In fifth grade my brother's pet goat George followed us onto the school bus as we boarded one morning. George was black, had no ears, and his head was shaped like E.T.'s head. He wore a bright orange reflective collar, quite flashy for a goat with no ears.
I climbed up the steps, lugging my backpack full of books and other junk I thought extremely important to take to school. I walked down the aisle looking for an open seat when I started hearing giggles and snickers and classmates shouting "Ba-aa-aa! Ba-aa-aa!" I froze, horrified, and turned around to see George shuffling behind me frantically looking around and sniffing the sleeves of student's coats. As quickly as I could I scooted him back off the bus and gave him a gentle kick to head him back up the driveway to the barn.
When I got back on the bus I tried not to make eye contact. I had just entered my awkward pre-teen years and the last thing I needed was a goat getting on the bus with me. It was years before my classmates stopped teasing me about the incident.
That would not be the last time George interfered with my schooling. One day I was sitting on a rock outside doing some homework. George walked up behind me, peered around my shoulder, and quickly took a bite of my notebook paper. It was math so I wasn't really too broken up about the whole thing. I drew a little arrow pointing to the torn corner and wrote a note that said, "goat ate my homework." I don't know if the teacher believed me but when you grow up on a farm there are a lot of strange things that happen and you don't get phased after a while. Like the time I came home to find a cow had fallen in the well casing, and in the process of trying to pull it out my Grandpa dropped the bucket arm of the tractor on my Dad's head. But that's a story for a different day.
Even though George was a constant source of embarrassment for a young girl trying to fit in he did teach me a valuable lesson in curiosity. George was very curious. I don't know if that is why my brother named him George, but it was fitting. He was always getting into things. He was a goat so obviously he wasn't aware of social mores and norms. He just saw something interesting and ran for it. What is this big yellow thing on wheels? Hmmm. I think I'll check it out. What is this flat white thing this scrawny human keeps writing on? I wonder if it tastes like oats? No. It does not taste like oats.
Once George ran away in a terrible snow storm and we couldn't find him for three days. He probably saw a bird or something else and just trotted off to investigate. We feared the worst and accepted the fact he may have met his demise with wild coyotes. Then, my Uncle Kevin thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye while driving with his friend down a back country road near our house. He stopped and opened the door. He yelled, "Hey! Hey George! Is that you!?" George perked up (I can't say he perked up his ears because he didn't have any), and bolted toward the car, jumped over the ditch, and hopped over my Uncle into the vehicle; no questions asked.
George had no fear and when he had questions he pushed forward until he found answers. This lesson has served me well over the years. Many times people are afraid to ask questions and investigate. There is a fear that asking questions may reveal that you aren't as smart as everyone else. Asking questions may upset people around you. Asking questions may give people the impression that you're questioning their authority.
At the end of the day, the only thing we have that people cannot take away from us are the resources we hold in our brain. We stop growing intellectually when we stop asking questions. Remaining curious about life and the world around us assures that we always add to our development and grow as a person and as a community. Just because someone presents something as fact doesn't mean you need to accept it as the all-ending truth. If you see something that looks interesting it's okay to check it out. You're allowed to ask questions.
I don't know if I've really gotten over the embarrassment George caused me growing up. Perhaps I should have sought some therapy. But one thing is for sure, I will never forget his lesson of bold curiosity.
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.