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Happiness is a Dead Goat

“Most people genuinely don’t care about you or your opinions.”

I read that little blurb somewhere this past month. I hope you find it as inspiring and helpful as I did when I contemplated what thoughts and opinions to share in this space as Thanksgiving approaches.

Then again, I did receive some positive feedback from a number of you last month, and I thank you for your kind words. The people in charge of such things recently pried some email addresses from Valerie, so readership is up to ten or 12 people. At least.  Thanks to those joining the group & the rest of you; please slide over and make room.

Since some of you are new, I will risk repeating myself this month … like I ever worry about that. There is a story that is told (I know because I often tell it) about two close friends living in the days of Tsarist Russia. Boris and Ivan were the best of friends and found comfort in their friendship and shared misery from their hard lives of poverty and labor in the fields of the aristocracy. Most nights would find them exhausted and seeking rest after 12 or more hours in the fields. Still, one or two nights a week they would make time to sit in the village tavern and solve the problems of the world over a glass of Miller High Life (this is either an anachronism or an arachnid, I forget which (and that was an assonance, not a consonance or alliteration)).

The Story

One afternoon in the heat of the day as Boris and Ivan were going about the harvest and swinging their scythes in the Tsar’s wheat field (the Tsar had to grow his wheat because Jimmy Carter imposed an embargo on the wheat, thereby plunging the farmers in the Great Plains states into economic disaster) … wait, where was I?

Oh, yeah, Boris and Ivan were at their labors when they heard the “clop, clop, clop” of the Tsarevna’s coach out for an afternoon sabbatical. Suddenly, though in the distance, a crack of thunder frightened the horses, which bolted in a panic.  The very life of the daughter of the Tsar was in peril.

Without a moment’s hesitation, or even thought, while Boris stood transfixed by the spectacle, Ivan threw his tools to the ground and rushed into the road to arrest the headlong rush of the fear-filled horses. At significant risk to life and limb, Ivan fearlessly placed himself in harm’s way, lunged to take hold of the reins, and successfully brought the carriage to a standstill.  The young Tsareva suffered no worse than a dislodged hat and some misplaced trusses of the most delightful golden hue.

The Tsar, being a loving father as well as the ruler of all the land, in gratitude summoned Ivan to the Winter Palace (note: Ivan saved the day during the fall harvest and was invited to the Winter Palace. Then, as now, governments ran on bureaucracy, red tape and delays). The Tsar offered Ivan a gift of his choosing from any of the Tsar’s livestock. Ivan, a man of simple needs, chose a goat, thinking that the milk would be nourishing and a flavorful treat for his family. He also asked if he might be allowed to put the goat with the Tsar’s herds once each spring, and should a kid goat result, might he have that goat to roast and enjoy with his friends at Christmas.  And so it was done.

Time went by, and life went on in the village much as it always had with joys and sorrows, moments of bliss and moments of tragedy. Such is life, isn’t it?. Throughout those years, Ivan and his family enjoyed the goat’s milk and often shared the nourishing elixir with those sick or very young in the village.

Many of the years, Ivan’s family could happily share their bounty with the entire village at Christmas time by bringing a whole goat to the feast!

Like the village, Boris continued his life much as it had always been led. He would work the days, babies would come, elders would pass, and children became adults and moved into the world. While Ivan remained his closest friend, their nights at the village tavern became few and far between with the demands of animal husbandry Ivan now carried. Boris watched Ivan’s prosperity, and while pleased for his friend, yes, he did have to admit to himself that he did have a seed of envy in his heart.  While Boris knew that it was unlikely he should ever have the opportunity to have such a streak of good fortune as had Ivan. He did spend his days in the field dreaming of what he might request and receive and how his fortune might grow.

Fate, as we know, is a sometimes devious mistress, and sure enough, after several years had passed, a similar scenario unfolded. This time it was the Tsar’s youngest daughter in her gilded coach that was out for a respite from the day’s studies. They say “lightning doesn’t strike twice,” but I can assure you, my friend, that sometimes it does. Once again, the horses were frightened by a clap of booming thunder and broke into an unfettered run, placing the young Tsarevna at risk of death.

This time, our dear Boris was well prepared. He flung aside his tools and pushed to the ground any that might steal his glory. In the tradition of the finest Cossack, Boris grabbed the bridle of the nearest horse as it raced by, and with a skip and a hop, lifted himself onto the beast’s back and brought the horses to bay.

It was quite the celebration that night, I will tell you. The story of Boris’ heroism was told and retold, and it grew in size with each telling. Of course, Ivan’s story was remembered as well, with much give and take among the villagers as to which episode featured the greatest daring-do!  It was finally agreed that the merits of both were equal in value, and the two men were the greatest heroes of all time in the village, perhaps even Russia, if not the world.

In due time, as you might guess.  A grateful Tsar summoned Boris to the palace (this time, I think it was the summer residence, but we should check to be sure). Boris was honored with a feast complete with many toasts and fine words until, at last, the moment came of which Boris had long dreamt.

The Tsar asked Boris how he might reward him for his heroism on behalf of a treasured daughter.

Boris, who had been waiting for this moment since he spied the runaway carriage, with a burst of too-long held breath and happiness, said, “I want Ivan’s goat to die.”

Thanksgiving is upon us.

I am grateful to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that has provided all that is.  I am grateful for friends and family. I am thankful that as the years piled up and we have visited about finances, family, and life, that we have become friends. I’m grateful that I, and you, are in a place where we can enjoy seeing one another’s herds multiply and not be fettered by envy. And yes, I will have to admit that many years ago, I would visit Ed’s BBQ in Gainesville and enjoy a goat sandwich, proving once again, there is a time and place to be grateful for everything!

November 2021

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