Many were the times that Abel had said to himself that if God was ever going to appear before him, He would come as a goat. Abel loved goats. He and goats went way back. Now, he knew this goat was not God. No, but just as surely as this goat was not God, it was a sign from God. This could be no coincidence. A camel might have been cool, but it wouldn’t have been a sign. A goat had to be a sign, and one that said volumes: he was not alone, he was loved, and, perhaps even, he was on the right path.
Now, Abel was not the kind of Christian who went around finding signs everywhere. He considered himself careful and levelheaded. On the other hand, the fact was, in a deep and important way, Abel liked to say that he had been raised by goats, not by humans. And that’s why this here goat had to be a sign.
Of course, he had never said that he’d been raised by goats to either of his parents, Flo or Virgil. Neither did he intend by this to suggest that either of them were goats. It was just that the circumstances surrounding his birth and early years had been such that the actual nurturing and raising seemed to come more from the farm animals, in particular the dairy goats, than from his human guardians, for whom—God bless them—times had been hard. He held no grudge against them, but his true momma and his poppa was a nanny goat.
Standing there in the hot Israeli sun, loving the goat as it nudged and licked his salty hand, Abel remembered again the moment he came to know his real parentage. His human mother, skinny as a rail and physically unwell, had been unable to breastfeed him when he was born. Because he searched and cried for her breasts when she held him, she tried not to touch him except when bathing and changing him. And so he starved in two ways, though his hardworking parents only knew to answer one hunger. They tried cow’s milk, but he couldn’t keep it down. Infant formula being way too expensive for this farm family, Virgil desperately tried goat’s milk. This was his son, his only son. Thank God, the child not only drank it and kept it down, but actually thrived on the stuff. Being a practical man, Virgil bought a milk goat and, when that seemed easy (it was Flo doing the milking, feeding, and shoveling), he bought several more. They could feed their son and make money on the side. Flo was home with the baby all day anyway. Near as he could figure, it was a perfect arrangement.
Flo took on the goat dairy with the same quiet strength with which she had accepted the chickens (whom she passionately hated—filthy birds!), the rabbits (which she loved and pitied), the racehorse (that she endured, tight-lipped), and the four room motel (don’t even go there). When she was a little girl, her parents were migratory farm workers, living in filthy tent towns, moving up and down the blistering Sacramento Valley, ever following the harvest. No child of hers would ever have to live that way, even if it took the very same 12-hour days, moving with children from stable, to barn, to coop, to field.
And so Abel came to know the various inhabitants of the stable, barn, coop, and fields much better than he knew his human parents, as he later called them. He loved the soft bunnies and the funny chickens. Of diminutive stature, he was in cheerful awe of the cows and more so of the horses. But a special place in his heart and life was reserved for the kind, silly, and mostly grumpy dairy goats.
Indeed, his earliest memory was of himself as a toddler, standing, barely, in the barn right next to the great belly of an old nanny goat. He remembered everything: the scratchy-soft straw beneath his bare feet, the heavy smell of fodder and warm milk in the air, the feel of the goat’s warm damp hair as he put a hand on her round belly to steady himself. Feeling his touch, the nanny goat swung her long bearded head around to look him up and down, and then sidestepped a smidgen away from him. As she moved one way, her pendulous udder was set into motion, swinging out, and back again, right there slapping little Abel gently upside the cheek. Abel turned toward the retreating udder, and, in a moment of epiphany, realized just what it was, and, more importantly, what was in it. His eyes growing wide with amazement, he sat heavily back down on his diapered bottom.
copyright 2020 Dawn Robinson Rose