Betty's Baa-a-ad Day

"Get up, Betty! Get up, get up, get up!" My older sister Minnie was screeching at me. I rolled my eyes and pulled the pillow over my head. "Betty, get up! You've got to get ready to go. GET UP!"

What was she blah-blah-blahing about? Then it hit me and my eyes snapped open. I threw the pillow off my face and jumped out of bed. Today I was going to the County Fair with my BFF, Melissa Flowers -- and NO PARENTS! Today meant freedom at the Fair: no looking at crafts or livestock, no sitting at the beer garden listening to music from bands we didn't know, no doing any boring stuff we didn't want to do.

Every year our families went to the Fair together. This year, since Melissa and I were practically grown -- we were about to start junior high school -- we wanted to go by ourselves. After weeks of begging, whining and pledging to do chores forever, we finally got our parents to give in.

I took what must have been the record for Shortest Shower of 1983 and threw on a pair of jeans, tennis shoes and my favorite top, a white oversized Duran Duran t-shirt. I glanced in the mirror as I pulled my hair into a quick ponytail. Normally it hung down to my shoulders in a mess of red curls, but today I didn't want to deal with it. I took another quick look, wishing I had Melissa's blonde hair, blue eyes and perfect skin instead of my wiry curls, green eyes and freckles. My mom liked to say I would be a real looker in a few years, but I knew better.

Oh, sorry, let me introduce myself. I'm Betty Bailey, named after Betty Boop (my sister was named after Minnie Mouse). If my dad hadn't stepped in, I'm pretty sure mom would have gone all the way with it, because she's kind of weird that way. She likes cutesy names. Imagine going to school named Betty Boop Bailey? Barf me OUT! My mom would have put polka-dot dresses on me if I could have let her. I HATE dresses.

I was lying on my bed listening to my Walkman when Melissa came bounding into my room, right on time as always.

"C'mon, Betty, let's go," she said, pulling the headphones off my ears. "The bus will be here any minute!"

We'd been friends since the third grade, and I knew her well. Not only was she always on time, but she wore the coolest hats, could balance a spoon on the end of her nose and was the reigning Donkey Kong champion of the neighborhood. A totally awesome friend to have.

We were always at each others' homes. Melissa had cable TV, so we hung out there after school to watch MTV and Nickelodeon. Sometimes we made prank calls to boys from my house; we didn't say anything, just giggled and hung up. A few days earlier, we had sealed our BFF status at my house with a PINKIE SWEAR.
"Do you swear that nothing will mess up our friendship?" she asked. "Not boys, parents, other friends?"

"I swear!" I replied.

"Pinkie swear?"

I held out the little finger of my right hand as she did the same.

"I pinkie swear!" I said, touching my finger to hers.

"BEST FRIENDS FOREVER!" We shouted together, collapsing on the couch laughing.

But back to this day. We ran down the stairs, but my parents stopped us before we could get out of the house, and by the time they finished giving us their list of dos and don'ts -- "Don't talk to strangersÖDon't get off the bus anywhere but the fairgroundsÖHere are quarters to call us when you arrive, and again before you leaveÖBetty, pay attention!" -- the bus was pulling up to the curb and we had to bolt out the door. We almost knocked over old Mr. Connors as he was bending down to get his newspaper from the sidewalk.

"Sorry, Mr. Connors," I said, out of breath and giggling.

He waved and smiled. He'd been our neighbor since I was four years old, and I don't think I ever saw him without a smile. He always had a greeting for me, but I hadn't said more than a few words to him over the years. I used to see him at the fair all the time with Mrs. Connors, but hadn't seen him there since she died. I waved back then ran up the stairs and dropped into the seat next to Melissa.

"And we're off!" she said.

After what seemed like hours -- but was actually less than one -- we were THERE!

Melissa looked at her watch, the Swatch with the pink face and zebra-striped band that matched her perfect off-the-shoulder pink shirt and zebra leggings.

"Way cool!" she exclaimed. "We have nearly five hours to go crazy."

"RIDES!" We screamed in unison, startling a man walking by.

We rode the Tilt-a-Whirl and Zipper until we were so dizzy we had to sit down awhile. We made silly faces and twisted into goofy positions in the Hall of Mirrors, giggling at our crazy reflections. In the Haunted House, Melissa screamed and dropped her popcorn when a vampire dropped from the ceiling in front of us.

And boy, did we eat! I picked at wispy clouds of pink cotton candy, getting my hands and face sticky. We ate corn dogs, funnel cakes and pretzels, then sampled prize-winning and prize-losing pies, cakes and cookies.

Before we knew it, four hours had flown by.

"This has been the bomb," said Melissa. "I can't wait to do it again next year!"

"Totally," I agreed. "We did only what we wanted, and no cows involved!"

The only animals I wanted to see were in the petting zoo. I'd lived my whole life in Los Angeles, and my only exposure to farm animals was at the Fair. The petting zoo was a must as far as I was concerned, even though Melissa didn't share my enthusiasm.

We leaned against the fence and propped our elbows on the railing, since Melissa didn't want to go inside. A couple of sheep wandered by, and we petted them. As we were getting ready to leave, a billy-goat came over and put his nose through the fence, inspecting my t-shirt. I scratched his head and moved to leave when without warning he clamped his mouth on the bottom of my shirt, making chewing and sucking motions.

"Okay, that's a nice goat. You can let go now," I said, patting the goat on the side of his neck. He ignored me.

"Quit messing around," said Melissa. "We're going to miss the bus!"

"Tell that to the goat," I replied. "It's not like I'm doing this on purpose."

"Do something! You've got to get the goat to let go!"

"I don't know what to do," I said. "I don't know anything about goats."

"I don't know about goats, either, Betty. I told you I didn't want to come here!"

"Oh, so this is my fault?"

"Well, the goat isn't eating my shirt, is he?"

I tried to pull my shirt out of his mouth, but he just held on tighter, causing me to move forward in an awkward position. To get comfortable, I slipped my arms around his neck.

By now, a small crowd was forming.

A woman holding a small boy's hand hurried by. "Mommy, Mommy, what's that lady doing to the goat?" he implored. "Is she strangling it?"

"I don't know," replied the woman. "But let's hurry up and get out of here."

Great. Now I was the crazy "lady" who strangled goats at the fair.

"Is this going to take much longer? I'm just wondering because I need to leave soon," Melissa whined, tapping her foot. "I don't want to get in trouble with my parents."

"I don't know how long this is going to take! I need to get home, too, you know!"

"Should I hit the goat with a stick?" asked Melissa.

"No! He might get mad and bite me." I didn't know how serious goat bites were, but I didn't want to find out.

"But if he bites you, he'll have to let go." She was annoyingly matter-of-fact.

"I don't want a goat bite!" I could hear the whine in my own voice. "Maybe you could go get a candy apple for him, or find someone in charge to help me?"

Melissa shrugged. "I gave you my suggestion." She was uncaring and impatient, and I began to question the wisdom of being pinkie sworn.

"DOES ANYONE HERE KNOW HOW TO GET THIS GOAT TO LET GO OF ME?" I shouted to no one in particular.

A woman wearing an enormous hat and enormous glasses stepped forward from the crowd. "Bleach!" she shouted.

I turned my head. "What?"

"Bleach! The goat wants the bleach in your shirt."

"Really? Is that true? Could someone please bring me a cup of bleach?"

The woman shook her head. "You can't just give him a cup of bleach! You'll kill him."

"Then what should I do?" I asked.

"I don't know; that's your problem! Where are your parents, anyway?" She walked away without waiting for an answer.

The crowd was getting larger. A hot dog vendor appeared: "Get your hot dogs! Come see the little lady dance with the goat!"


Melissa the Faithful spoke again. "I'll get in trouble if I'm late. I'm leaving."

I couldn't understand why Melissa was acting this way. If it were the other way around, no way would I leave. I tried not to cry as she looked at her watch, which I now wanted to rip from her arm.

"Fine, go home and leave me here," I snapped. "Will you at least call my parents?"

She sighed and flipped her hair. "Are you kidding? They will tell mine, and we'll never be allowed to go anywhere on our own again! I'll be grounded FOREVER!"

"You don't think they will figure out something's wrong when you show up by yourself and my parents ask where I am?"

She shrugged, but didn't answer. My lip was trembling, and I was biting it hard, but she didn't notice because she was gone; my ex-best-friend-forever was running to catch the bus. Our friendship was tested by a goat and Melissa did not pass.

So there we were -- the goat and I. My back and arms hurt and he was asleep, my shirt still firmly in his mouth. I didn't like the smell and it was starting to rain. I was scared and mad and I wanted my parents. "Would someone please call my father?"

I couldn't hold back the tears anymore and they spilled forward in big drops, mixing with the rain. Then, just as I thought all was hopeless, a boy about my sister's age entered the zoo. He had a name tag that identified him as Jim in big, black letters. He was JIM.

"JIM!" I shouted. "Do you work here?" I know I sounded desperate.

He eyed me suspiciously. "YesÖand I have to close soon so you can't stay here."

Was he serious? "Do I look like I want to stay here? You feed these animals, right?"

"No," he said. "I just collect tickets."

"Well, who takes care of the animals? Could you find out, please?" I was begging.

He shrugged. "Sorry, don't know, can't help you."

I began to cry again, and Jim ROLLED HIS EYES AT ME! I couldn't believe it!

"Can you at least give the goat something to distract him so he will let go? Then I can leave."

He shook his head no again. "I told you, I don't feed the animals."

"Thank you SO much, JIM, for your help!" He ignored me. I noticed that was happening a lot.

I considered pulling my shirt off, but not for long because the whole world would see the lame training bra my mom made me wear. Besides, I wasn't giving my favorite shirt to that goat!

Lost in self-pity, I didn't realize right away that someone was speaking to me.

"Betty? What's wrong? Where are your parents?" I heard Mr. Connors' familiar voice from behind me.

I began crying even harder. "They aren't here," I blubbered. "This g-g-goat, and then MelissaÖand can't leaveÖand --" I gulped air.

He handed me a napkin, not saying anything while I wound down to sniffles. He propped his arms on the railing where Melissa had been, and we listened to the goat softly snore.

"I haven't seen you here in a long time," I said, because I didn't know what else to say.

"My wife was a livestock judge," he replied. "After she passed on, I didn't want to come here anymore, but this year I decided I missed it. I don't have any children, so it keeps me young. Where are your folks, Betty?"

"At home. They let us come alone, and everything was fine until this goat decided to eat my shirt and Melissa left." I started crying again.

Mr. Connors handed me another napkin. While I wiped my eyes, he patted the goat on the nose. The goat woke up, looking at him curiously. Mr. Connors reached into his pocket, pulled out some oatmeal cookies and offered them to him. The goat immediately lost interest in my t-shirt and went for the cookies.

"I'm free!" I exclaimed, stepping back from the fence, my legs almost giving way underneath me. "Just like that! I can't believe it was that easy!"

"Goats like grains," he replied, smiling. "They like a lot of things, really, but are quite fond of oats. Luckily I bought some cookies. Now let's get you home."

Mr. Connors stopped to call my parents on the way, and when we pulled up to my house my parents and Minnie were on the front porch waiting with open arms. I was never happier to see them in my life. Melissa was in her front yard, too, and she jumped up and waved when I got out of the car. "Betty, you're home! I was so worried! I can't believe you wanted to stay behind!"

What I wanted was to punch her in the face, but I didn't even look at her. I ran to my family for a group hug, and then I ran back to Mr. Connors and gave him a big hug. "Thank you," I whispered. "You came to my rescue when no one else would." He smiled as a lone tear rolled from his gray eyes.

I never spoke to Melissa again after that day. As I really did grow up, I didn't invite her to my graduation party or my wedding or include her in my children's lives. The person I did invite and include was Mr. Connors.

I accompanied him to the Fair every year until he was too frail to go anymore, and I learned to love the cows. I never forgot his kindness when I was alone and scared, and when he lay dying I kept a vigil at his bedside. I reached across the bed and touched my pinkie finger to his.

"Friends to the end," I whispered. "I pinkie swear." He held on to my hand as he smiled up at me, and then closed his gray eyes for the last time.

The County Fair eventually discontinued the petting zoo and put the animals up for adoption. My family and I brought a young billy-goat home and named him -- what else? Connor.

So here we are, the goat and I, sitting in my backyard watching the sun dip below the horizon, and waiting for my family to get home from my son's football game. We are sharing oatmeal cookies like a couple of old friends, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Share this article