The Moroccan Tree-Climbing Goats – A Story of My Family 

Moroccan Tree Climbing Goats

The Moroccan Tree-Climbing Goats – A Story of My Family

Today, we were on the road to Essaouira (pronounced “ess-uh-wee-ruh”) and at one point, the bus pulled over on to the side of the road. I looked up to see we were next to a tree full of goats. The goats balanced on branches high and low, chewing away with that vacant look that is creepy and unique to goats and goats alone. As though a tree full of goats wasn’t bizarre enough, I was torn between tears and laughter at the sight, because it reminded me of Christmas with my family and my little sister Molly.

This is a bit of a sad story. But like most sad stories, there’s a little bit of happiness hidden in here too.

To begin, two years ago, my family got together for the first Christmas since my little sister Molly had died.  She was in a car accident one night in September, a week after her 20th birthday. Molly was the youngest of us four children, the baby of the family and everyone’s mutual favorite. She got along with all of us, a feat in itself. She did this through her own laid back attitude, an abnormal amount of sarcasm and wit and a lot of kindness and understanding.  And today, goats in trees, in the middle of Morocco reminded me of her.

One of our family traditions is for my dad to take the three of us girls out shopping for my mom before Christmas. This shopping trip usually cuts dangerously close to Christmas Day and is known as “The Biggest Eating Day of the Year.” During our shopping, my dad will feed us on at least an hourly basis. We start with breakfast, stop at a gas station during the 2-hour drive through western Montana to the mall to load up on snacks and downhill slide through the day with cheeseburgers, ice cream, and anything else available that is meat-based or deep-fried. I think helps my dad to tolerate a day of shopping and also gives him something to do while he’s waiting outside stores. He would tell you it’s to prevent me from getting hangry, which is fair too.

As we walk through the mall my dad will hand us money and we will go into the stores to buy what he wants us to get for our mom.  For example, he may say, “Go get your mom those purple slippers.” We may counter offer his ideas with heavy-handed suggestions of what we think she  wants.  We will say something like, “I think she’d rather have that teapot from the antique store than purple faux fur slippers.”  It is a system that works well for the most part.

Some years we fight. Actually, most years we fight. The fights tended to be between my older sister Lacie, my dad and myself. Molly never really got involved. She only ever fought with our brother Lowell, who went shopping separately with our mom. One particularly memorable year, my older sister Lacie and I started arguing. The arguing resulted in a brief bout of violence. Lacie undoubtedly won as she always did. The entire ordeal was over in two minutes and within an hour Lacie and I were friends again. However, my dad was so upset and excited by all the drama he talked about it for hours, like a sports fanatic reliving the suspense and excitement of a game. He was shocked, scandalized, and upset by our behavior. This surprised me because all of us siblings fought on a daily basis. Once he got started, he made a bigger deal about us fighting than we did.  I started to think he was just in this for his own entertainment as Lacie and I implored him to drop it. Molly sat by, patiently directing us to store after store, making sure mom’s Christmas list was checked off while the three of us bickered. It was all just part of the tradition.

Baby Loki!

As time went on, and Lacie and I left home, and my parents acquired a new dog.  Molly had chosen him from a box outside a Home Depot one summer and gotten him for our brother Lowell.  Lowell happened to be was working in Alaska. So Molly trained the dog over the summer, often carrying him around like a baby. When Lowell returned, they named him Loki. Loki was the cutest husky puppy I have ever seen. He was the type of adorable that left you questioning whether he was real or just a very animated stuffed animal.

Loki and my dad snowmobiling.

Lowell and Loki went to work together, rode snowmobiles together and lived together. They were a good team. Over time, Lowell left for work in Alaska again. Molly left for college. This left my parents two empty nesters, with the world’s cutest dog. I think Lowell’s intention in leaving Loki home was to fill the enormous void that must have been left by the joys of  4 children yelling, fighting, and making fun of my dad. It seemed to work.

As the weeks went by, the dog became a constant topic of conversation. I’d call and hear all about what Loki was up to. I’d hear what cute habit he’d picked up like whining whenever he didn’t get exactly what he wanted. A luxury we children never had. The thing was, Loki was and is incredibly cute dog but like many beautiful beings, he doesn’t have the greatest personality. He’s just never had to develop one. This dog is demanding and selfish. He doesn’t like to be petted. He doesn’t do tricks unless he’s sure he’ll be instantly rewarded. He isn’t particularly protective or affectionate. Loki is the spoiled child my parents never had.

But, nonetheless, he was babied without abandon once my younger siblings were gone. When my mom would go town, she’d bring Loki along for the ride so he wouldn’t whine. Loki would wimper if they went though town without stopping for a treat at McDobald’s and soon he had eaten so many ice cream cones the local vet had to intervene and point out that this was a terrible idea for people, let alone a dog. Another luxury reserved for the dog, but not us children. We only got ice cream half of the time. Though, in my parent’s defense, us children tended to be on the portly side and Loki was not.

Loki being babied

It wasn’t just my parents either. I loved Loki and looked forward to seeing him when I came home. Lowell still considered himself partially responsible for Loki and was concerned at frustrated at the level of spoiling he was enduring from my parents. But when we were all home, Lowell and Molly both carried Loki around like a giant, distorted furry baby, an indulgence Loki seemed happily accustomed to.

So, it is not surprising that the family obsession with Loki eventually wove its way into Christmas. The year before Molly died, my older sister Lacie was living in Alaska and didn’t get home in time for The Biggest Eating Day of the Year. I was living in Portland and was on call for work. That meant, it was just Molly and my dad.  From the accounts I heard of the shopping extravaganza, it was one of the most peaceful and successful in history. A variety of meats and large quantities of desserts were consumed. Molly knew what mom wanted and was efficient at purchasing the necessary items. She was also was very good at placating dad with snacks. Lacie and I were reassured we were missed. We reassured Molly and Dad we were sorry to have missed out.

That year, Molly and Dad had seen a calendar called “Goats in Trees”. Molly said that she’d like to get it for mom and call it “Loki’s in Trees”, replacing the goats with gorgeous photos of our self-absorbed dog. I assume that shortly after this comment, a Baskin Robbins appeared or my dad may have smelled the faint scent of meat cooking, because for some reason, the calendar was not purchased.

Then, the unexpected happened in September the following year and we lost our ray of sunshine, the one who glued us all together. The wound was so new at Christmas that none of us were very enthusiastic about celebrating. We were all still in shock and trying to figure out how to function when such a big piece of our family was gone. I won’t go into all the sorrowful details of that fall, just suffice to say, Christmas wasn’t shaping up to be very merry.

That Christmas, my older sister was pregnant and was, as my dad put it was, “as big as a house”. She would be spending Christmas in Alaska with her husband’s family. I was arriving a day before Christmas and wouldn’t make it on our annual shopping trip. So, my brother’s fiancé got the steep initiation into the family of attending the Biggest Eating Day of the Year one on one with my dad. All accounts claim that this was a highly enjoyable and successful trip, however, I believe Dad forgot to mention my sister Lacie and I were missed.

My dad looked all over the mall until he found the Goats in Trees calendar. Now, this is a strange calendar to find one year, let alone two, but he found it. Not being tech savvy enough to know how to turn on the computer, he enlisted the help of my brother’s fiancé to print off dozens of pictures of Loki. I was asked to paste the photos over the goats. And that is how, one Christmas, two years ago, I found myself in my dad’s shop, next to the welder and old Ford truck, cutting out pictures of Loki and pasting them over goats in trees for several hours. January through December, my mom could ponder each month during the coming year, just how strange her family was.

The next day, we went through the motions of our typical Christmas traditions. We all wore our new Christmas pajamas. We opened stockings, then presents. About midway through, my dad got up out of his chair, an unprecedented  Christmas first.  He then handed out a present to each of us. It turns out, on that shopping trip, my dad gotten us each something Molly had mentioned she’d like to get for us. The living room got very quiet and still. Each of us silently opened our gifts as the sadness we had all been moving aside that Christmas season welled up and threatened to drown us.

One by one, we turned to my mom, opening her gift – the calendar.  You can imagine, this gift takes some explaining, even then, it’s still kind of odd. She looked through the calendar quietly as we watched, uncertain and a little nervous. Her face didn’t give away what she was thinking. Was she confused?  Horrified? Sad? Then, she laughed. We each looked around at one another then, we all laughed. We laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. The ridiculousness of ourselves, our traditions and our obsession with that self-absorbed dog. The gift was strange and perfect. It brought us out of our avalanche of grief for a moment to remember happier times and the sense of humor that was so distinctly Molly. It knit us back together, in the sweet and understanding and self-deprecating way Molly did.  And rather than crying over our loss that morning, we remembered Molly’s sarcasm and wit and we told stories about the times she had made us laugh.

So that is why, as I see this tree full of goats on the side of the road in Morocco more than two years later, I miss my sister. My eyes tear up and threaten to cry, which would only add to the bizarre sight, but instead I laugh and I take a picture to send home to my family.

Molly and Loki