I was saddened to hear that Stuart McLean, host and writer for the radio show The Vinyl Café, had died on February 15th of this year. I loved The Vinyl Café, one of my favourite parts being the story exchange. People from all over Canada would write their stories, short and true, and send them to the Vinyl Café. It inspired me that the average person could have such stories to be heard over the nation, stories to bring tears, laughter, and encouragement. For years I had aspired to write my own story and hear it read aloud in Stuart McLean’s iconic narration.
I’ll never hear him read it now; I’ve waited for too long. All this time my story has been asking to be told, and although I’ve lost my golden chance, I may as well let it out now. For those of you who read it, I hope you will be able to hear it in Stuart’s voice.
Some people make the world a better place by their charitable hearts. Others brighten up the room with their soulful music. Some offer hope through scientific breakthroughs. As for my special contribution to society, well…I had a goat.
It started the day I brought Nibs, my baby Nigerian dwarf goat, to school. But unlike Mary’s lamb, this was perfectly acceptable. It was science day at the home-school headquarters, and rather than bring a poster or papier-mâché, I thought it would be more impressive to bring a live animal. The home-school headquarters was at that time held in a public school. One of the school’s classes came in, whether to see the science displays or to study homeschoolers in action, I don’t know. I brought Nibs out, intending to let all the kids hold her. But that’s not what ended up happening.
Nibs was a typical goat in the way that anything that would go in her mouth did go in her mouth. She was always sucking on something, but she liked earlobes in particular. When I passed her to one of the schoolboys she latched onto his ear and sucked it like a pacifier. She wouldn’t let go. Even though we offered her other kids’ ears and even her bottle, Nibs remained on the boy’s ear and on his ear alone.
The boy enjoyed the whole thing. He didn’t care that his ear was turning red and swelling. He was the chosen one. His face was glowing, and this is the interesting part, because there was something else hidden on his face, some faint indication of having experienced trauma. It wasn’t until I had packed up Nibs and was leaving the school when I learned what that trauma was.
Earlier that year there was a terrible incident when a truck crashed through a restaurant window, seriously injuring a young boy. This was that boy. I used to read about him in the news, wondering if he’d make it; and now I’d seen him laughing with Nibs latched onto his ear. The trauma and damage had not been healed, but a moment with a baby goat had made his day.
There was something in that moment which struck me. It was on my mind sometime later, when I again packed Nibs into the carrier- this time to go to the seniors’ centre. I remember she wasn’t as cuddly this time, but the elders were clearly interested at this little creature, hooves playing a capriccio on the floor. I still have a picture of one delighted lady cupping Nibs’ fuzzy goat face in her hands.
Time went by, and Nibs wasn’t quite as cute and easily portable. But every year after that, I would bring a kid into the centre, one from each new generation. It was an odd tradition, I realise that. But it was well worth it. One man in a wheelchair told me of the goats he used to own, while my baby goat was curled up and sleeping on his lap; and another time a nurse nearly melted when a little buck squeaked out a tiny bleat for her. Even today, pictures of the goats are still shown on the slideshow that plays continuously in the centre’s hall.
I miss those times, and I miss my goats. Some years back, I had to sell them all. But those memorable times have taught me that even the most unexpected things can make someone smile. All I did was tuck a barnyard animal under my arm for a little outing, and things took off from there. The possibilities have been unlocked.
I have also found that these special opportunities are fleeting. I have no goats to take to the seniors centre anymore, and Stuart McLean will never read my story. But as one opportunity passes, another may come. I am never without an opportunity to contribute.