When the Goat is the GOAT

“If you sneeze, the guy on the radio says bless you,” my brother often quotes when describing the size and community of our hometown. That would be fitting if Puxico, Missouri was prominent enough to have a radio station. The town has one grocery store, one flashing yellow light, and more churches per capita than any place I have ever known.

Every August, something changes about Puxico. Main Street gets barricaded and trucks carry in large wooden planks, concession stand trailers, and fair rides. The town bustles with the excitement of the time of year. Bill’s grocery store is crowded with old friends, stressed parents, and enthusiastic teenagers. The aisles congest as people reconnect and discuss their plans for the upcoming week. Right outside the city limits, a neon orange sign says, “Welcome to Puxico Homecoming.”

The second Tuesday of August harkens the festivities. By then, volunteers have constructed a square dance floor on the town’s busiest street. When the local band starts playing folk music, the dance floor crowds with groups in squares of eight.The dancers stomp their boots hard onto the wooden floor, twirl enthusiastically, and try to remember every call. As the night goes on, the dance floor fills more and more with people of all ages, and it’s hard to discern what is happening in the chaos. Off to the side, you can see high school kids anxiously waiting to get a square together, frantic as they ask people to join. Dozens of lawn chairs line the streets below the dance floor for everyone to watch.

In the center of Main Street sits a small, white concession stand with the words Goat Shack on the side. At first glance, the Goat Shack doesn’t look like much, but it’s the epicenter of our town’s favorite delicacy: goat burgers. Goat burgers are the prized gourmet food of every Puxico native. The town has goat burger t-shirts, golf tournaments, and 5ks. Chances are, if you have attended a Puxico Homecoming, you have been persuaded to eat a goat burger.

“I ordered a goat burger, not a barbeque sandwich,” some newcomers would inevitably argue when I volunteered at the Goat Shack in high school. We’d explain that the goat meat is barbequed; it doesn’t look like a hamburger. In fact, a barbeque sandwich is the closest comparison to Puxico Homecoming goat burger. The meat is stringy between two hamburger buns, and if you order coleslaw on the sandwich, you taste the crunch of the cabbage with the tender, brown meat. The hamburger buns are soggy from the goat, but for some reason that only adds to the appeal. The entire thing is wrapped in warm aluminum foil and handed to you by an enthusiastic volunteer.

Any seasoned Homecoming attender knows that you have to buy your goat burger early in the night. The VFW, which operates the Goat Shack, rations the meat so there’s enough for every night of the week. By eight or nine o’clock, you’ll be left choosing between a hamburger or corn dog. Even if you visit the Goat Shack early, you’ll probably stand in line for at least ten minutes. It’s not so bad, though, because there’s always someone near who will want to hear about your most recent life accomplishments.

Every year on Saturday night, the last goat burger is auctioned off to the most enthusiastic goat fan. One year, it sold for over $100.

If you search long enough, you can find the quirkiest town traditions in the most random places. For me, I will always cherish the taste of goat and the way it reminds me of the place I call home. The town boasts that Puxico Homecoming is about reconnecting with old friends and classmates, mentors, distant family members, and people who remember the embarrassing things you did in high school. But Puxico Homecoming isn’t actually about spending time with the people who shaped your childhood. It’s about the goat burgers.