You may have seen the goats on the billboard on U.S. 220 about six miles north of Boones Mill. The first time I spotted them, they were stretched out on their bellies, their front hooves hanging luxuriously off the billboard’s edge. Wanting to know more, I drove down the gravel drive just beyond the platform and soon crossed paths with Elizabeth McGee, who turned out to be the owner of the goats, just as she was finishing the last stretch of her morning stroll. She confessed later that she thought I might have been a proselytizing missionary and was surprised when I asked her who owned those brave goats on the ledge out there. She invited me to walk with her back to her home and sat me in her living room with a glass of soda to give me the scoop on the goats, her family, and how steep life’s trek can be.
“The goats have been making their way onto that billboard for the past two or three years,” McGee says, and it’s always been the same four that I saw from the road. McGee’s son Paul, just returning home with some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, chimed in from the kitchen with specifics on the four goats: two white Alpines, one brown Nubian, and one gray, older goat, whose rare breed he couldn’t quite place.
“When the goats were just kids they would go up to anyone and be touched,” Paul McGee says, “but now that they’ve gotten older, you can barely get near them.”
His eyes lit up as he told me about the time one of the goats had climbed to the tall top of a leaning pine tree in the woods and, instead of walking back down to Paul’s coaxing hands, had jumped to the ground fifty feet below, doing an easy roll in the grass before landing on his feet again and walking away.
It turns out the story of the family that owns the billboard goats is at least as fascinating as the goats. After her son left for work, Elizabeth McGee gave me the tour of the family pictures showcased in her living room. She showed me her five children, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Paul, her youngest son, does all of the cooking and cleaning around the house and makes sure she’s taken care of. McGee noted that though she lost her husband while she was pregnant with Paul, Paul was a gift from her husband, given to always look after her. Raising five children alone is no simple task, but McGee’s determination became evident to me as I met each smiling family member in the photographs, heard about all their accomplishments, and saw how proud she was to hold each frame up and show me.
Passersby frequently stop to alert Elizabeth and Paul of the goats on the billboard ledge, and every time they assure them, “don’t worry, they’ll be fine.”
Maybe it’s a lesson for all of us: it’s easy to be frightened as you climb a steep peak, or to wonder how far you might fall if you lose your footing, but sometimes, it’s all about standing at the top once you’ve reached it, thinking of nothing but the breeze and the view.