Marilyn Carnell grew up in the small Southwest Missouri Ozark town of Pineville. She and her sister Zella knew just about everyone in the town of seven hundred or so people and many of the residents were, in some way related. There was grandad and grandma Bunch and all of the Carnell’s. The homes, in many ways, reflected the views and personalities of those living there. There were no streets lined with cookie-cutter houses. Each house was unique and so too were the people living in them. Take Cousin Gene for instance.
Marilyn’s cousin, Gene Bunch loved quarter horses. He owned twenty-five or so acres on Big Sugar Creek not far from town and loved to raise and ride the horses he so lovingly cared for. However, Cousin Gene didn’t earn a living raising horses. He had an office on the square just across from the courthouse in Pineville where he offered bail bond and real estate services.
Although Gene was not large in stature he was known as someone who was normally impeccably attired. He was often seen waving to friends and relatives as he drove around town in his freshly washed Cadillac. Gene viewed the Cadillac not only as a statement of his personality but also as a business necessity. After all, in the real estate game image was important.
Some folks purposely kept their conversations with Gene brief. You see, Gene was in the real estate selling business and at some point in the conversation, he would mention a nicely maintained house or a beautiful parcel of land that was for sale. To put it succinctly, he had the “gift of gab.”
As Marilyn recalls it was in 1978 or maybe 1979 when Cousin Gene acquired the goat. You see, Gene thought, for whatever reason, that his horses were lonely and he heard that goats made good companions for lonely horses. So, Gene looked for, and found, a goat for sale. After some negotiations, a price was agreed upon and the hairy grey colored goat was introduced to the horses roaming in the pasture on the Big Sugar Creek ranch.
Days and weeks and months passed and as Gene went about his daily chores at the ranch it became apparent that the goat found Gene’s company far more fetching than that of the horses. It seemed that wherever Gene happened to go so too went that goat. Gene, in no fashion, discouraged the goat’s attraction to him and may have even been somewhat flattered by the goat’s preference to be with him more so than the horses.
Gene’s shiny pea-green colored Cadillac was in need of service so an appointment was made at the local garage to have the car looked at. A means of transportation was very important to Gene and he was assured by the repair shop’s owner that a “loaner car” would be provided. “It won’t be no Cadillac but it’ll get you where you want to go,” the owner said.
Gene dropped off the Cadillac and as he stood outside the building awaiting the arrival of his car, and through a maze of smoke, he heard the sound of what must have been some sort of engine. Then, and through the smoke and dust, a car came to rest just feet from him. It may have been the most offensive looking and sounding car he had ever seen. The paint was faded and peeling and the engine undoubtedly burned just about as much oil as gasoline creating a cloud of smoke that emanated from what was left of the tailpipe. That may have been the sole saving grace as the cloud of blackened smoke at times hid the car from view. No matter, Gene knew the inconvenience would last no longer than a day or so and he kept reminding himself of that as he drove away.
The jalopy was parked at the ranch while Gene completed his daily chores and all the while accompanied by that amorous goat. As the early morning hours passed, the craving for a good and hot cup of coffee came over the rancher so he washed up and got behind the wheel of that old Chevy.
Glancing into the rearview mirror Gene almost laughed at the sight of the black smoke that seemed to follow the car. But there, through that billowing black cloud, something was moving. As the brakes squealed Gene brought the car to a stop and there, through all that smoke, he caught sight of the goat running toward him.
It was apparent that the goat wanted to be with him so Gene reached over the front seat and opened the rear passenger’s side door. He really didn’t believe that the goat would get into the rear seat of the car but that’s exactly what that goat did. He calmly, and with purpose, casually climbed onto the back seat.
“Ok, we’ll both go to Shangri-La and get a cup of coffee.” Shangri-La was a local restaurant near the town of Anderson. It was a place where people could find good food, especially homemade French fries, at reasonable prices and most of all it was a place where local residents could find good conversation while they enjoyed a hot cup of coffee.
Cousin Gene parked that wreck of a car in front of the café. “Now, I suppose you think you’re going inside with me. Well, why not?” Gene exited the old car, opened the rear door and watched as the goat climbed out. As the duo walked through the café’s front door and even before reaching a vacant chair Gene “matter of factly” said, “coffee please.” “Coming right up, and what about your friend there” the waitress answered. “Nothing for him thanks.”
Now, people in this area of the Ozarks had seen just about everything there was to see but a goat riding in a car then coming into a restaurant, well that was something new. “Say, Gene, do you know that a danged goat got out of your car and followed you inside?” As the man seated by the café’s window waited for a response Gene calmly replied. “Sure do. He likes to go places with me and I sing little goat songs to him.”
Well sir, one might think that there was an abundance of obvious questions which might be asked but to the inquisitive man only one came to mind; “What in the heck is a little goat song?” Gene only smiled as he raised the cup to his lips and took a sip. “Just songs the goat likes to hear, that’s all.” Much to Gene’s amazement not much more was made of the goat accompanying him into the café.
Gene didn’t stay long at the café and soon he and the back seat goat left on their way back to the ranch. It was no more than a minute or so that the smoking heap of a car caught the attention of Missouri State Trooper Merle Graham who radioed in his observations.
The trooper advised that he was following a car of unknown make and color that was on fire. The vehicle, at least as far as he could tell, was occupied by two men. The trooper stated that he was going to pull the car over and provide assistance to the two occupants.
With flashing lights and siren wailing, Graham eventually convinced the driver of the car to pull to the side of the road. The trooper hurriedly threw open his door and through the black smoke ran to the driver’s side door of the car fully expecting to pull two semi-conscious men to safety. However, and to his great surprise, there rolling down the car door’s window sat a man known to him, Gene Bunch. Graham glanced toward the rear seat and found that the object he believed to be a man with facial hair was indeed a hairy goat.
“What for God’s sake are you doing driving a car that looks like it’s on fire and why is there a goat sitting on the backseat of your car?” “Well, Gene replied, my Cadillac’s in the shop and as for the goat; well, he likes to spend time with me and I sing little goat songs to him.”
Obviously annoyed the trooper said, “Listen here; you get this piece of junk off the road and get that goat out of this here car.” With that being said Trooper Graham walked away from the window. “Yes sir, Merle; right away.”
Gene drove to the ranch and, at least as far as anyone knows, that was the last time Gene and the goat ever rode together. After all, Gene certainly would not have allowed the goat to sit on the rear seat of his Cadillac. Or would he?