Several houses down from my childhood home there lived an old Italian gentleman named Sago (pronounced SAY-go). He was a weathered old man bent from many years of hard work and we kids always imagined he was a classmate of Michelangelo.
His house was like something plucked out of a remote, old-world Tuscan village. Garlic and peppers were braided and strung outside on ancient wooden beams, thinly sliced tomatoes, placed carefully on cheesecloth wrapped taut around wooden frames, drying in the sun. It was sight to see. On the left side of the property was a garden several hundred feet long, planted with a dozen rows of garlic that, come harvest time, the owner would knot into braids and sell at the market to supplement his retirement income.
Sago also had a goat, from which he got his daily milk. She was free to roam the property but like a good goat never ventured past the boundaries. Sago would find this was her one virtue. On occasion, she would flip the latch on the rickety screen door and wander into the house. Once inside she was able to sample pantry items, carpet, wall paper, or the odd bit of clothing. When Sago finally noticed the goat was inside, the whole neighborhood would know at the same time. We could hear him yelling obscenities in Italian at the goat and chasing her around the house all the while threatening her with a cast-iron frying pan. Furniture would topple and at random intervals one could hear pottery breaking as the dance got underway. Eventually, bleating in defiance, the goat would make her exit out a door or screen window to take refuge on the roof. Presumably safe from the old man, she would stare at Sago as if he were a madman while he lobbed rocks and potatoes at the goat and insults at her lineage. This was always great entertainment for us kids and we would all come running to watch the show. Occasionally the goat wandered into the garlic beds, only to be chased out before any damage could be done. This was a line the goat was forbidden to cross.
One hot summer afternoon, while Sago was napping in the shade of the overhanging braids of garlic and peppers, the goat wandered into the garden again. Fortunately, she tired of garlic before Sago finished his siesta. At milking time however, Sago soon realized what had happened while he had been snoozing. For two days the milk was garlic flavored and Sago cursed every squirt into the bucket. The battle was to escalate into war. A length of steel rod was driven into the ground and the goat was put on a length of rope just out of reach of the garlic and screen door. This would show her. She can see the garlic, but she can’t reach it. It was a solid victory for the old man.
The next morning Sago woke to find the goat casually chewing on his bed sheets. The frying pan was called into action and, amid more broken pottery and bleating, the goat once again made safe passage to the roof. It was now obvious to the old man a chain would need to replace the rope if the contents of the house and the garlic beds were to be protected from this unholy beast. My uncle Bob, who lived next door, supplied a length of light chain and the battle was over. Try as she might, the goat could not chew her way through the metal to freedom. Every few days, under the unwavering glare of the goat, Sago would pull up the steel rod and move it to a new patch of grass. Fresh milk and a goat free house were assured.
It was the morning of a cool early fall day when Sago decided he would have pheasant for dinner. At about eight o’clock in the morning he grabbed the double-barrel shotgun, a few rounds of ammunition, and headed out the door shambling past the goat and toward the cornfield in back of the house. Most likely he made some disparaging comment to the goat. A few steps later he noticed his boot had come untied. As he bent over to re-lace and tie his boot the goat saw her opportunity to lodge a complaint. A quick gallop connected her head with his backside and launched the old man on a short flight. The trip ended against a very large rock, which broke his leg. The goat, now just a few feet and out of Sago’s reach seemed pleased in having the last say. She stood gazing at the man who took her roaming rights away and let loose several jeering bleats of satisfaction at a job well done.
Most everyone in the neighborhood heard the two shotgun blasts. Uncle Bob had just finished a cup of coffee when he heard them. He rushed outside to see who on earth was firing a shotgun so close to the houses when he noticed Sago near the goat, waving the shotgun in the air to draw my uncle’s attention. The ambulance was called and Sago was carted off to the hospital to have his leg set.
Later that night, Sago hobbled around his kitchen on crutches as he prepared dinner. He wouldn’t be having pheasant. Earlier in the day he decided to have goat.