to the men's room. As George ran past the booth where Bobby and his father were sitting, he saw Bobby for the first time. He did not slow down, but his expression changed from laughter to surprise.

"Who are those boys?" Ely asked with a look of annoyance.

"I don't know," Bobby shrugged. "Some town kids."

"They don't teach them much manners in town."

Their dinner finished, Ely went to the cash register to pay for their meal. As Bobby stood near the door, George and the other boy walked back from the restroom much quieter than they had gone to it. George saw Bobby looking at him, smiled sheepishly and waved. Bobby nodded then looked away. Ely did not see the exchange.

As they drove out of town, Bobby said, "That was nice Dad. Thanks,"

"We ought to do that more often," Ely replied. "You aren't bad company."

Bobby looked out the window and smiled.

George had a new project. He read through the information the County Agent gave him on Entomology and made a list of all the things he would need to start an insect collection. The basics included a collecting net, a killing jar, and a mounting board. There were instructions and diagrams on how to construct the basic equipment.

"Hey Mom," George called to his mother, Phyllis. "I need to get this stuff for my bug collection."

"Now George," Phyllis replied. "I know how you are. You get interested in something and want to do everything at once, and then you lose interest in it."

"Ah, Mom. I really want to do this, but I need some stuff to get started."

"It's not getting you started that's a problem. It's getting you to stay with it. You'll get all these things then you'll find something else you want to do next, and it'll just sit around collecting dust."

"But Mom, this is educational," George protested.

"I appreciate that, but I think you need to know more about it before you go off on a tangent. When is your next 4-H meeting?" she asked.

George tried to remember. "I don't exactly know. At the first meeting Mr. Sweeney gave me some literature and said to contact him to find out more."

"Well then, maybe you should do that. See? You don't even know when you are supposed to meet with that man. When you figure out what's going on, then maybe we can talk more about it."

George sighed. His mother treated him like such a baby. He decided he should ask Bobby when he saw him at school. Bobby would know.

When they were in their English class, George said to Bobby, "I need to talk to you about 4-H. Can we eat lunch together?"

"OK," Bobby agreed, then elbowed George to warn him that Mrs. Wilson was ready to start class.

George followed Bobby through the lunch line with a steady stream of chatter. "I think I figured out what I need to make my collecting stuff but my mom wants to know more about it. When are we supposed to meet again? How do we do this? Are you getting some baby goats? "

Bobby smiled as he pulled a ham sandwich from the line and put it on his tray. "Mr. Sweeney talked about that. Weren't you listening?"

"What did he say?" George took a slice of pizza.

"He doesn't do all that stuff himself. He has some volunteers. Like, there's a goat guy, and maybe there's a bug guy. We're supposed to talk to them."

"Oh. I guess I missed that. So what are we supposed to do?"

"Call the County Agent and tell him you want to talk to the bug guy."

"OK. Did you do that? I mean, talk to somebody about goats?"

"Yeah. He called me back and I"m supposed to meet with him."

"Just you?"

"No. There's somebody else who wants to do goats. We'll get together, I guess."

"Right. Maybe there's somebody else that wants to do bugs, too."

"That would be the idea," Bobby smiled.

George rattled on, "Will you have to get some stuff to raise your goats? Like some special equipment?"

Bobby shrugged, "Maybe goat food is all."

"How will you know?"

"The goat guy will tell me."

"Where will you meet?"

"At the fairgrounds where the County Agent's office is."

"I wonder where I will meet?"

"The bug guy will tell you. You should call and ask."

"Right, right," George stopped at an empty table. "Want to sit here?"

By way of an answer, Bobby sat down and unwrapped his sandwich.

George took a bite of pizza then said, "I'm sorry. My mom says I talk too much."

"You're OK," George grinned.

"It would be neat if we met at the same time," George said. "I got my book already. See? 'The Golden Guide to Insects,'" George pulled a small paperback book from his pocket.

Bobby flipped through it while he ate. "I've seen a lot of these."

"I bet you have all kinds of insects on your farm, don't you?"

Bobby nodded and crumpled his sandwich wrapper.

"Where did you take off to on Friday? We aren't supposed to leave the school grounds," George wondered.

"Yeah. Well, I had to get some staples for my father."

"What do you need staples for?"

"Some fence."

"Was that your father I saw you with at the Corner Cafe?"


"He wasn't smiling," George recalled.

"Maybe he thought you guys were too noisy."

"Yeah. We probably were. Sorry."

"Didn't bother me," Bobby shrugged.

"Who all lives at your farm?" George asked.

"Just me and my father."

"What happened to your mom?" George asked before he realized that was not a cool thing to do.

"She died when I was seven," Bobby said without changing expression.

"I'm sorry. That was a dumb thing to ask. It's just me and my mother at my apartment. . I don't remember my father."

Bobby nodded without comment.

George took another bite of pizza. "I made a list of some stuff I'll need for my insect collection," he pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and showed it to Bobby.

Bobby read the list. "Why do you need nylon netting, fingernail polish remover, and gasket cork?"

"The net is to catch them, the polish remover is to kill them, and the cork is to mount them. I don't know what else I'll need. Probably the bug guy will tell me, right?"

"Right. You gonna make this stuff yourself?" Bobby asked.

"I think so."

Bobby stood up, "It's time for my next class. See you later, OK?"

"Right, See you tomorrow.."

"Tomorrow is Saturday," Bobby reminded him. "See you Monday."

"Yeah, right. See you on Monday," George said. "Have a good weekend."

When school was out for the day, George watched as Bobby got on the yellow school bus and rode out of sight.

When George got home, he called the county agent's office and was told that the entomology expert would not be available for several weeks, but he could start on the equipment on his own. He went to his room and opened a metal box that sat on his desk. It contained six dollar bills and a pile of loose change. He emptied his pockets each night when he undressed. Not that he usually had much money in his pocket, but whatever was there went into the box. He dumped it out on the bed and sorted it out into piles of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies, then counted each stack. It totaled $18.36. He hoped that would be enough to buy the stuff he needed. Despite his mother's lack of confidence in him, George couldn't wait to get started.

For the butterfly net, he scrounged the wooden handle from an old broom and a heavy wire coat hanger. All he needed was some netting. The killing jar was easy. He washed out an old mayonnaise jar, put a layer of his mother's cotton balls in the bottom and cut a cardboard disk to fit closely on top of the cotton. Fingernail polish remover was mostly acetate and would be poured in to be soaked up by the cotton balls. When an insect was dropped into the jar, it would die quickly without damaging itself.

The construction of the mounting board was more complicated. The drawing showed a pair of flat boards set at a slight angle and covered with gasket cork with a space between the two sides. The idea was to stick a long pin through the body of the insect, put it in the gap then spread the legs and wings out on the board and hold them in place with more pins until they dried. The diagram showed a sort of framework underneath to support it. Finding the gasket cork was easy enough, but the rest was a little confusing. It looked tricky.

On Saturday, George rode his bike to the Magnolia Walmart and bought the netting, polish remover, and a roll of gasket cork. Over the weekend he fashioned his net and killing jar, but the mounting board would have to wait. If he had to buy wood, there wasn't going to be enough money. Besides, he had no tools to make the thing. He was stumped.

In English class Monday morning George whispered to Bobby, "I need to talk to you at lunch,"

George thought about how to explain his dilemma. When they were going through the food line, he simply handed the mounting board diagram to Bobby. "I don't know how to do this."

They picked out some sandwiches and sat down at a table. George sat quietly and ate his lunch while Bobby studied the diagram. He handed it back to George and started to eat. "What's the problem?"

George was frustrated. "The problem is that I don't have the stuff to make this. I can't afford a bunch of plywood, and I don't have any tools. I don't know how to do this."

Bobby smiled as he chewed his sandwich, "We have some wood shingles that will work for the boards and all the tools you need."

"Really? Can you help me with this?"

"Sure. If you come out to the farm with me, we can knock this out in no time."

"Cool! That would be great! When can I come out? I'd like to see your farm anyway. I've never been on a real farm before. Thanks a lot!" George was elated.

"No problem," Bobby said. "You finished with your lunch?"

George went away relieved that Bobby saw such a simple solution to what he thought was going to be difficult. He was also pleased to realize that Bobby was his friend and was willing to help him with his project. That must mean that Bobby liked him.

For the rest of the week, Bobby and George shared lunch together, but the subject of George's mounting board was scarcely mentioned. Bobby seemed so confident that it was a simple project that George relaxed and was confident in his new friend.

During the week Bobby Checked with his father. "There is this guy at school who needs some help making something for his 4-H project. Can he come out this weekend so I can help him with it?"

"That might be OK," Ely said. "How will he get out here?"

"He can ride home with me on the bus and then back to school on Monday."

"You have your chores to do," Ely reminded him.

"I'll make him help me with them," Bobby smiled.

Ely nodded. "I don't remember you having a friend out here for the weekend before. You need friends."

Bobby's smile did not fade.

"Bobby will help me with my collection stuff if I can go to his farm this weekend. I've never been to a real farm before. Can I go out there? Please?" George begged his mother.

"II don't know, George. You'll go overboard and then lose interest."

"I have the money, Mom. I'm not asking you to buy anything. An entomology project is educational, Remember? I'm thirteen now and more grown up. Please?"

Phyllis looked at her son and shook her head. "Well, if you have the money I guess I can't say no. Do I need to call Bobby's father to be sure it's alright?"

"Bobby asked him and he said it was OK. Besides, I don't have his phone number. I don't even know if they have a phone."

Phyllis sighed. "I suppose you can go. Don't be a pest, OK?"

"I'll be on my best behavior Mom. I promise. This is going to be cool. You'll see. Thanks a lot."

George packed a change of clothes in his rucksack and brought it to school on Friday. The roll of gasket cork was stuffed inside. He could scarcely contain his excitement. He was looking forward to seeing Bobby's farm and to the construction of his mounting board, but mostly to spending a whole weekend with Bobby.

Actually, George had a serious crush on Bobby. His friend was everything that he wished he was. Bobby was calm and serious. He was handsome with a quiet charm about him that George admired. He wondered why Bobby would be friends with an awkward geek like himself.

George stuffed the rucksack into his locker when he came to school on Friday. "I brought my stuff to school," he told Bobby before English. "Is this going to be OK with your dad?"

Bobby nodded. "You might have to help me with some of my chores."

"Sure! That'll be fun. I can't wait to see your farm."

"Don't expect too much," Bobby cautioned. "It's just a little farm."

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