A Goat and a Lincoln: When Childhood Memories Turn Whimsical
by Jessie Veeder
Some days, when I feel like life hasn’t thrown me an adventure worthy enough of reflection, I like to dig back in the archives for a memory to recount, the way you do when you find yourself sitting around the table having a beer with old friends.
We all have our favorite go-to stories in times like these, the kind that work in mixed company, just off-kilter enough to reveal something about you to new friends while reminding old ones you were a younger girl and you once drove 30 miles in the car you borrowed from your best friend’s dad, to pick up a goat.
That’s the story I’m thinking of today.
It’s funny how far your own memories can detach from you, making you a character in the plot line of a life you once led. Everyone seems to remind me of the “hold on tight to these memories” refrain now that I’m a mom, but I should have been warned more when I was kid to hold on to the part of my life where I was 14 and reckless and my best friend was beside me in her dad’s nineteen-seventy-something Lincoln. We were driving on the highway alone for the first time in our lives, feeling grown up and capable, with a late spring rain hitting the windshield, turning the scoria roads bright pink against a neon-green landscape …
We used to listen to our dads swap stories around the kitchen table when we were children playing make believe in the other room. We would hear them talk about old times — cars with no seat belts, dirt bike ramps and no helmets, horses that bucked too hard — and I wondered if one day my childhood stories might sound as whimsical to my kids.
I didn’t have much real experience driving outside the prairie trails and back roads of the ranch. But my friend and I were getting ready for our first year in high school rodeo, and we thought we needed to get ourselves a goat to practice tying.
Now, I’m not sure what our parents were busy with that day, or why on earth they at least didn’t send us with one of the ranch pickups to take the 30-mile drive in the rain alone to buy a goat from the neighbor’s farm, but that’s the way it happened.
We were an innocent enough pair as far as young teenagers go, and I was born with enough old woman running through my veins that my parents were pretty confident I wouldn’t dare hit any speed higher than 55 … and anyway, the Lincoln couldn’t go much faster.
But, oh how quickly that old lady was driven out of my 14-year-old veins when the open road was before me and my best friend was beside me, and there was hardly another car on the road. My confidence was building with every mile and every mile-per-hour I got closer to the speed limit, until I turned off the highway and onto the church road and decided to really gas it to get a good splash out of that puddle.
That Lincoln jerked hard to the right, fishtailing on the gravel before ramping off the shoulder of the road then sliding down the slope of the ditch and coming to rest at the front of the deep mud trench it buried itself in next to a freshly planted field.
The world outside that old car evaporated as my friend and I stared silently and straight ahead for the moment we needed to evaluate if we were still alive.
Once we found our breath, we found each other, sucked back a few tears, and then, eventually, found the spare tire in the trunk, just in time for one of the neighborhood grandpas to find us.
What a sight we must have been there — two soggy, pathetic kids standing in the rain and in the agonizing moments between freedom and a lesson.
But maybe not as much of a spectacle we must have been when we finally headed back home, slow and steady down the highway, wild and young and free, just two best friends and our goat standing on the backseat, popping his head up between us.