It was the occasion of James Patrick Ryan’s 16th birthday party, and his immediate family had all stopped by to celebrate and help him blow out the candles. The presents from his relatives, per his request, were all gift cards to the places he liked to shop. Every birthday card he received had a gift card stuffed inside, and then James’ grandfather handed him a card. When he tore into the envelope and opened the Hallmark card inside it, there was nothing there, save for six words written on the card: “A walk and wisdom, love Grandpa.”
After the dishes were cleared away and the crowd left, James went out into the backyard to find his grandfather, with an inquisitive look on his face, holding the card in his hand. “I thought I might give you something more valuable than a sweatshirt from Old Navy this year,” his grandfather began. “Let’s walk and I’ll tell you a story that may help you someday.” The two of them slipped away down the path by the river, and the old man told James the story of Finnegan’s goat.
It seemed as though there had once been a town just like the one James lived in, with a boy there just like James—small for his age and prone to being picked on by the other children. His name was Finnegan. The year was 1843, and there were farms as far as the eye could see. One day Finnegan’s mother gave him 20 silver dollars with the instructions to go into town and buy a goat. Finnegan did as he was told, but along the way, he ran into the Hollister boys: Jimmy, Joey and Jamie. Three brothers separated by just a year in age and the worst bullies in the county. They stopped Finnegan and asked him where he was going, and he told them about his plans to buy the goat. The oldest Hollister winked at his younger brothers and told Finnegan they had a prized goat to sell him, and Finnegan should wait right there. When he returned a few moments later, he had a poster in his hand with the picture of a beautiful goat on it. He said, “The goat is out in the field right now, but this is what he looks like. You give me the $20 and you can pick him up in the morning.” Finnegan hesitated for a moment—but concluded that the goat was perfect and handed the Hollister boys the silver dollars and went home with the picture of the goat to show his mother.
The next morning when Finnegan returned, Jamie Hollister told him that the goat had died the previous night, and he’d already been buried. And unfortunately, they’d spent the money he’d given them on grain, so it looked as though Finnegan was out of luck. Throughout the story, the three brothers couldn’t contain their laughter, and Finnegan quickly realized he’d been duped. But rather than throw a punch and find himself fighting three against one, he left, going home to think. The next day, Finnegan went into town with the photo of the goat he thought he was buying that turned out never to have actually existed. He stopped everyone he met and told them he was raffling off the goat, and it was valued at $50. Raffle tickets were just a buck, so someone could win that beautiful goat for only a dollar. Finnegan told everyone he’d draw the winning name on Saturday in the town square at noon. The Hollister boys heard about the raffle and showed up for the drawing to expose Finnegan’s scheme. When they arrived at the town square at noon, they saw Finnegan holding a hat full of raffle tickets, and standing next to, not one, but two lovely goats. Finnegan had a child reach into the hat full of tickets and pick a name and announced that Sarah Foster had won. As Sarah approached, Finnegan addressed the crowd: “I have a confession to make: The goat in this photo died. But you needn’t worry; I sold 500 raffle tickets, so I went and purchased two new goats, one for Sarah and one for me. They both cost $50 each, so I’m keeping $100 for my trouble and donating the remaining $300 to the church.” The townspeople applauded. Finnegan was now a hero.
Shortly after the applause died down, the three Hollister boys stormed up to Finnegan and said, “You cheat; that goat in the photo never existed.” Finnegan smiled and replied, “So you’re admitting you lied to me and stole my money?” The youngest Hollister said, “You bet we did, ’cause you’re stupid.” Just then, Finnegan looked behind the Hollister brothers and said, “Did you hear that sheriff?” Sheriff Satchel Walton and his deputy grabbed the three boys by the shoulders and said, “You bet I did. Boys you’re under arrest for fraud.”
When James’ grandfather was done with the story, he tossed a stone out into the river and said, “So what can we learn from Finnegan’s goat?” The teenager smiled and said, “Don’t buy something unless you see it first. Don’t fight with your fists when you can win using your brain.” He paused, and his grandfather added, “And don’t forget to always give back.”
As they made their way back to the house, James thought, the old man’s right; that “walk and wisdom” is way better than a sweatshirt.