Idiomatic language and wordplay are perhaps my favorite things. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent decades toiling in the bean field of language that a well-turned, geographically limited phrase will tickle me pink. Throw in some regional dialect and I’m grinnin’ like a mule eating briars.
Among my favorites is one I used to hear all the time, but not so much these days. At the end of a day, someone was bound to say, “Welp, Imma goat the house” — meaning they were headed home. If it had been a particularly grueling day, they might add emphasis in a seemingly unusual way — “Imma goat the damn house.” In the vernacular, it makes perfect sense.
When I was small, I was puzzled when my grandfather would occasionally refer to getting someone’s goat. Kids are so literal. There were never any goats in Granddaddy’s back yard.
Truth be known, I’ve always looked upon goats with suspicion, most likely because they represent evil in the Abrahamic religions. They have strange eyes and cloven hooves and scream like a terrorized human. It’s unsettling.
Then again, I’ve been intrigued by them most of my life.
As a child I was once taken to a petting zoo. We’d had our dog Poochie and a cat or two, but I was a bit tentative around all these other strange animals. Right away, a sinewy, horned animal — a young goat — started making its way toward me. It pushed against me gently with its knotty head, and I petted it as if it were a dog. I was elated to have been befriended by a strange beast, but what I hadn’t realized was that it wasn’t my animal magnetism that drew the goat near, but was instead the tail of my green plaid shirt, which the goat was happily chewing on.
My mother saw what was happening and shooed the goat away, but not before it had consumed a large swatch of madras all the way up to the bottom button.
Years later, I ordered up some goat in an Indian restaurant. I figured turnabout is fair play; a goat consumed my favorite shirt, so I should consume a goat.
I don’t know if it was the presence of far too many bones, or the idea that it had been an inquisitive little fellow, but the goat meal left a ba-a-a-a-a-ad taste in my mouth.
In more recent years, I discovered my old college pal Crowson had moved out of Birmingham proper and acquired a goat or two. Crowson loved those goats, and would occasionally post pictures of his animals, which apparently take to humans like a good dog would. When one got sick and died, it hit the Crowson family hard, as their goat had become an integral part of the clan, as a dog might.
I have seen some photographs of goats in trees, and goats on automobiles, and even goats on the sheer face of cliffs, and I’ll be forever puzzled by their dexterity, but I don’t know that I’m ready to bring them into the fold.
Janis, a novelist friend and honorary sister of mine, apparently knows something about goats that I don’t. Shortly after she and her husband, Arkansas W, returned to north Florida, Ol’ W gave Janis two baby goats for Christmas. Not just any goats — fainting goats. Janis was over the moon.
“In the words of Blanche Dubois: sometimes there’s God, so suddenly,” Janis wrote on her Facebook page.
The young fainters have a sumptuously appointed goat pen, but escape to find their way to the patio, where they stand on the table, giving “goat the house” a whole ‘nother meaning.
Recently I was reading a story about a Piggly Wiggly store in Fairhope, and was dismayed to discover that the proprietor of a favorite gourmet food shop in Pensacola had closed his business. But I was elated to learn he had resurfaced as The International Goat, a small in-store shop at the Fairhope Pig.
James Tarabay is such a natural salesman that he could quickly unload a boxcar of snow sleds in a Baldwin County July, so I’m sure he’ll do well hawking his extraordinary Middle Eastern cuisine from the middle of the Pig. But I’m puzzled by the name, The International Goat. Turns out a grandchild had trouble pronouncing the Arabic word for granddaddy, and the result meant something like “goat.” And it stuck.
As an aside that likely interests no one but me: Mr. Tarabay is of Lebanese extraction, and Lebanon exists at the site of ancient Phoenicia, from which came the first alphabet. And without the Phoenician alphabet, where would the written language be today?
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of the Dothan Eagle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-712-7901. Support the work of Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.