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Advice & More March 2018

The Old Goats of Stephenville

By Jan Johnson

The members were so gleeful over the trickster being tricked, they unanimously voted me into the Old Goats, the first and only female member, and designated me as “Chief Nanny.”

Harold was an “Old Goat.” He was in his late 80s and had served as a sailor aboard an aircraft carrier sunk by the Japanese during World War II. He and his wife Betty were both well-liked in their home town of Stephenville, Texas. They were friendly, personable and upbeat people.

However, Harold was well known around town as a practical joker. He was a member of a group of elderly gentlemen who met six days a week for morning coffee. They called themselves “The Old Goats.” The other individuals of this group were frequent victims of Harold’s trickery. The group was made up of physicians, educators, a minister, farmers, ranchers, and even one chicken-sexer.

So, one morning as he entered the Dairy Queen (the Old Goat’s meeting place) he was greeted by a woman in a short-skirted, low-cut, scarlet dress with flounces, a wildly floral hat, and spiked heels.

Between smacks of her bubble gum she chirped through her heavily applied make-up, “Hiya, Big Boy. Y’lookin’ for company this morning?”

Harold was undone. He was completely discombobulated to the delight of his wife and the other Old Goats who had assembled for the fun.

That was the beginning of my association with the Old Goats. I was the woman who had greeted him that morning with the connivance of the store manager, a couple of the group, and Betty.

The members were so gleeful over the trickster being tricked, they unanimously voted me into the Old Goats, the first and only female member, and designated me as “Chief Nanny.”

As one of my hobbies was the collection of period costumes, two other characters emerged from my alter-persona: Sarah Palin and an angel. The Palin character would show up on election days or holidays always carrying Trig in the form of a baby doll.

The angel appeared to any Old Goat when he was hospitalized. One awoke from a nap to find the “angel” at the foot of his bed and declared to all that he had died and visited heaven.

Whatever the occasion, the Old Goats always seemed to enjoy and be uplifted by these characters. This, of course, made me feel better – a clear case of a double winner.

The editor of the local paper was a close friend of several of the Old Goats, so that made it easy to get press coverage for our antics. An example was the time a 93-year-old member got engaged. I brought out my convertible and carried the man and his bride-to-be around town to show off the newly engaged couple. Only in a small town with an obliging editor would this be possible.

At Christmas, the annual Christmas brunches were among my favorite times with the Goats. Each had its own theme. The last one was “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Each was asked to bring a personal photo to be included in the display. Since most of the group were veterans of World War II, their photos brought to tie in with the “Home for Christmas” theme were especially poignant.  One to submit a photo was Mike, a Japanese-American who served in the U.S. Army. He was so touched that his photo was received along with the others that he broke down and wept. He then revealed that his brother had also served in the war – but with the Japanese military.

Over the years we lost members due to old age and its complications. So, I painted a picture of an Old Goat gone on to greener pastures. The picture was placed in their meeting room along with a plaque bearing the names of those who had gone on before. Today, the plaque has grown larger, and there are only a few of the original membership still around. But, memories remain strong, bright and vital.

My husband and I have moved from Stephenville to be closer to our family. I know that, over the years, I gained more from the Old Goats than I gave, and I miss them all. Their memories stay strong on my mind and are deeply treasured. They were all true gentlemen-of-the-old-school. During my recent bout with cancer, they flooded me with activities, well-wishes and prayers.

Thank you, Old Goats, for the friendship and fellowship which is such a large part of the small town living experience.