Well, the other day I was sitting around daydreaming, just lettin’ my mind wander, you know. I don’t know what particularly fetched this to my recollection but I started thinking about The Goat Man, a figure from my past.
Sometimes when I’m daydreaming I play a little mind game and try to think backwards to figure out how I go to some point. Well, I figured who I was thinking about when the Goat Man popped up but I guess I better not say who it was.
We always knew when he was coming, or when he was here. We didn’t have internet. e-mail, or Facebook, but we had party lines, beauty parlors, barber shops and the local cafe.
On the west side of town was five points where the roads intersected, old dirt ones, we called them farm-to-market roads. An older couple had a little gas station and store there, with fields all around. He would spend the night in the field. The next day, according to Ben Futch, former mayor of Lake Park, he would travel south and hold up next to B. Lloyds, a roadside store like Stuckey’s. You might not remember either one, but they were all over the area.
Now, the Goat Man was Charles “Ches” McCartney (1901-98), born in Iowa. During the Depression, he lost his farm and went to work with the WPA cutting timber. A tree fell on him permanently damaging his left side. They thought he was dead but he awoke on the mortician’s table experiencing a religious awakening.
He had always loved goats while on the farm. His favorite character was Robinson Crusoe who was clad in goatskins, so he donned a goatskin outfit his wife had sewn, built a cart with iron wheels, hitched up his goats and headed across country with only two books, “Robinson Crusoe” and the Bible.
McCartney's diet consisted mainly of goat milk, supplemented by food given to him or bought with money he made selling scrap metal he collected or postcards of himself, or from posing for pictures. He also accepted donations for his "Free Thinking Christian Mission," based in Georgia.
McCartney had no difficulty attracting attention and visitors as he was friendly, chatty, and quick to share an inspirational sermon. By most accounts he smelled very bad, as did his goats.
Each night he camped on some tolerant landowner's property or farmer's field. He milked and fed his goats and built a large campfire that he always topped off with an automobile tire. This added acridity to the fragrance of the bivouac, but McCartney claimed the smoke effectively kept the bugs away.
I remember he sold postcards for five cents and often launched into fiery sermons laced with profanity, which offended some. He was quite a spectacle for us young folks. So, what led him to live his life with goats?
Maybe Paul Anka had him in mind when he penned “My Way.” Or Robert Frost in “The Road Not Taken.” I’m certainly not one to advise a young person the proper course for their life, but I think the best advice comes from the English poet, Robert Herrick
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
I took the road less traveled and I thank God for where and to whom it has led.