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By Raymond Greiner
The year was 1923, and the country had been euphoric since the end of the Great War. Alcohol flowed like water, fueling this festive era of drink, dance, and celebration. Enterprise gained traction, adding momentum to the industrial revolution. Manufacturing was on an upward spike, and millions were being made bootlegging liquor from Canada. Prohibition opened a floodgate for crime and corruption.
Nestled on a hillside, high in the Catskills, was a spectacular mansion. This was the home of Cyrus Wingate, a multi-millionaire, his wife Margaret, and their daughter Sybil. Parked on the circle drive was a Bentley limousine, with three gardeners nearby performing landscaping tasks, and the chauffeur polishing the Bentley. This spacious mansion was surrounded by 500 acres of wooded property, creating a massive estate.
Wingate dabbled in a variety of business ventures, owned one-third of a bootlegging operation, running three schooners from Canada weekly. He ceased this endeavor, conjecturing it too risky when government enforcement escalated. He shifted assets to commodities and stocks, investing heavily in manufacturing and real estate. Cyrus was a large man, smoked Cuban cigars, was 59 years old with a swagger, had a personal tailor, and used a diamond-studded cane to define his success. His wife, Margaret, was socially connected with the rich and famous. Sybil was 13 and privately tutored. Her teacher, Dorothy, was an exceptional woman, designing curricula including academics, music, art, and nature, with leisure times walking in surrounding forests. Discussions often occured at the Wingate dinner table.
Cyrus said, “I have 500 acres of property, and in every direction I view is land I own, with one exception: that old farmhouse on the hillside. It’s owned by an elderly brother and sister, inherited from their parents. They’re Quakers, raise goats, and that place diminishes this estate’s status and value. I instructed my lawyer to contact them, offering three times the property’s worth. They refused the offer. It disgusts me to look at that old house each day.”
Sybil said, “Daddy, I know those people. Dorothy and I visit with them. They are the nicest people I ever met. They’re fraternal twins, and their names are Dennis and Denise. They only own 20 acres and have 30 goats. They sell goat’s milk and feta cheese at the local market. They were born and raised at that house, and neither married, and their small homestead centers their life. They talk funny, use ‘thy,’ ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’ and dress the same every day.”
Wingate responded, “I don’t care how they talk or dress, I want them and their house out of view. They are a distraction, blocking my intentions and goals. This country is moving forward with a higher definition of importance and worth. Two old fogies milking goats are misfits, living in the past. Money is now the power. Money pays for your tutor; it brings fulfillment and opportunity paving the road to the future. I intend to visit myself tomorrow and present a higher offer.”
The next day Cyrus walked up the hillside to the old farmhouse.
“Hello, I am Cyrus Wingate. I own the mansion below. I would like to discuss purchasing your property.”
“Very nice to meet thee, Cyrus. It’s kind of thee to visit. I am Dennis, and this is my sister Denise. We have admired thy home for years. We raise goats; they are unique animals. Goats are hearty and endure winter better than cows or horses. They provide us with income to sustain our lifestyle. We also plant a large garden each year.”
Wingate said, “My lawyer talked with you a few weeks ago concerning purchasing your land and home.”
“Yes, we remember him. His offer was extraordinary, we were unaware our home and property had such high value.”
“I am very interested in purchasing your property in an effort to expand my land holdings. I am prepared to offer you $75,000 dollars, probably four times its appraised value.”
“Mr. Wingate, we cannot sell our property at any price. We are fixtures here, we have no place else to go or desire to leave. We are 65, and when we die this property will be inherited by our Quaker brethren and may be sold by them if they wish.”
Wingate said, “With $75,000 you can purchase a better place, increasing personal net worth, which can also be valuable to your Quaker brethren when you die.”
“Yes, so true, observing from monetary logic. It is a vast sum of money. But our chosen living style has family roots spanning four generations. We feel obligated to live out our lives at this place, and financial gain means nothing to us. Each day is a spiritual experience, knowing we are extracting sustenance from the land of our ancestors. We are extremely content and joyful to be living and working at this place.”
Wingate rolled his eyes, “Alright, Dennis, it’s beyond my understanding. Here is my card, and if you change your mind, let me know.”
During dinner, Cyrus described his encounter with the Quaker goat herders.
“I can’t imagine living in such a manner, feeding and milking goats, cleaning manure, and dealing with all that for miniscule income. I would rather be in prison. Money is the impetus of modern life. Compare our lives to the Quakers. We are surrounded by luxury, and don’t perform physical tasks. I make money using my brain, calculating deals and investing based on intelligent judgment. Selling canisters of milk and blocks of cheese for a pittance is a foolish and ridiculous way to earn money.”
Margaret said, “Well, my dear, I doubt the Quakers have your know-how, and your work is above their comprehension. Social separation has been a presence forever. The duck tastes divine. Do you think the Quakers have ever eaten such a fine meal?”
Sybil said, “Daddy, I love those two. It astonishes me how they perform their daily tasks, bonding with their goats. They seem joyful and full of life.”
“That’s because you are child, and yet to learn the location of important values. Cultural structure is changing, industry and commerce are dominant, and economics rule every function of modern life. Money has power to enhance life. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and those two still use oil lamps. What sense can that possibly make?”
Sybil responded, “It’s the way they were raised. They are accustomed to oil lamps, fitting their needs as electricity fits ours. It’s what they choose.”
Cyrus shrugged his shoulders, and went to his smoking room for a cigar and shot of bourbon. He felt accomplished, regarding his financial success looking forward to coming years expanding his wealth.
Cyrus spent the next week in New York City, meeting daily with his investment banker and brokers, feeling confident enough to extend his financial pursuits to higher risk stocks, allowing brokers access to his cash reserves, giving authority to purchase stocks on margin. A free rein to invest at will. The brokers made several highly profitable maneuvers, pleasing Cyrus greatly. His net worth was expanding.
This pattern continued for several years, stimulating Cyrus to mortgage his home and property as a means to increase speculation capital. His total stock holdings were now in excess of ten million dollars, paying dividends each quarter.
One morning, Cyrus woke feeling odd, with very low energy, drained, and weak. He knew something was awry and went to a local doctor. The doctor put Cyrus in a hospital, running tests, attempting to diagnose his illness. They suspected cancer, but were unable to pinpoint an exact location, or even if it was cancer. It could have been fatigue, or possibly related to heavy smoking and drinking. In a few days, and after several rounds of medication to raise his energy levels, he felt slight improvement and went home. His ill feelings lingered, but he remained able to monitor his finances.
One of his brokers called. “Cyrus, this is Phil. Several of your stocks are beginning to slide. This could be temporary, but I felt it necessary to inform you of the option of selling them. The loss will be significant.”
“No, stock investments naturally fluctuate, so I will wait it out.”
“OK, Cyrus, I will keep you informed.”
On Tuesday, March 25, 1929, the stock market crashed. Stocks plummeted to all-time lows, and investors lost millions overnight. Cyrus Wingate went from a net worth of ten million dollars to less than ten thousand in one day. Without dividends, it was impossible to service his extreme debt, and his home and property were in jeopardy of foreclosure. Cyrus had never felt such despair. His health continued to decline, and he became so weak he could barely walk. Upon news of financial collapse, his wife left him for a wealthy acquaintance she knew through her high-end social connections. The Wingate mansion became cold and barren, and servants quit from lack of pay. Sybil was nearing college age, and there was no money to finance her education.
“Oh, Dorothy, what will ever become of me? I think my father may be dying, and is in such a terrible emotional state. We have no place to go.”
“Sybil, you can live with me if your father passes.”
That afternoon, Dennis and Denise visited. The mansion was cold, and Dennis started a fire in one of the fireplaces.
Dennis said, “Friend, we read of the horrible stock market crash, and combining this with thou illness, thee have been dealt a terrible, emotional blow. Thy wife has abandoned thee, leaving only thou daughter to care for thee.”
“Thanks for your concern, Dennis. I feel terrible, have difficulty walking, and it appears my net worth is now almost nothing. I’m plagued with fear of dying, and even if I live, my future is uncertain.”
Denise said, “Mr. Wingate, our grandmother and mother taught me many herbal cures using various plants, combining natural healing ingredients with goat’s milk. Goat’s milk is among the most nutritious foods in the world. Dennis and I have a spare room, and we suggest thee live with us for a while, attempting recovery using our knowledge of herbal cures. Often, these remedies are more effective than modern drug therapy. Most illnesses manifest from inflammations, gradually weakening the body’s immune system. As we age, we need higher nutritional fortification, ingesting anti-inflammatory foods. Inflammations may be the cause of thy illness.”
Cyrus felt extreme guilt, thinking how he was intent on extracting these good people from their home. Sybil read them clearly. These were caring people, living symbiotically, raising their goats.
With Sybil and Dorothy’s help, Cyrus gathered a few personal belongings and moved into Dennis and Denise’s spare room. It was small, but immaculate and orderly. On the dresser were a large ceramic bowl and pitcher, filled with water for drinking and washing. There were two globe oil lamps and a clothes rack, and a large window overlooking rolling hills. Also, there was a small, wood-burning stove in one corner of the room, and a feather bed with a down comforter. Cyrus was taken by the sensation this small room characterized, a feeling of comfort. During the night, as Cyrus lay in his bed wondering if he would live or die, his mind drifted. The warmth from the small stove and the glow of the oil lamps were therapeutic, overcoming him with unfamiliar emotions. This room emanated sanctity and comfort, dissipating anxiety.
Denise combined dried herbs and root powders: ginseng, turmeric, rosemary, holy basil, barberry, sassafras, ginger, and oregano oil, creating a tonic, blended with green tea, and instructed Cyrus to drink this four times a day. She served oatmeal made with goat milk topped with crushed almonds, walnuts, honey, and cinnamon. He also drank warm goat’s milk several times daily. She made special goat’s milk creamy soup using garden greens, thyme, and diced turnips. They maintained this regimen for two weeks, and no alcohol or tobacco permitted. She emphasized to Cyrus the importance of rest, and to sleep as much as possible.
Within two weeks, Cyrus was feeling much better. It seemed as if a miracle occurred. He had not felt so good in years. Soon he would turn 60; his life was at a pivot point.
Cyrus salvaged a few of his holdings. He sold the Bentley and scraped together $25,000, and he gave this entire sum to Sybil to fulfill her college ambitions. Dorothy arranged for an entrance exam at a small college, and Sybil scored exceptionally high on this test. She was accepted, and the college funded a partial scholarship based upon her test performance.
Cyrus was astonished at how his energy returned, feeling young again, and he felt a need for purpose. He now shared meals with Dennis and Denise. These two enthralled him. They functioned like a precision machine. Work routines and chores consumed each day: milking, processing cheese, gardening, and keeping their small homestead orderly and productive.
Cyrus said, “Dennis. I would enjoy helping with the goats in any manner I can. As I observe your and Denise’s daily tasks, I feel you’ve reached a higher plane of living. Your daily interaction with each other and your work displays symmetry, magnifying life’s true definition.”
Dennis responded, “Of course, we can begin today. It would be thy pleasure to share thy work with thee. I believe physical work is the foundation of happiness, offering satisfaction and contentment.”
Denise said, “Cyrus, thee can live with us as long as thee wants. We enjoy thy company, and feel grateful for thou recovery.”
Sybil and Dorothy visited.
“Daddy, what are you going to do?”
Cyrus said, “Firstly, you were correct about Dennis and Denise. They are the most loving, kind people I have ever met, unselfish, giving in a manner that seems to bring them great joy.”
Sybil said, “I begin college next semester, and am enjoying living with Dorothy. She has been a great influence in my life.”
Cyrus said, “Sybil, you deserve this opportunity. I enjoy each day now, and have bonded with the goats. They are comical, with their slit-pupil eyes, and each has its own personality. I’m fascinated at what they eat and how they forage for graze choices other grazing animals shun. aAlthough, they won’t eat mayapple. Somehow they know it’s poisonous. Can you believe the change in me?”
Sybil said, “Daddy, are you going to live here forever?”
“I don’t know. Dennis and Denise invited me to stay as long as I want. I intend to write a book about my experiences: investing, becoming wealthy, and then losing everything. Now I’m wealthy again, but a different form of wealth. I feel compelled to document this series of changes: my illness, recovery, and the entire spectrum my life’s revelations. Proceeds from this book will be donated to the Quaker brethren. The Quaker philosophy of life is the reason I am alive.”
Cyrus wrote his book, describing his life in detail, how money controlled him, dominating every thought. He still felt money is important, but more as a social tool. Feeling if one is blessed with an abundance of money, it should be used altruistically, influencing those in need, directed at the betterment of society.
He titled his book “Goat Power,” and it became a bestseller, earning over three million dollars. This book inspired readers to write Cyrus, as the press had widely covered his fall from financial grace. As planned, all proceeds went to the Quaker brethren, and Cyrus became a consummate goat herder, adding dimension to his life and the lives of Dennis and Denise. He was attached to one goat in particular, Annie. Annie had supplied the milk during his recovery. Denise said, for unknown reasons, Annie’s milk seemed richer. Cyrus felt pleasure in his work, feeling deep gratitude to be alive, healthy and strong, performing manual tasks.
“Modern society is snared in the superficial worship of fiscal wealth. The power of money expands ostensibly, distorting values, stimulating materialism and exploitation, cloaking ethics and values, existing beyond corruptive and misdirected influences of money. Money is also a tool of survival within the scope of present-day social design. It is important to recognize money as a means of seeking improvement, developing, and expanding the human experience; however, it is equally important to quest balance, avoiding overconsumption and glut, discovering frugality, allowing wealth opportunity for uniform distribution. How much is enough? It’s those who have enough, but not too much, who are the happiest. If monetary wealth dominates thoughts, then spirituality stagnates, losing the ability to recognize and embrace the wonders of simplicity.
As we transit life, we are exposed to myriad indistinct pathways, challenging decryption, and gauging worth. A selected path, appearing to offer rewards, is often plagued with unforeseen complexities and pitfalls, becoming apparent as we venture forth. Bliss and meaning appear in unsuspected places, and are seldom easily identified. Nature displays perfection, and lessons abound as we observe nature’s functions. The meadowlark sings its splendid song on the upper limbs of a flowering dogwood tree, and the catbird sings its song in the thorn bush. Nature’s voice varies in rhythmic tones, blending in a celebration of life.
“Daily, I tend my goats. Goats are designed to gain the most from the least. They herd similarly to human society. On the coldest winter days, they remain active, playfully butting each other. Their requirements for sustaining life are minimal, and yet, their lives are meaningful, attaining a zenith of harmony. It’s the power of the goat.”
#Fiction #ShortStory #RaymondGreiner #GoatPower #PowerOfTheGoat
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