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Neighborhood Report

Some kids and nannies prefer this side of Ybor

Billies, too. As in goats. As in Gary, a neighborhood where hooved residents have roamed and nibbled for decades.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003


In some neighborhoods, dogs stray. In Gary, goats do.

Sometimes they scale an old Toyota Camry to feast on palm fronds. Other times, they gorge on flowering hibiscus in the schoolyard across the street.

Nobody seems to mind too much. And even if they did, the goats could claim squatter's rights: Not many families in Tampa have been here as long as they have.

Vincenzo Ippolito, the grandfather of sisters Maria and Lia Ippolito, brought goats to this neighborhood in the 1930s, not long after he moved here from Sicily. On what was then the scrappy, rural fringe of Tampa, Vincenzo made his own wine, grew his own vegetables and raised his own goats.

With nine kids "you have to be industrious," Maria Ippolito said.

The Ippolitos don't eat the goats anymore, but they still need them.

A cannoli isn't the same without fresh ricotta from goat's milk. Gary isn't the same without granddaddy's goats.

"We're trying to keep the tradition alive," Maria said.

Gary -- east of Ybor City -- is no longer the fringe of Tampa, but it's still scrappy. Lines of wood-frame homes blend into warehouses where milk and bleach are stored for shipping. Trash blows across vacant lots. No-trespassing signs are not uncommon.

The glitz of Ybor is only a few blocks away, but it might as well be another planet.

For decades, the Ippolitos raised goats on a lot catty-corner to the house they now live in. At times, there were as many as 15. Now there are three: one male and two females.

When the Ippolitos sold the lot a few years ago, they brought the goats closer to home. Now, the animals are spoiled on day-old Cuban bread and potted plants that sprout on the porch.

"You see? You see?" Lia said, pointing to the nubs and feigning outrage.

A minute later, she grabbed the male goat with both hands, one on a horn, the other near a love handle, as if preparing to tango. She shook him vigorously and cooed in Italian.

His eyelids seemed to droop and flutter.

The Ippolitos aren't the only families with suspiciously well-trimmed yards. Having mastered the chain-link fence long ago, the goats are free to graze where they please.

"They don't go too far," Maria said with a shrug.

Often they hop the fence just to climb on her son's car. An especially tasty palm is out of reach without it.

All these goat goings-on don't go unnoticed. Motorists sometimes ask neighbor Aubrey Howard for confirmation before they seize their cell phones.

"They say, 'Whoa, goats in the city,' " she said.

Howard and her 2-year-old, Alexis, have become regular goat watchers.

"She copies them," Howard said. "She goes ba-a-a-a-a-a."

Across the street, the people who run Gary Adult High School like to call their campus "a little country school." Free-roaming goats can't help but drive the point home. Guidance counselor Marian Seymour mentioned the animals in a poem she wrote, Ode to Gary.

"It's like the land that time forgot," she said.

The goats do have their detractors.

"They chase people," said Williamenia Schaller, 17, who lives a few doors down from the Ippolitos.

"I'm scared," said her cousin, Nicia Speights, 10.

But do the goats ever hurt anybody? They laughed.

No one has ever complained about the goats to the city, according to the code enforcement department.

Under city ordinances, goats and other farm animals are illegal within city limits unless they were here before 1956.

The Gary goats are grandfathered in. Literally.

The Ippolitos figure it's just a matter of time before the revitalization of Ybor ripples through Gary. They can't wait until new families move in to renovate old homes.

But even if Gary becomes tony, granddaddy's goats will stay, Maria Ippolito promised.

"That's who we are," she said.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com .

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