Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The Hog Days of Summer
Back when a small operator could still make money at it, we raised pigs. Pigs are cool—intelligent, entertaining, and often sociable. And the coolest pig on our block was a boar named Arnold. Those of you who are of an age to remember the TV show Green Acres, or who’ve run across it on Nickelodeon, will recognize the name. On the show, Arnold was their house pig. Our Arnold would have been happy to be a house pig, if he hadn’t been bigger than the house. We bought Arnold from someone who thought he was the pick of the litter, and treated him accordingly. Arnold loved people. He especially loved people who scratched behind his ears. Considering that Arnold weighed half a ton, stood over three feet tall at the shoulders, and wasn’t shy about asking for attention, the people who didn’t scratch Arnold were a brave minority. After the first time my fingertips cracked, I figured out that scratching Arnold with my bare hand was not the best idea. His tough, scaly hide and wiry hair ground away the thickest calluses. I kept a short, pointy stick handy to take along when I headed into Arnold’s realm. Scratching Arnold was as satisfying as petting a purring cat. He would tip his nose skyward, half close his eyes and grunt in utter pleasure. Through a combination of personality and persistence, Arnold convinced the management that he could be trusted to roam the lot around the barns, cordoned off from the sows by two sturdy fences during those times when his services were not required. It was there that he encountered his nemesis. At the time, my dad was roping on a sorrel gelding he called Doc, which he had obtained, oddly enough, from the local physician, Doc West. After many extended negotiating sessions, Doc the horse had been persuaded to tolerate people. He rarely even curled his lip and cocked a hind leg when we walked in the barn anymore. But there was no way he was putting up with a pig in his pasture. Doc made no secret of his antipathy. He stalked Arnold, sneaking around the corner of the granary and launching covert attacks on the unsuspecting hog. Arnold was quick for a big pig, though, and his thick hide protected him from nipping teeth. Not that you could tell by the way he shrieked in protest. With a contrariness that would make a Siamese proud, Arnold set out to irritate Doc at every opportunity. He’d sidle up just close enough to invade the horse’s space, delighted when Doc obliged by shaking his head, pinning his ears, stomping his feet. Bonus points if he could make the horse squeal his displeasure. The two of them whiled away hours irritating each other. One hot summer afternoon, Arnold made the fateful decision to take a nap in shade. Unfortunately, the patch of shade he chose was under the chore pick-up. Unaware of the snoozing pig, our hired man jumped in and roared away…right over Arnold. He was never the same pig after that. We weren’t sure if the greater insult was to his body or his dignity, although he showed no sign of physical damage. His sunny disposition turned surly. He no longer greeted us at the gate with a porcine grin, eager for scratches. I guess I can’t blame him. I’d have trust issues too, if someone up and ran me over in the middle of a really good nap.